HC Deb 26 March 2002 vol 382 cc717-23

Lords amendment: No. 1, in part 1, line 2, leave out "In".

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth)

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

Mr. Speaker

With this we may discuss Lords amendment No. 2.

Mr. Ainsworth

Amendment No. 1 is a technical change consequent to amendment No. 2, which introduces a five-year sunset provision in respect of sections 14B, 21A and 21B of the Football Spectators Act 1989, which contain measures introduced in the Football (Disorder) Act 2000.

The House will recall that the original aim was, through the Bill, to enshrine those measures on the statute book without time limit. When he introduced the Bill, the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), who has responsibility for crime reduction, policing and community safety, made it clear that there was compelling evidence in favour of maintaining sections 14B, 21A and 21B on the statute book. The measures they provide are a tailored and proportionate response to the menace of English football disorder abroad. They strike a balance between national and international interests and individuals' civil liberties, and, having undergone a thorough practical legal examination in the past 19 months, they have not been found wanting.

The House will have noted that when England played Netherlands in Amsterdam a few weeks ago, about 12,000 England fans made the trip. As those who monitor such events already know, although it was a high-risk game, not least because the Dutch have their fair share of football hooligans, there were only 12 English arrests. The behaviour of the overwhelming majority of England fans was excellent, and they are to be congratulated. The fans are clearly working hard to improve their image and reputation.

It is important to recall that in 1993—the last time England played an away international against Netherlands—there were riots in Rotterdam and about 1,000 English fans were arrested. We have moved on since the dark days of mass football hooliganism, which culminated in the appalling scenes witnessed during Euro 2000. However, the Bill makes clear our aim of making further progress in the spirit of co-operation, and I am pleased to report that that is exactly what happened in the other place.

Members on both sides of this House and of the other place recognise the need to avoid any hint of complacency. To lose the measures, which are due to lapse in August, would send out an entirely negative message to our European partners and to the increasingly well-behaved majority of England fans. It would undermine the anti-hooligan strategy and weaken the power of the police and courts to act against the thugs. Furthermore, it would be regarded by some as an encouragement to resume a pattern of repeat offending overseas at a time when England prepares to embark on its Euro 2004 campaign.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

We all agree that seeing the current season and the World cup through will enable us to judge sensibly the long-term effectiveness of the measures. Will the Minister update the House on the number of orders issued and implemented, and the number of convictions that have followed? He will be aware that in the past Ministers have tried to keep us up to speed, and if he has up-to-date information it would be helpful if he passed it on to the House.

Mr. Ainsworth

I shall try. I was present during the debates, so I know that the hon. Gentleman is right to say that the main concern expressed when my right hon. Friend the Minister of State introduced the Bill in the Commons was that there should be an opportunity to see the measures through a number of obstacles, so that we could decide how effective they were. There can be no doubt that both Houses hold the strong view that the measures need to be tested over a longer period, which is why we did not hesitate to table a five-year sunset provision in Committee in the Lords. We were delighted that the Front-Bench spokespersons for the two main Opposition parties felt able to join us in presenting an agreed amendment, the outcome of which is before the House now.

The Bill as amended will extend the lifespan of the relevant measures for a further five years, after which they will lapse or be renewed by statute. I assure the House that the five-year period was chosen not at random, but after careful study of the international football calendar. It will ensure that powers are in place for the 2006 World cup in Germany—a point made by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes)—and, importantly, for the 2008 European championship qualifying matches that will take place while the measures undergo further parliamentary scrutiny. Once the measures have been exposed to both those situations before the expiry of the five-year limit, we should be able to discuss and evaluate their effectiveness.

1.15 pm

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey asked about the number of orders. Of the 984 current orders, 722 deal with conviction under section 14A of the Football Spectators Act 1989, and 107 deal with complaints under section 14B. I hope that that helps the hon. Gentleman to understand the current position. I repeat the commitment given in the other place and by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State in this House to provide Parliament with regular impact reports on how the measures are working. Detailed reports will be submitted on an ad hoc basis before the question of renewal is resurrected so that we can see how the measures are being used.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

I am grateful for the Minister's explanation. I do not know whether he can help the House today, but in addition to the figures he gave the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), it would be useful to know whether there is any information on the number of applications that have been refused. As the Minister will appreciate, one concern is the extent of any impact on the civil liberties of people who have been taken through the process unjustifiably.

Mr. Ainsworth

If we are to maintain cross-party coherence on the issue, we must be as open as possible and provide Front Benchers and Back Benchers with timely information. That will assist with consideration of the proposals and with whether they need to be renewed, amended or otherwise. I am therefore more than happy to try to provide the hon. Gentleman with that information. If I cannot do so today, I shall certainly do so as soon as possible.

Simon Hughes

I wish to pursue a similar line of inquiry. Can the Minister provide us today with one final key piece of information that would help us to judge the Bill? Can he tell us how many of the 107 people subject to banning orders have relevant previous convictions for assault or anything to do with football disorder? As he knows, that issue has come up on previous occasions.

