HL Deb 09 May 1991 vol 528 cc1265-74

6.52 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Nobly; Lords present will know that this is not the first occasion over the past few years when this House has debated a Bill relating to football. One almost gets a feeling of déjá vu when one considers what the Bill is about. I pay tribute to Sir John Wheeler and Members of another place of the all-party football committee and the Home Office group. They produced this Bill. It is a privilege that I have been asked to pilot this Bill, simple as it is, through your Lordships' House.

It is not a very complicated Bill. It contains six clauses. The first clause indicates where the Bill will apply and for what period of time. I shall now jump to Clause 5. That clause indicates the penalties for the offences contained in the Bill. Clause 6 gives the Secretary of State power to decide when the Bill will be activated. My information is that the Government would like this Bill in place for the start of the next football season.

It is appropriate now to pay tribute to some people in football. When we first began to debate professional football three to four years ago only a few noble Lords rose to speak on behalf of football and to defend it. Some of the behaviour associated with football at the time, mainly spectator violence, could not be allowed to continue indefinitely. A number of reports have been ma de about sport and soccer grounds. I was asked to give evidence for the Popplewell Committee. I think that was in relation to the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol) Act. I was also asked to give evidence as regards the legislation which came to be known as the ID Bill and which eventually became an Act.

I was asked by Mr. Justice Popplewell for my views about such matters as people invading the pitch. That is going back about two or three years. I said that I would make it an offence beginning with trainers and managers who should set an example. Now it is in the Bill and appears to be acceptable. During the passage of what we call the ID Bill that was laid on one side. Noble Lords warned the Government about certain matters that could happen. That was finally accepted by them. During the passage of that Bill, noble Lords such as me and the noble Lord, Lord Harris, speaking from the Liberal Front Benches, attempted to get some amendments accepted. I believe that the amendment relating to incursion on the pitch was either tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, or me. Whoever tabled the amendment was supported by the other noble Lord. Nevertheless, at the time the amendment was rejected. We have now returned to a situation where that provision is in the new Bill.

Clause 3 deals with racial chanting. That has to be made an offence. That may be one of the worst aspects of the Bill to apply. When one person in a crowd starts to chant and it is taken up by others, it is very difficult for the police to identify the culprit. Nevertheless, the amendment gives power to do that and to deal with the situation as the police see it.

Clause 2 deals with the question of missile throwing. That is one of the worst aspects of soccer and it has been so over the past few years. It will be silly to simplify and say that the police can sort that out quickly, because one has to identify who has thrown the missile. Nevertheless these three clauses give the police power to act on the questions of pitch incursion or invasion, racial chanting and the throwing of missiles.

As I have said, the Government want this Bill to be made an Act and to be in operation at the commencement of the next football season. I would like to pay tribute to some of the people in professional soccer who took quite a great deal of criticism a few years ago. It was not criticism in the fairest sense. The criticism made them appear unconcerned with the violence surrounding professional football. I visited clubs near where I live such as Manchester United, Manchester City, and Leeds United. My noble friend on the Front Bench, Lord Graham, has associations with the London clubs. We literally covered the widest spectrum that we possibly could in order to bring to your Lordships' House the collective view of what football was trying to do to rid itself of an image.

The enormous improvements that have taken place have some bearing on what those clubs, including Everton and Liverpool, did at the time. I was in contact with those clubs. The people concerned tried very hard, in the face of an adverse press and an unsympathetic government, to get the matter right. The excesses of violence, racial abuse and pitch incursion have now diminished tremendously. It is not legislation that has achieved that. Legislation has helped, but that is a fallback position. Football itself has made tremendous strides to eliminate the violence that was rampant a few years ago. It is right that we should recognise what my noble friend Lord Graham, the noble Lord, Lord Harris, myself, and other noble Lords have done in order to defend football at the worst times. We should recognise what was trying to be achieved.

