HL Deb 16 January 1986 vol 469 cc1180-90

4.34 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Glenarthur)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on the Popplewell Report which has been made in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a Statement on the Final Report of the Inquiry into Safety and Control at Sports Grounds under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Popplewell which was published today. The House will recall that the inquiry was established following the fire at Bradford City football ground and the events at Birmingham City on 11th May 1985.

"Now that the inquiry's work is completed, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I renew the Government's gratitude to the chairman and his two assessors for the speed and conscientiousness with which they have discharged their difficult task. In addition to dealing with the events at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels on 29th May and discussing the causes of hooliganism, the final report makes its recommendations on, separately, crowd safety and crowd control.

"On crowd control, there are a number of recommendations about the maintenance of order at football grounds: wider powers of police search and arrest; a new offence of disorderly conduct at sports grounds, and a review of the recent alcohol legislation as it applies to executive boxes. Continued progress with membership schemes is also recommended.

"The Police and Criminal Evidence Act which came into force on 1st January has already extended the police powers of search and of arrest in ways which will help them deal with troublemakers at football grounds. I shall examine Mr. Justice Popplewell's recommendations for further powers when we see how the new Act works in practice.

"On disorderly conduct, the Public Order Bill now before the House seeks to create a new offence which will cover hooliganism in football grounds as elsewhere. I shall consider carefully the recommendation for a wider offence when we see how the offence in the Bill works in practice.

"The Government has already taken a number of steps to deal with forms of misconduct about which Mr. Justice Popplewell expresses particular concern. The Public Order Bill seeks to implement a recommendation in his interim report that the possession of smoke bombs and similar devices at sports grounds be made an offence. We have taken action to ban some other items which may be used as missiles. The alcohol legislation which was passed in the summer makes it an offence to be in possession of a drinks can or bottle in any area of the grounds from which the pitch may be viewed directly.

"During the parliamentary proceedings representations were made about the effect on the revenue which clubs derive from executive boxes. The Government undertook to monitor the situation, and I have received some information from the Football League and representations from a number of right honourable and honourable Members. I have asked for more information from the football authorities and will wish to consider that carefully, in the light of the inquiry's recommendation, before deciding whether to allow some relaxation of the controls on alcohol in executive boxes. I shall report my conclusions to the House while the Public Order Bill is before Parliament.

"On membership cards, I fully endorse Mr. Justice Popplewell's recommendation. The Public Order Bill contains provisions to enable the courts to ban convicted football hooligans from attending matches. This shows our determination to do what we can to keep troublemakers away from football grounds, and to restore the good name of British football. It needs to be matched by equally determined action by the football clubs and the football authorities. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has emphasised to them the value of an effective membership card system. The football authorities have made some progress on this. In the light of the exclusion order scheme in the Public Order Bill, I hope that they will now redouble their efforts.

"I turn to crowd safety. We accept the need to strengthen urgently the measures already announced by and taken following my predecessor's Statements on 13th May and 24th July.

"We accept the recommendation that all sports grounds and sports stadia in England and Wales with accommodation for more than 10,000 spectators and where Association Football, Rugby League, Rugby Union and cricket are played which are not already designated under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act should be so designated. Consultations will begin immediately with the sports authorities and organisations concerned with a view to introducing the necessary orders as quickly as possible, but in any event by the summer of this year.

"In Scotland my right honourable friend intends to introduce similarly, as soon as practicable, an order designating stadia of clubs with accommodation for more than 10,000 spectators in the first and second divisions of the Scottish Football League.

"We accept the principle of the recommendations that safety controls should be extended to all sports grounds and stadia with stands for over 500 spectators, and to indoor sports facilities with accommodation for over 500 spectators where adequate controls do not already exist. We need more facts. Present centrally-held information is limited to stadia and grounds with accommodation for 5,000 or more, and indoor premises with an overall capacity of more than 1,000. The first step will be to establish the full practical effects of these recommendations. All relevant local and fire authorities in England, Wales and Scotland are to be invited to inspect all such stands and premises not previously inspected and report upon them to my right honourable friend and myself. Powers are immediately available under both the Safety of Sports Grounds Act and the Fire Precautions Act to deal with any exceptional hazard which might be found in the course of the inspections. Similarly, chief fire officers and firemasters will be invited to keep under review the places they inspected under previous initiatives last year, with the object of maintaining safety standards at those places.

