HL Deb 27 June 1996 vol 573 cc1014-6

3.28 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action, if any, they consider appropriate to counteract recent expressions of nationalism in certain newspapers in connection with Euro '96.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, newspapers are subject to the criminal law and can be prosecuted for breaking it. Breaches of the industry's code of practice are for the Press Complaints Commission. Matters of tone, taste and content are for the editors, proprietors and publishers. The Government believe that the application of existing rules and imposition of the relevant sanctions where appropriate are sufficient to define the limits beyond which newspapers should not go.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his rather guarded and narrow reply. Does he agree that anyone who saw the matches in this tournament, particularly those last night, could not fail to be impressed by the general conduct of players and fans, and that the whole event has been a great success? Does he also agree that patriotism is one thing but nationalism is another, and that certain sections of the popular press have ignited, deliberately or otherwise, an unfortunate fuse of xenophobia, of which they must have been aware, which amounts to extraordinary irresponsibility and so must take some share of the blame for the sad events last evening?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, the noble Viscount is right. The love of one's country does not imply contempt of others, which is the unattractive characteristic of xenophobia and mutated nationalism. He is right when he says that Euro '96 has been a great success, albeit marred by the behaviour of certain fans last night. The comments in the newspapers to which he referred might not have been the cause of what occurred but must have contributed to it.

Lord Aberdare

My Lords, is it not a fact that, despite the efforts of some newspapers to stir up racial hatred, there was absolutely no evidence of it at any of the venues where these matches were played? The matches have been played in a spirit of excellent good sportsmanship. Does my noble friend agree that yesterday the real fans were at Wembley and not in Trafalgar Square? Is it not right to pay tribute to those who have organised Euro '96 for having produced an extremely successful championship, although it is not quite over? I believe that the football authorities of Europe and this country, the police and indeed our team have tried throughout to do their best.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, the traditional British value of fair play has been very much in evidence throughout these championships, which have been a great success. My noble friend is right when he says that a good deal of this is due to the hard work put in by the officials and organisers, and also those involved in the games themselves. I add my congratulations to the English and Scottish teams, both of whom acquitted themselves excellently. Although it was a disappointment, I should also like to say "well done" to Germany.

Lord Wright of Richmond

My Lords, I acknowledge the earlier remarks of the Minister about the criminal law, Press Complaints Commission and other bodies in pursuing errors of taste in the press, but can the Minister inform the House whether any expression of regret has been made to our partner and ally, the Federal Republic of Germany, for the disgraceful and vulgar expressions of Germano-phobia which have appeared in the press in recent weeks and are in marked contrast to the remarks of many noble Lords in the recent debate on Anglo-German relations?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I understand that the editor of the Daily Mirror, one of the newspapers principally associated with the comments that have been made, has made an apology. These events are deeply regrettable. I am still not entirely clear what, if any, proceedings may flow from these events, so I must be slightly guarded in my remarks. As I understand it, the British Government have made no formal comment to the German Government about this affair.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that football is a splendid, strenuous game which is to be much encouraged and should not be compared with war, which is quite terrible?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that if the newspapers wish to continue to control their own affairs they must do so more effectively in future if government control, which nobody wants, is not to be reintroduced? Does the noble Lord agree that in particular the Daily Mirror is guilty in this matter and possibly an apology is insufficient?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, it is clear that the Daily Mirror has gone beyond the bounds of acceptable manners and decency in this respect. It is for the newspapers as a whole to make sure that they conduct themselves in a manner that enables them to play their part in the important British way of organising these matters—through self-regulation. They probably have more responsibility than anybody else to ensure that this element of British liberties is retained.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, does my noble friend believe that expressions of European nationalism—and perhaps in future more violent expressions than those to which this Question refers—are more likely to occur under the federal socialist superstate desired by Herr Kohl and others than under the Europe of free nations desired by Her Majesty's Government?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, my noble friend sets up a false antithesis, to which I need not reply.

Lord Monson

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that we are in danger of making rather heavy weather of this matter? Certainly, the tabloid headlines were crude and juvenile. Equally, they were obviously tongue-in-cheek, which admittedly is a form of humour not always appreciated in other countries. Does the noble Lord agree that the real problem is that far too many vigorous young men watch sport slumped in front of television sets and not nearly enough get onto playing fields to practise these sports and thereby work off surplus energy?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I can understand why those responsible for these headlines may try to laugh them off as a jolly joke, but I do not believe that it is as simple or as straightforward as that. The noble Lord refers to young men watching football on television. I was slumped in front of the television last night.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, the bulk of the remarks which gave such gross offence were in last Monday's papers. Is it not the case that in the past three days a number of other newspapers have expressed themselves forcefully about these remarks, which in itself proves that self-regulation can be made to work?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, the general revulsion caused by these comments is undoubtedly evidence of the fact that collectively those responsible for them went too far.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, we on these Benches associate ourselves with the very proper and responsible approach of the Minister to a very serious issue.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that my friend and lodger, who happens to be a German, thought it much safer to watch the television in the safety of my living room?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I am sorry to hear the remarks of my noble friend, which I understand.