On the face of it, this is a simple little Bill. As I see it, it will not create any extra work for the football clubs that I mentioned or indeed for the smaller clubs. However, it will give the police attending those grounds the power to act when they find that people are behaving badly so long as they can identify the culprits. I think that it is a move forward. The recommendations from the report of Lord Justice Taylor have been included in the Bill. That is why the legislation is commended by Members of all parties in another place and by football authorities in general.

I strongly recommend to the House that this Bill be given a quick passage so that we can respond to what is being asked of us. I commend the Bill to your Lordships.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Dean of Beswick.)

7 p.m.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, especially after he has made such an excellent and clear speech setting out the need for this relatively simple Bill. I extend my compliments to him and hope that his success will be repeated next week in Manchester both as regards football and in other areas. I should also like to compliment the honourable Member for Westminster, North—at least I think that that is his constituency—Sir John Wheeler and his committee and also all those in another place who helped to put the Bill before this House. I should also like to thank Mr. Norman Frankland and all those at Everton Football Club who gave me considerable help, guidance and advice over the weekend on some of the more practical applications of the measures set out in the Bill.

It seems to me that the measures set out in Clauses 2, 3 and 4 and those following in Clause 5 are the three recommendations requested in paragraph 71 of Lord Justice Taylor's report on Hillsborough. I very much concur with the noble Lord, Lord Dean, that the Bill which he has so ably introduced to the House and which has been taken through another place is the proper way to proceed so as to attempt to nibble away at hooliganism and the unpleasant type of behaviour which can occur at football games.

I am sure that noble Lords will appreciate that many of us may frequently behave quite differently when we go to football matches in a state of high spirits. I do not say that we would be full of alcohol, but we may be in such high spirits we might say and do things which we might not say and do in your Lordships' House, especially on an evening like this with what one might call an attendance rather than a crowd present in the Chamber.

I was somewhat curious on one aspect when I read the Bill. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, or my noble friend on the Front Bench who is to reply for the Government can advise me. I refer to Clause 1(2): References in this Act to things done at a designated football match include anything done at the ground". I was wondering how far the provision extends. For example, what area does the "ground" cover? Does the provision apply only within the perimeter of the ground? Further, I assume that "designated" matches would be league matches in England, cup matches, international matches and I hope in the future international European club matches with English clubs.

For the purposes of the Bill I believe that we are excluding Berwick which, as I am sure noble Lords will be aware, is in the county of Northumberland, whereas matches at Shielfield Park are of course conducted under the aegis of the Scottish Football League and the Scottish Football Association. However, if I could receive clarification in this respect as regards what happens at the stadium I should be most grateful.

It is quite clear what the "throwing of missiles" means in Clause 2. I do not believe that the throwing of a football could be included in that meaning. For example, when the ball is kicked into the crowd and a spectator throws the ball back rather hard and knocks a policeman's helmet off, I do not believe that the ball could be said to have been used as a missile. I do not think that anyone could be taken to court under the Act for so doing.

The noble Lord, Lord Dean, fully explained the purpose of Clause 3. Its content is also set out in paragraph 71 of the recommendations in Lord Justice Taylor's report. However, I am curious about one aspect and perhaps my noble friend on the Front Bench will be able to give me guidance. Subsection (1) refers to the, chanting of an indecent or racialist nature". It is possible that people may shout or say things at a football match which could be classified as indecent. I shall certainly not repeat in this House the sort of things we quite often say to visiting supporters when their team is suffering a major defeat. However, perhaps my noble friend or indeed the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, can give me some indication as to what is an "indecent" chant. I see that the noble Lord wishes to intervene. I am happy for him to do so.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I realise that it is rather unusual to intervene at this stage of a Second Reading debate. However, I am much obliged to the noble Lord for allowing me to do so. What I would term "indecent" chants at football matches are such that I believe them to be unprintable in Hansard. That may give the noble Lord some idea as to the meaning.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I was going to suggest that we might try to do so; but perhaps we ought not to do so tonight.