"When we have considered these inspections we shall quickly issue a consultative document and propose ways of achieving the objectives of the inquiry's final report, fitting this into the review already under way on the future of the Fire Precautions Act. Further legislation may well prove necessary. There will be no avoidance risk meanwhile because any necessary emergency action can be taken under existing powers.

"So far, the figures this season show a marked improvement in the number of arrests and ejections from football grounds. Our measures against hooliganism should have a cumulative effect. But it is too soon to be satisfied. We have to deal not only with hooliganism but with safety; not only with football grounds but with sports grounds in general. Thanks in large part to Mr. Justice Popplewell, I believe we are on the right track".

My Lords, that completes the Statement.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, the House will be grateful, as always, to the noble Lord the Minister for having repeated this Statement; and may I immediately from these Benches echo the words of gratitude that he so rightly expressed in that Statement to Mr. Justice Popplewell and to the two assessors for this, their final report. Many of us remember the debate which took place on the interim Statement on 24th July last, when we equally expressed our gratitude for the speed with which that interim report had been prepared.

At once may I say, on behalf of my noble friends, that any recommendations in regard to safety quite obviously, in principle, meet with our approval, as do the recommendations made in the final report and referred to in the Statement. The only thing one wonders from a practical point of view, bearing in mind that the arena now includes not only football grounds but will also include cricket grounds, rugby football grounds and other sports grounds, is where the money is coming from. It is all very well to lay down regulations and to recommend them, but not without some practical consideration being given to how those regulations are going to be implemented, unless we are going to have sports grounds, open and interior grounds, shut down by virtue of the fact that we have carelessly legislated. I say "carelessly" because it is lacking in care when one legislates without regard to the practical conclusions of observing that legislation. And, of course, these sports, other than football, have not the benefit of the FGIT, which is paid such compliments in the report—and rightly so, if I may say so.

If I may move to something that did concern us when we were discussing the interim report, it was the attention given by Mr. Justice Popplewell to an obscenity that was occurring far too often on our football grounds: that is, the chanting of racial abuse. He said that consideration was going to be given by him to this matter with a view to the recommendation of some criminal offence which might cover it, and which would be an addition to our criminal law. I wonder whether the Government believe that this is covered by Clause 19 of the Public Order Bill. If it is not, do they intend to add another clause to that Bill to cover this particularly outrageous offence?

4.45 p.m.

Mention was made briefly of executive boxes and the further review that might take place in regard to the limitations placed on them under what I believe we have called our "alcohol legislation", which was rushed through both Houses (and rightly so) before the start of the last season. Perhaps I may express what is purely a personal point of view, because I believe there is no political policy in regard to this matter. May I merely plead that the Government in considering this matter—and the noble Lord the Minister, in the Statement, has said that this will be referred to again when we come to consider the Public Order Bill—should seriously consider the social effects and possible discord that can be created when some humble folk see people not quite so humble able to imbibe alcohol at leisure, and as frequently as they like, when they are prohibited from doing so. Again if I may express a personal point of view, I continue to wonder (though this may be a personal eccentricity) at those who so love football that they turn up for a game and yet feel they cannot be expected to turn up to enjoy that football game unless alcohol is supplied. However, I repeat, that may be a personal eccentricity of my own.

No mention has been made of closed circuit television. This is an essential safeguard, and I wonder whether the noble Lord can tell us if its use has really increased at the rate he would expect if we are to have their most useful protection. My information is that only about one-fifth of our grounds have it, and obviously that would not appear to be very adequate.

My final points are directed to matters which are not referred to in the Statement but which I believe would have your Lordships' great interest. On page 50 of the report Mr. Justice Popplewell calls attention to the fact that the extent of hooliganism is obviously a matter of great importance if we are properly to try to regulate and consider it. He says at paragraph 5.22 on page 51: It might have been thought that [as] this violence has been a problem for football clubs for many years the first thing the football authorities would have done would have been to seek to establish the extent of it. Far from it. He goes on to say: Presently at every Football League match in England and Wales there is an observer appointed by the Football League to assess and report on the performance of the referee. He states that there is no such observation or keeping of records in regard to matters of violence. Lastly, he says this at paragraph 5.25: It is still vitally important that the police and the clubs should get together so that henceforth it is possible for the clubs to obtain statistics on the number of arrests and the nature of the offences which occur on their property. My question to the Minister is: what are the Government proposing to do to carry out that recommendation, which one imagines could be carried out immediately?

My last observation—and I promise this is the last one—is in reference to a most interesting discussion in this report of the characteristics of the hooligan. That occurs at pages 52 to 55. I am going to summarise it by saying that in the description of the new hooligan we are given a completely new type, which is certainly not in the general understanding of the man-in-the-street as to the type of person we are dealing with.

