§ '(1)An application for an order under section 1 of this Act may be made by a relevant authority if it appears to the authority, in relation to any person, that making the order would help to prevent violence or disorder at or in connection with designated football matches.
§ (2) In this section "relevant authority" means any chief officer of police.
§ (3) Where an order is made under this section, the court may, if it thinks fit, impose such conditions in the order as may be imposed where an order is made in respect of a person who has been convicted of a relevant offence.'.—[Mr. Maclean.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.9.34 am
§ Madam Speaker
With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 2—Availability of domestic football banning order in respect of unconvicted persons—'(1) An application for an order under section 6 of this Act may be made by a relevant authority if it appears to the authority, in relation to any person, that making the order would help to prevent violence or disorder at or in connection with prescribed football matches.(2) In this section "relevant authority" means any chief officer of police.'.Amendment No. 33, in clause 1, page 1, line 11, after `offence', insert`or to which an application has been made under section (Availability of international football banning order in respect of unconvicted persons).'.Amendment No. 34, in page 1, line 18, after `accused', insert`or to the person who is the subject of an application under section (Availability of international football banning order in respect of unconvicted persons).'.Amendment No. 35, in page 1, line 23, after `accused', insert`or to the person who is the subject of an application under section (Availability of international football banning order in respect of unconvicted persons).'.886 Amendment No. 36, in page 2, line 5, after `conditionally', insert '; or(c) following an application under section (Availability of international football banning order in respect of unconvicted persons).'.Amendment No. 37, in clause 4, page 6, line 12, at end insert—'(1C) Subject to subsection (3) and section 17 below, an international football banning order has effect in relation to a person who is the subject of an application made under section (Availability of international football banning order in respect of unconvicted persons) for a period determined by the court making the order—(a) which begins with the date of the making of the order;(b) which is not longer than 3 years; and(c) which is not shorter than six months.'.Amendment No. 38, in clause 6, page 7, line 24, after `applies', insert`or to which an application has been made under section (Availability of domestic football banning order in respect of unconvicted persons).'.Amendment No. 39, in page 7, line 34, after `accused', insert`or to the person who is the subject of an application under section (Availability of domestic football banning order in respect of unconvicted persons).'.Amendment No. 40, in page 7, line 39, after `accused', insert`or to the person who is the subject of an application under section (Availability of domestic football banning order in respect of unconvicted persons).'.Amendment No. 41, in page 8, line 2, after `conditionally', insert & or(c) following an application under section (Availability of domestic football banning order in respect of unconvicted persons).'.Amendment No. 42, in clause 8, page 9, line 12, after `years', insert`, except in respect of persons who are the subject of an application under section (Availability of domestic football banning order in respect of unconvicted persons), in which case the period shall be not less than six months nor more than two years.'.
§ Mr. Maclean
This is an important group of new clauses and amendments. New clauses 1 and 2 seek to bring into legislative effect the suggestions made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) on Second Reading. The Bill has not been amended much in Committee. However, it relates entirely to those who have been convicted of offences. The clause concerning international football banning orders relates to those who have been convicted, as does the clause on domestic banning orders.
As was said extensively on Second Reading, there might be a great many people whom football intelligence officers, the National Criminal Intelligence Service and chief police officers know to be dedicated troublemakers who can be violent, but who have not been convicted of an offence.
I intend to explain why it is important to explore the possibility of including that group, and I am keen to hear the reaction of the Government. I do not intend to force the new clause to a vote, but it is worth exploring, as the Bill—which does some good things—could leave some serious gaps. With the Euro 2000 championships coming up, it is important that we do not have gaps in legislation.
887 I am conscious that making the changes that I am suggesting may unsettle or destabilise the Bill. I am conscious also that the new clause probably has not been thoroughly drafted, but it is not a bad attempt. However, certain technical amendments might be necessary if the new clause were to be accepted.
The Bill deals with convicted people. Bolting on a new clause—even one which is in order—concerning unconvicted people may destabilise the thrust of the Bill. It may be better in due course for the Government to propose separate legislation—or, if they wish, to propose a series of new clauses in the other place to frame in legislation the intended purpose of the new clause.
The amendments grouped with the new clauses are consequential. Both new clauses propose to do the same thing, essentially. New clause 1 relates to international banning orders, and refers toany chief officer of police".I am happy to accept under that description chief constables, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan police—who is not technically a chief police officer, but a civilian appointment—and the director-general of NCIS, who is a chief officer of police rank. It is important that the director-general of NCIS be included, as NCIS ran the football intelligence unit and is spearheading the effort against violence perpetrated by hooligans in this country and overseas. The new clause would include also the Commissioner of the City of London police.
I want to give those officers the power to apply the measure in relation to "any person". I must use that phraseology, because I mean "any person"—including those who have not necessarily been convicted of a relevant offence. That would include all those whom the officers suspected, because of evidence or intelligence, of being involved in football hooliganism or violence, or indecent chanting or racist abuse at matches—the troublemakers whom they are currently monitoring—as well as those who had been taken to court but not convicted. I will say more later about the civil liberties implications, which may worry some people of a more sensitive disposition.
The power would appear to be draconian, but an order would not be imposed merely on the say-so of a chief officer; he would have to apply to the court. The new clause does not specify what level of evidence would be necessary to satisfy the court. It may be difficult to determine what level of evidence would be appropriate to secure an order without jeopardising police operations.
A similar proposal was in the Government's consultation paper on football-related legislation. The Minister said in Committee that she was interested in the concept, but that the Bill might not offer the right opportunity and the Government might want to explore the idea further at a later stage. The proposal was dropped after consultation because it aroused considerable controversy.
Some of the respondents were concerned about what would constitute sufficient evidence and others were concerned that courts might be presented with hearsay evidence. I do not rate that point very highly because that danger exists at present and the court would always rule such evidence out of order. It is up to the court whether 888 it believes a police officer who says that he saw someone doing something. In the case of an unconvicted person, the evidence presented might not be enough to gain a conviction but it might satisfy the court that the person had committed some acts that merited the imposition of a domestic or international banning order.
I am more concerned about the risk of intelligence information being compromised, although I am sure that we can get round that. We will not go into the details of how NCIS operates. I would not go further than its press release on its football intelligence unit and the operation of its local football intelligence officers in each force. All one can say is that it is highly effective.
It was my experience during Euro 96 that the intelligence-run policing operation conducted by all police forces and co-ordinated by the Met was absolutely superb. Many people—some of them, sadly, from my own patch, north of Penrith, in Carlisle—got tooled up, got into their minibus, set off to have a good ruckus and were very much surprised when they were intercepted along the route by the police and the pickaxe handles, knives, chains and bottles were taken off them and they were locked up.
The same expression of surprise was seen on the faces of miscellaneous foreign supporters who boarded planes, got to Heathrow, passed through customs and immigration and then were intercepted by the police because of the football intelligence work of overseas police officers attached to the co-ordination unit at the Met and NCIS. Intelligence-led policing works. We were able to deport those foreign hooligans immediately as well as prevent our domestic ones from getting to matches. The fact that they were detained in cells overnight and could not get to matches was highly effective.
