HL Deb 02 November 1989 vol 512 cc377-82

6 Clause 2, page 2, line 40, at end insert — ( ) Where a person is charged under subsection (1) above with an offence of entering or remaining on premises, and was at the time of the alleged offence not disqualified from being a member of the national football membership scheme, it shall be a defence to prove that he was allowed to enter the premises as a spectator by a person reasonably appearing to him to have lawful authority to do so.'.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I beg to move that this House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 6. For the convenience of the House, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 17, 31 and 38.

This group of amendments provides, in one form or another, for emergency admission to grounds. Following the debates in this House and in another place, we have given careful thought to whether it was right for the offence of unlawful entry in Clause 2(1) to be absolute; that is, to have no defence provided in the Bill. We have come round to the view that it would be right to provide such a defence and Amendment No. 6 achieves that with one important qualification: it will not extend to people who are disqualified from the scheme.

The primary responsibility for the safe operation of a football ground lies with the club, although the club will of course rely on the professional expertise of the police in matters of crowd control and public order. Learning a lesson from Hillsborough, we believe that it is imperative that provision for dealing with admission in circumstances of emergency should be detailed in the licence which should be tailored to each ground's particular circumstances. Amendment No. 17 introduces a requirement for the scheme to provide that.

Following Hillsborough, a great deal of concern has been expressed at the possibility of a dangerous crush developing outside the grounds —the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, was concerned about that point —despite everything that we are doing to try to avoid such an occurrence. In those circumstances, it would be essential to reduce the risks of serious injury or loss of life to those who are outside the ground and they would have to be admitted quickly and safely without normal checks on membership.

In those circumstances, it would be impractical to distinguish with certainty between members and non-members of the scheme and we now consider it right to exempt from the offence innocent people who are not members of the scheme; for example, those who joined the queue unaware of the requirement for a card or who were unintentionally caught up in the crowd. As I said, that does not, and should not, include those who are already disqualified from the scheme.

Amendment No. 31 qualifies the offence in Clause 8(1) of admitting spectators to unlicensed premises by the new defence that the responsible person did so in an emergency. Similarly, Amendment No. 38 requires the licensing authority to consider arrangements to deal with emergencies when granting a licence to admit spectators. That therefore puts implicitly within the scope of a licence the provision to admit spectators in an emergency, safeguarding the licensee from an offence of admitting spectators in breach of a licence condition in those circumstances. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House do agree with the Commons in the said amendment —(Earl Ferrers.)

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I do not think that any of us will oppose the amendment, but I am bound to say that in my view it will lead to the creation of a state of almost total confusion so far as concerns the law.

Perhaps we may examine what the amendment says. It provides a defence for someone who has entered the ground in the circumstances described by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, if he can prove: that he was allowed to enter the premises as a spectator by a person reasonably appearing to him to have lawful authority to do so". If the Bill stated that the only people who could take action of that kind were the police, there would be no ambiguity. An officer in uniform could give him his consent to enter the ground. That would provide the person possibly charged with an offence with the defence specified in the amendment.

However, as we now know, the Government have been resolutely opposed to giving the police overall responsibility in this matter. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Mr. Peter Lloyd, said on Monday of this week: The evidence to show that the supporter was inside the ground unlawfully will be given either by the club or the police, one of which will have declared the emergency. The inability to identify the person who has declared the emergency should not therefore prove to be a problem". I should have thought that that was a very profound non sequitur. He went on to say that: the primary response for the declaration of an emergency will belong to the police, although there will also be a responsibility belonging to the club as the licence holder. One would expect clubs and police to negotiate". [Official Report, Commons, 30/10/89; col. 38.] He says "negotiate" —in those circumstances when tens of thousands of people are trying to get into a football ground in the last few minutes! Or is there some other meaning to be read into the words of the noble Earl's colleague?

As I indicated, I still find it hard to understand why the Government have not given the police that clear and explicit authority. I believe that there will be great confusion caused by the division between the police and the club. No one will have a clear view of the matter to know who in fact is responsible; nor will the person who enters the ground in the circumstances which the noble Earl specified when he opened the debate.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I appreciate that in deference to our procedures I should not intervene in the Minister's speech or raise any points when he has sat down. Therefore any matters I need to raise should be mentioned at this point.

I understand what the Minister and his colleagues are driving at in this amendment. It takes account of the kind of circumstances that we outlined. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, made his point very clearly. I agree with him that in trying to be helpful the Minister has confused the situation even more. There has been no collusion with the noble Lord, Lord Harris. However, I am certain that my copy of Hansard is riddled with question marks and queries in the same place as his and we both noted the words of the Minister in another place.

Perhaps the Minister will indicate whether this series of amendments is that to which the noble Lord, Lord Hesketh, referred, and whether this will be the proper place to obtain information on the licensing authority. If in fact it is not —and I believe that I heard the noble Earl mention Amendment No. 7 —it is in the next series of amendments and is a pleasure that has been only deferred.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I should like to support the arguments of both noble Lords who have spoken. As a magistrate, I tried to work out the practicalities involved. I seem to recall, particularly in the traffic courts, that people quite frequently pleaded that what they had done was lawful because someone had told them that they could do it. That plea was always rejected because there was no evidence that the other person had lawful authority to tell him that he could do it.

