HL Deb 03 June 1985 vol 464 cc502-12

3.54 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)

My Lords, with permission, I shall now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a Statement about the events at the European Cup Final in Brussels last week and the measures which are being put in hand in this country to deal with football violence.

"Last Wednesday television viewers throughout Britain and the world witnessed the appalling scenes of violence at the European Cup Final in Brussels which resulted in 38 deaths and a much larger number of injuries. Twenty-seven people are still in hospital. I know that the whole House will share the nation's profound sympathy for the bereaved and injured, and the sense of outrage and shame at the behaviour of some of our citizens which led to the tragedy. The House will also wish to associate itself with the message of sorrow and condolence sent by Her Majesty the Queen to President Pertini of Italy and King Baudouin of Belgium. I have sent similar messages on behalf of the Government to Signor Craxi, M. Martens and President Mitterrand. The immediate contribution which we have announced of £250,000 for the families of the victims is an expression of our deep sympathy and support for those involved.

"The Belgian authorities and UEFA are conducting formal inquiries into the arrangements for the match and into the disaster. They will no doubt report on the extent to which the internationally agreed guidelines and precautions for spectator safety were followed. We cannot prejudge the outcome of those inquiries. But we have to recognise that there has been a terrible record of violence at European football matches in which I regret to say that English supporters have played a large part over many years.

"In these circumstances the Government welcomed the initial decision of the Football Association to withdraw English clubs from participation in European competitions next season, and we fully understand the subsequent decision of UEFA to ban English clubs from European competition for an indefinite period and we believe it to be right. This withdrawal gives English football authorities the opportunity to introduce effective measures to combat violence and to convince other countries that they have done so.

"I was able to have discussions last week with several people including the chairman and secretary of the Football Association who returned immediately from Mexico after receiving news of the tragedy; the chairman of Liverpool Football Club; my honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Department of Employment, who happened to be present at the match and was an eye witness to the events; and a number of football correspondents who were also present at this and similar occasions in the past.

"The following measures will be taken or are already in hand to put our own house in order.

"First, we shall introduce as soon as possible legislation similar to that contained in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act of 1980. That Act makes it an offence to be drunk or to possess alcohol on football coaches, on entry to grounds and in most areas of grounds. It also makes it an offence to be in possession of containers which could be used as missiles. Subject to discussions through the usual channels, it is our intention to have this legislation on the statute book by the Summer Recess, in time for the coming football season.

"Secondly, we shall proceed next Session with the legislation envisaged in the Government's White Paper on the Review of Public Order. The proposals on assemblies in the open air will considerably strengthen the powers available to the police to guard against the risk of disorder. Wherever they have reason to expect disorder at a football match the police will, in effect, be able to limit the gate and inpose other conditions. Under this provision, the police will be able to stipulate whatever steps they judge necessary to minimise the risk of disorder.

"Thirdly, Mr. Justice Popplewell will continue with his inquiry into the events at Bradford City and Birmingham football grounds on 11th May. His terms of reference are already wide enough to allow any lessons learned from Brussels to be taken into account. I understand that Mr. Justice Popplewell hopes to submit an interim report before the beginning of next season.

"Fourthly, my right honourable friend has set in hand the procedure for designating under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act all clubs in the Third and Fourth Divisions. We have, in addition, agreed with the football authorities on a number of measures including the acceleration of the introduction of closed circuit television, with the help of the Football Trust. I have been informed today that the trust is proposing to allocate £500,000 for this purpose as a first step. This would give cover in over 30 grounds in addition to the 11 in which experiments are already taking place.

"Events at Brussels last week have, however, made it clear that more is now needed. I shall be discussing urgently with the football authorities proposals for the introduction of a practical scheme of membership cards, either on a club or national basis; proposals for far more all-ticket matches; stricter controls, or in some cases a ban, on visiting spectators.

"I recognise that such measures would mean a radical change in the way in which football is conducted in this country. But radical change is needed if football is to survive as a spectator sport.

