HL Deb 16 January 1996 vol 568 cc464-6

3.11 p.m.

Lord Kirkhill asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the Lord Advocate intends to issue guidance to procurators fiscal as to when, or if, action should be taken by them in connection with brawls on the Scottish soccer field, and, if so, whether the guidance will also take into account violence which occurs on the field in other spectator sports such as rugby football.

The Lord Advocate (Lord Mackay of Drumadoon)

My Lords, I have recently given consideration to the whole issue of sports violence in Scotland. While professional football has formed the basis of much public discussion on this topic in the last few months, the topic is of concern to all sports where there are risks of unacceptable violence or disorderly conduct of a seriously provocative nature. Instructions to chief constables as to the reporting of alleged offences involving such behaviour have been drafted. When these are formally issued by me to chief constables, guidance will at the same time be sent to procurators fiscal, instructing them how to deal with any reports received from the police and instructing them when they themselves should take the initiative to call for reports from the police.

Lord Kirkhill

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for his reply, which I consider in essence to he helpful. However, I should like to add something. Is he aware that there is concern in Scotland about the fact that some procurators fiscal have considered violent action on soccer fields, others have not and others yet-again seem to have paid no attention to acts of violence committed, for example, on the rugby field, the shinty field or the hockey pitch? Will he accept that because soccer has such exposure on television, consideration of soccer is pre-eminent? Is that even-handed? Is it fair treatment? That is my additional question to the noble and learned Lord.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon

My Lords, I am quite clear that the treatment of all sports should he even-handed. I take the view that all those who are involved in the administration and refereeing of sport have a duty to take firm action to prevent violence in the first place and to deal with it when it arises. On the rare occasions when it occurs, in the first instance it is the duty of the police to investigate matters. I am satisfied that, if that is to be done in accordance with the guidelines that I am currently in the course of framing, there will be very few occasions indeed when it will he necessary for the procurators fiscal themselves to take the initiative.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, has the attention of the noble and learned Lord been drawn to a recent ruling of the House of Lords that it is illegal in this country to inflict bodily harm, even with consent, on another citizen of this country? In the review that he is now undertaking, will he examine the legality of boxing, in which it is the intention of the contestants to inflict bodily harm on one another?

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon

My Lords, I do not think that the Question was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill I, to enable me to defend in your Lordships' House the sport of boxing. However, the guidance that I shall issue will apply to all sports, including boxing. In many sports, including football, rugby, boxing and, I dare say, shinty, there is an element of deliberately physical contact involved and a measure of aggression is regarded as an essential part of the game. All those who have played such sports and are knowledgeable about them recognise that there is a line beyond which the physical contact should not go. I believe that experienced police officers are well able to identify that line. I am satisfied that, when those guidelines are made public, they will assist the general public to understand the action taken by the police and by procurators fiscal.

Lord Howell

My Lords, is the Minister aware that some noble Lords regard his original Answer as extremely helpful indeed and thank him for it? I draw attention to the fact that it is in total contrast to the silence of the Minister for Sport for England, who has had nothing whatever to say about the continual breaking of the law on sports fields. Will he represent to his colleagues, therefore, that we should have a uniform UK policy in this area?

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his compliment to me. It would not be appropriate for me to assume any jurisdiction or responsibility for any violence which may occur south of the Border.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar

My Lords, I offer my apologies to the noble and learned Lord because I was not present when he made his maiden speech. I welcome him to his position on the Front Bench and, if I may say so, hope that it will be short-lived. I have said that to a few Lords Advocate before but they keep coming back.

Does the noble and learned Lord agree that this is a non-party issue which is a matter of considerable seriousness and not capable of being developed at Question Time in your Lordships' House? Would he not prefer to wait until we see the guidelines that he will bring out in relation to all sports and hope that we can make some time in your Lordships' House and elsewhere to debate the issues?

The noble and learned Lord hides his own qualities behind his office. He will correct me if I am wrong but I understand that he is a rugby referee, and so he knows what violence on the field is all about. He is not a violent referee but he referees violence, which is a different issue. Did the Minister say that guidelines to chief constables and procurators fiscal would be published? If that is the case, shall we know what they are? If so, that would seem to violate the principle of the Crown Office not telling people why decisions are made.

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon

My Lords, perhaps I should clarify the matter. The instructions that I shall give to chief constables in terms of the statutory powers open to me will be made public. However, in accordance with the normal practice in Scotland, guidance to the procurators fiscal will be kept confidential as that is deemed to be in the public interest in relation to all matters upon which guidance is issued. The noble Lord was kind enough to refer to my experience as a referee. Your Lordships will not be surprised to hear that nowadays I am limited to refereeing primary school boys. I find it possible to keep up with them.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate accept that whatever guidance he publishes will have no effect on the principal cause of the problem; namely, the weak refereeing that takes place at most of our spectator sports in Scotland? Does he agree that he, or someone from his office, should have a meeting with the Scottish Football Association and try to encourage it to apply some consistency of standards of refereeing? Would that not go some considerable way to eliminating the problem?

Lord Mackay of Drumadoon

My Lords, I am sure that those responsible for the instruction, grading and supervision of refereeing in Scotland will take account of the noble Lord's words. I can assure the House that such a meeting has already taken place with the SFA and I intend to initiate similar discussions with the Scottish Rugby Union.