HL Deb 01 March 1984 vol 448 cc1371-7

3.42 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, with permission, I will repeat the Answer which has been given to a Private Notice Question in another place on the behaviour of English soccer fans in France. I believe that my honourable friend Mr. Macfarlane gave the Answer, which was as follows:

"Mr. Speaker, no-one in the House can feel anything but a sense of shame, disgrace and revulsion at what occurred in France before, during and after the international soccer match in Paris yesterday.

"I am currently awaiting further details from my and other officials in Paris, but early reports show that 30 English fans were arrested following violence in the stadium: 26 have been released and four are still being held. My officials will be holding further discussions to assess the extent of the damage caused by the disturbances.

"It was in the light of previous incidents caused by English football supporters abroad (notably in Luxembourg in November) that pre-match planning for this game, on the part of Government, the football authorities and the French football and law and order authorities, was particularly extensive.

"Considerable efforts were made to implement the measures agreed by European Ministers with responsibility for sport at our meeting in Rotterdam in November. The initiative for European agreement on these measures to combat football-related hooliganism was taken by me in January 1983 when I met European Ministers in Paris. The paper agreed by European Ministers for sport contains a number of recommendations for action by Governments and by football authorities. Two in particular—control of ticket sales and crowd segregation—would enable a considerable reduction in the opportunities for crowd disturbances.

"In addition to my visit to Paris in January 1983, I met the French Minister with responsibility for sport again in Paris in September 1983 and discussed football hooliganism and the great importance of co-operation between European Governments. I also wrote to the French Minister on 10th February 1984 stressing the need for adequate policing within and without the stadium and the need to deter offenders by resolute action by the police and the courts.

"Representatives of the English Football Association (including their overseas liaison officer—a retired senior Metropolitan Police officer) visited Paris on 9th, 10th and 11th January 1984 and met with representatives of the French football authorities, the French police and our embassy in Paris. Arrangements were made regarding control of ticket sales, crowd segregation, sale of alcohol, supporter travel routes and policing.

"The European agreement is a major and constructive document reflecting the positive action and intention of government to do all within its power to combat hooliganism. We are confident that proper and effective implementation of the measures contained in the agreement would greatly reduce the problems.

"I am in touch with the French Minister for Sport requesting a full report of the incidents, and will also be meeting the chairman and secretary of the Football Association tomorrow afternoon for discussions.

"Mr. Speaker, I shall be conducting a full appraisal of the incidents with the parties concerned. I shall need to establish whether the measures agreed by European Ministers were fully implemented on the day. I fully intend to continue to urge all concerned to do everything possible to rid the game of these mindless louts and to urge European countries to use stringent penalties against convicted offenders to act as a deterrent".

My Lords, that concludes the Answer to the Private Notice Question.

Baroness Birk

My Lords, may I thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for the Answer he has just read to us. We on these Benches echo what his honourable friend feels about the assault on the reputation of this country as well as on that of football when events such as this take place. Unfortunately, it does not come as such a surprise as one would have hoped, because this has happened in the past two years, not only in Luxembourg but also in Denmark, Holland, Italy and Switzerland.

We feel that it is no longer a question for the Department of the Environment, who have done their best to wrestle with this problem both in the last Government and in this one. It is no longer a matter of sport, because the football authorities have done what they can. They have sold tickets only to registered fans and through reputable travel authorities. We believe that it is a law and order problem. It is well known that drunken fans were fighting on the train. They boarded the ferry drunk, and were fighting. May I ask the noble and learned Lord these questions? What were the special arrangements for the role of the county police in Kent this time? What part did British Rail police play? What part did the harbour authority police take in this? And what happened in respect of the passport authorities at Dover when fans got off the train, as I understand it, already drunk but able to obtain duty free alcohol on the ferry across?

Is it true, as we have been led to understand, that the National Front was behind much of the ugly violence and organised its members to attend the match? As the noble and learned Lord has told us, 30 fans were arrested and 26 have been released. Is it not true, and also understandable, that other countries want to get rid of these people, and that they do not want to keep them in their prisons, at their expense, in their countries?

It must surely be apparent that new government initiatives are wanted in respect of this whole question, because all the old initiatives have now failed, with the increase in intensity of the violence. We must find a way of exercising some form of passport control. There must be tougher controls to protect both other passengers who are travelling and the people of the countries abroad which such fans visit. Is it not now an urgent matter for the Home Secretary and for the forces of law and order?