I turn now to Clause 3(2)(b). I fully understand what is in the mind of Lord Justice Taylor and in the mind of anyone associated with the Bill when dealing with matters of a "racialist nature". However, I simply cannot imagine that any chants, songs, sounds or suchlike could be threatening. Of course, the police and the stewards will be the first people to draw attention to behaviour which could contravene any of the parameters set out in Clauses 2, 3 or 4.

When I go to a football match, I may well set out to insult and abuse players and perhaps the referee. However, I hope that I do not do so within the terms of the Bill. For example, when an England player puts the ball into his own goal while playing in a match against Scotland, I can imagine many Scots supporters chanting, "There will always be an England". I trust that that is done in sporting terms and that it is mildly titillating and teasing; I hope that it would not be meant to be insulting or abusive. However, bearing that factor in mind, the contents of Clause 3(2)(b) could realistically be interpreted by the arresting police officer, should such an occasion arise.

From what I understand of advice given to me at Everton I believe that one would have to behave in a pretty extreme way before the stewards drew the behaviour to the attention of the police and before the police had to take the stringent action which is laid out. The offences will be arrestable offences.

Clause 4 deals with going on to the playing area. It could be difficult for someone who had gone on to the pitch to prove later that he did not necessarily do so in order to cause annoyance or aggravation. Nevertheless, I am sure that the police and the football clubs will be able to ensure that this measure is interpreted in a realistic way.

As regards Clause 5, it seems that arrestable offence 3 are exactly what is required to ensure that the three types of behaviour are much more heavily and swiftly punished than is the case at present. I believe that the Bill is a perfect example of how offences of hooliganism and behaviour of the type that can disfigure sporting fixtures should be treated in a realistic way. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, for raising the matter. I look forward to hearing the response of my noble friend on the Front Bench. I wish the Bill a swift passage; indeed, the quicker it gets on to the statute book the better.

7.10 p.m.

Lord Addington

My Lords, when I read this Bill I thought how very sensible, and certainly all on these Benches hold the same view. My noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich, who cannot be here today, said that it is a very sensible piece of legislation, very straight forward and dealing with very recognisable offences. The only possible problem is if certain members of the police force behave somewhat over-zealously when enforcing it. However, that is a problem with every bit of legislation which affects the criminal code in any way, shape or form, so I do not think have to worry about that too much provided that we have the usual sane level of behaviour that we tend to enjoy in this country from our police force.

The offences themselves—that is, throwing missiles, invasion of the pitch and chanting of racialist or indecent chants—are all reasonably straight forward, if possibly rather difficult to identify in a large crowd. Once again, we shall just have to make sure that the police, possibly with surveillance cameras, will be able to identify those who have perpetrated these crimes.

Further, I should like to say that the association football authorities have made great strides over the past few years in bringing down the amount of violence and other types of activity which have occurred in their grounds. In that respect I totally agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick. Everybody agrees that that has been done, and I hope that it will continue.

There is no longer quite the same problem inside the grounds. Outside the grounds is a different matter and what happens there cannot be covered by the Football Association or by legislation which directly relates to the Football Association's activities for the simple reason that unless the association is allowed to have control over the streets on the days of football matches it cannot do anything about them.

The association deserves credit for what it has done. In bringing down the most obvious flashpoint in this type of violence, it has made a great contribution towards getting rid of the problem, or at least reducing it. Unfortunately, there will always be a hard core of people—some of them young males—who will cause trouble on occasions and football matches are a very convenient venue in our society because of the large crowds. I repeat that this Bill enjoys the total support of these Benches.

7.12 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, the Opposition Front Bench is, as is normal, neutral on this Bill and I speak personally. Old boxers boasting of their skill used to say, "'e never laid a glove on me, squire; never laid a glove on me." This Bill can make the same claim. I have read the Official Report carefully and from the Bill's inception, through all its stages in another place, it seems to have commanded general, universal approval. Improvements have been suggested and accepted to all the clauses. There has been cross-party support and never a cross word has been spoken. I do not intend to blemish that record tonight.

