HL Deb 03 April 1989 vol 505 cc891-4

2.43 p.m.

Lord Mulley asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the recent statement by the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment(Minister for Sport), in consequence of amendments made by this House to the Football Spectators Bill, that he will seek to defer the re-admission of English clubs to European football competitions represents the policy of Her Majesty's Government towards football and this House.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Hesketh)

My Lords, my honourable friend the Minister for Sport has not drawn any connection between the amendments made to the Football Spectators Bill during Committee stage in this Chamber and the re-admission of clubs to European competitions. He has said that he considers it inconceivable that English clubs should be re-admitted next season, since no new measures to prevent hooligans travelling abroad have been taken since the disturbances at the European championships in Germany last June.

Lord Mulley

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. However, is it mere coincidence that his honourable friend the Minister for Sport made that statement the week following the decisions of this House, and that even as recently as yesterday the Sunday Timesreported that the consequence of the delay is that the Government will not support the very important meeting taking place next week concerning the re-admission of English clubs? Further, has the Minister for Sport taken any steps to correct any of those mis-statements by the press, because he did not connect the two matters? As we well know that he does not understand football—or never will, until it is played on the River Thames—will the Government now give at least some credit to the English clubs which have done their best to improve matters?

As regards the second part of the Bill which concerns foreign travel, to which no one in this House has taken any exception, will the Government reconsider the position and support the English clubs next week?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, in answer to the last part of the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Mulley, I believe that my honourable friend the Minister for Sport actually refereed a game of football only the other day. With regard to the Government's position over the application for returning to Europe for the forthcoming season, we have always made it absolutely clear that until we see a factual improvement, which we hope will come about with the introduction of the Bill which is before your Lordships' House at present, we shall not support such an application.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, does the Minister agree—or is he aware—that the statements made by the Minister for Sport, which were made during the passage of the Bill through your Lordships' House, regarding the attempt by English soccer clubs for re-admission to Europe appear to carry a hallmark of a very crude attempt to blackmail the football authorities and followers in this country?

Why do the Government persist in picking on football in relation to violence when one could see such unlicensed thuggery as took place the other Saturday in a Rugby Union match between England and Wales? The thuggery consisted of both fist and boot. I ask again, why do the Government insist on picking only on the game of soccer?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, the simple fact is that the Question concerns UEFA which concerns Europe. The Heysel Stadium matter means a great deal in Europe and must be dealt with. That is why we are not supporting an application for re-admission to European competitions for this forthcoming season.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, why does the Minister for Sport presume that, when his football Bill is challenged effectively in your Lordships' House, the appropriate Ministerial response is to put the boot in further as regards English football being played abroad? Is that not really the behaviour of the football bully—a fact which the Bill seeks to deny?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am afraid that the answer to that question is simply: no.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, when my noble friend Lord Dean of Beswick referred to licensed thuggery in the England and Wales game, I think that he must have been looking at reports of a different match. There was only one incidental loss of temper which ended in a moment. Is that not so?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to stand in the shadow of a great aficionado.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I suggest that my noble and learned friend on the Front Bench should read the press reports concerning that particular match.

Lord Mulley

My Lords, I ask the Government at least to give some credit for the immense work which has been done in the matter. In regard to the controversy about the membership scheme, that issue has no bearing whatever on the European competitions because the supporters of European clubs who come here cannot be members of the scheme anyway. Therefore why are the Government holding up their support▀×or, at least, as the Minister of State said, taking active steps to punish English clubs? Is it because, as I believe, they are upset by the decision of this House?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, first, the Government have always recognised that great efforts have been made to curb hooliganism. However, it is our determination that we should return to international football as the country which is setting the example of how to battle against international hooliganism, especially football hooliganism, be it at home or abroad.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, is the Minister aware that Scottish football clubs are welcome in Europe and that there is no prohibition, or no blackmail, by the Government, which prevents them from playing in Europe? Is it not therefore vastly unfair to English football supporters that Scottish football supporters can travel to Europe and enjoy the game while they are to be denied that privilege?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, is spreading his wings somewhat further than the Question on the Order Paper. I must remind him that this had nothing to do with the Government. The fact is that there was a disaster in Belgium. It is because of that disaster that English football clubs are not playing in Europe. Further, that is why the Government are trying to do something to help England to be proud again so that this country may once more be able to raise its head in international football.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, is the Minister aware that over the past few months there have been far worse outbreaks of violence in Germany, France, Italy and Spain than there have been during the comparable period in this country? That is long before the Government's Football Spectators Bill becomes an Act of Parliament.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, perhaps I may remind the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, of what I said earlier in answer to the Question. We wish to be in the forefront of an international campaign, and that answers a part of the noble Lord's question. Again the noble Lord failed to mention the Heysel Stadium. As regards this Question which relates to Europe, that means a great deal.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, perhaps I may clear up some anomalies. I hope that the Minister will readily agree that the amendment which the Committee passed has nothing to do with European football. The important point is that all we are saying in the amendment in the main is "Will you please give the committee which the Government intend to set up the right to decide what shall be best for football?" That is not advocated by the Minister who said that football should be governed by football. Is that a very sensible slogan and is it not time that the Minister stopped trying to be autocratic?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I would never attempt to be autocratic in your Lordships' House, particularly when being asked a question by the noble Lord, Lord Mellish. The noble Lord is absolutely correct that the amendment has nothing to do with the European aspect of this matter. As regards the other part of his question, we shall be returning to that matter at the Report stage of the Bill in your Lordships' House next Monday.