Such intelligence-led policing depends on the knowledge of NCIS and local police officers of who the troublemakers are. The new clause is designed to build on that operation and allow us, rather than merely detaining the hooligans in a cell overnight or questioning them for a few hours so that they miss the match, to go one step further and present information to a court, perhaps with video evidence.
I am conscious that presenting video evidence to a court could compromise intelligence, so it must be left to the police and NCIS to decide how much evidence to give, taking into account the risk that if they do not give the court sufficient information—if all they have are rumours, gut reaction or a bobby's instinct—they will not get the banning order. We do not need to prescribe too much detail in legislation.
I do not see too great a risk of intelligence being compromised. I would leave it to the good sense of the police to keep their intelligence sources intact, as there are much more valuable gains to be had in the long run with convictions of some of the nastiest hooligans, which must be a more pressing concern than gaining a banning order against one individual.
The new clause has aroused some concerns about the scope for civil actions against the police on the grounds of their presenting uncorroborated information to the court. Certainly, that is a risk. It is possible that people may claim to have been defamed by the police. If the police have laid information before the court about an innocent 889 member of the public–innocent in the sense both of the person being unconvicted and of the information being wrong–there would of course be scope for action, but it would not be any greater than the present scope for action against the police on a whole range of, in my opinion, bogus issues. The number of law suits against the police is rocketing. It has become the newest and juiciest racket for getting money from the state. A group of lawyers has no doubt moved on from medical negligence cases to action against the police.
Probably the greatest concern is about civil liberties, and some of my more sensitive colleagues may want to speak about that. I have not had unanimous, wholehearted supported from them for the new clause, although I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford will want to support me this morning.
Some of my hon. Friends may say that the new clause is a sledgehammer to crack a nut. They may think that it is disproportionate to the mischief being created, and that we would be passing draconian measures in providing that some people who have not been convicted of an offence may be banned from travelling overseas, or may be subject to a whole host of sanctions imposed by the courts.
Subsection (3) would allow those sanctions. It states:Where an order is made under this section, the court may, if it thinks fit, impose such conditions in the order as may be imposed where an order is made in respect of a person who has been convicted of a relevant offence.My new clause would give the courts the right to impose the same range of penalties and restrictions—including passport removal—on those who have not been convicted as they may already impose on those who have been convicted.
I appreciate the civil liberties concerns about such a provision, but we should remember that—thank goodness—we are not dealing with hundreds of thousands of people. Although I am not arguing that it is acceptable to remove the civil liberties of even one person, the fact is that we are dealing with a few hundred or—at the very most—a few thousand dangerous hooligans, whose civil liberties will not be removed on the whim of a police officer or a chief police officer. Their civil liberties would simply be restricted on the basis of evidence presented to the court that they would be a danger and might cause violence if they were to go to a football match. The courts would be able to decide whether to grant an order, and what conditions to impose. I do not think that such restrictions are extremely draconian.
Restricting someone's freedom of movement and travel is, of course, a potentially severe measure. I should therefore be very keen to hear the Minister's views on whether my proposals—or an amended version of them—would satisfy the requirements of the European convention on human rights. I realise that—as the Government have not seriously contemplated including my new clause in the Bill today—the Minister may not have taken legal advice on its compliance with the ECHR. However, if she has a view on whether we may be on dangerous ground in relation to the ECHR, the House would be interested to hear it. Nevertheless, I think that it should be possible for a court to restrict someone's freedom of movement and travel within the European Union without falling foul of the ECHR.
My proposals are not totally new or off the wall, as there are some precedents for imposing an order in cases in which an offence has not been committed. Anti-social 890 behaviour orders, for example—which were introduced in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998—allow a court to impose any prohibitions considered necessary to protect persons in the local area.
Incidentally, during that Act's passage, the official Opposition tabled an amendment to introduce football behaviour orders in cases in which a person had acted in such a way as reasonably to give cause to believe that an order was necessary to prevent him from disturbing good order at any designated football match outside the United Kingdom, or during the period before or after any designated football match. The amendment was not pressed to a Division—as some of my colleagues were merely testing the water—and was withdrawn.
I am, therefore, not on entirely new ground in suggesting that it is appropriate to go to a court to obtain an order restricting the freedom of movement of an individual who has not been convicted of an offence in cases in which there is evidence suggesting that the person is a troublemaker or likely to commit violence.
As other hon. Members wish to speak, I shall not go on for too much longer. I merely wish to draw attention to some of the NCIS statistics on football violence and disorder, some of which were quoted on Second Reading. The NCIS view on the matter is very important. In its December 1998 press release, NCIS said:The National Criminal Intelligence Service today warned that they were becoming increasingly concerned about the number of incidents of football hooliganism being reported by their football section and by the network of FIOs"—football intelligence officers.
Bryan Drew went on to say:Although it is too early to say that the overall downward trend for football-related arrest figures over the past five years is being reversed, the signs are not encouraging.He was referring to the fact that, although the overall figures for football-related offences and convictions had been dropping, he had noticed that there were more arrests for the more violent football-related offences of affray, violent disorder and missile throwing. He said that those hadshown a marked increase over the previous season.Bryan Drew continued:This season, the ugly face of football hooliganism has continued to make its unwelcome presence felt. The numbers of people involved remain comparatively small, but it is hard core, well organised and hellbent on causing mayhem. It is using football matches as a cover for its criminal activities.Mr. Drew went on to talk about the fact that, although incidents of violence were declining inside the grounds, they were increasing outside or away from them.
On Second Reading, when I stated that statistics showed about 1,000 arrests for football-related violence, Labour Members made the point that that number could be only the tip of the iceberg. I accept that, usually, the majority of those committing a crime are not arrested and convicted. So it is quite possible that many hardcore football hooligans have not been arrested by police, or that, if they have been, the evidence was not sufficient to obtain a conviction or—under clauses 1 or 6 of the Bill—a banning order.
My new clause would permit police, in limited circumstances, to take action against those other well-known offenders—whom every Opposition Member 891 talks about; they know who they are—who regularly follow football matches and foment violence, but manage to be on the back line when police move in to make arrests. The police have information and video evidence on those people. In many cases, police may have sufficient evidence to convince a court—in the terms of my new clause, although they may not have enough evidence to obtain a conviction—that the liberty of those people should be restricted.
New clause 1 is worthy of an airing, and I should be interested to hear what my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford has to say about it. I was very interested in his comments, some time ago, on the potential for such a new clause. I should also be interested to hear why he has resiled from the tough stance that he proposed taking on such a provision. I am sure that he wants as many of these hooligans locked up—or at least prevented from causing trouble overseas, ruining the good name of Chelmsford and other parts of the United Kingdom—as I do.
As my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford says:For far too long, a small minority of mindless, moronic football hooligans have besmirched the reputation of football in this country and dragged the game into the gutter by their anti-social behaviour.My hon. Friend knows the rest of his press release. He was suggesting taking tough action to deal with those people.