The report states that all too often—and it cites a recent case that came before the Central Criminal Court—one is not dealing at all with working-class lads or working-class men. One is dealing with people who have quite a lot of money, people who have had quite a bit of education and culture, people who indeed are holding down responsible jobs. Yet this virus of absolute senseless violence and hooliganism appears to be running through their veins. One is left with a question mark. Have we in looking at Popplewell really got to the bottom of what is a social problem of great importance in this time?

I know that it has been existent before. We all know that. Violence is not new to 1986. But this type of worthless, needless vandalism and violence seems to be an obsession of our age. Have we really tackled it? Ought it not to have a very much deeper analysis than we have given it so far? We are all grateful that the Statement ended with a note of optimism that the numbers of incidents at football grounds appear to have diminished. May that tendency continue.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, on behalf of these Benches I, too, should like to express appreciation to the Minister for his Statement this afternoon, and to join with all Members of the House in expressing our thanks to Mr. Justice Popplewell for what is a reasonable, cautious Statement. I very much welcome the Government's reaction to this exhaustive examination. I know that it is easy to react in panic to the terrible events in Belgium and the tragedy of the Bradford fire in the way that the public demand something must be done. I am glad that we have resisted the temptation of panic legislation and that we are giving careful consideration to the document before us. Our purpose must be to restore the place of football and other sports as part of our national life, where people may go and enjoy the excitement and pleasure of watching a great sporting event without fear. That is the purpose to which the Popplewell Report tries to address itself, and as I said we very much welcome the Government's reaction to its recommendations.

There are two areas which have been mentioned in earlier discussions. I apologise for the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, who has a very keen interest in these matters and who normally speaks on them from these Benches. On the question of membership cards, I am glad that that aspect is not to be pressed but is to receive further consideration. Your Lordships may recall that there was an earlier suggestion that membership cards should be required, which would if not ban, at least limit the number of supporters attending an away game. This could have disastrous consequences for smaller clubs, which depend very much on the occasional visits of Rangers and Celtic, with their large support, in order to boost their income. We should be very careful about any possibility of imposing that kind of restriction.

The question of executive boxes is another difficult and controversial area. As has been said this afternoon, it is rather socially divisive that the chap down on the terraces cannot have his beer, but the chap in the executive club can have his champagne. But we are not talking about that social divisiveness; we are talking about the control of trouble at football grounds. That is the major issue and I doubt whether that social distinction is contributory to trouble at football grounds. I would also keep in mind that many football clubs are now dependent on this form of revenue in order to keep them in existence. If your Lordships look at the events at Birmingham City and at some of the other clubs with declining fortunes, you will realise how important the executive boxes might be to their survival.

I was interested in the reference to the control of smoke bombs and other things. This is an area where harmonisation with EC legislation should be introduced, because the only evidence of these things has always been at European football grounds. May I ask, as has the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon: how is this to be financed? We are talking about imposing on clubs and local authorities very considerable responsibilities. Where is the money coming from in order to do this? Perhaps a percentage on large transfer fees might be an appropriate source of some revenue in order to assist. Stewards have to be trained. Where will the money come from for the training of stewards? Many of the clubs are very hard-pressed at the moment and we must recognise that in imposing new burdens on these clubs we may be endangering their future existence.

The Statement indicates that there have been fewer arrests and disturbances, and perhaps the Minister will at some stage give us some information in that regard. May I say from the Scottish experience in this regard, that Scottish teams are still playing and are acceptable in international and European competitions, largely because earlier legislation on the control of alcohol has substantially reduced disturbances at Scottish football matches and so, despite their liking for the national beverage, the Scots retain respectability in international football at the moment. I was delighted to read that Mr. Justice Popplewell drew substantially on the experience of Scotland in this regard.

I was delighted, too, that the Minister assured us that in any substantial changes which are planned in this area there will be full consultation with the Football Association, with the people who have to run the industry and with the local authorities who have direct experience of the problems that are addressed in the Popplewell document.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, in reply to both noble Lords opposite, may I say that I am grateful to them for their kind reception of this Statement. Both noble Lords have raised the question of the financial penalties which clubs will undergo. I recognise what the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said, and the fact that safety is paramount will be recognised by those clubs, too. Obviously those measures have to be taken. Certainly, the owners or occupiers of sports venues of whatever sort must take responsibility for ensuring the safety of their customers, and they too must meet the costs of safety improvements.