"Fifthly, in parallel with our own action, we shall continue to co-operate in developing international measures to deal with hooliganism. Next week, my honourable friend the Minister for Sport will be attending a meeting of European Ministers for that purpose.

"In the meantime, we are anxious to give the Brussels authorities every possible assistance in bringing to justice and dealing appropriately with people from this country who have committed offences in connection with last Wednesday's match.

"My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has sent a message to the Belgian Minister of the Interior offering the assistance and co-operation of British police forces. The Merseyside Police and the Metropolitan Police are examining television film closely to see if they can identify those responsible for last Wednesday's violence.

"We also want to do everything within our power to remove any possible difficulty in the way of any charges the Belgian authorities may decide to bring. Arrangements already exist between the United Kingdom and Belgium for the extradition of those accused of serious offences of violence, such as murder, manslaughter, wounding or serious assault. If the Belgian authorities were to seek the extradition of someone accused of such an offence, we should naturally give them every assistance to meet our requirements on evidence.

"One disincentive for the Belgian authorities may be that it is less trouble simply to expel Britons who may have committed offences rather than to prosecute and sentence them appropriately. We intend to offer the Belgians the opportunity, in accordance with the Repatriation of Prisoners Act, of removal to prison in this country of anyone who may be given a prison sentence in Belgium.

"Mr. Speaker, I hope that last Wednesday's sickening events will unite all decent people in helping to eradicate hooliganism. To curb violence requires effort and commitment from us all. If English clubs are to play football in Europe again, they can do so only when their good name, and that of their followers and supporters, has been restored."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.4 p.m.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Viscount for repeating that important Statement. As it says, we are all conscious of a sense of shame, anger and sorrow after last Wednesday's shocking events in Brussels. We must realise that not only the football authorities and the Government but all of us share the weight of responsibility for what happened. We join with the Government in offering our deepest sympathy to the families and friends of those who were killed or injured.

The Brussels tragedy was the gravest of a series of vicious outbreaks of violence in and around football matches in this country and abroad. It must be a matter of regret that no firm action was taken before, in the light of, for instance, the Luton experience and following the clear pronouncements in the review of public order law; for example, on restricting the availability of alcohol. We therefore welcome the decision announced in the Statement on the sale of alcohol and on the introduction of future legislation.

We welcome the further measures outlined in the Statement, but we will obviously wish to consider them in greater detail later. We shall need to examine not only this and other outbreaks of violence but also what is to explain these recurring, grave breaches of law and order which are threatening our society.

Can the noble Viscount say whether the measures proposed will require an increase in the strength of police forces in this country? On the face of it, it seems that the proposals will add to the duties of the police, who are already very hard pressed. Can the noble Viscount further say whether the Government propose to release part of the money which they receive by way of tax on football pools to help the poorer football clubs put their house in order, as the Government wish?

I recognise the importance of Mr. Justice Popplewell's inquiry, to which the noble Viscount referred when he repeated the Statement. As a final point, can the noble Viscount say whether the Government have any further proposals for an inquiry to examine longer-term measures to deal with this problem and to study the root causes of not only soccer hooliganism but also violence in other areas of society to which soccer hooliganism is inevitably related, especially among the young people of our country?

Lord Diamond

My Lords, perhaps I may preface my remarks in response to this Statement with a very short tribute to a close friend and very distinguished politician who was a member of my party who passed away yesterday. I refer to Lord George-Brown. He was a close friend and your Lordships will therefore forgive me for taking up the time of the House to express my profound admiration for a man of his great intellect, his great capacity, and his warm friendship.

Lord George-Brown was able to make contact up and down the country with millions of people who will sorely regret his death. He was a distinguished statesman, a great trade unionist, a Cabinet Minister, a deputy Prime Minister, and a deputy leader of the Labour Party. I thought your Lordships would therefore permit me to say how much I hope that his family will derive some satisfaction from our expression of sympathy in bearing this unhappy and tragic event.