I hope that, today, my hon. Friend will tell me that tough action will indeed be taken. If he cannot accept my new clause, I hope that he will he go away and—as he has been working very closely with the Minister, as his press release states—perhaps by the time the Bill goes to another place, propose similar new clauses. As he is keen on Government legislation, perhaps next year he could even promote an entirely new Bill to implement similar measures. Nevertheless, I am keen to hear why he has decided that it is no longer appropriate to include such a provision in his Bill.
§ Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford)
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) on his new clauses and the way in which he spoke to them. I have much sympathy with many of his comments. He mentioned some earlier comments of mine and I make no bones about the fact that when I announced that I would introduce the Bill, in late December, I had hoped to be able to include provisions to give powers to the courts, in certain circumstances and under certain controls, to place international and domestic banning orders on people unconvicted in a British court but who the police and courts have reasonable grounds to believe would commit an offence if they travelled to a football match.
Clearly, such a power could not be used willy-nilly to settle scores, to undertake round-ups or to bring hundreds of people before the courts. It would have to be used with great responsibility, because—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border said—it raises civil liberties issues. However, the police and NCIS know of a number of people who are determined to cause misery 892 and suffering to pursue their own agendas and to benefit from crime under cover of the crowds associated with football matches. In many ways, the organisers of such activities have escaped action in the courts and it is the thugs on the ground who have been charged with offences—the same problem arises with drug-related offences.
In those circumstances, I thought it might be right to include a provision in the Bill to give the police an opportunity to make a case to the courts for them to determine whether there were reasonable grounds, in exceptional circumstances, to restrict the attendance of unconvicted individuals at football matches. The provision would have included opportunities for the individuals to attend the court and make the case for their innocence. If the courts were not convinced and believed that the authorities had presented a compelling case, the individuals would have a right of appeal. In that way, safeguards would have been in place.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border said, precedents exist in English law for such provisions, and he cited the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. I mentioned on Second Reading the powers relating to individuals on bail and, in exceptional circumstances, to those involved in difficult child custody cases. The courts already have, and use, similar powers.
In the past two years, the Conservative party has become a listening party, and I believe that that is commendable. It is time politicians were prepared to listen, because we do not always have all the answers to all the issues. I listened carefully on Second Reading to several speeches from hon. Members on both sides of the House. They were supportive of the Bill, but they expressed strong concerns about the powers we have been discussing. I have also met several outside organisations and listened to their concerns about those powers.
§ Mr. Maclean
Am I right in thinking that the Football Association has said that the powers would be helpful?
§ Mr. Burns
My right hon. Friend is right, and I did not wish to give the impression that every organisation associated with or interested in football is against the powers. Indeed, I would like to see those powers on the statute book in some shape or form so that the police and the courts have another weapon in their armoury to combat the problem of football hooliganism. However, I am also a realist, and as I thought more about this highly contentious issue, I came to the conclusion that it would be more sensible not to pursue it via a private Member's Bill.
In effect, the new clauses would give the courts the power to impose a penalty on unconvicted individuals if their background leads the courts to believe that they might commit acts of violence or other forms of hooliganism. Denying the right of freedom of movement to an individual is so serious that I believe that it should be done by Government legislation rather than through a private Member's Bill. It gives me no pleasure to say that, because I would like the authorities to have those powers alongside the other powers in the Bill.
The Minister made it clear in Committee that she and her hon. Friends support the principle behind the powers in the new clauses and I hope that the Government will seek to include them in criminal justice legislation as soon 893 as possible. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border said, last year the Opposition sought to introduce a similar proposal on Report to the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, although we did not push the matter to a Division.
I am afraid that I cannot support the new clauses today for the reasons that I have given, but I hope that the Government will introduce their own similar legislation when parliamentary time permits. I also hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border, in the light of my comments, will feel able to withdraw his new clause.
§ Mr. Tony Clarke (Northampton, South)
I shall be brief. I welcome the acceptance by the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) that the matter is complicated and that the proof of the Bill would be in its implementation, not in what is said about it here. I agree that the courts may find it difficult to decide whether an offence had been committed and, if so, whether it was football related. Such matters, and others, were discussed in Committee.
However, I wish to challenge the assumption, made by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), that there is an upsurge in hooliganism in the domestic game. He used the phrase "tip of the iceberg", and talked about the serious offences of affray, violence and missile throwing. The increase in arrests for those offences has nothing to do with a resurgence of football violence and hooliganism, but stems from our greater ability to deal with such problems.
For example, the introduction of closed circuit television has been probably the most important step forward in combating hooliganism. The offences of affray, violence and missile throwing are readily detected on CCTV, which means that courts and authorities are able to take action.
§ Mr. Maclean
In the pursuit of brevity, it is possible that I did not make myself clear. I accept that the number of arrests has fallen over the past five years and that there is not a great upsurge in violence. However, I was quoting a Labour Member who said on Second Reading that the people who are arrested are always the tip of the iceberg and that many others commit violence but are not arrested. That was the only point that I wanted to make. Bryan Drew of NCIS has said also that although the number of those arrested is declining, the proportion of more violent offences is rising.
§ Mr. Clarke
I accept that explanation, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will accept that the Bill is not about violence in the domestic game. It is a tidying-up measure, dealing with issues such as racism and the behaviour of English fans abroad. Legislation to tackle such problems is needed.
I accept the view of the hon. Member for West Chelmsford that a private Member's Bill may not be the way forward. However, I hope that we can continue this debate in the spirit of trying to iron out the difficulties, so that when the Government propose measures, perhaps in a Criminal Justice Bill, there will be total support in the House for dealing with the few remaining hooligans who are responsible for the lingering disrespect for Britain in Europe. Those hooligans arouse nothing but disgust among true football fans.
§ Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)
It is perhaps surprising that this debate has attracted so little attention among hon. Members. More than many others, it goes to the heart of the difficult balance that Parliament has to strike, in what we regard as a free society, between the powers given to the authorities and the historic freedoms for individuals that we guard so jealously.
I regret that I part company with my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) over the new clause. I do that rarely, but am obliged to do so on this occasion. New clause 1 would alter the balance that I have described in a completely unacceptable way. I cannot understand why so few hon. Members are in the Chamber this morning, given that it will be left to this thinly attended House to determine that balance, as it would be affected by the new clause and the associated amendments.
One of the most fundamental rights of our citizenry over many centuries is that a person who has not been convicted of an offence is regarded as innocent until proven guilty by due process of law. That right is the subject of the new clause. It was implied in the comments made so far that the law and society are in a weak position with regard to wicked people seeking to act in a way that we find distressing or unacceptable.
However, we already have legislation on the statute book such as the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol Etc.) Act 1985, the Public Order Act 1986, the Football Spectators (No. 2) Act 1989, the Football (Offences) Act 1991 and the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, as well as the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, to which my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border have referred. Given that list, and the other provisions in this Bill, one would have thought that the cumulative effect would be that the authorities had sufficient powers to deal with people whose behaviour is deemed to be unacceptable. Yet my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border is not content. He wants to alter, in a very significant way, the balance between the power given to the authorities and the rights of individuals. The new clause and the associated amendments go much further than I should have thought conscionable for anyone.
