HC Deb 27 July 2000 vol 354 cc1305-10

Lords amendment: No. 4, in page 2, line 40, leave out ("four years") and insert ("one year")

Mr. Charles Clarke

I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

The amendment gave rise to the most discussion in another place. I will not hide from the House that the Government are disappointed by the amendment, which reflects the desire of another place to reduce significantly the proposed life span of what are widely known as measures 3 and 4. We were not against a sunset clause in principle and we were quite happy to discuss it, but we feel that the time periods that were agreed in another place are too short for good legislation.

When we proposed one and four-year sunset periods, we believed that the right amount of time had been allocated properly to evaluate the impact and effectiveness of the measures in sections 14B, 21A and 2IB of the Football Spectators Act 1989. We were especially conscious that a five-year period would incorporate Euro 2004 in Portugal—a high-risk tournament comparable with Euro 2000—and that that would provide an excellent test for the Bill. That is why we opposed the amendment in another place and that is why we regret it now. However, we recognise that the concerns that were expressed in another place that led to the amendment were perfectly genuine and were not facetious in any way. Although we do not share those views, we think that in the interests of the consensual approach that we have tried to follow, we should accept the amendment and for that reason I commend it to the House.

Miss Widdecombe

While I am grateful to the Minister for not resisting the proposal that there should be a fairly stringent sunset clause, I am also slightly disappointed as we proposed an original renewal period of six months rather than the one year which has now come from another place. On the other hand, the final date by which the legislation falls, which is two years away, is exactly what we proposed.

Although I hear what the Minister says about the matches that the Bill will not cover, it will cover the whole of the qualifying period for the World cup and should therefore provide a sensible opportunity to assess its effectiveness. 4 pm

However, I feel strongly that, without the amendment, it would have been hard for Conservative Members to maintain our support for the Bill. We have always supported the taking of immediate measures to deal with football hooligans, and the use of an accelerated timetable. When the Bill was published, part IV especially included provisions that we had never sought. They had never been proposed previously, and so had not been discussed. As a result, all subsequent discussion has been completely new, and the timetable has been extremely rushed.

We have made it clear throughout that we would not oppose the due process of the Bill's progress through the House, although it has not had much of that due process. However, the measure's flaws and dangers have become clearer with debate, and it has become increasingly necessary to provide that the Bill has a clause to ensure their short, sharp life.

At various stages of the debate on the Bill, hon. Members have drawn parallels with the Dangerous Dogs Act 1989. The hon. Member for Newham—

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham)

My constituency is now called West Ham.

Miss Widdecombe

I am sorry, I cannot keep up with these changes.

Mr. Banks

At least I have not changed my constituency.

Miss Widdecombe

Neither have I. The hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) said that he had a specific opposition to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1989. He and I share many interests when it comes to animal welfare. I was not happy either with the outcome of deliberations on that legislation, although at the time I was obliged to pretend that I was.

Therefore, I feel strongly that we must always ensure that legislation introduced at a fast pace can be reviewed. Such a review should take place at an early stage, not after a long period of possible injustices, failures and undesirable effects. In that way, hon. Members would be able to assess whether the legislation was better or worse than they believed it to be when it left the House, or exactly as they expected.

I welcome the amendment. It is close to what we asked for in the first place, and I am grateful to the Minister for accepting it. I hope that it will meet with no serious opposition from other hon. Members.

Mr. Corbyn

Like other hon. Members, I am pleased that the Bill's review period will be shorter than originally planned—as long as my hon. Friend the Minister does not come back to the House for a renewal clause within a year. I hope that my hon. Friend will say whether there is a serious intention of extending the provisions beyond a year.

More importantly, what assessments will be made of the Bill's effects and operation? How will those assessments be reported to the House, and what opportunity will hon. Members have to debate them? This Bill seriously and fundamentally reduces the civil liberties of British citizens. It has to be monitored, as the prevention of terrorism Acts and other legislation are.