I turn to the Statement and express my thanks to the noble Viscount for repeating what is a very important Statement on a very tragic occasion. We on these Benches naturally wish to express our sympathy to the bereaved families and to the authorities of all kinds in all the countries involved—government authorities, police authorities, and those responsible for organising the games. We especially want to offer our sympathy to lovers of football all the world over.

What has happened is a tragedy for our nation. As your Lordships will have seen on the television screens, it is our people who have committed these heinous crimes of premeditated, uncontrolled violence. It is no excuse that they did not necessarily intend the result of their actions. This is the kind of tragedy that is liable to happen if people behave in that sort of way.

The present moment is not the time for either recrimination or attempting to apportion blame. It is a moment to unite on the single objective of determining that such a thing will never happen again. We accept therefore the need for the legislation mentioned in the Statement, which we will consider carefully and co-operatively. We accept also the need for immediate action as there described.

There should be a dual approach, but the Government appear to have only a one-sided approach. We should certainly look at the effects and how they may be controlled and limited, but we must surely look also at the causes. I find precious little in the Statement to indicate an endeavour by the Government to ascertain what are the causes. Why do such incidents happen in our nation? We all know our fellow members of this nation and we know, too, how unnatural it is for them to behave in this way. Why does it happen? We must know whether there are parental, domestic, social, psychological or environmental causes—situations which contribute to this uncontrolled show of violence on this and similar occasions. We must know whether those young people who find themselves excluded from our accepted society find themselves driven to join the society of the rejected and even endeavour to shine in the unusual morality of that society.

We must know these things so that we can get at the root causes and prevent this violence showing itself in other forms if we control it in football. What are the Government proposing to do about that? Are they proposing to set up a deep inquiry on that profound issue? Are they proposing to set up another inquiry on the way people behave as a crowd and on mob psychology? Why do people who normally behave rationally, behave totally irrationally when they are members of a group? For example, why has this happened not only in this country but in a country where one would normally accept that self-discipline is of a very high order? I refer to China and the outburst that occurred there. That may indicate that the problem is much more widespread than among British football fans alone. Therefore, I hope that the Government will set up at least two deep inquiries so that we may know whether or not we are dealing only with what is called the "British disease".

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Cledwyn and Lord Diamond, for their response to the Statement. Perhaps I should say at the start to the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, that I am sure my noble friends on this side of the House would like to be associated with what he said about his noble friend Lord George-Brown.

I spent many years in another place with Lord George-Brown and, like many other Members there, I both enjoyed his robustness and frequently felt the strength of his tongue and invective against me—something which was not unknown for everyone. Nevertheless, that did not in any way detract from the feeling that he was a very strong and colourful character of the sort that we are frequently told we ought to have more of in British politics; at least, that is what we are told. At the same time, no one could deny his outstanding loyalty to his country and the strength of feeling that he had for it. I am sure the whole House will wish to be associated with that particular expression.

The noble Lords, Lord Cledwyn and Lord Diamond, referred to the feelings of shame, anger and sorrow that have been widely expressed in this country since the affair of last Wednesday. They both—and I am grateful to them for it—expressed their deepest sympathy with the families and the bereaved and joined with the Government in doing that. Both noble Lords also welcomed the decision on future legislation on the sale of alcohol. Both noble Lords will appreciate, as will the House, the importance of seeking to get this legislation through before the start of the next football season. That is why the Government have undertaken to have discussions through the usual channels in the hope that an agreed form of legislation can be produced which can be quickly passed through another place and this House.

I am grateful, too, for the welcome given by both noble Lords to the other measures. The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, asked whether some of these measures would lead to an increase in the police forces in this country. It is seldom that I can return to my old problems of Home Secretary; but perhaps I am entitled to do so on this occasion for once and to say that it is reasonable for me to point out that we now have 12,000 more policemen in England and Wales than we had in 1979. Perhaps I may be permitted to add that I had some part to play in achieving that. It is important that we recognise the importance of that increase. Whether the measures will need more than that is very difficult to say, but clearly that is a matter for my right honourable friend the Home Secretary.