With his typical openness and frankness, my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford has told us that, even though some similar provision remained part of his thinking, he had accepted on Second Reading and in subsequent conversations and consultations that the proposal did not have the necessary support. I agree. I rather regret that my hon. Friend has urged the Government to introduce similar measures and I hope that the Government, too, will perform a listening exercise among their Back Benchers.
My hon. Friend stated in a press release that he was considering the approach embodied in the new clause and that he intended to raise the matter in Committee. On Second Reading, however, Government Back-Bench Members broadly in favour of the Bill and with a long-standing interest in such matters expressed their reservations and indicated that they would not be able to support this measure. Given that background, I was 895 surprised when my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border brought the new clause back for consideration today.
§ Mr. Maclean
My hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) was in listening mode when he took account of those Labour Members who said that he should not include measures such as those embodied in the new clause. Similarly, on Second Reading I was persuaded by him that there was some merit in the proposal, which is why I decided to table the new clause for consideration today.
§ Mr. Forth
I accept, of course, my right hon. Friend's explanation, which renders irrelevant my earlier suspicion that, having served with such distinction in the Home Office for so long, he had approached the matter with what I can only describe as a Home Office mentality. In other words, I was concerned that his instinct was that the benefit of the doubt should be given to the authorities rather than to the individual, rather than the other way around. That would not normally be typical of my right hon. Friend, but I assumed that his long and distinguished Home Office experience must have contributed to his tabling of the new clause, although that is a matter for him and not for me.
However, the new clause is before us. I contend that it would affect one of our most fundamental and cherished rights for individuals, which we have guarded through the centuries. It is an irony that Britain, through organisations such as the United Nations and the Council of Europe, has hectored, lectured, guided and inspired other countries to adopt our approach to individual liberties and civil rights, which we have said have great importance for us. Those of us who travel to other legislatures, in the Commonwealth and elsewhere, know that legislators and members of the judiciary in those countries consider individual rights and civil liberties to be of key importance at the end of the 20th century. We can take much of the credit for that, although our American friends might say they had something to do with it, and I would not argue with that. It must surely be inappropriate to challenge our liberties as the new clause does.
In his excellent exposition, my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford said that when he first decided, at the Committee stage, to add the new clause to the Bill, he wished to reassure us that the power would be used not willy-nilly, but responsibly. Such siren words are often used. We are told, "Don't worry, folks—these huge, draconian powers will be used responsibly. Trust the authorities and all will be well."
We have heard that sort of thing time and again down the centuries and across the globe from people who wish to encroach on individual liberties, and my hon. Friend is at it again. Do not worry, he tells us: were there any such prospect of that—I was glad to hear that he accepts that there might be, even if he is urging the Government to consider the new clause—the authorities would use the power responsibly, and we could all sleep in our beds at night without being bothered.
896 I do not find that reassuring. That is not the likely outcome of my hon. Friend's exercise. Surely the onus must be on those who seek to alter the balance to reassure individual members of society that they will be protected. That is the whole point of our judiciary procedures, and I thought that it was also the point of the European convention on human rights. I do not support that convention, and I mention it only because I have to accept that it exists and that we have gone a long way towards incorporating it in our law. I regret that.
Given, however, that the nation and the House of Commons are committed to the convention, I doubt whether the Bill would survive scrutiny by those who believe in the convention. My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border skipped over that point, and I can understand why. I should not use the convention as a principled argument against the Bill because I did not advocate its incorporation into our law, but incorporation has happened and the convention is therefore relevant.
§ Mr. Maclean
I was not going to mention the convention, although I may return to it later. My right hon. Friend has cast doubt on some of the intelligence gathered by NCIS. May I persuade him in its favour by using the powerful words of Pierre Picone, the divisional commissioner in the Parisian football intelligence centre? Commenting on the world cup in 1998, he described British police intelligence as accurate, thorough and diligent. Georges Querry, the French security co-ordinator, said that the intelligence had been exceptional. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will find their words powerful and persuasive.
§ Mr. Forth
My right hon. Friend should know me better than to quote foreigners at me. I rarely find them persuasive. I shall certainly take no lessons on civil liberties and individual rights from anyone from France. Anyone who has seen the CRS in operation will know that French respect for individual liberties is, to say the least, scant. I am not impressed by my right hon. Friend when he tells me that some Frenchman in authority is trying to reassure me, him or anyone that things will be all right. If anything, my right hon. Friend reinforces my doubts. Yet again, we are hearing someone in uniform telling us not to worry because these enormous powers will be used with great discretion. It matters not whether that is said in French, English or any other language. I simply cannot accept it.
I see the drift of where Bills such as this are taking us. I feel no happier about the new clause than, to be frank, I did about some of the things that my own Government did over the years. It is quite wrong for legislators to argue that it is increasingly justifiable to use the powers of the Executive to reassure the mass of people that individuals will be restricted. That easy and seductive argument has been used to justify many things, but our attitude historically has been that the individual should be given the benefit of the doubt until due process has demonstrated that he should not.
That principle seems to be slipping away. Increasingly, we are told that the benefit of the doubt should be given to the authorities and to society rather than to individuals, and the reassurances that we have heard this morning are used to justify that drift. My hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford originally argued—and has only half 897 back-tracked from that argument today—that we should not worry because the Bill would be dealt with by the courts. We are supposed to be hugely reassured by that, but recent events in the judiciary lead me to doubt it.
My hon. Friend also said that there would be a right of appeal, but I do not know whether he was right. I see no reference to a right of appeal in the new clause. Does he assume that there will be such a right, or is it to be provided in some other way? Even if it exists, a right of appeal will merely worsen the peculiar position in which someone who has not been convicted of any offence can be dragged before the courts and put through a distressing process. That person is supposed to be reassured because he or she will have a right of appeal, but I do not find that reassuring. I shall not go into all the ramifications of the availability of legal aid or proper defence representation.
§ Mr. Maclean
I believe that my right hon. Friend supported the legislation on protection from harassment which I introduced. That twin-track legislation created a new criminal offence and provided new civil powers, under which someone alleged to be harassing anyone in any way could be dragged before the courts so that an injunction or banning order could be made. My right hon. Friend was an avid supporter of that legislation, and I was very grateful to him.
§ Mr. Forth
My right hon. Friend is untypically wrong. He will recall that, as a member of the Government in which he and I served, I was bound by collective responsibility. I was faced with the classic dilemma of those who serve in the foothills of Government, as I did for many years. In considering a Bill such as that introduced by my right hon. Friend, I had to decide whether to be bound by collective responsibility and to support it or to resign from the Government. No doubt I struggled with my conscience, but it would appear that I decided, on reflection, to remain in the Government, to lend reluctant support to my right hon. Friend's Bill and to continue to play my modest role. That is my recollection of what happened. My right hon. Friend's characterisation of my avid support of his measure is not how I remember it.
§ Mr. Maclean
Having listened to my right hon. Friend for all these years, I cannot believe that he would have put the prospect of advancement before the freedom of the individual.