Mr. Ainsworth

The hon. Gentleman has raised those issues before. The reports that we shall try to make available must be comprehensive and must cover such issues so that everyone gets as complete a picture as possible; that is our intention.

With those comments, I commend the Lords amendments to the House.

Mr. Grieve

I shall not detain the House long. I welcome the Minister's comments and the Government's approach to the matter, which illustrates how Parliament can work effectively. The Government had good intentions in coming to Parliament to seek to extend the life of the measures. At the same time, the Opposition had genuine concerns about the civil liberty impact of the measures, even though we fully acknowledged the need to renew the orders. A compromise has been reached, which means that the orders will come back for consideration in five years' time; the House will be able to see whether they are working and whether they are still needed. You never know, we may reach a happy point at which, owing to the continuing decline in football hooliganism, measures of this kind are no longer required. That may be a little over-optimistic—I rather suspect that they will need to be renewed again—but at least the House will be able to retain some control over measures which, although required and well intentioned, have an impact on the civil liberties of the individual. It is clearly desirable for the House to monitor how they are working over the coming five years.

The measures include a provision allowing a police officer to stop someone at a place of exit from the United Kingdom and detain that person for up to 24 hours before he is brought before a court, so that a complaint can be made and a banning order obtained. That is quite draconian. The complaints provision itself is an unusual hybrid, in that it is neither criminal nor entirely civil, but imposes restrictions on individuals' liberties in the same way that an injunction does. These matters need careful consideration.

We welcome the spirit in which the Government have worked in the other place, and their response to our representations in Committee. We are happy to support the amendment, and look forward to the enactment of a Bill that extends necessary powers.

Simon Hughes

Like others, I propose to be brief, but the Bill is important even though its scope is limited.

As the Minister will recall, we have returned to this subject quite often in recent years. The Government wanted the original Bill to be unlimited, but they were up against a deadline—the summer holidays and the football matches leading up to the World cup qualifying games, particularly the Germany game—and were consequently forced to make some concessions. Effectively, a compromise was agreed.

The first Bill produced a two-year Act with a one-year renewal provision. As the Minister implied, it will expire this summer. It was given a maximum lifetime of two years because, as the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) said and as the Government conceded, here was Parliament legislating to remove from people with no previous or relevant convictions the power to leave the country. Parliament was, potentially, preventing people from leaving in order to attend a match abroad, although eventually they might be found to have done nothing to justify that. That detention power could have made a trip to Belgium or Italy useless to people who were able to continue on their way later.

The Liberal Democrats felt that the Government had brought back the legislation rather early—before we had had a proper chance to assess the consequences of the original Act. As it happens, however, although they brought it back in October—at the beginning of the Session—it has taken nearly six months for it to go around the course. It went to the Lords before Christmas.

The Minister said that discussions had resulted in a further compromise on both sides. The Government had accepted that the successor legislation should also have a limited life. The first Act will have had a two-year life, and the second will have a five-year life. That is a good principle. When evidence exists but it is not certain that it will be there indefinitely, we should not legislate to keep a law on the statute book indefinitely. We should give ourselves the power to return to the matter. We can do that in one of two ways: we can have a Bill with a limited life, or we can have renewal orders. We feel that emergency powers, and particular restrictions of liberty, should always have to return to this place.

We welcome the Government's acceptance that the legislation should have a maximum lifetime of five years, starting this summer. We in turn have agreed that rather than seeking an annual or two-yearly renewal order, we will let it run for that period.

On the principle, we are still unhappy and uncomfortable about the idea that people with British passports should be precluded from travelling on the basis of a complaint and no relevant previous conviction. That is still the law and it will continue to be the law. We do not sign up to that proposition, but we are effectively signing up to a trial period to see what happens in the courts, what banning orders are made and what effect there is on football disorder. That is the limit of our agreement to the proposition. We do that for the common interest that this country should teach people who go to football matches and call themselves football supporters but do very little to support the game that such behaviour is unacceptable to the country and its reputation and to the rest of the people who play, manage and support football, whose name and reputation such behaviour tarnishes.

I have no problem in declaring my allegiance to Millwall football club, whom I support regularly. The club went through a period when it had bad supporters. There are now mercifully very few of them and the club has worked very hard to make sure that the bad practice of the past—the abuse and racism—has gone.

We all want football that we can be proud of, whether we win or lose, in terms of the behaviour on and off the field. We have a potentially excellent English team for the World cup and an exciting Irish team, for those who have Irish allegiance. We want them to do well. They are going to two parts of the world which have no reputation for football disorder and where the behaviour of fans is extremely good. The last thing that we want in Japan or South Korea is bad behaviour in the name of supporting the English team.

There is one other comment that seems appropriate. It will allow us to avoid having the second debate, although the Minister may be kind enough to come back with the figures for which we asked. There is clearly a link in the public mind between the behaviour of footballers on and off the pitch and that of their so-called supporters in the ground or going to or from the ground. I have always believed it right for the management of a club and of a national team to take the view that if footballers publicly misbehave and are found by the court to have misbehaved, they are punished professionally because of their role model status.