There seems to be an equal ambiguity here: the spectator had reason to believe that he could enter because a person who appeared to him to have lawful authority told him so. The mind boggles at that. Think of it in an emergency situation with people rushing about saying, "I have the lawful authority to allow you to do this" and "Why have you not got a ticket?".

I am bound to say, not to be too finicky, that I always thought that legislation was not supposed to have a double negative: was at the time of the alleged offence not disqualified. There must be a better and clearer way of stating that. I can only think that it will add to the confusion.

When we make the law, I wonder how far we think of its practical application. It is only when one sees people struggling to apply the laws that one realises how important it is that everything should be completely clear so that everyone knows exactly what is meant.

Viscount Craigavon

My Lords, before the Minister gives his answer, perhaps I may make this point. I believe that he said in his opening that he would speak to Amendment No. 17. I am not sure whether that is in the grouping on the list and whether Amendment No. 17A would also be included. If he wants to refer to emergencies, perhaps when he replies he can say slightly more about the nature and degree of the emergency to which he refers and what is in the mind of the Government.

5.45 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, perhaps I may deal first with the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Graham. My noble friend Lord Hesketh is not very often wrong. He does not often made a mistake. However, he made one terrible mistake this afternoon. He implied that this amendment was the amendment on which the noble Lord, Lord Graham, should have asked his questions. In fact it is the next amendment. However, if that is the worst mistake that my noble friend should make, I know that the noble Lord, Lord Graham, will concede that it was not a very big one.

I find it very amusing that some of your Lordships are enormously agreeable and understanding outside the Chamber but inside the Chamber it seems difficult to persuade some noble Lords that matters are perfectly reasonable. I remember the noble Lord, Lord Harris, vigorously castigating the Government when this Bill was discussed in this House before, because of what would happen in an emergency. People would not be allowed into the ground because they would have to be shown to have a card. We took on board all those complaints and suggestions and came up with some amendments which simply state that if there is an emergency people will be allowed to be on the ground without creating an offence. I fail to see how, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, says, that adds to the confusion. It is perfectly clear that if there is an emergency and gates have to be opened so that people do get into a ground when they are not in possession of a card, they will not be creating an offence provided that they are shown not to have been disqualified.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, is always concerned about responsibility. I think it right to make it plain that anywhere outside the match it is the responsibility of the police to control the crowd because it is in a public place. Once in the football ground, which is private property, it is the responsibility of the club in combination with the police. The police do have responsibilities there but the overriding responsibility lies with the club.

If there is an emergency the police themselves can open the gates. They can do that under common law. They can instruct the club to open the gates and clearly the club will oblige because if it did not it would be obstructing the police in the execution of their duty. So in all those matters I do not see that there is any real cause for disquiet about where the responsibility lies. Of course there will be involvement with the police and the club but that is understandable because they are on private land.

The noble Viscount, Lord Craigavon, asked: what is an emergency? We shall come to that point later. I do not wish to pre-empt the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Graham, and possibly it would be better to leave that matter until we come to it.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I shall use the form of words recommended by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and before the noble Earl sits down perhaps I may ask him a question on what he has just said. He appeared to suggest that noble Lords who raised the question of an emergency situation were being extremely tiresome because we would not accept uncritically what the Government had produced.

We welcome the fact that the Government are now dealing with the situation but we are puzzled about the form of words in this amendment. As I tried to explain to the noble Earl, it is providing a defence in a court and the question arises as to who in fact appears to the person who finds himself in court to have lawful authority to tell him to go into the ground in an emergency situation. That is the point. If the police have a clear responsibility in this matter in the way that the noble Earl suggests, as a number of noble Lords have pointed out on several occasions it would be immensely helpful to have that on the face of the Bill. However, the noble Earl went on to say, as did his honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, that the club also has a position in this matter.

I am trying to point out the ambiguity created by that situation. If a club steward on the highway encourages people to go through the gates in an emergency situation, does that or does that not constitute a position in which the spectator has an absolute defence. That is the issue.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am hesitant to rise again. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, used the magic words "before the noble Earl sits down" although I had in fact sat down. He now invites me to rise and to break the rules of order by making a second speech. Naturally I would wish to do anything to accommodate the noble Lord. Having said that, I have almost forgotten what the noble Lord asked me.

He was concerned about who allowed the people into the football ground. I have explained that if there is an emergency and the club opens the gates, people will go into the ground who may not have the authority to do so. I have explained that the police may open gates and as a result people may go into the ground who do not have a right to be there.

If the noble Lord reads the amendment he will see that where a person is charged under subsection (1), it shall be a defence to prove that he was allowed to enter the premises as a spectator by a person reasonably appearing to him to have lawful authority to do so". In that case it will be either the club's servant to whom it has delegated, or the police.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, is it either?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, it is either.

On Question, Motion agreed to.