As regards money from the football pools, I simply say this, particularly in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, who is chairman of the Football Trust and who has occupied that position with such distinction. It should be remembered that already money through that channel goes to the Football Trust and therefore to the various clubs. Of course, I announced in the Statement the £500,000 which the Football Trust is giving for closed circuit television.

Both noble Lords asked about deeper inquiries. I note what they say. At this stage I think that it is right to point out that there are a number of inquiries taking place. There are the inquiries through the Belgian authorities. There is the inquiry conducted by Mr. Justice Popplewell. I believe that it is important to hear the results of those inquiries on the immediate events before deciding what further action should necessarily be taken. We need very clear and very quick action. I always have a slight fear—perhaps more than a slight fear—that lengthy inquiries sometimes tend to postpone the action which ought to be taken quickly. I put in that proviso only because it is important to appreciate it and I do not, on behalf of the Government, rule out the possibility of an inquiry later; but much is going on at the present time.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed briefly to associate my noble friends and myself with the expressions of sympathy on the death of Lord George-Brown. Many of us on this side of the House had the opportunity of working with him, both in Government and when in Opposition, over three decades and more. We regarded him as one of the more significant political figures of our time. He was a man with a penetrating intelligence who in Cabinet could frequently strike the nail on the head very quickly where the rest of us took a long time to do so. He was a patriotic Englishman who had most admirable qualities. We send our deep sympathy to his family.

4.18 p.m.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, may I, as an ardent football supporter, welcome the Statement made by the Government and the noble Viscount this afternoon? I thank the Government and the football authorities concerned for the urgency which is being attached to the tragic circumstances which took place in Brussels last week.

I ask the noble Viscount one or two questions. I took the view that it was a little harsh to ban the clubs rather than the supporters. The supporters were guilty of the offences, not the clubs. I should like to ask the noble Viscount whether a ban on supporters rather than on the teams was discussed with the officials when he met them last week. Like other noble Lords who have spoken, I too welcome the proposed legislation to ban alcohol. I have two questions on that aspect. Will that ban include a ban on supermarkets, who liberally sell alcohol at all hours of the day outside, near and round about football clubs and elsewhere? Therefore, supporters are well "tanked up"—which I believe is the phrase—long before they get near the football ground.

If the ban can be extended to limit the sale of alcohol in supermarkets, for example, and other outlets not normally controlled by the licensing hours, that might be helpful. I hope that the noble Viscount will not allow this legislation to become confused with proposals in another place to extend the already too long licensing hours that we have at the moment. To mix up these two issues would lead to confusion. I ask the noble Viscount for his views on that.

I, too, welcome the inquiries into the Bradford disaster. I only hope that the noble Viscount can assure me that adequate resources will be made available to Third and Fourth Division clubs to bring their grounds up to the required safety standards, because we know that they would not be able to do so without some assistance.

In his discussions with the football authorities last week did the noble Viscount mention the possible effects of provocative behaviour on the field itself? I have in mind the almost obscene gestures that players make nowadays when they score a goal, running to their supporters and almost inciting a response. I think that that must be a contributory factor.

My last point is a wee bit controversial. The noble Viscount mentioned the Brussels judiciary, the possibility of an exchange of prisoners, court cases and so on. May I remind him—and I do not do this with any malice—that there is still a great deal of ill-feeling, particularly around the Tottenham area, about the young lad who was shot dead at about this time last year in Brussels as a result of another unfortunate incident? His name was later cleared in the court proceedings and he was certainly not in any respect a hooligan. There has been correspondence with the Prime Minister on this. He was the unfortunate victim of a shooting, and he died. The man who fired the gun was charged, but was given a derisory sentence in the eyes of most of us who knew the case. That does not augur well, and there should be a much more serious attempt to make the sentences fit the awful crimes perpetrated by the real thugs and hooligans responsible for these tragic incidents.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. First, I think that I should make it clear that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister met the various authorities mentioned in the Statement. I was not present on that occasion. Indeed, I have to admit to the House that I was far from London at the time. I have to give the views as I know them, but I was not present and did not hear them personally.