I do not know Mr. Jonathan Woodgate—I have never met him. He was taken to court and convicted. People might say that he has served his punishment. He has served his punishment to society, but as well as being a citizen he is a professional footballer—a very good footballer. We must stand behind the decision of the manager of the England football team that because of that bad, disgraceful and unacceptable behaviour, Jonathan Woodgate is not entitled to be part of the squad going to play in the World cup. Good behaviour by footballers on the pitch and in their civil life off the pitch is far more likely to lead to good behaviour on the streets by those who go to football matches.

It is not coincidental that the great debate about law and order, crime and juvenile crime is hugely influenced by the role models that young people have. They could be seen on television or video; it could be someone like the person convicted yesterday who is a musician in a band, or it could be footballers. Unless the role models behave, people will always be subject to banning orders. Impressionable teenagers will often follow the example of people whom they regard as heroes. Sadly, the people who misbehave are often no longer teenagers; they are in their 20s, 30s and 40s and are simply thugs. They certainly need to be dealt with, and dealt with firmly.

This is an experiment that has apparently been working relatively well, but we hope that in five years' time it will not be necessary to have these orders in place because the culture in England will have changed. On that basis, we happily sign up to the compromise agreement that gives the Bill a limited life of five years. We hope that in five years' time the Government of the day will not feel it necessary to suggest that we need a replacement Bill to succeed this one.

1.30 pm
Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

I apologise for missing some of the Front-Bench speeches. I shall make a brief contribution.

Because there was a measurable improvement in the behaviour of English fans after the 2000 Act, the temptation is to believe that the improvement was due to the Act. It is understandable that the Government should claim that, but let us consider the origins of the Act and the reasons for its introduction. It arose from three football matches. There might well be an alternative interpretation of the extraordinary differences in the reaction of English football fans after two of those matches, compared with the other one.

At two of those matches—one in Belgium and the other in France—there was an expectation of violence. The police turned up in riot gear, the fans were allowed to drink double-strength beer, which they did in prodigious quantities, and inevitably there was a riot. At the other game, the police arrived in leisure wear; they played pop music to the fans so loud that the fans could not even hear their own chants, and they allowed them to indulge in a drug whose effect is very different from that of alcohol.

Alcohol inspires football fans to give each other a good kicking. The drug used in Holland makes them want to give each other a big hug. The result was that in the Dutch game, according to the police, the fans reacted to England's defeat—we should remember that these are the same fans who rioted in the other countries—with mild disappointment and polite applause. That is rather remarkable, given that a few days earlier they had reacted violently.

Although one respects the claims that the legislation is effective, it has many drawbacks. In future we might be able to copy the example of the Dutch police with pop music and their informal and friendly approach to the fans. We hope that in the more enlightened future the fans will be able to use a drug that does not make them violent, but has a calming effect.

Simon Hughes


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)

Has the hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) completed his remarks?

Paul Flynn

If the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) wishes to intervene, I shall manage a few extra sentences.

Simon Hughes

I am grateful. Can we interpret the hon. Gentleman's remarks as an invitation for football to be played in the part of south London where he lives when he is staying in London during the week, before he goes back to Newport for the weekend?

Paul Flynn

I have rejoiced in the reduction in the menace on the streets of south London. The hon.

Gentleman is my Member of Parliament and represents me in that part of London. I believe that we will see concrete evidence of the effect of the wise decisions of Commander Brian Paddick in south London, and that we can build on his pioneering reforms. That would be a splendid place to play all future international games.

Mr. Bob Ainsworth

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) on his ingenuity in using the debate to raise once again in the House matters that are dear to his heart. No doubt he is correct about the impact of alcohol, and policing methods are central to the issue, but we are aware that sadly, in addition to the associated problems that must be planned for and dealt with, there is a core of people who have been following our national game for no other purpose than to indulge in violence. They are not football fans. They use the game to provide themselves with such opportunities. Through intelligence they can be identified and, to a large extent, prevented from travelling. To date the legislation has shown that that is effective.

Of course, other issues and wider problems of disorder have to be dealt with too. I do not claim that the measures have been solely responsible for diminishing the problems, but they have had an impact on the more serious elements, who travel for the purposes that I described.

I thank the spokesmen for the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, the hon. Members for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) and for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), for their comments and for the support that they have given the measures. It would be good to think that at the end of five years we might not need these measures—at least we can travel in hope—and that we will be able to walk away and say that that was a job well done. Personally, I doubt that that will be so.

The hon. Member for Beaconsfield also said, as did the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, that we will have an opportunity to study the effectiveness of the measures over a period of time in potentially difficult circumstances. We will be able to reflect on that and study exactly how the measures have been used. When we are impinging on people's liberties and their ability to travel, it is only right that the House should be satisfied that the measures are effective and proportionate. The Bill will give us an opportunity to do so and to undertake that evaluation over a required period of time. I am grateful for the support that the measures have received.

Lords amendment agreed to

Lords amendment No. 2 agreed to

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