Of course, there are imprecisions and imperfections, but the effect of the Bill will be to contribute substantially to ensuring a less hostile atmosphere at football grounds. Progress in the last year or so has been remarkable in this respect and, as the honourable Member for Ryedale said in another place, it will positively assist the creation of a good atmosphere if we underpin policing with a proper, clearly understood, penal code for those who misbehave.

If someone runs onto the pitch he will be arrested. Damage and hurt can be inflicted in many different ways and if someone throws stones, cans or sharpened coins—which can so easily take somebody's eye out —or bananas, he will know that video cameras are in operation and that he may well be arrested. Moreover, if he and others indulge in this mindless chanting of indecent or racialist utterances, they may well be identified and arrested. That is clear and it will surely have a salutary and admonitory effect on public behaviour. In time, it should lead to fewer policemen being required at our football grounds and to a most welcome reduction in the cost of policing. Lord Justice Taylor's report is well reflected in this aspect of the Bill.

Lord Taylor also pointed out that he wished to encourage pre-match entertainment. Cup finals have long done that and many local clubs are now taking up the idea. The whole family is involved and it often contributes to the establishment of a happy atmosphere at the ground. However, as was pointed out in another place, it may mean that people are at club grounds well before the "two hours before kick-off" specified in the Bill and it is possible that disturbances will take place and offences could occur. Perhaps the Government have already considered that point and found an answer. If so, I should be most interested to hear it.

Clause 3 will, of course, be difficult to enforce and the definition of "chanting" may well not get the total approval of the General Synod of the Church of England. It seems that an alleged offender would have a defence at law if he could prove that he had chanted abuse alone and not in concert with others. We all know of occasions when one, easily identifiable person, has started up this abusive chanting alone, others have taken it up and a great chorus of filth and abuse has developed. If that person stopped when others started the originator and perpetrator of this offence—the mindless baying and braying of offensive language or animal sounds—might well get away with it. That would be tiresome.

Incidentally, it was also pointed out in another place that during the Gulf war the chanting of anti-Iraqi slogans at football matches might well have been abusive or insulting by reason of nationality under Clause 3(2) (b), but perhaps it is unnecessary to consider tabling an amendment to cover that contingency.

Clause 4 deals with the most serious matter of pitch invasion. At Hillsborough, Ibrox, and elsewhere, we have seen what can happen especially when there are insurmountable fences at the front of enclosures. Those fences must go and, as a direct consequence, it must be an offence—and I hope that the courts will regard it as a most serious offence—to invade the pitch. Offenders can and must be arrested, because this issue can be literally a matter of life and death. We must find a way by which we can treat people attending football matches as normal, civilised human beings.

If any of your Lordships had to attend a performance at the Royal Opera House and view the stage through a wire mesh fence with barbed wire on top of it you might justifiably feel that you had cause for both complaint and resentment. Clause 4, if it is strongly enforced, may well be a giant step in the direction of encouraging civilised behaviour and it may well also save lives.

I end by reminding your Lordships that we who follow the rugby code of football have no need of legislation of this kind, since rugby has been well described as a game designed for ruffians but played by gentlemen. Had Clause 4 applied to the invasion of the pitch at rugby grounds, the man who ran on to the pitch after a match which Wales had succeeded in failing to win and was charged with carrying an offensive weapon would have been arrested. But I think he would have had a good defence in claiming that it was not an offensive weapon but simply a white stick which he intended, generously, to present free of charge to the referee.

7.18 p.m.

Lord Reay

My Lords, the Government welcome this Bill and with it the opportunity to implement the recommendations of Lord Justice Taylor on offences inside football grounds. Your Lordships will be aware that for some time the Government have been taking firm and positive steps to rid football of the unacceptable behaviour of hooligans who have blighted our national winter game and sullied our reputation abroad. We have enjoyed some success in reducing the scale of the problem. Firm but sensitive policing has made a contribution. So has the creation of the national football intelligence unit whose valuable work was recognised by the Home Affairs committee in another place. But the Government acknowledge that much has still to be done. As Lord Justice Taylor recognised in his report, the football clubs themselves have an important part to play in providing better facilities for spectators and better stewarding, and some improvements are under way.

