HC Deb 11 June 1999 vol 332 cc943-8
Mr. Maclean

I beg to move amendment No. 17, in page 6, line 6, leave out 'ten' and insert 'fifteen'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 18, in page 6, line 7, leave out 'five' and insert 'seven'.

No. 19, in page 6, line 11, leave out `six' and insert

No. 20, in page 6, line 12, leave out `three' and insert `five'.

No. 21, in page 6, line 16, leave out `two–thirds' and insert 'one–third'.

No. 25, in clause 8, page 9, line 11, leave out 'one year' and insert 'six months'.

No. 26, in page 9, line 11, leave out `three' and insert `five'.

No. 27, in page 9, line 12, at end insert—

`(1A) In section 33 of the 1986 Act (application to terminate order) for subsection (1) substitute—

(1) A person in relation to whom a domestic football banning order has had effect for at least one–third of the period determined under section 32(1) above may apply to the court which made the order to terminate it.".'. No. 28, in page 9, line 17, leave out 'six months' and insert 'three months'.

No. 29, in page 9, line 18, leave out 'level 5' and insert `level 4'.

Mr. Maclean

I shall be brief as we shall reach Third Reading shortly. I want to test the water with these amendments, which seek to increase the minimum and maximum periods for which banning orders can be imposed while allowing appeals for termination of orders to be made earlier. I am giving my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) a chance to toughen the Bill drastically while increasing the court's discretion in using the penalties.

The amendments affect clauses 4 and 8. The Bill provides a maximum period of 10 years for a banning order for someone who has been imprisoned. The amendment suggests 15. In cases not involving imprisonment, the Bill suggests five years and the amendment seven. The minimum periods in the Bill are six years and three years; the amendment suggests nine and five. Clause 8 deals with the period of effect of orders under section 32 of the Public Order Act 1986. It is currently no less than one year and no more than three, whereas I suggest not less than six months and no more than five years. We are lowering one end of the scale while increasing the other.

The other important change allows application for termination of orders to be made earlier, although that is coupled with the possibility of longer maximum sentences. That could be a better way of ensuring that the courts have the powers to impose stiff bans where necessary, but they can choose much longer or shorter periods. If the ban is longer, people will have the right to appeal against it after one third of the period rather than two thirds. The provision increases flexibility while allowing the courts to thump those whom they wish to penalise.

Mr. Burns

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his remarks. I hope that he does not feel that I am a wimp. I am tempted, but I do not want to go down that route, however attractive it may be. We must take a balanced and acceptable approach to penalties so that they are not so harsh that people lose sympathy with the general aims of the mechanism. The Bill has the balance right. The penalties both fit the crime and will be seen as reasonable because they allow individuals to go back to the courts to ask, in respect of international banning orders, for the last third of the sentence to be rescinded on the ground of good behaviour. I think that that applies after a year of the sentence has been served in respect of a domestic banning order. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not press the amendment.

Mr. Forth

This is slightly bizarre. My hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) was almost frothing at the mouth a moment ago about the need for the severest possible penalties. He came close to accusing me of being a wimp on law and order, to which I am unaccustomed. Now he says that we must not go too far or be too harsh and that the penalties are all right.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) said that we have to satisfy ourselves about proportionality and appropriateness. We are prepared to take the drastic step of removing someone's passport; we have just been told that that is essential to make the Bill work. However, we must also consider what will be left of the discretion of the courts. What will be available to them to ensure that appropriate penalties are applied? If nothing else, the maxima will give some guidance to the courts about what we had in mind in legislating.

As I argued earlier, we should not tie the hands of the courts too much. If we were to set severe maximum penalties, that would show the courts that some of the offences that might be committed under the provisions of the Bill were so serious as to merit severe penalties. However, for some reason, the promoter of the Bill does not seem to think so. He seems to think that it is one thing casually to take away someone's passport, but another thing to send a person to prison for a long time. That does not show much consistency. However, I shall again defer to the superior experience of my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border and be guided by him, although I remain somewhat uneasy.

1.45 pm
Mr. Maclean

I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) made those points in his customary lucid style. I too was uneasy about the response of my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford to the amendments. It seems inconsistent to go to the extreme step of taking away a person's passport, but not to allow the courts the freedom to increase the period of the banning order from 10 to 15 years. I was not even proposing a compulsory maximum; I merely wanted to give the courts that extra flexibility in the cases of those vile hooligans to whom my hon. Friend is strongly opposed. In those cases, the court could determine that a 15-year ban might be appropriate.

