HL Deb 27 March 1984 vol 450 cc135-7

2.55 p.m.

Lord Gainford

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what action they can take after the violence perpetrated by English soccer supporters in France.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, the Government have already taken action to combat violence associated with soccer at home. It is in part due to the success of these measures that some so-called football supporters now seek to cause trouble abroad. Thus, my honourable friend the Minister for Sport has recently agreed with his colleagues within the Council of Europe a document listing the precautions which should be taken to curb violence. In the light of the violence in Paris, however, my honourable friend is again reviewing all the options open to the Government.

Lord Gainford

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that Answer. Given all that we have heard about research by social workers and youth organisers, is any information available as to what actual pleasure is given to some of these young people who commit such acts? The Minister will know that the recent trouble in France was not just the result of violence erupting after the result of the match was known because the "yobboisation" began en route to France, several hours before the game started.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, there are as many theories about why these misguided people commit such acts as there are theories about preventing them from doing so in the first place. The two theories which are currently being floated are boredom and the fact that hooliganism is far worse when matches are lost than when matches are won. I cannot place any reliance on either one of those theories.

Lord Beswick

My Lords, when considering these matters will the noble Lord bear in mind that, at the international match in Vienna last week, there was no trouble from the English spectators? They were addressed by the Austrian authorities over the public address system in English—not as potential thugs, but as sensible people who would wish to know what arrangements had been made. Is the noble Lord aware that, having been privileged to be present, I am quite convinced that that contributed to the good atmosphere which prevailed?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord is to a great degree correct. My information is that the Austrian authorities arrested 11 or so English people before the game started for various acts of hooliganism and vandalism. They were all released on 23rd March but have been banned from returning to Austria for five years. If one is in a situation where one can identify certain people before a match starts, then obviously that is the optimum position to be in. So often, the trouble erupts both during and after a match.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, does the noble Lord not agree that it is not just a question of semantics but that there is a misnomer in calling these people, as the Question does, "soccer supporters"? Does he not agree also that they would be much more correctly called supporters of hooliganism, and not of sport? Finally, would he agree that one of the ways in which we can combat boredom among youth is to help with the youth clubs of this country much more substantially than we do—for at the moment, they are largely unsupported financially—in the hope that young people will be induced to join youth clubs and be taught proper behaviour?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, so far as semantics are concerned, the noble Lord is quite right and "supporters of hooliganism" may well be a more appropriate term. I must confess that I did strike out from my brief at one stage the words "mindless thugs".

As far as youth clubs are concerned, the noble Lord is again quite right in saying that they could well help, but I myself cannot help thinking that there is a certain breakdown in the discipline of the family which could be at the root of such behaviour.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, can the noble Lord confirm that some impressive results have been achieved in Scotland by measures to reduce the consumption of alcohol at and around football grounds, and does not that experience provide a lesson for the authorities in England and Wales?

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes, my Lords, it might, but I am afraid that our researches have shown that it is difficult to link misbehaviour directly to alcohol. Where alcohol has been shown to be a contributory cause—and this, I am afraid to say, does happen in the North-East of England and in Scotland—the banning of alcohol has had a very great effect in the correct direction.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, would the noble Lord not agree that it might be worthwhile recommending to the Minister responsible for sport that he should have a conversation with the supporters of clubs in the Rugby Union and Rugby League, as despite the boisterousness and toughness of the game hooliganism hardly seems to occur at any rugby football ground?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord is right, but that is another question.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, while not in any way condoning the violence in Paris or doing other than condemn it, does the noble Lord not feel that the appalling brutality of the French police was at least a factor in it—brutality which the whole world saw on television?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, from this Dispatch Box I cannot answer for the French police.

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