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, I also thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for repeating the Answer which covers that shameful event and which I think everyone in the House will have blushed to hear. Having not had the chance to read and consider the Answer, I can only say that it sounds as though a great deal was done to try to prevent this sort of thing happening and it was entirely unsuccessful. Therefore, as a whole, we must think again. I have only one suggestion to make and that came out of the Statement. I understand that over 30 fans were arrested, and I believe 24 were then released and sent back. I should like to have a bilateral arrangement when these matches take place that the fans are sent back under arrest and not released. At least we could then deal with them here. I withhold any further comment from these Benches until we have had time to discuss the matter; but we deeply deplore anything so shameful to our nation.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for the way in which they have treated this Statement. There is no difference in the House either about our feelings on this subject or about the seriousness with which we treat outbreaks of violence of this kind. I entirely agree with the noble Baroness that there is what I might call a law and order dimension in this—and I apologise for the English of that—but it is at the moment a matter of international agreement between Ministers for sport. I am sure that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary will agree that in this country his responsibilities are closely involved, as indeed are the responsibilities of his appropriate counterparts in France and other countries where these matches take place.

I am informed and believe that alcohol was not available on the train in Kent. I believe the train was escorted by the British Rail police and that the bar on the ship, which was a French ship called the "St. Eloi", was not open. Therefore that has been dealt with. British transport police were on the ship at the request of the French owners.

The movement of citizens is of course a legal right and a legal right guaranteed within the Common Market. I think it would require rather stringent changes in our legal system to restrict the free movement of individuals in that respect. I note the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, about persons being sent back here under arrest. I think I should refer that to my right honourable friend because it would probably require some kind of primary legislation and agreement between the authorities involved in both countries. Perhaps I may write to the noble Lord further on the subject. I think I had better leave it there for the moment.

Lord Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon

My Lords, may I ask the noble and learned Lord whether it is not time that on these occasions we stopped referring to these people as football fans since it is perfectly obvious that their interest in football matches is minimal? They are simply looking for an excuse for a violent foray against persons and property.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy with my noble friend's suggestion. I did not read the word "fan" with any great enthusiasm when I repeated the Statement. I noticed other expressions such as "hooligans" and "mindless louts" were also used. I rather deprecate the use of jolly expressions about people who misbehave in this way. They are offending against the criminal law of any country in which they perform. Some of the offences are undoubtedly punishable by imprisonment and would be covered by the extradition Acts. I take the same view as my noble friend. He is quite right in expressing our feeling that to describe them as just friendly supporters of the side playing away is not quite enough.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, is it not a particularly disturbing and deplorable feature of this grave matter that unfortunately the British hooligans are the worst, so far as one can see from the reports of what has been going on? They bring a shame upon this country and do great damage to us. One is glad to detect that a fresh look is being applied to the scene. The recital of the international conferences and discussions has apparently produced nothing—at least nothing to stop events like those which took place yesterday. I ask one factual question. One gathers that a great deal of criminal misconduct happened from this howling mob before it ever got to France; apparently on the train, ashore, and on the boat. What prosecutions are to be brought and what arrests have been made for offences committed within our own jurisdiction? If we started there it would give some example. It is a grave situation which is doing our country grave harm.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I can only agree with the noble and learned Lord. I have no idea whether our miscreants are the worst. Whether they are the worst or not, they bring grave discredit upon Great Britain. I gather that these were English and I notice that the noble and learned Lord is wearing a daffodil today.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, if I may interrupt, it never happens at Welsh rugby football matches.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, it did not happen yesterday, at any rate. However, the miscreants bring great discredit on the sport and on our nation. I cannot give the noble and learned Lord any information with regard to arrests within our jurisdiction; but I note what he says. There was a certain amount of damage on the train and I think that the other damage was either on the French boat or in France.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor can cast his mind back to 1921 when we attended the Eton and Harrow match at Lords, after which, wearing our top hats and wielding our sticks, we descended upon the pitch in order to wreak vengeance on the Harrovians. The police, with the utmost good humour, intervened and suppressed it. They suppressed it not only for 1921 but, in spite of a 60-year presence, they suppressed it altogether and it never occurred again. Can we look at that remarkable example of deterrence and see what was the deterrent used, how it worked and try to repeat it?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I remember 1921; but I think the noble Lord should have used the first person singular rather than the first person plural about what took place. I was a perfectly innocent witness on that occasion. So as far as I remember, the worst that happened was that top hats were smashed and jumped up and down upon. I do not think there were many casualties. My own view about what did happen then—which I think he was right in saying was the last, or almost the last, of such occasions which had hitherto become almost a tradition—was that the force of public opinion made people realise that there was no justification for such behaviour and that it brought great discredit on those who participated and those who were associated with them. The parents of those concerned and the school authorities conveyed that message quite sharply to those who could be identified.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, may I be permitted to correct one thing in my observations? If I referred to British hooliganism, on this occasion it would appear to have been an English excrescence.