I suspect that the House will have to deal with this matter again when the Bill returns from another place. In the interests of making progress, I shall not force the matter today, but I suspect that the noble Lords at the other end of the Corridor may take a different view. My hon. Friend has not persuaded me. He said that he was almost tempted to accept the amendment. I hope that, if he is presented with amendments to the Bill when it returns from the other place, he will be prepared to accept some of them—in order to give the courts greater flexibility and freedom to impose tougher sentences, if they want to do so.

As I shall clearly not make further progress today and the House wants to move on to other matters, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Order for Third Reading read.

1.47 pm
Mr. Burns

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I am delighted to have had the opportunity to pilot this important measure through the House. I am proud to have been associated with it. After the obscene behaviour in France last year and because of the far too many occasions in this country when a small band of mindless hooligans have caused so much damage, not only to the reputation of football but to the enjoyment of other people—the vast majority of law-abiding football supporters—we need to take action to block loopholes in the law in respect of racist and indecent chanting. We also need to give the police, the courts and the authorities greater powers to bring to book and to punish those who indulge in that sort of unacceptable and illegal behaviour.

I shall not detain the House for long, but I want to pay tribute to my right hon. Friends the Members for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) and for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) for the way in which they have raised a series of important issues during Report. They gave the House the opportunity to debate matters of concern to them and to some other hon. Members.

I am grateful that a large majority of hon. Members on both sides of the House agree with the Bill—as do interested parties outside the House, ranging from the Football Association, the Football Supporters Association and others to the law enforcement agencies and the National Criminal Intelligence Service. The Bill does not cause party political divisions, so I also pay tribute to, and thank, the Under–Secretary of State for the Home Department for the helpful way in which she has assisted me—as have her civil servants, led by Mr. Alan Brown. He has done tremendous work in helping to inform me on several highly technical and difficult issues. That has ensured the smooth running of the measure through its stages in the House, and its improvement in Committee. Shortly, my Bill will leave the House and go to another place. I trust that their lordships will give it swift passage, so that a badly needed measure that commands great support is on the statute book by the end of July, comes into force by September and is in place for most of the next football season, when it can do something positive to minimise the sort of behaviour that has become all too familiar, both in this country and, especially, overseas.

1.50 pm
Mr. Ivor Caplin (Hove)

I want to say only a few words and concur with the remarks of the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns). I congratulate him on the way in which he piloted his Bill through Second Reading and in Committee. As a football fan, I am pleased that the Bill is now making speedy progress, as I hoped it would when I spoke on Second Reading. I shall focus my remarks on two clauses, 9 and 10, which deal with racist chanting and ticket touting, against both of which I have been campaigning for some time.

I am pleased that, today, we as a House have an opportunity to say once and for all that we oppose the racist chanting that has bedevilled football for many years. We should be aware of its intrusion into cricket and other sports, which might be an issue that my hon. Friend the Minister will wish to discuss with colleagues, including our hon. Friend the Minister for Sport.

On Second Reading, I said that ticket touting was not entrepreneurship, but robbery. I have no doubt that stronger regulations to stop ticket touting are welcome in this country. I hope that we shall be able to use that framework as the basis for discussions with our European partners about how to strengthen the framework for overseas football.

1.52 pm
Mr. Tony Clarke

I congratulate the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) on introducing his Bill, which highlights and tackles the loopholes that have enabled football hooligans to continue to flourish.

To a certain extent, the media have misrepresented the debate in such a way as to make us believe that we still have a problem in our domestic game. That is not true. In the main, football has cleaned up its own act, largely through the efforts of supporters working hard within their clubs. Now, we are addressing loopholes that enable hooligans to cause trouble abroad and to chant racist slogans at matches, and we are acting to rid ourselves of ticket touts.

In the other place and when the Bill returns to this House, I hope that two fundamental points that still cause me concern are addressed. The first relates to football-related offences and my hope that we will find a way to give some protection to third parties who get caught up in violent events. People go to bars for many reasons—for a stag night, for a night out with friends or as regulars—but if they get caught up in violence that is construed as being football related, they might fall foul of the restriction orders that we impose.

The second point relates to racist chanting. The Minister may be aware of concerns that I voiced in Committee, that although we have corrected one anomaly—that of a chorus being defined as at least two people before action could be taken; that has now been reduced to one person—we have not corrected the anomaly relating to repeated utterance. Although action might be possible under a breach of the peace, unless the offending comment is repeated, it might be difficult to obtain a conviction.