§ Mr. Forth
As it happens, I did not get much advancement. I would characterise my prospects as those of survival rather than advancement. Perhaps my right hon. Friend and I can meet later to reminisce over our period in the foothills of Government and the constraints that came with it.
I am not persuaded by the argument that individuals are protected because the matter will be dealt with by the courts, although that does provide the reassurance of due process and judicial protection. Nor was I reassured when my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford said that there would be a right of appeal. Individuals are to be pulled in by the authorities and put through a harrowing judicial process—I shall challenge the process later—with a rather undefined right of appeal, to which the Bill does not refer.
898 10.30 am
Fortuitously, that brings us to one of the main thrusts of my right hon. Friend's argument. He went on and on about something called NCIS, in which he seems to have enormous faith. I do not know much about that body. The more I hear of it, the more it sounds like a shadowy, sinister body of people. I do not know whether they are in uniform, what constraints are on them, or within which statutory framework they operate; but the more I hear of them the more worried I become.
I hear more and more about covert surveillance and people being picked up in car parks and whistled off here and there. My right hon. Friend seems to think that that is all good stuff. His period in the Home Office seems to have assured him that if such a body is prying into what is going on in citizens' lives and picking those individuals up and whisking them off into custody, we should all be reassured. I am not sure that I am. I would be even less reassured if I thought that if the new clause were accepted, that sinister group, which no doubt has the enormous resources that such groups always have these days, could pick up people who have not been convicted of any offence but are simply suspected or accused of doing something or being minded to do it. That is what my right hon. Friend seems to be saying.
That brings us to another crucial part of what is being suggested. From what my right hon. Friend has said, it appears that people will not necessarily have had to do something. This sinister body, NCIS, has simply to believe or have reason to believe that people are minded to, or are going to, commit an offence. That would be sufficient to whistle them off, deprive them of their liberty and put them through some harrowing court procedure.
§ Mr. Burns
I am a little concerned about my right hon. Friend's use of the word "sinister". The work that NCIS does to advance the cause of law and order is tremendous. Will he be reassured by the fact that it was the Government in which he, my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) and I all served that set the body up, presumably through primary legislation which he supported at the time?
§ Mr. Forth
The more I hear, the more I worry about what went on in the Home Office over the past 18 years or so. It is funny that I should say this, but if I had been a Back Bencher between 1988 and 1997, I might well not have supported a lot of this nonsense that I now learn that Government were enacting. I was constrained by collective responsibility and therefore obliged to support the legislation.
I am not at all certain whether I would have supported the creation of that body. In a gesture of friendship to my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford, I will not use the epithet "sinister"—I will think of a more appropriate one in the next few minutes. However, it is a fact that I am unaware of what it does, as are most people, and yet there it is, working away quietly and secretly, allegedly on our behalf. Nevertheless, it appears to have wide powers.
My point, which is surely key to the new clause, is that my right hon. Friend seems to suggest that, having carried out its surveillance, gone to these car parks and done what it does there, all that NCIS needs to do is to satisfy itself that an individual member of society may be minded to 899 commit some act related to football. That will be sufficient for that person to be deprived of his or her liberty and whisked off to a judicial process in a court. I will refer to the other authorities mentioned in the new clause in a moment, as I accept that they have a role to play as well—this is a multi-stage process.
How quickly or even whether the individual would have access to a court is another matter, as is the question of whether they would be held in custody for an undefined period before they had access to the judicial process. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend has given that matter sufficient thought and whether he can provide any assurances that the individual, having been deprived of his or her liberties on more or less flimsy grounds, would at least have the reassurance of having the case considered promptly rather than having to wait, or what is worse, being incarcerated for any period of time. My right hon. Friend did not mention that and I do not know whether it is in his power, or even that of the Minister, to reassure me. At the least, there is an area of doubt about which we should be extremely concerned.
My right hon. Friend said that we should not be too worried and he listed some extremely important people who would be involved and whom he obviously thought we could trust implicitly. He mentioned chief constables and the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis as coming within the definition of relevant authorities in the new clause. It states:any chief officer of police".However, he spoiled the whole thing because he swept into his definition someone called the director-general of NCIS. The difficulty is that it is one thing for us to give a proper role—a discretionary role or role of judgment—to chief constables and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan police, as we traditionally do and have done for many years in statute, but it is quite another to go a stage further and to give such a role to this shadowy figure, the director-general of NCIS, of whom I had not heard until now, although obviously I should have done.
I do not know where that person comes from, what his or her statutory authority is, or anything of the kind; nor do I know what constraints are on the director-general of the type that we are increasingly placing on chief constables—the new Greater London Assembly will have an important role in the part played by the police in Greater London, as the Minister well knows. Perhaps my right hon. Friend can reassure me.
§ Mr. Maclean
I am sure that my right hon. Friend, with his new computer facility, will soon be surfing on hyperspace. Then, he will find all the NCIS press releases and information about Mr. Bryan Drew, the director-general of NCIS. Nevertheless, the important point is that NCIS now has the same statutory basis as an ordinary police authority under the Police Act 1997—another wonderfully libertarian piece of legislation that I had the pleasure to put through the House. That Act created a service authority too. Therefore, the director-general is in the same position as a chief constable, with an elected service authority to give the democratic accountability element.
§ Mr. Forth
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who has set my mind at ease, but only within the limited terms 900 in which I asked the question. Perhaps he has slightly restored my confidence in the Home Office during the term of office of the Government in whom I served and in some of the legislation in which he played a distinguished part. He has given me some confidence.
We have established, and it has usefully been placed on the record, which demonstrates the value of this little debate, that the director-general of NCIS—we now even know his name—is, slightly reassuringly, subject to the same accountabilities and constraints as are placed on the other authorities. However, the director-general is not mentioned in my right hon. Friend's new clause. Therefore, if we mistakenly agree to it, which I hope we will not, I am not sure that merely because my right hon. Friend has said so the director-general would be included in subsection (2), which states:In this section, 'relevant authority' means any chief officer of police".I suspect not. That may be one of the defects to which my right hon. Friend, with his typical candour, referred during his opening remarks on his new clause.
Were the House to accept new clause 1, that point may have to be reconsidered in another place. I do not want to quibble on technicalities—we try to avoid that and debate, as I am doing, the substance of issues—but we have already found a flaw. We have flushed out what may be a serious lacuna in the drafting which would have to be corrected were we, mistakenly, to proceed with it.
The court access that may or may not be available in this encroachment on individual liberties must be considered. What if the relevant authority was not immediately available to make a judgment? The covert operations, following surveillance operations by NCIS, have swept people from the car park and whisked them off in a black van to some dank cell—but it is all right because a relevant authority will quickly consider the matter and decide whether to pass it to the courts. What if the relevant authority is not available?
§ Mr. Forth
I want my right hon. Friend to listen. I think that he is going to reassure me again, but I want to put this on record. What if the chief constable or director-general of NCIS were at an important conference on civil liberties? What if they were abroad boasting about how Britain had a sacred regard for civil liberties? If they were, I hope that they would admit to what NCIS was getting up to. I suspect that my right hon. Friend is going to bail me out again.