My hon. Friend the Minister did not see me when I tried to intervene before he sat down at the end of the short discussion of the previous group of amendments. I wanted to ask him what would happen if he sought to make an order during a parliamentary recess: would there be an opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny in such an eventuality? The Bill has been rushed through both Houses of Parliament, and is inadequate in many ways. I think that it poses a danger to civil liberties in our society. At the very least, we need a process by which Parliament can examine its effects. We need to know what reports about its operation will be received up to and during the initial match to which it is intended to apply—the international between England and France in September.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South)

It was a bit rich of the Minister to complain about the amount of time for assessment of the Bill's effects being reduced to two years, as he was an enthusiastic supporter of denying either House of Parliament the chance to debate properly what the Bill was meant to achieve. No doubt his lack of enthusiasm for the amendment is tempered by his enthusiasm to get the Bill through the House today.

There has been widespread concern about the Bill in the House. That was evident on Third Reading and at other stages of its progress. It left this House in pretty bad shape, and has returned slightly improved, but the acceptance by the Government of the amendments tabled in another place shows that there was real room for improvement. The reduction of the assessment period is one element of that, but it would have been better if this House had had at least one more day for deliberation on the amendments. We were denied that opportunity. It would also have been better if the House of Lords had had the opportunity to discuss the amendments more fully.

Everyone who wants legislation to curb football hooliganism to succeed will be disappointed with the lack of time for debate. The problem for those who object to aspects of the Bill is that it will return to the House before two years are up. There is no doubt that the provisions will be challenged in the courts, and the Home Secretary will have to come to the House to amend the legislation accordingly.

The Bill may solve this summer's problem, but it will not help in the long term. I agree with the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), who said that we have to stamp out hooliganism and make football worth going to see, so that people can be proud of the national team. The Bill will not achieve that. I hope that the Minister will say what he would add to the Bill to improve it.

Mr. Banks

I must tell the hon. Gentleman that I also said that the Bill might not work. That is because the beast that we are dealing with changes shape according to the legislation that arrives on the statute book. I do not want to create a hostage to fortune, but I am fairly certain that we will have to revisit this territory again and again, until we get the matter right. We must exercise judgment and, although hon. Members from all parties have pointed out the potential problems, that is what we are doing in introducing the Bill.

I am reasonably agnostic about the amendment. I preferred the original proposal in the Bill for a four-year review period, but I hope that my hon. Friend will clarify one point. I understand that the legislation will come into effect by the end of August. That means that we will be looking at it again this time next year. Probably the most crucial game to be played by the England team in the course of the next year will take place on 1 September 2001. It is a World cup qualifying match against Germany—in Munich, of all places. I can imagine the sort of loonies who might turn up for that match.

Will my hon. Friend the Minister say to what extent we can be certain that the Bill will still be in place at that time? Will it be adequate to handle problems that might arise in the run-up to the match against Germany on 1 September 2001?

Mr. David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden)

I shall be brief, in the hope that the House will be able to vote on the Liberal Democrat amendment at the end of this short debate. For me and a number of other hon. Members, it is the only way in which the Bill can be rendered remotely acceptable.

Many hon. Members were worried about the use of civil standards of proof and civil process to exercise the criminal sanction of a banning order. After the sunset clause is triggered, it is inevitable that the Bill will return to the House to be recreated. I hope that the Minister will look then at the option of using criminal process rather than civil process, and in that way ensure that the legislation properly respects civil liberties.

Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire)

We must remember that the Bill is very rushed. It is inaccurate to say that there has been real opportunity for proper scrutiny. Consequently, I think that one year is quite long enough before the measure is reconsidered. It is thoroughly undesirable that we should legislate in this way. To restrict the Bill's time limit to one year—six months would have been better—is the only ameliorating factor. I am very glad that the other place has proposed this amendment.

Mr. Simon Hughes

As colleagues have said, this is where the Government were defeated in the other place, by a majority of 38. The amendment is the attempt of the other place, given the rush, to do something.

I echo the words of the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr. Davis). We do not make the removal of civil liberties acceptable by saying that they are removed only for the next two years. My hon. Friends and I take the view that there should be a criminal pre-condition for a banning order, which is not in the Bill, and that there should not be summary detention without judicial authority. However, those views apply whether the measure is for one year or two.

