HL Deb 03 July 1996 vol 573 cc1439-41

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

What experience has been gained in controlling crowds and countering hooliganism as a result of the Euro '96 football championship.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, the extensive preparatory work by the Football Association, police and other bodies has been central in ensuring that the eight stadia used during Euro '96 were free from crowd trouble. The lessons are that tight controls on ticket sales, good liaison between police forces and intelligence targeted on troublemakers all have a part to play. We condemn the violence which occurred in Trafalgar Square and other places last Wednesday, which had nothing to do with the proper enjoyment of the game of football.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Does she agree that the conduct of spectators was on the whole exemplary, for instance enabling the safety officer at the Villa Park match between Scotland and Holland to reverse his previous ban on the playing of bagpipes? Does she agree that one contributory factor was the use of special equipment such as closed circuit television, financed largely by the Football Trust, while the only deplorable feature was the rampaging of hooligans miles away from the football who burned cars and smashed windows?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the behaviour of the fans in the grounds was excellent. I attended the England v. Scotland match and was impressed by the friendly atmosphere. Unfortunately, trouble was mainly caused, not by the football fans, but by drunken hooligans away from the grounds. The new technology used by the police, including closed circuit television, plus recent improvements by football clubs, in particular all-seater stadia, contributed greatly to the success of the tournament. But I am delighted that the ban on the playing of bagpipes was lifted. I like the swirl of the pipes. They certainly added greatly to the atmosphere. The subject of bagpipes may be apposite this afternoon, when I have no doubt we will hear much about Scotland and its centrality to the Union.

Lord Howell

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that those on this side of the House who have had a great deal to do with this competition endorse every word of her statement, in particular her appreciation of the wonderful skill of the Football Association in organizing this competition and the efforts of police and stewards? Is she further aware that in connection with this competition the only hooligans were to be found in the pages of the tabloid journals? Will she condemn that as we do? Does she also agree that so excellent was the behaviour of the fans in mixing together in the cities and the stadia that that may be built upon so that we can consider doing away with the segregation of fans, probably by the creation of friendship enclosures and so forth, and return to the time when supporters of rival teams could sit together and enjoy good sport, as they did in this competition?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the whole House will welcome the comments of the noble Lord about the conduct of fans. I am sure that the final remarks of the noble Lord will be looked at in the analysis which follows these matches. I absolutely agree with his comments about the tabloid press. The actions of some of the tabloid press went over the top. I agree with my right honourable friend the Prime Minister that they deserve all the criticism which has been heaped upon them for that.

Lord McNally

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that in football there is still a need to keep a close eye on planned violence? One of the lessons to be learned from this competition is that intelligence and firm action against hooligans—not transporting them or admitting them to the grounds—are a way of giving football back to the family and to the ordinary fan. But planning and commitment are required, and there is no room for complacency in this matter.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, certainly there is no room for complacency; nor will there be any. I am sure that all noble Lords accept that hooliganism will probably be with us for some time yet. We will continue to isolate the hooligan. The noble Lord makes an important point. What is important is the planning, preparation and collaboration between all the parties to make sure that football is returned to the people who appreciate it—the family and the real fans of football.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, has the attention of the Minister been drawn to the fact that 10,000 Scottish supporters descended on London? Unfortunately, they did not win their tie on the basis of a saved penalty. However, there were no riots in London and no trouble caused by these Scottish supporters. That happens wherever Scottish teams play abroad. Can the authorities learn some lessons from this example in order to improve the arrangements south of the Border?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I will not yield to the temptation to set any one country of the Union against any other, especially today. The noble Lord is absolutely right. The one match of the tournament that I saw was the Scotland v. England match. To me, the most heartening sight was a large block of Scottish fans in one part of the stadium who sang their hearts out long after the game was over. Those fans were adjacent to another block of English fans who also remained in their seats after the game. They turned to each other, applauded each other and walked out of the stadium arm in arm. I believe that that is the most marvellous example of how successful the tournament has been. I will not indulge in any splitting of the English and Scottish on this occasion.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, will the Minister tell us whether the police were taken by surprise by the degree of hooliganism shown in Trafalgar Square?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I can say without any hesitation that they were not taken by surprise. Even before the match was played, the police knew that there were people who were not football fans descending on London, and that the likelihood was that they would arrive in Trafalgar Square. The noble Lord will know that the trouble was contained in Trafalgar Square. Those people did not rampage around the West End. The video recordings which were taken are still being analysed, but there were only 1,144 arrests throughout the whole of the three weeks, which includes that one night in Trafalgar Square, which was the worst night. That is quite a record. It is a feather in the cap of all who were involved, particularly the police.

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