§ Mr. Maclean
It will be a source of deep regret to my right hon. Friend, but we no longer have any dank cells. They are too warm and cosy for his liking. The term "chief officers" should encompass deputy and assistant chief constables, all of whom are of Association of Chief Police Officers rank.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
Order. It is time for me to assist the House. The debate is going far too wide in dealing with the issues raised in new clause 1 on international banning orders. New clause 1 is about whether such orders should be extended to unconvicted persons.
§ Mr. Forth
I was merely querying a term in the new clause, but I shall not trespass further on your good will, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
901 Apparently not unreasonably, subsection (3) states:the court may, if it thinks fit, impose such conditions in the order as may be imposed where an order is made in respect of a person who has been convicted of a relevant offence".This is the crux of the matter. I do not blame my right hon. Friend for this because it was how he had cleverly to construct new clause 1, but it is not obvious from the wording that unconvicted persons can have their freedoms and liberties restricted. We must consider carefully not only new clause 1, but new clause 2 and the consequential amendments Nos. 33 to 42 to get a full sense of what subsection (3) really means: someone who has not been convicted of any offence in our judicial process can nevertheless be made subject to an order restricting his liberties. Never mind all the objections that I have briefly outlined, this is where I part company from my right hon. Friend. I stand firmly by the view that unless someone has been properly convicted through our judicial process, we should not be able to take such measures.
Later, we will discuss other important provisions concerning the removal of passports, which I find equally threatening, but here we are discussing a simple principle. I cannot agree with my right hon. Friend's approach. I am unhappy with his mechanisms for dealing with the matter. I am unhappy about the role of NCIS and of the chief officers, whom we now learn can be almost anyone in the bizarre world of the Home Office. I am unhappy about the lack of reassurance in respect of court proceedings and the alleged right of appeal, which appears nowhere in the new clause.
I am even more unhappy about my core objection. I was half relieved when my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford said that he does not support new clause 1, but I was appalled when he went on to urge the Government to introduce a Bill of their own to do it, but we will leave the fight for another day. I hope that the Minister will be more reassuring and remember what her Back Benchers said on Second Reading. I hope that she will not be persuaded by my hon. Friend; we will find out soon. I vigorously oppose new clause 1, as I hope the Minister will.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border will reconsider, cast to one side his distinguished service in the Home Office, and reflect on the matter in a fresh light as an even more distinguished Opposition Back Bencher. I hope that he is aware of the importance of individual liberties as against those authorities in whose company he moves so effortlessly. I hope that he will think again and that we do not have to divide the House on the matter.
§ Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest)
My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), who has previously dealt with this matter for the Opposition, unfortunately cannot be here, so I stand in his place.
This debate is important because we are not merely debating the addition of a short new clause to a short Bill: we are considering a vital principle of the operation of the civil law. My right hon. and hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Clarke) have highlighted the difficulty of achieving the right balance between the freedom of the individual and the necessity of protecting innocent bystanders. That is what the criminal law is all about.
902 I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) on his carefully balanced presentation. I am delighted that he has been listening. I agree that the Bill is better as it is, without new clause 1.
We had an excellent consideration of the principles in the debate between my right hon. Friends the Members for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) and for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth)—a debate that was unusual as my right hon. Friends normally agree with each other. In taking the argument carefully to pieces and reconstructing it, they have quite properly—as is the duty of the House—given us the chance to consider the principle before us, as did the hon. Member for Northampton, South, who also spoke well.
The Opposition do not disagree in principle about what we are all trying to achieve in the Bill. We are all trying to achieve a better regulation of football supporters' behaviour and to give the right amount of power to the police and other authorities so that they can deal with hooliganism in football grounds and in connection with football games. We all want to achieve the same thing for the great sport of football at which our countries—I stress the plural—are so good on the world and the European stage. It is such a shame that, often, the achievements on the pitch are diminished and besmirched by what happens off the pitch. The Opposition therefore have no disagreement with the measure in principle.
There has been some confusion about the similarity between the provisions of this Bill and those in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 relating to ASBOs—for the uninitiated, ASBOs are antisocial behaviour orders and are a vital part of the 1998 Act. ASBOs restrict freedom without a criminal conviction, but they cannot be imposed without resort to the civil court. An ASBO can be imposed only after a legal hearing, whereas the provisions of the new clause would result in a much more summary administration of justice. It is not correct to argue that the effect of the new clause would be similar to the imposition of ASBOs. I shall be interested to know whether the Minister agrees with that point. ASBOs do not go quite so far in administering summary justice as the new clause would.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford that the Opposition would welcome further discussion of that matter, if the Government want to pursue it in a future Bill, as they have indicated that they might. I conclude by pointing out again that what we are trying to achieve is the important balance between the liberty of the individual and the protection of the public. That is a fine balance, but I strongly believe that it is the duty of the House always to protect first the freedom of the individual. The Opposition support the Bill as it stands.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Kate Hoey)
This has been a most interesting and enjoyable hour and a half. I thank the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) for tabling the new clause. We spent much time on Second Reading discussing the issues that it raises, even though they were not specifically included in the Bill. Those issues were also discussed in Committee, although not in relation to a particular clause. We have now considered a specific clause and the right hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated on having given us that opportunity to discuss the important question of how we deal with 903 football hooliganism committed by people against whom it is not possible to use the normal court proceedings. On Second Reading and in Committee, we were aware that there were several serious concerns about such measures; they were also expressed in response to the football consultation document, "Review of Football Related Legislation", to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred.
The document considered the introduction of tougher ways to deal with unconvicted hooligans. The response to the public consultation exercise was mixed and demonstrated serious concern about introducing bans without prior conviction. We have discussed the matter with the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) and have taken into account the views of hon. Members on both sides of the House and of respondents to the public consultation exercise. As the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) pointed out, in all legislation we must strike a balance between the civil liberties of the individual and those of the general public.
We must also take into account the practical and operational concerns about how the measures proposed in the new clause would work. The obtaining of such an order would rely exclusively on the quality of intelligence and information put before the court by the police and the prosecutor. In presenting that information, as the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border pointed out, the police may be required to compromise their intelligence-gathering mechanisms, including information on informants. We may not like informants, but in reality, they can sometimes play an important role in combating crime—especially organised crime.
I am surprised that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) seems to know so little about the National Criminal Intelligence Service. It is an important organisation, which carries out a wide range of work combating criminal activity—especially organised crime. Its headquarters are in my constituency—a few minutes' walk from the House—and I am sure that, if John Abbott, the director-general, is fortunate enough to read the account of this debate, he will want to invite the right hon. Gentleman to visit NCIS. As the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border said, anyone who sees what NCIS is doing will not fail to be impressed. The service operates in a statutory framework; it is accountable and is required to report to a service authority. It may further reassure the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst to know that the chairman of that service authority is a former Member of the House, Sir John Wheeler. I hope I have reassured the right hon. Gentleman that NCIS is not a sinister organisation, but a most important one.
