HL Deb 12 October 1976 vol 375 cc203-8

2.38 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what further action they now propose to curb hooliganism connected with football, taking into account the present availability of special railway trains for club supporters.


My Lords, my right honourable friends the Home Secretary, the Minister for Sport, and the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Transport discussed last night what action should be taken following the outbreak of violence at the Aston Villa/Glasgow Rangers match. The Chief Constables of West Midlands and Strathclyde have been asked to submit detailed reports and the Football Association is carrying out its own inquiry. Special trains run by British Rail are usually chartered and stewarded by football clubs and supporters' clubs. However, no special trains were run last Saturday to that game. The scheduled trains carrying supporters from Glasgow to Birmingham were effectively policed and the sale of alcohol strictly controlled.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. Is she aware that most of the deplorable trouble that occurred last Saturday was at matches known as "friendlies"? If football is not to be spoilt for millions in this country, does the noble Baroness not agree that urgent action by the Government is required, including legislation if necessary, to provide stiffer penalties, fines having been proved ineffective? One remedy might be for culprits to report to the police at four o'clock on Saturday afternoons. Furthermore, is not more control required on buses? For example, drinking is prohibited on buses in Scotland, but it is not prohibited on buses South of the Border.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord that it seems an extraordinary interpretation of the word "friendly" if that is how one describes that match. The Government are well aware of the need for further action, but I think the noble Lord will agree that the right way to go about it is to get at the facts first. That is why the two inquiries are taking place, and my right honourable friends have asked for detailed reports. So far as fines and penalties generally are concerned, the scope within the sentencing system is quite wide enough to cover any of these offences. In fact, over the last year sentencing has been rather more severe that it had been in the past. As I think the noble Lord is aware, it is a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions and the police as to what charges are brought, and then for the judiciary to decide on how they should be dealt with.

As regards alcohol, as I pointed out, on these special trains it is not allowed. So far as coaches are concerned, the noble Lord is quite right; it is not allowed on them in Scotland. On the other hand, until we get the report of the inquiries we are not sure how much was in fact taken on in secret or whether the supporters got out in England and then bought it. This is something which is being looked into; and my right honourable friends have it very much in mind that if, at the end of the day, there is a need for legislation on any of these points it will be given consideration.


My Lords, does the forthcoming legislation on devolution mean that the Glasgow Rangers supporters will be kept within their own domain, to the great benefit of the British public?


My Lords, in order that the House might better understand exactly what does happen on these occasions, can consideration be given to showing at some appropriate moment the film which was taken by the Home Office Working Party? I do not press for it immediately, but I understand that a film was taken and it might help us to understand.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, the film was not in fact taken by the Home Office; I think it was taken, if I remember, by the local police. But I will certainly consider that suggestion and write to the noble Lord.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that if the Scots carry on in this fashion, then not only shall we give them devolution but agree to independence?


My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that in the matter of alcohol one of the pre-disposing causes of trouble is the instant availability of the liquid in the beer can? Is there any proposal that the Government can think of which would restrict the availability for youngsters, who are already half drunk before they get to the ground, and thus prevent them from continuing the process when they get there?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, one of the things that I know my right honourable friends are considering (although this is really a matter for the authorities at the football grounds themselves) is the refusal of admittance to people who, on arrival, are already partly or wholly drunk. That is one of the points. The other points so far as trains and coaches are concerned I think I covered in my previous answers.


My Lords, could the noble Baroness accept what I believe are due to the people of Birmingham and I have not seen in any immediate communication or indeed heard expressed in this House, and that is apologies to the people of Birmingham from everybody who is a football supporter or who calls himself a Scot? Nowhere have I seen any apology for this conduct. Also, would the noble Baroness accept that, while liquor caused many of the problems at the game and that it was chiefly teenagers who were concerned, the main problem was caused by lack of segregation of the respective supporters? I believe that nothing has been brought out about this point although a great deal has been said about liquor.

As the noble Baroness will know, in Scotland rival supporters are very closely watched and segregated. Would she accept that?

Baroness BIRK

Yes, my Lords. There was a problem at Aston Villa because, whereas segregation would normally take place—and this has been proved to be one of the most successful deterrents since the Working Party recommendations were implemented by many clubs—on this occasion the part of the ground that was set aside for the Rangers supporters was being covered, in the midst of being repaired, and the supporters dashed in and were able to get to the other side, where they should not have been; and then the Aston Villa people arrived. This was very unfortunate, but it certainly was not planned; it was due to unfortunate circumstances. So far as the noble Lord's other points are concerned, I am sure that what he said will be noted by the people in Birmingham and that they will be grateful for it. It is a whole series of things working together which creates these situations, and it is to try to get at these facts that my right honourable friends have been meeting and have instituted these inquiries. If noble Lords will be patient and wait for the outcome, so that we have the facts at our disposal, we shall perhaps know how to proceed.


My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that a battle between the spectators was for many years the traditional climax of the Eton and Harrow match at Lords? Might not a practice ground be assigned on which the aggressive spectators could after the match work off their aggression without injury to anybody except themselves, subject to notices that the National Health authority would charge for repairs?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, that is a very intriguing idea.


My Lords, would the noble Baroness accept as a practical and serious suggestion that there should be printed on the back of each ticket and announced by loudspeaker at the beginning of a match that at the first sign of disorder the match would be suspended?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I will take note of that but, as I think the noble Lord is aware, this match was in fact suspended at this time because of the pressures. But I think this is acting as a warning.

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, would the noble Baroness tell us whether the railways make any money out of these special trains, given the cost of repair to the trains of the damage done by the supporters?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I think this is a slightly different question and a matter in detail for British Rail, but on this occasion, as I pointed out, there were no special trains, and a lot of the trouble was created by people who had in fact arrived on the ordinary, scheduled trains, although British Rail had withdrawn the half fares and had, to be fair to them, taken all the precautions they possibly could.


My Lords, would the noble Baroness take note of the point that was raised earlier about detaining these offenders, these hooligans, on Saturday afternoons? Is she satisfied that the magistrates' courts have sufficient powers to impose a repeated penalty of that sort for a considerable time in addition to any other penalty which may be imposed?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I think my noble friend, when talking about Saturday afternoons, is probably referring to attendance centres. I think the magistrates have sufficient powers, but the trouble is that we do not have sufficient centres or a sufficient range of these places.


My Lords, did the noble Baroness by any chance see on television last night the interviews with some of these young persons who were convicted in the courts, in which, without exception, they expressed no remorse or penitence for the offences they had committed? Does that not show that even very heavy fines of up to £100 are not having any deterrent effect, and that the kind of suggestion which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Janner, ought to be introduced without delay?

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, I think that this question of penalties, which I have already referred to, is also something which is being discussed. I did not see these interviews on television because I was sitting in my room worrying about answering this Question.


My Lords, have we not reached the half-time interval yet?


My Lords, I have not got a whistle, or I might blow it.

Forward to