Of course, the Government will carefully consider any representations made to them by individual sports, but sports governing bodies are independent concerns and have their own sources of income. Governing bodies of sports derive income from a variety of different sources—membership fees, subscriptions, television, commercial sponsorship, trading activities, admission charges, and so on. Many also receive grant-aid from the sports councils for administration and general sports development. Additional income for safety improvement work could be generated through more commercial sponsorship, increases in membership fees, and so on, which I have described. Indeed, local authorities may even be willing to consider assistance. That has certainly happened at some football grounds already designated.

5 p.m.

There is also the question of the sports councils offering additional help. They have already given substantial financial assistance to governing bodies of sports. When approached, the sports councils will continue to advise and discuss with clubs the financing of particular projects. However, any financial help from councils over and above their normal grant-aid to governing bodies is, I fear, somewhat unlikely. I recognise the concern that both noble Lords have expressed.

The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, spoke about one of the recommendations in the report concerning racist chanting and the relevance of the Public Order Bill. The Public Order Bill will extend the existing offence of incitement to stir up racial hatred to conduct intended to do so. At present the offence is confined to conduct likely to do so. That is obviously the great difference. Consequently, where a person at a football match uses words that are threatening, abusive or insulting and which are intended or likely to stir up racial hatred he will be committing an offence.

It would be difficult to go further so as to create a wider offence confined to football matches. Any general offence would be extremely difficult to enforce effectively. There seems to me to be some difficulty in the logic of confining such an offence just to football grounds, as I am sure the noble Lord will appreciate.

The noble Lords, Lord Taylor of Gryfe and Lord Mishcon, both referred to the matter concerning executive boxes and the financial impact. I noted with interest the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon—and not for the first time because he expressed similar views when we discussed this matter in the summer—and those of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor. During the passage of the alcohol legislation it was suggested by the football organisations that clubs derived a total of £4 million a year from the leasing of executive boxes. Many boxes are leased on an annual or three-yearly basis and therefore actual losses may not be incurred for some time.

At the end of October, the Football League sent the Government some information that indicated that some clubs estimated or projected a considerable turnover in box holders when their leases expired, with a consequent loss of revenue if the boxes could not be relet. At that stage the alcohol legislation had been in force for fewer than three months. My honourable friend the Minister of State asked for further information covering a longer period. We still await that further information. In waiting for it, I note the views expressed by both noble Lords this afternoon.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, raised the question of statistics about football hooliganism during the present season. I do not have any national statistics but in the Metropolitan Police District in the period up to 11th January, the number of ejections and arrests had fallen from 2,652 last season to 1,470 this season. That is a fall of 44 per cent. At the same time there has been a fall in attendances of 13 per cent.

In Greater Manchester in the period up to 1st December there was an increase in attendances of 6.4 per cent. but a decrease of 56 per cent. in the number of arrests and ejections. I am sure your Lordships will agree that those are encouraging figures. I have more statistics that I can give the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, but perhaps not at this time.

As to the more general question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, in connection with the report itself and the importance of collecting statistics, from this season the police will be completing a report on every league fixture, giving full details of incidents, arrests, police tactics, etc. Those reports will be sent to the force of the visiting team. They will be an excellent source of centralised data on the national picture. I hope that the noble Lord finds that information encouraging.

Lord Mishcon

Indeed I do, my Lords. I thank the noble Lord the Minister for it. The report emphasises the need for co-operation between the police and football authorities, which presumably has not existed up until now. Will the noble Lord the Minister encourage that kind of co-operation?

Lord Glenarthur

Certainly, my Lords. Every step will be taken to encourage such co-operation; I give the noble Lord that assurance.

The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, asked also about closed circuit television. Of the 42 clubs in the first and second divisions of the Football League, I understand that 25 of them have now installed closed circuit television, and that nine of the 10 clubs in the Scottish premier division have done so or are having closed circuit television installed. That is part of the football trust programme to equip initially all clubs in those three divisions with closed circuit television. In addition, there are the three Home Office "hoolivans", which are mobile photographic vehicles. The information I have is that while we have not yet installed all of them, those who are involved are pleased with the way in which this matter is progressing. We are encouraged by that and I hope that the noble Lord is as well.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, raised the question of membership cards. The Football League has supported the development of membership card schemes by issuing guidelines to clubs on the introduction of partial schemes covering at least 50 per cent. of ground capacities. That is a welcome first step, as Mr. Justice Popplewell remarks in his report. The football authorities are in no doubt about the value that the Government attach to membership cards as an integral part of a package of measures designed to combat hooliganism. In the light of the exclusion orders scheme set out in the Public Order Bill, the Government are looking to the league and the clubs to take more positive action to achieve quicker progress in line with Mr. Justice Popplewell's recommendations.

