HL Deb 27 July 1998 vol 592 cc1191-3

3.10 p.m.

Lord Blyth asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to discourage spitting in public, particularly at sporting venues.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, rules to discourage spitting by spectators at sporting venues are a day to day operational matter for individual stadium management teams to determine. I understand that sports governing bodies discourage players from spitting at the field of play in view of the poor example it sets, in particular to young people.

Lord Blyth

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. It has become more common to see on television footballers spitting. The practice has certainly spread to players at Wimbledon, but I am not sure about cricketers. Spitting is capable of spreading tuberculosis, among other diseases. With diseases becoming more resistant to antibiotics, could not the Government have another word with the sports governing bodies because children see their heroes on television in sporting events and it would be better if they did not see them spitting?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the laws of football—Law 12, paragraph 18—make it an offence for players to spit at opponents and officials. Such action is deemed violent misconduct punishable by a red card. The Football Association has written to both the Professional Footballers Association and to all professional football clubs strongly discouraging, for reasons of common politeness, the practice of players spitting at the ground during play. However, tuberculosis and other diseases are unlikely to be spread by spitting.

Lord Cowdrey of Tonbridge

My Lords, cricket has had three mentions this afternoon. Perhaps I may be allowed for one moment to stand and bask in reflected glory on the outcome of a great victory a few minutes ago.

The noble Lord is right in saying that spitting has crept into the game of cricket in a serious way. It is made worse by the fact that a moment of triumph is often accompanied by the most revolting spit into a close-up camera which is then replayed seven or eight times throughout the day. That has caused great offence, especially to coaches and those in charge of young people. The action that we have taken—writing it into the players' code of conduct—has been quite successful. Will the Minister consider asking those in government departments to contact not only the administrative bodies but also those who write the codes of conduct of players, so that it goes right to their hearts?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I certainly agree that spitting is an unpleasant habit which sets a poor example. The Government are certainly pleased that the sporting authorities are doing their best to stamp it out. But I have to say that it is neither a health hazard nor an environmental nuisance in the proper sense of the word.

Lord McColl of Dulwich

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a real public health danger in spitting if the spitter spits in the eye of the recipient, because meningococcal infection can be transferred that way?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, of course I yield to the medical knowledge of the noble Lord, Lord McColl. The view of the Department of Health is that spitting is not a public health nuisance in general. I should have thought that spitting in the eye was quite difficult, even though it is a good Shakespearean simile.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, there used to be bylaws against spitting in public. Are they still in existence? If so, will the fines which relate to them be exacted? I remember as a child seeing signs stating that there was a bylaw which carried a fine of £5. Goodness knows what it would be today.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, like the noble Lord, I remember signs stating that spitting was forbidden and I remember spittoons. However, spitting has not been declared a statutory nuisance under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Home Office, on present advice, is not prepared to confirm local bylaws which would make it a criminal offence.

Viscount Long

My Lords, spitting is one thing, but spitting out chewing gum is another. Does the Minister agree that chewing gum is litter under the Litter Act? Have there been any prosecutions? If not, would it not be an idea for the Government to introduce a Bill to ban chewing gum altogether?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the noble Viscount's question is, as he well knows, wide of the Question on the Order Paper. In general, I dislike chewing gum on the pavements as much as anyone else. However, it is undesirable to create new criminal offences, in particular when it is so difficult to identify those committing the offence.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, would not the noble Lord consider consulting the Chinese Communist Party, which alleges that through a campaign it has stopped 1,000 million people spitting in China?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I seem to remember that it also wiped out the curse of flies—or at least it claimed that it did—by collective action. I do not believe that it did so by bylaws or even by executions. Quite frankly, spitting is a very minor offence.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, however objectionable is the practice to which we have given grave attention, is it not less dangerous than body-line bowling if one disagrees with the verdict of the umpire?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I have no idea.

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