Part of the Government's contribution is to establish the right legislative framework and to provide the police with all appropriate powers to act against hooligans. Specific measures already introduced in respect of football include the provisions in Part IV of the Public Order Act 1986, which empower the courts to exclude convicted hooligans from attending matches in England and Wales; the restriction on the availability of alcohol at football matches under the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol Etc.) Act 1985; and Part II of the Football Spectators Act 1989 which allows the courts to restrict the travel to matches abroad of those convicted of relevant football offences. The general criminal law also applies at football matches, of course; and many prosecutions are brought in respect of offences under the public order, criminal damage and offences against the person legislation in particular.

I believe however that the Bill brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Dean, will provide an important and welcome addition to the range of measures that can be brought to bear against football hooligans. The Bill has our full support and includes strengthening amendments introduced by the Government in another place which received broad all-party support.

The Bill is designed to tackle specific forms of undesirable conduct inside football grounds in England and Wales—the throwing of objects; chanting indecent or racialist abuse; and going onto the pitch without lawful authority or lawful excuse. Those measures would not apply to Scotland as we believe that in Scotland the common law already adequately covers that type of undesirable behaviour.

Lord Justice Taylor recommended the creation of those very specific offences, rather than a catch-all offence of disorderly conduct at a sports ground which had previously been recommended by Mr. Justice Popplewell in the final report of his Committee of Inquiry into Crowd Safety and Control at Sports Grounds presented to Parliament in January 1986. Lord Justice Taylor based his recommendation on the grounds that specific offences would make clear to hooligans and to the police precisely the type of behaviour which would not be tolerated. Specific offences would therefore be a more effective deterrent. The Government agree.

Lord Justice Taylor also recommended the creation of a fourth offence: ticket touting on the day of a football match. That lies outside the scope of the Bill; but the Government will bring forward additional legislation when parliamentary time permits.

I was asked some questions by my noble friend Lord Lyell. He asked whether it would be possible for him to attend a football match and continue to insult the referee and the opposing side, and not fall foul of the Bill. The insults would have to be chanted; but, in the final analysis it would be for the courts to decide and for the police to use their discretion as to whether to bring a prosecution. He asked where a match begins and ends. The offences have to be committed inside the stadium at a designated football match. No definition of indecent is provided in the Bill. It is a concept well known to the police and prosecutors, and we foresee no difficulty for the courts in deciding whether chants are indecent.

He was correct when he talked about European club matches. We shall include such matches in due course. Berwick is excluded because it is a Scottish League club. He wondered whether a ball returned to the pitch would constitute an illegally thrown missile. It would not constitute an offence as there would be a lawful excuse. In that case the lawful excuse would be that the ball would be required so that the game could continue. The noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, indirectly asked whether we wanted the Bill to be completed by the start of the next football season. We do.

The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, asked about chanting. My understanding is that anti-Iraqi chanting would be illegal as it would be racialist on the grounds of nationality. He asked whether a two-hour period in advance of the kick-off would be sufficient. In our view it would be because few spectators arrive at a ground more than two hours before the kick-off even for major matches where pre-match entertainment may be provided.

The measures contained in the Bill have been widely welcomed by the police; by the football authorities; and by genuine supporters of the game. I hope that they will be equally welcomed by the House.

7.25 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. It was remiss of me not to say that Clause 6(3) states clearly that the Act extends to England and Wales only. We are not telling the Scots how to run their football or the Welsh how to run their rugby.

I should also mention that improvements have taken place in some grounds. They have been due to the fact that additional sums of money have been made available from the Football Trust. Under the chairmanship of a Member of your Lordships' House, the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, it has disbursed substantial sums of money to help carry out everyone's wish to make football a safer and more wholesome game and to provide better conditions for people who pay to watch the game. I commend the Bill to your Lordships.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.