If ever a reason was needed for legislation of this nature being on the statute book, it was provided this week in Four Four Two, in an article about a self-confessed hooligan and Chelsea fan by the name of Martin King. The article states: On one occasion, King, whose passport was recognised by a copper when he was off to watch Chelsea in the Cup Winners' Cup, told an officer he no longer followed football and was going wine-tasting in France—by sheer coincidence on the same day the Blues were playing in Europe. 'Sorry to bother you lads,' replied the policeman, who handed King back his passport. For that reason, we must not let this matter drop. I wish the legislation every success, in its present form or as a Government measure.

1.55 pm
Mrs. Laing

I wish briefly to commend my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) for introducing this excellent Bill, which, as has been shown this morning, enjoys wide support throughout the House. It will have far-reaching consequences, so it is right that we have considered the arguments in depth today. I also commend my right hon. Friends the Members for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) for their assiduous examination of the Bill. However, as I appreciate that brevity is necessary to ensure that the Bill does not run out of time, I am happy simply to commend it to the House and to leave the rest to the Minister.

1.56 pm
Mr. Forth

It always makes me nervous when I hear hon. Members say, "This Bill has wide support on all sides of the House." My memory goes back to the Child Support Agency, which similarly enjoyed the support of both sides of the House, and which subsequent Conservative and Labour Governments attempted to put right many years later. My right hon. and hon. Friends will recall many measures that were introduced in a rush of enthusiasm and received widespread support throughout the House, and which almost invariably turned out to be some of the worst pieces of legislation ever inflicted on the voters and taxpayers. I hope that this will not be one of them.

I have expressed my reservations about the Bill. I understand why my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) has introduced it and I accept that there is support for the measure. However, I add in parenthesis that the amount of support—visual, vocal and physical—has not been exactly overwhelming today. The House has its own peculiar reasons for working in this way and moving mysteriously its wonders to perform, so I shall leave that to one side.

I remain somewhat uneasy about the extent to which in this Bill, as in others, we are shifting the balance—slowly but inexorably—away from the traditional rights enjoyed by individuals in this country to benefit "the authorities", whoever they are, and who take many forms in this country, as in others. They have ever greater powers and resources, and technology is widely available to them. I am sure that, in most cases, that is a force for good and reassures the majority of law-abiding people. However, we must acknowledge that, every now and then, there is a distinct danger that those huge mechanisms and enormous powers will go wrong and be abused—usually inadvertently, but sometimes deliberately. Above all, our prime responsibility in the House of Commons is to seek to protect the individual.

I hope that we have discharged that responsibility in this case and I hope that the Bill's wider powers will not go wrong in any way. I hope that I am proved wrong, but I must express that reservation. I accept that my hon. Friend's Bill will proceed, having received due process and proper debate in the House and in Committee. It received a good debate on Report—which is the only way I believe legislation should be able to proceed. My hon. Friend came high in the ballot and he has handled the Bill impeccably. I congratulate him on carrying the House with him. It now remains to be seen to what extent the other place will examine the matter. I support Third Reading.

1.59 pm
Kate Hoey

I congratulate the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) on successfully getting his Bill through all its parliamentary stages. I am grateful for his co-operation during the Bill's drafting and its progress through the House, and for the skilful way in which he has approached that. I am grateful to other hon. Members for their informed, considered contributions to debates on these important measures, which aim to maintain and enhance the high quality of our national sport and the prominence that it enjoys. We must maintain that by looking after the interests of the decent, law-abiding supporter. The supporters' interests remain paramount, and I was pleased with the constructive contributions to the consultation process made by many of those who represent them.

As we all know, the introduction of the Bill will add to our sophisticated legislative process for dealing with football-related offences. We all recognise, however, that legislation is only part of the solution to that problem. As the hon. Member for West Chelmsford has said throughout the debate, the most important people who can help us, and whom the Bill is really about, are the decent supporters. They will benefit from the measures.

I do not want to go into recent international results on the pitch which have, sadly, not gone too well for the home countries, but we continue to hope that we shall have representation at the Euro 2000 championship in Belgium and Holland. We have already entered into discussions with our colleagues to work out the details of policing and security for that competition.

We want to ensure that all supporters travelling from this country are able to enjoy football in a safe, secure environment, as the vast, well-behaved majority do. They are just as sickened by the shameful antics of the tiny minority who, regrettably, tarnish the image of decent supporters as well as that of our country. That is why we shall continue to seek to introduce measures that prevent those who commit football-related offences from travelling abroad.

The Bill will help to promote the positive aspects of good behaviour. It sends out a strong message that there are firm measures to deal with those who view football as a battleground, not a playing field. We do not want those people associated with our game, and we should all work together to get rid of them. The Bill takes a good step towards that.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

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