The noble Lord says that it was harsh to ban the clubs. That was not the view of the Football Association and it certainly was not the view of UEFA. It was certainly not the view of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister after she discussed the matter with all concerned. They all felt that such drastic action was the only thing possible to bring home to everyone the sheer horror of what had happened.

The noble Lord asked about finance to bring the grounds of Third and Fourth Division clubs up to standard. There have been discussions between the Government and the Football Trust as to how in various ways the finance may be found. No conclusions have yet been reached.

The noble Lord asked about the sale of alcohol in supermarkets. That is a matter for consideration by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and it will be discussed through the usual channels. He also asked about the sale from all other outlets. I think that it would be fair to say to the House that a major problem that inevitably arises is that, as we all know, there are any number of sources of drink if people want to have it. I am always told that anybody at any time who wants a drink can find a means to have one. I suspect that that is almost certainly so. It is very difficult to widen the matter, but certainly the legislation ought to go as widely as it can.

With regard to the story that the noble Lord told about a certain individual, in four years as Home Secretary I learnt never to comment on individual cases, either those about to happen or more usually those that have happened. I do not think that I shall break my rule now, except to say that if the noble Lord's broad point was that if people who commit such offences can be brought to justice they should have stiff sentences, I am sure that that is the wish of the whole House and indeed the country.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, has the noble Viscount by any chance read in this morning's Times the important letter from Professor Ralf Dahrendorf on the reasons for hooliganism in this country? In any case, will the Government give serious attention to the proposals that he makes?

Viscount Whitelaw

Yes, indeed, my Lords, I read the letter. I would only add that of course the Government will pay considerable attention to what is said by Professor Dahrendorf and many others. I think it is fair to say that there are probably many reasons behind action such as that taken at Brussels, and they all have to be studied.

The Lord Bishop of Norwich

My Lords, I believe that from these Benches we would want to be associated with the tribute to Lord George-Brown, who used to delight in telling us on these Benches that he was a robust and loyal Anglican. He used to say it rather straight at our faces as though to say, "Cap that one!". He enjoyed keeping us bishops up to the mark. We mourn his passing with much regret and remember him with deep affection in our prayers.

Also I believe from these Benches that we would want to underline what the Prime Minister said in the Statement, which the Leader of the House repeated, concerning sympathy for the families who have been so deeply and suddenly shocked into bereavement after last Wednesday's tragedy. I must, though, declare an interest in the question that I want to ask the Leader of the House. My football club, Norwich City, won the Milk Cup—the League Cup as it used to be called—and is now barred from Europe.

If I may digress for a moment, on that day when we played Sunderland all our supporters and all theirs picnicked together in great amity before the game. Even after the game we visited each other's coaches before the long journeys back to the North-East and East of England. We shared each other's insignia—the black and red of Sunderland and the yellow and green of our Canaries—and there were no untoward incidents at all. That is a reminder of what can happen; and it is not news unless it is something bad. I should like to put on record that that and many other games in our country in this last season that has just closed have been marked by good sportsmanship and a recognition of each other's qualities. Particularly I believe that Liverpool and the members of the Kop have been very hurt by the tiny group of drunken and violent people, some of them, we believe, masquerading in Liverpool colours, who brought such shame upon the English game.

The question that I have to put is this. I wonder whether we have the Government's support for a plan which was made before Wednesday. Before Wednesday, as the winners of the Milk Cup, Norwich City had been in touch with Juventas about inviting the team—and the invitation still stands—to come across for a pre-season game in August here in our Carrow Road stadium. But we realise of course that now we are barred from Europe and we ourselves are barred from the Cup Winners competition which we had looked forward to so much.