Clearly, it would be an operational decision for chief officers whether to acquire the evidence required to stop an unconvicted hooligan travelling abroad. We are also concerned that some overseas jurisdictions may look to this proposed new power as a means by which they can deport suspected offenders from their country without prosecution, on the basis that when such people returned to this country they would be liable to action in the courts here. The right hon. Gentleman will remember how annoying it was to see people behaving appallingly in European countries and being instantly sent back here. We wanted those countries to take people to court and we are 904 co-operating with other European countries so that that can be done. We want to continue to encourage the jurisdictions in which the offence has been committed to use the due process of law in that country to seek convictions. It was most disturbing to see footage of people behaving violently, and to know that the next day they would be sent back to this country—probably free—and that we could do nothing about it.
We should also consider the position of information gathered in a foreign jurisdiction and the ability to make use of it in a court in this country. At present, the taking of video material is subject to privacy laws in some countries and those laws place restrictions on the use of such material. There are difficult, practical problems as to how we obtain the evidence in order to convict hooligans through the judicial system.
The Bill, as it is constituted at present, would introduce a range of measures to strengthen and improve the existing banning process and its effective enforcement. If those measures are introduced, they will have a significant effect. They will make a difference, by increasing the number of banning orders while sending out a strong preventive message. We clearly have to monitor the effectiveness of the Bill—if it is passed—in terms of offences committed and the number of orders. We need to be in possession of that information before we can further consider the significant new powers proposed in the new clause.
The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst may well be right to say that we shall have to revisit this debate in future, and it is possible that we will need those extra powers. However, given that the Bill's existing provisions command the support of so many people, we must wait and see how they work in practice.
§ 11 am
§ Mr. Forth
Does the Minister share my reservations about the speed of access to the court procedure that might be available, were the approach she has set out to be taken? She acknowledges that that question might have to be re-examined, so I am putting down a marker as much as anything else. However efficient NCIS may or may not be, and however accessible the chief constable and all the other people mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) may or may not be, unless access to the court process is quickly available, we run the risk of seriously encroaching on people's liberties without their ever having been convicted of anything.
§ Kate Hoey
The right hon. Gentleman is right. If the Bill had been proposed as a Government measure, such assurances, checks and balances would have to be carefully considered and speed of access ensured. However, the Bill is not a Government Bill, although we are supporting it wholeheartedly, and the hon. Member for West Chelmsford has made his views known on the subject.
We need time to monitor how the additional powers to deal with convicted hooligans that the Bill will give when enacted work in practice. There is cross-party concern that we should do all that we can to prevent known hooligans from going about their activities freely. There is support both within the House and outside for ensuring that such people cannot travel abroad, which is why we inserted 905 provisions dealing with the removal of passports. We do not want our country's name to be besmirched by the disgraceful incidents that have been witnessed over the past few years.
I acknowledge the sentiment behind the amendments and have some sympathy with them. We shall discuss with the Opposition and all interested parties what further action can be taken in the light of monitoring the effectiveness of the Bill. However, the amendments do not command the universal support that the Bill's other provisions command, and to insert contentious provisions into a private Member's Bill presents greater difficulties. Although that is not in itself a reason not to proceed—sometimes it is necessary to do things that substantial numbers of people dislike—the success of football legislation relies on a vast range of factors, including policing, intelligence, effective stewarding, closed circuit television, safer and more comfortable grounds and effective ticketing policies. Most importantly, it also relies on the support of those who are affected—the football supporters.
The provisions of the Bill as it stands have achieved widespread support. Including the amendments at this time, without the detailed consideration that I have mentioned, would be likely, at best, to reduce confidence in the legislation and, at worst, to alienate the very people whose support we need in order to combat hooliganism. For those reasons, and in the light of the assurance that we shall keep the legislation under review, I hope that the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border will withdraw his new clause.
§ Mr. Maclean
This has been an important debate and it has been quite contentious at times. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is right: it is a pity that on such an occasion, when we are making important amendments to the criminal law, the House is not packed with some of our great parliamentarians from both sides indulging in a debate on the freedom of the individual and civil liberties.
I have listened carefully to the speeches made. There are a few key points on which I wish to reassure my right hon. Friend and a few comments I wish to make on the Minister's speech before I decide whether to withdraw the new clause. For the sake of brevity, and so that I did not stray too far out of order, I did not explain fully what NCIS was and what it did. I apologise for my arrogance: having worked with NCIS when I was a Minister at the Home Office, I assumed that everybody knew what the acronym stood for. It stands for National Criminal Intelligence Service—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The right hon. Gentleman does not need to explain that to the House—it has all been done before.
§ Mr. Maclean
I shall give my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst a briefing on NCIS later, or he can tune in to its website and read the information there. As for an invitation to visit, if NCIS is as sinister as he believes it to be, I do not think that he will need to ask for an invitation, for the second he steps outside the door of the House, he will be swept off the street, taken to a dark cell and briefed by John Abbott himself. But NCIS is not a sinister organisation.
906 I did not specifically mention NCIS in the new clause, because I did not think that I had to. I took the view that the phrase "chief officer of police" includes the Commissioner of the Metropolitan police and the head of NCIS, who has to be of chief officer rank before taking that post.
§ Mr. Maclean
My right hon. Friend has not committed any offence under the terms of this legislation and he is not suspected of being a violent hooligan or of causing disorder, nor do I believe him to be suspected of committing any of the other crimes with which NCIS concerns itself—drug dealing, terrorism and paedophilia. Therefore, I believe that he is safe.
§ Kate Hoey
It might be worth clarifying the question of the term "chief officer of police". That category includes chief constables, the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and the City Commissioner, but it does not include the director-general of NCIS, even though he is of similar status. In practice, NCIS passes intelligence to chief officers of police. It does not initiate prosecutions itself, so the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is quite safe.
§ Mr. Maclean
That was an extremely helpful clarification of that part of my clause. Even though the term "chief officer of police" in my new clause does not include the director-general of NCIS, there would be no glaring lacuna in the law, because NCIS would pass on the information and act as an intelligence-gathering body for the whole British police service, and local chief officers would then use the powers designated in my new clause to go to the court. Unless my right hon. Friend has any other specific concerns about NCIS, I do not propose to make further reference to it.
My right hon. Friend was concerned about balance. It is a serious matter to extend the criminal law to curtail the freedom of movement of individuals who have not been convicted of an offence, but similar powers already exist in the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. That Act allows people—men or women—to go to court to obtain an injunction to prevent someone from hanging around outside their flat, even though that person is doing nothing but hanging around, when they feel threatened or harassed by that person in those circumstances. The principle before us is similar.
If we can build into our legislation the principle that someone can be prevented from phoning another person, sending that person flowers, or hanging around outside that person's flat, surely it is no greater step to provide that, when the police apprehend that there may be violence and disorder and the courts conclude that that is so, a person may be prevented from travelling to a venue to commit that violence or disorder.
§ Mr. Forth
I am beginning to suspect my right hon. Friend of being a closet Marxist. He appears to be talking about irreversibility and inevitability, saying that, because we have done something before, we can do it again now. Has he not considered the possibility that what we did before can be proved to have been wrong, or that we got 907 the balance wrong on that occasion? Surely my right hon. Friend does not believe that it is adequate to argue that, because we have done something before, it must be all right to do it now?
