§ 3.34 p.m.
§ Lord McNally asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ Whether they are satisfied with the measures in place to deter and combat violence and hooliganism inside and outside soccer grounds during Euro '96 which begins on Saturday 8th June.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch)
My Lords, I can confirm that the regional police intelligence centres and the national co-ordinating centre in central London are now open and fully staffed in preparation for the competition. Intelligence about known and suspected hooligans is already being disseminated using the latest technology to ensure that local police have up-to-date information to assist them in ensuring that any trouble can be quickly dealt with.
§ Lord McNally
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. I sincerely hope that the confidence that the co-ordination and resources are adequate is justified. This is one game that the hooligans must not be allowed to win. Is the Minister prepared to say that any foreigners who are arrested for hooliganism during the competition should be removed from the country forthwith, and if they are British hooligans they should be banned not just from the competition but from soccer games for life?
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will agree that this is a great sporting occasion. We wish it well and hope that it will be a great success. It is worth putting on record that the majority of fans who will be coming to support their teams will be well behaved, law abiding and genuine supporters of the game. We believe that everything that can be done to pre-empt any trouble is being done.
There has been enormous collaboration between the countries and all the organisations in this country. I can give an assurance that there is plenty of legislation in place which provides the police with powers of arrest. We hope that anyone causing trouble will be dealt with speedily and in the manner suggested by the noble Lord.
The Viscount of Falkland
My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell the House of any specific plans to control the number of young people who are under the influence of drink on our streets during this competition? Violence is not necessarily connected with alcohol in this area but 1362 hooliganism, to separate the two, often is and can be a matter of great distress to the citizens of our country who may not necessarily be terribly interested in football.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, there are so many measures in place that it would take too long to mention all of them at the Dispatch Box. For example, there has been good collaboration between the police and local authorities. The local authorities are the bodies that deal with the licensing hours in their localities. I refer to the following measures: Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol Etc.) Act 1985; the Public Order Act 1986; the Football Spectators Act 1989; the Football (Offences) Act 1991; and the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. The powers are all there. In addition, a great deal of forward planning has gone into this event. A good deal of information and intelligence has been gathered about known troublemakers. As the noble Viscount has probably read in his newspapers recently, quite a number of those people will not be attending any of these matches as a result of the work that has already taken place.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, whereas I fully support the police in their pre-emptive strike against well-known football hooligan spectators, can the noble Baroness say whether they will also carry out pre-emptive strikes against hooligan players who have recently caused so much trouble in Hong Kong and on a Cathay Pacific aircraft?
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I am not sure whether there has been trouble in Hong Kong, but certainly we know about the trouble on the aeroplane. I have much sympathy with what the noble Lord has just said. What is to be done about it is a matter for the Football Association and the airline. The noble Lord will also know that there is an important piece of legislation waiting to go on to the statute book which we believe will give extra power to the police to deal with that kind of troublesome behaviour in the air. I do not believe that any Member of this House should condone it.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the tone of these exchanges suggests that football is principally a producer of disorder, whereas the vast majority of the games are carried out in a good spirit and the game is enjoyed by the country as a principal sport? Does my noble friend also agree that the introduction of amateur football teams on a small charitable basis in large numbers does a great deal to keep young people out of crime and trouble? Until recently they were well supported by the Football Trust, whose funds have been so curtailed by the effects of the National Lottery that that has now ceased. Can Her Majesty's Government perhaps come to their aid?
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I am pleased that my noble friend has emphasised the importance and enjoyment of this sport and the good that it can bring to the lives of young people and the not-so-young. I take this opportunity to tell him that up and down the land individual football clubs and the Football Association support participation by local communities and have a 1363 number of very imaginative schemes which engage the energies of young people in a productive way. I hope that that will continue. We certainly support it.