HC Deb 27 October 2003 vol 412 cc10-1
6. Bob Russell (Colchester)

What guidance he gives to chief constables on policing professional football matches. [134163]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart)

Policing football matches is an operational matter for chief officers. The Home Office works closely with the police, football authorities and other agencies to help minimise the safety and security risks associated with football matches.

Bob Russell

Can the Minister confirm that there are no no-go areas and that the laws of the land that apply to the people who watch football also apply to participants on the pitch, on the touchline and in the players' tunnel? What advice has been given to chief constables to ensure that the law of the land is upheld on the pitch by professional footballers?

Fiona Mactaggart

The hon. Gentleman is right: players and others are subject to exactly the same laws and police powers as any other citizen. The police can intervene if the situation makes it necessary. We have worked with local police officers to ensure that they use their powers appropriately. Obviously, during a match, the conduct of the match is the responsibility of the referee and match officials, so we also work with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to offer support in respect of that aspect of policing. The Minister for Sport and Tourism wrote to the chairmen of 92 league clubs before the start of the season to remind them of their responsibility for ensuring that their players' behaviour is of an acceptable standard. Since then, he has discussed player misbehaviour and the response of the football authorities on several occasions with the management teams of the premier league and Football League. We in the Home Office expect every police officer to maintain the same standards of conduct among players as they would among the general public.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)

Does the Minister appreciate that the cost of policing football matches is a huge burden on clubs, especially a club such as Leicester, which is going through a temporary blip at the bottom of the premiership? Does she appreciate that in some cases the cost is an arbitrary figure that is placed on specific clubs and games? Will she convene a meeting with the Minister for Sport and Tourism to discuss the matter seriously with the relevant clubs? [Interruption.]

Fiona Mactaggart

It is true that Leicester unfortunately did not do as well as Colchester United at the weekend.

I acknowledge that there are issues about the cost of policing, especially for the smaller league clubs. Section 25 of the Police Act 1996 currently enables police authorities to charge football clubs for deploying officers in stadiums. There have been discussions about whether a further extension of charging is possible. It is a complex issue and there are arguments on both sides.

The previous Minister with responsibility for policing and the Minister for Sport and Tourism set up a working group that involved police, police authorities, football authorities and others to examine all the issues. The group has not yet concluded its deliberations and it would be premature to speculate on the outcome, but I shall ensure that my hon. Friend's comments are fed into the conclusions.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

Further to the comments of the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), will the Minister confirm that policing football matches last season cost approximately £50 million, of which only a fifth was recouped from the football clubs? In contradistinction to the hon. Gentleman's remarks and given vast transfer fees and specific clubs' huge amount of wealth, is not there a case for the Football Association, for example, entering into negotiations with the police to ensure that a much greater proportion of the cost is paid back to the police?

Fiona Mactaggart

The hon. Gentleman implies that all football clubs have the same resources as those in the premier league. Some clubs have substantial resources, but the costs can be a burden for a smaller club that finds it more difficult to pay for such matters. The working group to which I referred in answer to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) is discussing such issues. It will consider ways of sharing the costs and the burden. Although the additional policing that accompanies a football match benefits the local community, there are also disbenefits. That is precisely why we have set up the working group. It will consider in its report the clubs that can best bear the costs.