HL Deb 31 January 1996 vol 568 cc1445-7

2.48 p.m.

Lord McNally asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to ensure adequate measures to prevent violence and disorder among rival groups of supporters at the European Football Championships, Europa '96, to be held in Great Britain this summer.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, the Association of Chief Police Officers has developed extensive plans for the policing of Europa '96 in conjunction with the Football Association and government departments. There will be police intelligence centres adjacent to the eight grounds, with a co-ordinating centre in central London. The latest technology will be used to ensure that local police have up-to-date information about known and suspected hooligans. Police officers from the participating countries will be present to assist our police with visiting fans.

Lord McNally

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging Answer. Does she agree that, with an expected 250,000 visitors spending approximately £125 million in this country, this will be a marvellous opportunity to show Britain as a tourist centre and as a centre for staging major sporting festivals? If anything were to go wrong, it would be a disaster for our tourist industry and those prospects. For that reason, will the Minister help me by agreeing that there may be a case for a "buck-stops-here" Minister to co-ordinate some of the numerous bodies to which she referred in her Answer? Furthermore, is she satisfied that the policing of the Trooping the Colour and the England-Scotland game, both of which will take place in London on 15th June, will have adequate resources?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am pleased to help the noble Lord by agreeing with his first statement that this is a great event. We want it to be a happy, enjoyable and successful event, and I believe that it will be. Much work has gone into the planning and there is a great deal of co-ordination. A European working group is meeting to discuss these matters, together with police and other people in this country. In addition, a Football Association group is meeting the government departments. There is a good deal of exchange of information between the countries, and as much intelligence as possible is being used to minimise the disruption from, I have to say—and it needs to be recorde—a few hooligans who have a disproportionate impact on the enjoyment of others at these games.

It is our view that the majority of people who will arrive in this country to support their own teams will he law abiding citizens. The Department of National Heritage is making available £400,000 to allow cultural activities to take place in the host areas where the games will be played. National Music Day will also coincide with the final of the championships. Therefore a good deal is going on and there is much co-ordination too.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the championships are not being held in Great Britain, but in England? Does the Minister recognise that the behaviour of Scottish football supporters throughout the world has been impeccable during the past five years? We hope that Scottish football supporters will maintain their great record in contrast to the behaviour of some people south of the Border who shall be nameless.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, we have high expectations of all the players and all the fans. It is worth saying that it is not only English fans who cause trouble at football matches. Many countries have the same difficulty. What is encouraging is the way in which countries and police forces are now co-operating to do what they can to root out hooliganism so that the championships will be an enjoyable event for everyone.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, does the Minister agree that England is in Great Britain and that Great Britain includes the greater as well as the lesser?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am happy to agree.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is almost certain that large quantities of alcohol will be consumed at the championships? Are there any contingency plans to cope with that?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, one thing that the Government have done which will be enormously helpful is to pass legislation on that matter. I refer to the controls on the sale and possession of alcohol under the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol Etc.) Act 1985. We expect the police to use those powers and the courts to support them.

Lord Howell

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, for the purposes of football, England is regrettably not in Great Britain or the United Kingdom but is separately represented in FIFA? From this side of the House may I endorse everything that the Minister said about our confidence in the ability of the police and the authorities to deal with this matter? May I invite the Minister to congratulate the Football Association and to wish the England team well? Will she rejoice with me over the fact that the whole nation will be able to watch that event because it will be on terrestrial television?

Perhaps I may ask the Minister about police costs which are likely to be enormous. Can the Minister assure us that no undue costs will fall on the local authorities bearing in mind that the event will take place in only one or two areas? Finally, may I ask the Minister for an assurance that Part II of the Football Spectators Act, which we all supported, will be fully implemented, enabling the police to bring offenders before the courts to obtain banning orders to stop those offenders from attending any more matches? Since that Act was put on the statute book, no more than five or six offenders have been brought before the courts. Is it not a case of the Government saying—

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, that is the third "Finally".

Lord Howell

My Lords, no, I believe that there has been only one. Is it not a case of the Government saying, "Don't look at what we've done, but at what we say", which is inadequate?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the role of Parliament and the role of politicians within Parliament is to pass legislation. The use of those powers is a matter for the police, and supporting the police is a matter for the courts. It is not a matter for politicians either in this place or in another place. Like the noble Lord, we expect those powers to be used. That is why they are on the statute book. We hope that they will be used to make sure that there is early intervention at any signs of disruption which might spoil the fun of all those who want to play or watch the games.

As to the costs, there is no specific provision. Policing outside football grounds is part of normal policing duties and as such the costs should be met from existing resources. As the noble Lord knows, the costs of policing inside the grounds is a matter for the Football Association. Special payments of grant are made to police authorities only when the Home Office and the Treasury are satisfied that the expenditure is exceptional, unforeseen and of a scale that is likely to threaten the efficiency of the force. I can report that the Football Trust has agreed to contribute to the capital cost of the police communication equipment that will be used during the competition.