HL Deb 15 November 1979 vol 402 cc1388-91

3.25 p.m.


My Lords, while expressing my apologies to the noble Baroness for too early an intrusion, I ask leave to put the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will take steps to prohibit interference with sporting and recreational activities and to impose or strengthen penalties for such interference.


My Lords, interference with sporting activities may infringe a number of provisions of the criminal law. My right honourable friend knows of no present need to strengthen the law in this area. The prevention of disorder at individual events is a matter for the chief officer of police concerned.


My Lords, in thanking the Minister for that informative reply, may I ask him whether he understands that my Question should have referred only to recreational and not sporting activities? It is difficult to divide the two. I refer particularly to games such as football or golf, and so on. Is it not possible by some means to achieve—not by further legislation because that is not what I seek, but by administration—some cessation of interference in games such as I have described, by such bestial and uncivilised means of incitement as to put glass on football pitches and to tear up golf greens? There are millions who want to see lawful games played under authoritative rules, and it is that test of international strength which millions of the community want to see and which seemingly could be helped by more rigid action such as I have asked the noble Lord to give an assurance about.


My Lords, I share my noble friend's concern that when people put their views forward by taking action which goes beyond the limits which have been set by the law, that is something which should cause us all concern. My noble friend asks me whether this cannot be prevented, not by further legislation but by administrative means. May I give him two answers? I think, first, one needs to do as my noble friend did in his Question, namely, to look at the penalties; and I ought just to point out that the penalties for the kind of offences I think my noble friend may have in mind are not inconsiderable. To give one example only, conduct conducive to a breach of the peace carries with it now a maximum fine of £1,000 or six months' imprisonment or both.

Secondly, may I say to my noble friend that when he refers to administrative means to combat the sorts of practices he deplores, he may be interested to hear that the Government intend to increase the number of attendance centres, which are places where young people causing trouble may be given a more sensible occupation, particularly on Saturday afternoons, to keep them out of trouble. There are 85 such centres in England and Wales at the moment and the Government are taking steps to increase that number.


My Lords, is it not a fact that modern society is suffering from an overdose of politics and that the invasion of politics into the realm of sport is becoming quite intolerable? Would not a Home Office note to the magistrates, that a few swingeing sentences here would be welcome, be extremely beneficial?


My Lords, I agree with a very great deal of what the noble Lord has said, but not, if I may say so, with his final remarks. I think there are many noble Lords here who would jump on me very quickly, if I did not make the point that the Home Secretary is not responsible for the enforcement of the law.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that there are many people in the country, among whom I include myself——


My Lords, the Minister has said that there are now 85 attendance centres. Is he referring to junior or to senior attendance centres?


A mixture.


My Lords, does the noble Lord know the number of senior attendance centres?


My Lords, I think the numbers are 83 in England, of which two are for girls and two for young adults, and there are two attendance centres in Wales.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that there are many people in this country, including myself, who feel that the existing powers under the Race Relations Act are not being enforced at the top, to pick off the people who are egging on the crowds from the back? Is he aware that some of us feel that it is no good picking up the silly people in front, who throw the stones? What about the people who agitate at the back? Is there not sufficient power under the Race Relations Act to enable the Home Secretary to stop this trouble at source?


My Lords, so far as the enforcement of the law is concerned, as I was venturing to say to the noble Lord, Lord Paget, this is a matter for the police in consultation, as appropriate, with the Law Officers. So far as the effect of the Race Relations Act is concerned, this also falls to them to enforce.


My Lords, if I am not completely out of order by referring to an earlier Question, do the statistics not show that Question Time has been going on for 24 minutes?


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware——

Several noble Lords: Order!


My Lords, it is, of course, for the House to decide, but I think that Question Time has been going on rather a long time.