There are of course practical difficulties—which I believe is what concerns the noble Lord, Lord Taylor—including the problem of checking cards held by large numbers of people trying to pass through turnstiles in a short period. Membership cards are certainly not a panacea but we believe they can make a useful contribution, together with exclusion orders and closed circuit television, in keeping troublemakers out of football grounds. With determination and commitment, perhaps some of the practical difficulties can be overcome. Certainly the advantages of keeping troublemakers out of football grounds are obvious to us all.

The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, referred to the whole chapter dealing with hooliganism. The police and all those concerned are of course very alive to the worrying trend that the noble Lord described; the shift from the old-style hooligan to the more sophisticated hooligan, which is so admirably described in the particular chapter of the report to which the noble Lord referred. Regarding analysis, we must continue to monitor the situation closely. The police are very alive to that need and will continue to be so.

I end where the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, began; by saying that it behoves us all to do everything that we can to try to rid the game of football—and perhaps other games if the situation starts to turn that way—of the unfortunate element that has made football so miserable for those who wish to enjoy it.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in expressing thanks to Mr. Justice Popplewell for the very detailed report that he has presented. As one who was invited to give evidence, and who did so, I have to part company with my colleague on the Front Bench in respect of his observations concerning executive boxes.

The Minister may recall that there was support from all parts of this House last July for the amendment I moved that would have left the licensing of executive boxes as a matter to be dealt with by local licensing magistrates under the normal and historic procedure. Fifty-five noble Lords took the same view on that particular day, which is a not inconsiderable number.

I should like briefly to refer to what Mr. Justice Popplewell said about those boxes. They cannot be treated as trivia when looking at them in total and in regard to the question of financing football. Mr. Justice Popplewell devotes a huge paragraph to the subject. It is not just a case of social distinction because he blows that argument sky high. He does not consider that it is any part of the argument. He states: The effect of the Act in relation to income for a number of clubs has been little short of disastrous. It has been particularly so in some of the most forward looking clubs who have spent a great deal of money in providing better facilities for their spectators, which should be encouraged. It is now clear that a good deal of expensive improvement works at football clubs can only be supported if boxes of one sort or another are operating. It is now too late to suggest that the provision of business and dining facilities has no part in the football world. It is now part of business. And business is needed to support football. Families, too, are using these facilities and their support is essential to a well run club and needs to be encouraged". Mr. Justice Popplewell visited one game at Old Trafford and saw things for himself. That club will lose a minimum of over £500,000 annually. We are not talking about a static industry; it is a growth industry. Mr. Justice Popplewell ended with this very brief paragraph: Now that the Act has been imposed for a short time, and its effects can be seen, it must be sensible to have another look at Section 3(3) to see whether it really is a necessary provision. I therefore recommend that the provisions of Section 3(3) be reviewed in relation to the executive boxes". It is only right to assume that the section is totally unnecessary and that it has gone too far. Therefore, my question to the Minister is: will he urge the Home Secretary to view this issue as a matter of urgency because of the finances involved? It is not only affecting the Manchester Uniteds and Tottenham Hotspurs in football but very adversely affecting some of the less wealthy clubs which might well go out of existence.

Finally, the Minister will recall that when the interim report was placed before your Lordships' House I asked whether there would be an opportunity to debate the final report because of all that was involved. We have had almost a mini-debate today but I would have preferred it to be brief and to have dealt with this matter in a full day's debate. I think the Minister almost gave an undertaking on the previous occasion that there would be such a debate on this subject. Will he consider this suggestion and take it to the people concerned?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I do not think I can add to what I have already said on the question of executive boxes. I know that the noble Lord has a powerful concern about this subject. He expressed it very clearly and admirably in the summer. As I said, we await further information. I shall certainly draw the noble Lord's remarks to the attention of all concerned and I can assure him that they will be taken into account.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I have to say briefly that there is no doubt in what Mr Justice Popplewell is saying concerning the tremendous and adverse effects being experienced. How long must we wait and how much money will be lost before something is done?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I note those points and I am sure my right honourable friend will do so, too. The noble Lord, Lord Dean, asks about a debate. That, of course, I cannot answer. It is a matter for the usual channels. Certainly I did not promise a debate when I spoke at the interim report stage.