No Government would put so much effort into a measure if they did not intend to use its powers. It is not as if the Government want these powers to remain in the locker—they want to apply them. We will be able to judge how effective those powers are.

The sunset provision clearly improves the Bill. The Minister undertook that annual reports would be made, although there is a question about their independence. Before we agree to the amendment, will the Minister confirm that we will have an independent report on the working of the Bill before the renewal orders—which must be made before next summer's recess—and before the end of the life of the Bill, which must be before the end of summer 2002?

Mr. Charles Clarke

A number of points have been raised in this short debate. Let me say first to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) that we believe that the Bill is well constructed, but we do not yet have a view as to what to do at the end of the period. We genuinely want to look at the situation, see what has happened and decide whether the legislation should be improved or whether further legislation is necessary. To that end, my hon. Friend is right to say that it will be necessary for a report to be made on the legislation so that the situation can be fully discussed. That report will be made. I cannot give the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) the commitment—I could not give it to him on Second or Third Readings, either—that the report will be "independent". However, I can give the commitment that we will make a report.

As for a debate in the House, that is a matter for the normal process. Of course, all the normal processes of the House, including Select Committees, will be able to stimulate debate on those matters.

Mr. Corbyn

Is there any possibility of ensuring that an independent report is done on the operation of the legislation, perhaps through surveillance of the matches taking place in September and this autumn? Could someone appointed by the Home Office report independently on the Bill so that we do not have to rely only on statistics and police reports?

Mr. Clarke

I am not ruling that out. I understand the point made by my hon. Friend and by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey. However, we will consider how to report in a way that will maximise confidence in what we are doing among all those in the House. A variety of reports are produced—police reports and others have been mentioned—which we look at. We will decide exactly how to report in due course. I simply say to the hon. Gentleman that I cannot give an absolute commitment that the report will be independent in the way that he wishes.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the recess. The order referred to under proposed section 22A(2) is subject to the negative resolution procedure. It can therefore be laid and can come into force during the recess in the event that such circumstances arise.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) mentioned the Germany/England game in 2001. The process being considered today is that proposed sections 14B, 21A and 21B will be subject to a one-year initial review period which will take us to the end of August 2001, subject to an order extending it for a further year—to August 2002—which will be subject to affirmative resolution.

In the event that the Bill is agreed to today, the match in September 2001 will be covered, provided that the House agrees an affirmative order before August 2001, which would extend the Bill for another year. That takes us to the period in which the report must be made, referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North.

4.15 pm
Mr. Corbyn

I thank the Minister for giving way again. I just want to be clear about this. In the event that the Government decide to extend the life of the measure beyond August 2001, can the Minister assure us that that would be done by an affirmative vote of the House rather than an instrument ordered by a Minister, as that would be ordered during a recess and would therefore have to be voted on retrospectively? That would obviously be too late, because the Bill would already have come into effect.

Mr. Clarke

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. The extension of the legislation by a further year after the first year would be by affirmative, not negative order. So the Government would need to table—presumably before 31 July 2001—an order to extend the measure for a year to August 2002.1 cannot commit myself to the exact date, but that is the framework. That is the meaning of the process that we are discussing.

Mr. Hughes

Does not the report, whether or not it is as independent as we would like, also have to be laid before we have the affirmative resolution votes, not just at the end of the two years of the Bill's life?

Mr. Clarke

The report will be about the first two-year period, assuming that an affirmative order were passed, to consider whether further legislation will be necessary to extend the measure beyond the period that we have discussed. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that we should have the report before the affirmative order to extend the measure for a further year is made, I understand his point, and so will those who read our proceedings. We will consider what is the appropriate reporting mechanism to the House at that point.

Obviously, in any debate on the affirmative order, right hon. and hon. Members will be able to make any points that they want about the basis of information that is being considered. A report on the content of the legislation has to be laid beforehand, as clause 5 clearly provides. However, I am more ambiguous in my response to the hon. Gentleman about the nature of the report, because that will be important to the House in considering the situation.

With that, I commend the Lords amendment to the House.

Lords amendment agreed to.

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