HC Deb 17 July 2000 vol 354 cc152-5
Mr. Charles Clarke

I beg to move amendment No. 4, in page 4, line 37, at end insert— 'but, for the purposes of paragraph (a), any football match included in the qualifying or pre-qualifying stages of the tournament is to be left out of account.'. The amendment is intended to clarify, in response to the Second Reading debate elsewhere, the way in which the Secretary of State might use his or her powers to apply the legislation. We felt that it was important that the qualifying or pre-qualifying stages of a tournament be left out of account. For example, in considering the world cup finals or the Euro 2000 finals, we would not take into account all the qualifying games over two years, or whatever is the relevant period.

The amendment is sensible and responds to concerns that have been raised by hon. Members. I hope that the House will support it.

Miss Widdecombe

The amendment reflects what we sought in amendment No. 3. The Minister did not acknowledge that.

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend and I meant to acknowledge that, and I did indeed acknowledge it earlier in our proceedings.

Miss Widdecombe

I am grateful to the Home Secretary for that acknowledgement, but why was amendment No. 3 not accepted? I am prepared to believe that there is a good reason for that, but how is amendment No. 4 better than amendment No. 3? The purpose of amendment No. 3 was to clarify the definition of the phrase "external tournament", which the Bill uses to define overseas tournaments such as Euro 2000. The amendment stated that that definition shall not include any …qualifying or pre-qualifying stages. As far as I can see, amendment No. 4 has the same purpose. I do not oppose it, but I ask out of curiosity: did the Government refuse to accept amendment No. 3 on a matter of principle?.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I have a practical question that relates to earlier interventions by the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) and others. Will matches in the qualifying or pre-qualifying stages of the next world cup be excluded from the provisions of the Bill? I thought that the House was speeding the passage of the Bill in order to include games in the first stages of a competition. I understand that competitions such as Euro 2000 should be ring-fenced, but will England's first away game in the world cup qualification group be covered by the Bill?.

Mr. Banks

I can help the hon. Gentleman. England's first away game in the qualifying stage for the 2002 world cup is against Finland on 11 October. On 28 March next year, the England team will travel to Albania. Crucially, the team will travel to Germany on 1 September next year, before finishing the programme with home games against Albania on 5 September, and against Greece on 6 October.

I assume that those matches—and especially the away match against Germany—would be covered by the Bill.

Mr. Hughes

There is agreement among hon. Members of all parties that those games must be covered by the Bill. However, the relevant control period may be not the one that governs the tournament, but a different control period that specifically ring-fences individual fixtures. The House needs to know the score about that, and exactly what powers we are being asked to approve.

How will the Bill affect the away games that England will play between now and the end of the qualifying period? I hope that the Minister will clarify that. If he cannot reassure the House that everything is fine, we may need to table another amendment.

Mr. Clarke

First, may I say that I in no way intended to snub or offend the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) by not acknowledging the critical contribution of amendment No. 3 to amendment No. 4? However, after discussions with the parliamentary draftsmen, the Government decided that the clarification for the purposes of paragraph (a) in amendment No. 4 made matters much clearer and addressed the situation more effectively. We sought the most precise form of words for the amendment, and this is it. I am genuinely sorry if the right hon. Lady was offended earlier.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) asked about regulated football matches. He will see that schedule 1 states: `Regulated football match' means an association football match …which is a prescribed match or match of a prescribed description. The control period relates to a regulated football match and can be itemised to deal with a particular game, whatever type it may happen to be, in whatever kind of way. It could be one of the games in the qualifying period, for example.

Subsection (6) of proposed new section 14 relates to a tournament. We believed that it was important to restrict the period to the finals of the tournament, so that we did not have a much more general power. The changes have restricted the Home Secretary's freedom to do this in a way that is important and rational but does not remove the danger referred to by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey—that particular games might be left out. The Home Secretary will make a judgment about whether a particular game, in any circumstances, poses risks of the type that we acknowledge, based on the information that he has. He will then decide whether to establish a control period and consider the various relevant issues.

Where we wish to deal with the finals of a tournament, as we have seen in Belgium and Holland, and saw in France last year, rather than citing a whole series of different games, we think it right to make it explicit that the provision deals only with the final stage of that tournament rather than with all the pre-qualifying stages as well.

Mr. Hughes

The Minister is clear; he is giving us the interpretation that careful reading—I was reading as he spoke—makes clear allowance for the two different types of prescription.

In practice, how will the fact that this law is applied—that the Home Secretary has made a decision to apply the law to a particular match or set of matches—be widely enough known in advance for everybody in the country to be aware that it applies to that particular fixture, and to club games as well as national games?.

Mr. Clarke

That is one of the practical things that we will have to address in detail—how to communicate exactly when and where the Home Secretary will make his decisions. What the hon. Gentleman says is right—it is important that everybody should be quite clear what the situation is before the event. We will ensure that that is the case. It is straightforward to do that, as I think the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. Before I call the next amendment, I should like to tell the House that an up-to-date list of the amendments that we are discussing is now available in the Vote Office.

12.30 am
Mr. Simon Hughes

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I first thank the staff of the House who have produced this in virtually no time at all? I also thank the civil servants, who have been given slightly more work than they had bargained for.

My point of order is this: I see that in Madam Speaker's provisional selection of amendments on Report, the next group includes amendments Nos. 6, 7, 8 and 9. The next amendment selected—amendment No. 12—is in the name of the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell), and is about the rehabilitation of offenders and a backstop point. Amendment No. 8, in my name, is also about spent convictions. Would you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, consider whether it would not be more sensible to take the two amendments on spent convictions together? I have not had a chance to consult the right hon. Gentleman about this, for which I apologise, but it seems to me that they are about one subject, whereas amendments Nos. 6, 7 and 9 are about another.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I hear the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. It is not normal to query Madam Speaker's selection of amendments, but I will reflect on the hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Leigh

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I know that in British industry it is fashionable to talk of just-in-time delivery, but is it usual for the selection of amendments to be delivered to us literally two minutes before we are told that you have selected them for debate?.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is not I who have been selecting the amendments but Madam Speaker. The Clerks are doing their very best to keep ahead of the procedures before the House.

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