§ Mr. Maclean
I am not making that point. I am not following the Marxist supremacy of law point that I learned and forgot about 30 years ago. My point is simply that there is a precedent: the proposal does not break new ground. In fact, the measure is in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 which refers to disorderly and disruptive children. I am not saying that we should extend the measure to this legislation because we have done so before.
There is potential for extending the measure to deal with problems of violence and disorder. The figures are decreasing: the arrest rate has fallen to 13.4 per 100,000 spectators in the past year, compared with 15.7 in the previous season. In 1997–98, arrests totalled 3,307, compared with 3,577 in 1996–97. Although the total has decreased—there were 1,000 drink-related arrests, 500 arrests for disorderly behaviour and about 300 for threatening behaviour—the numbers of violent disorder and affray offences, at 65 and 52, is double those of the previous season. Although the number of offences overall continues to decrease—many of the offences are minor, including drink-related offences and breaches of exclusion orders—the nasty offences, such as violent disorder or racial or indecent chanting, have increased. The police have pointed out that the figures show that football hooliganism at home is continuing to decline. Criminal intelligence—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The House extends to the proposer of a new clause the privilege to speak a second time in order to allow him to reply to the debate. The right hon. Gentleman should not make his arguments all over again.
§ Mr. Maclean
My apologies, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was attempting to respond to the points raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth)—I had better not try to respond to all of them. I clearly may not be able to persuade him to my point of view. I am not saying that, because few people will be affected, it does not matter if we deprive them of their civil liberties.
§ Mr. Tony Clarke
1 do not wish to get the right hon. Gentleman in trouble with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I refer him to his comments about the increasing number of arrests for racial and verbal abuse. Will the right hon. Gentleman congratulate the vast number of football supporters in this country who are responsible for bringing about those arrests? People are less tolerant of racism and fascism at our football grounds, and supporters are making stewards aware of unacceptable behaviour. That has led to an increase in the number of arrests.
§ Mr. Maclean
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. Because the number of arrests has decreased and football grounds have become safer, people no longer expect to attend matches and have cans thrown at them. They expect to attend football matches with their families, 908 as rugby spectators have been able to do for 100 years. Football supporters are now less tolerant of that sort of behaviour.
Nevertheless, there was a small increase, from 10 to 33, in the number of people arrested for racial or indecent chanting. The police have said vociferously in their press releases that, while they are concerned about that increase in hard core offences, the number of offences has declined in relation to the number of people attending football matches. That figure has increased dramatically, yet the overall arrest rate has fallen. That means that more decent, honest people and fewer hooligans are attending football matches.
My new clause seeks to deal with the small number of hard core supporters to whom the police continually refer. As with any criminal activity—terrorism and so on—the hard core offenders hide behind those in the front line and foment violence and disorder, but they are not convicted.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The right hon. Gentleman is now repeating himself. He is using almost exactly the same language as he used in his opening speech, and I am not prepared to accept that.
§ Mr. Maclean
I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was led slightly astray by the intervention of the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Clarke).
A further point relates to the European convention on human rights, of which my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst suggested the new clause could fall foul. I do not think that it will. As I suspect the Minister is not seriously contemplating enacting the measure, she will not yet have checked with the ECHR provisions. However, if something has judicial approval and is to go before a court, I think we may be satisfied on ECHR grounds.
§ Kate Hoey
I mentioned this matter on Second Reading. We are satisfied at present that the measures outlined in the review document in respect of unconvicted persons would not, in principle, be in breach of the ECHR or the EC treaty, provided that sufficient safeguards were in place. However, if we were to pursue the measures, we would have to ensure that they complied fully with all our international obligations.
§ Mr. Maclean
I am grateful to the Minister. That is the best possible answer that my right hon. Friend could receive. I do not need to elaborate on it one iota as it responds fully to my right hon. Friend's concerns—
§ Mr. Maclean
I may agree with that point of view on many occasions—indeed, I may agree with it now. However, my right hon. Friend objected to my new clause on the basis that it could fall foul of the ECHR. The Minister says that it will not, and it is not adequate for my right hon. Friend to respond by saying, "Well, the ECHR is rubbish".
The Minister touched on a crucial point concerning evidence. The police may not wish to go to the court and seek a banning order if they do not have sufficient 909 evidence, or if their evidence is based on information from informants or on the release of other information. However, that point does not work against my new clause because the police might be in that position at present. Because they can secure a conviction only by revealing a valuable source of information or intelligence, the police may decide in a variety of cases—including football-related cases—to ask the Crown Prosecution Service to drop the case. That happens on rare occasions—we may not know about them—and it will be no different in future. If the only way of persuading the court to grant a banning order—either domestically or internationally—is by revealing certain information to the court, and therefore to the accused, the police may decide that, because such evidence could not be provided in camera or in private, it is not worth the candle and they will not proceed. I do not think it destroys my new clause to acknowledge that the police will not pursue a conviction in some cases. That is a judgment for them.
My right hon. Friend—who is not officially learned yet—referred to the speed of access to the court process. The police will be seeking banning orders. They will not sweep people off the streets, as my right hon. Friend suggested, and keep them in cells for days before taking them to court. Even if there were no other provisions in the criminal law, it would be in the interests of the chief officer of police to sweep a hooligan off the street, to take him to court as soon as possible and secure a banning order. The offender could then be released back into the public domain, but he would not be able to travel to a particular football match.
§ Mr. Forth
Does the chief officer—whoever that may be—have control over the speed of the court process? I believe there are two separate issues. It is one thing for the chief officer to enforce the provisions of the new clause and quite another to give the individual who is subject to this measure any reassurances about the extent to which the judicial process will be readily available to him.
§ Mr. Maclean
Of course the chief officer cannot dictate when people will get to court. Nevertheless, those people are not kept in police detention for the whole time.
§ Mr. Maclean
If people are arrested in the car park and they have weapons of violence, they could be committing an offence, so they could be arrested and charged appropriately. The point about my new clause is that it seeks a banning order to stop people travelling overseas to a football match. It is not necessary for the police to keep them in permanent custody to achieve that, but it is in their interests to get the banning order and release the people into the public domain. They must then report into a police station, hand over their passport or comply with any conditions imposed by the court. My right hon. Friend need not be worried that access to justice would be too slow and that it would therefore deny individuals their liberty.
910 I have tried, with the new clause, to extend criminal law. I appreciate that I have suggested moving into an area that causes deep concern to some of my hon. Friends. The Minister is also concerned that there are loose ends, and she wants the current legislation to bed down before taking the step of introducing banning orders for people who have not yet been convicted of a criminal offence. Clearly, if I were to pursue the new clause to a vote, I would not have the unanimous approval of the House and, in any case, I would lose my customary partner teller.
Bearing it in mind that my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) has been persuaded by the Government to do a U-turn and that the Minister advises me not to pursue my new clause now—I greatly respect her opinion on a range of issues—I shall not do so, although it has been worth while airing the arguments. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.