I believe that it would be a deeply healing experience—and I certainly would want to contact the Archbishop of Turin and talk with him as Christian leader to Christian leader—if in August that game between ourselves and Juventas was able to go ahead. I realise that it touches so many rather wider political problems and must be seen against the fact that we now stand in shame because of that tiny group of English people who brought shame on our nation and our game—and that in the very week when we as a nation remember that 41 years ago young men of just that same age were seeking to liberate Europe.

I therefore simply ask whether the Leader of the House would like to give consideration, sympathy and even encouragement to the negotiations that are going on now to invite Juventas to England for that game at Norwich. I believe that it could be a deeply healing experience and might do much to restore the level of our great national game as an exciting, fair and truly family game. It might also help to purge the shame and disgrace in which our great national game has now been brought into disrepute. I ask for some encouragement from Her Majesty's Government.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate. I know how sad the Football Association felt—this was certainly expressed by the chairman—for the Norwich City football club in the predicament in which it has found itself as a result of the ban on playing in Europe. The right reverend Prelate has expressed very plainly and very significantly how particularly sad this is for a club and, indeed, for supporters who have had such a good record with those against whom they have played. He has told us this very plainly. It makes it all the more sad that they have been to some extent the losers arising from the action of others, but that is, I am afraid, inevitable sometimes in life.

The right reverend Prelate asked me to give the support of the Government to his negotiations. The furthest that it would be proper for me to go, I believe, in the very touchy situation that obviously exists at the moment, with so many different people involved, is to say that I will make sure that the views that he has expressed are brought to the attention of all those concerned with this and that they will be able to consider what he has said and to give advice, no doubt to him and to others, as to the best way of proceeding. Frequently, it is a good thing that a little time should elapse—and this applies in the circumstances in which we find ourselves at present—before one makes decisions of that sort.

Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, will the noble Viscount agree that perhaps the one good thing to come out of the dreadful happenings at Brussels is that the problem—what we call at the moment soccer violence—can perhaps be dealt with? Does he not agree that, really, violence at soccer grounds has gone on for some 10 or 15 years? I am sure that many people, in common with myself, who have seen this everywhere, have said, "Why don't they do something about it?" It has steadily got worse and nothing has been done.

I should like to say here what I think is right. I believe that we should thank the Prime Minister for the action that she took prior to Brussels. I believe that following Brussels the feeling of shame and indignation in this country would have produced action. But, prior to Brussels, it was my belief that neither the Football League nor the Football Association were going to deal with the problem, on the grounds that it was too difficult, that it was too expensive to have membership cards, that it was too expensive to have all-ticket finals, and that a lot of money would be lost if drink was stopped.

Is the noble Viscount aware that a good many ordinary people like myself who have spent a lifetime in sport are very glad that this matter is at last going to be dealt with? In connection with the question put by my noble friend Lord Diamond, is the noble Viscount also aware that I was very glad to hear his response about the possibility of further inquiries without delay. It seems to me that the country has been so shocked—it is not only British football, but the British people, or the English people, if you like, who are on trial here—that there is a feeling that this matter should be dealt with at once. It is therefore on behalf of many people, I believe, that I thank the noble Viscount. I am sure that many people throughout the country will agree with trying to hasten through the legislation and are determined that something is done about this matter.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, who has a distinguished record in sporting activities over many years. I shall be only too pleased to pass on her remarks to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister who will, I know, be very pleased to receive them. I should like to thank the noble Baroness very much for what she has said.

As to the question of further inquiries, I made clear, I believe, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, and also in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, that I feel that the immediate inquiries on the most recent events must come first. These must go ahead quickly. I have simply said that I shall note—I do not think that any noble Lord would expect me to say more at this stage—the demands for further inquiries. But the initial inquiries will take place at once.