Lord Somers

My Lords, so many attempts have been made to eliminate this pestilential nuisance without a great deal of success. Does the noble and learned Lord think that something really drastic could be done in the way of threatening, should there be another outbreak, to ban all professional football matches for the space of one year?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, that would depend, of course, upon Parliament, but I fancy that some Members of Parliament might think that this was rather drastic action to take. I must say that it is a very serious matter, but curiously enough it reminds me tremendously of what took place in ancient Rome between the Blues and the Greens.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, while I share the general revulsion at this behaviour, I was a little uneasy about the last few words of the original Answer, if I heard them aright. I should like to ask the noble and learned Lord this question. Whatever else may happen in the rest of Europe, it would be wrong, would it not, for the Government in this country to urge the courts to impose more severe penalties for a particular type of offence?

The Lord Chancellor

Curiously enough, my Lords, the last words of the Answer read as follows: I fully intend to continue to urge all concerned to do everything possible to rid the game of these mindless louts and to urge European countries to use stringent penalties against convicted offenders to act as a deterrent".

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, I had always thought that we were European.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I rather gathered from the original Answer that my honourable friend the Minister responsible for sport was contemplating urging European countries to impose stringent penalties upon British hooligans if they misbehaved abroad. The courts in this country do not have jurisdiction to impose penalties of any kind on foreign offences, except murder.

Baroness Hornsby-Smith

My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor agree that sending the football hooligans out of the country where the offence has occurred, except where there have been very serious assaults, makes it extremely difficult after they get home to bring charges, and that for the most wanton damage and vandalism people get off scot-free? Would it not be possible, by mutual agreement with the host country, to hold and charge these people where the offence has occurred? Would not a period in a foreign gaol be far more effective than all our cries of woe?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I have no doubt that the French authorities will take careful note of what my noble friend has suggested. I do not think that we could compel them so to act if they did not want to.

Lord Plant

My Lords. I rise to say how much this incident has upset me. When I saw on the television these disgraceful scenes I was greatly upset. I was even more upset to read in the newspapers this morning what a good thing it is that Britain was not successful in the European Cup, and therefore will not be playing in France this summer. That, I think, is a condemnation of the sporting instincts of certain of the British football supporters. No solutions have been posed by your Lordships, and I have none. There could be more stringent penalties; but I think that we have to take into account what my noble friend Lord Allen of Abbeydale has said, and must be careful not to have more severe penalties in this connection than in others. I think that the law has to take its course. I believe that a great responsibility rests on the police. They are doing a good job, and I think that we have to support them. The Government must try to find some way out of this, and I am sure that in their discussions they will have the full support of the House.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I do not know quite how to comment on that. I do not think that the noble Lord could have complained about the tone of the press this morning, which was universally condemnatory of what took place. As regards the British Government dealing with such disorders in this country, it is of course our responsibility, but it is not our responsibility to punish offenders abroad. Speaking generally and from the point of view of the general jurisprudence of Europe, of course the offences themselves are not classed as hooliganism, or football hooliganism: they are classed as assaults, criminal damage, offences against Sections 18 and 20 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, and so on, and the equivalent offences abroad. The offenders must be punished for the offences which they commit, which are that class of offence. The penalty must suit the crime and the record of the offender.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, may one take it, by virtue of the fact that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is dealing with this PNQ and Answer, that he together with the Law Officers will be consulting on this matter and the very serious situation in regard to it? May I also ask the noble and learned Lord whether he would agree that the one positive contribution that could be made here is by the youth clubs of this land, which at the present moment are getting very little support indeed and which very much need encouragement?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I do not think that I was asked to repeat the Answer of the Minister with responsibilities for sport in my capacity as Lord Chancellor. I think it was probably because I had once been a Minister for Sport myself. I should probably not be consulted about law and order problems. My function as Lord Chancellor is to administer the courts and to deal with the judicial side of matters of this kind. I studiously avoid saying anything about prosecutions. Whether the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General should be called in I think would be a matter for my right honourable and learned friend the Home Secretary, who is principally responsible in this country for law and order. I suppose that in France, although the distribution of offices is somewhat different, it would be the Minister of Internal Affairs.