§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
I find it disappointing that it is necessary to bring this Bill before the House. It is simply because of a small minority of so-called "football fans", who have, through their illegal behaviour, seen particularly graphically during the World Cup in France last summer, so harmed the reputation of the game of football in this country, that it has, I fear, become necessary.
It is now necessary to protect our international reputation and to deal with those people firmly. It is only fair to point out that the vast majority of fans are decent, law-abiding citizens who have no desire on a Saturday afternoon other than to enjoy themselves watching a game they love and supporting their favourite club.
602 The previous government introduced legislation in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which had some worthwhile results at a domestic level. The present Government have made it clear that this is not a party political issue, but something that unites the whole House.
The football clubs themselves have played their part, and are to be congratulated that arrests at league matches have declined by 37 per cent. However, on the international scene there have been growing problems, because legislation is limited when applied to football hooligans. With so many more matches being played abroad at both club and international level, the problem is becoming even greater, which is why, I am sorry to say, it is harming our opportunity to host international sporting events.
It has therefore become necessary to block any loopholes in past legislation and to strengthen the powers of the police and the courts to deal with offenders. The Bill is another measure in what has become a step-by-step approach by both the previous and the present governments in minimising the problems of football-related crimes.
The Bill is divided into three parts. Clauses 1 to 5 concern international football banning orders. Clauses 6 to 8 cover domestic football orders. Clauses 9 to 12 deal with indecent or racist chanting, ticket touting, and, finally, the financial provisions.
The Bill would strengthen and tighten existing powers in legislation, already in operation, passed both by the Conservative government and the current administration.
Clause 1 deals with international banning orders, giving the court a duty, where someone has been convicted of a football-related offence, to make an international football banning order, if it is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to believe that that would help to prevent violence or disorder at, or in connection with, a designated match that is being played overseas. The individual concerned would have the right to appear in court to argue why the court should not carry out such an order, and would have a right of appeal if the court decided to go ahead and impose the order.
Clause 2 would add certain offences, such as ticket touting, to those designated as football-related. It would also extend the offences listed in Schedule 1 to the Football Spectators Act to cover attempts, conspiracy and incitement to commit such offences. It would also add to the list of football-related crimes certain offences of violence and disorder not committed at a football ground or on a journey to a football match, but committed within 24 hours of a designated match and related to that match.
Clause 3 gives the courts powers to impose conditions when imposing an international banning order, including the surrender of a passport not more than five days before a designated match, and the duty to report to a named police station. That would tighten the existing 603 regime under which people subject to an order can attend a police station of their choice without prior notification to that police station. Those changes make the system more watertight and more effective, something which I hope the House will universally welcome.
Clause 4 would amend the 1989 Act and increase the minimum and maximum duration of an international banning order from between six to 10 years for those who have served a custodial sentence, and from three to five years for those convicted of a football-related offence who have not received a custodial sentence.
Clause 5 enhances the procedure for use when someone is convicted of a football-related offence abroad, by simplifying the process under which details of convictions for corresponding football-related offences committed outside England and Wales are provided to the British courts.
Clauses 6 to 8 would improve and make more effective the banning orders that the courts already have under the Public Order Act 1986 for all designated matches in England and Wales. They would apply to people convicted of a football-related offence, and could be issued for a minimum of 12 months and a maximum of three years. Under current legislation, however, the courts issue orders for anything from three months upwards, and there is no cap on the time that an order can last.
Clause 7 specifies that offences that can trigger a domestic football banning order are the same as those that apply to an international order. Improvements in the powers dealing with both international and domestic banning orders are badly needed and eminently reasonable.
Clause 9 closes a loophole in existing legislation regarding racist and obscene chanting. The Bill will extend the powers to individuals.
Clause 10 closes another loophole on ticket touting by extending the law to cover the sale of tickets for designated football matches played overseas. Tickets for overseas matches will be sold legally only by authorised agents.
The Bill would impose an additional cost to the public purse of about £100,000 and it is estimated that five additional staff would be needed. The Bill would come into force two months after receiving Royal Assent, and would therefore be in place in time for most of the upcoming football season.
The Football Association has said of the consultation document—and, by implication, of the Bill:Abuses by a small number of hooligans of the civil liberties of the peaceful majority make these measures justified. They will help preserve the civil liberties of the vast majority of the population".604 The National Criminal Intelligence Service has said:This set of proposals offers a genuine chance to come to grips with what we perceive to be an increasingly worrying situation. In particular, we welcome the recommendations on both restriction and exclusion orders".The Association of Chief Police Officers has said that the proposals are,an important development, tackling the problems posed by hooligans at football matches".This Bill would give us powers to protect the freedoms of the vast majority from the moronic behaviour of a tiny minority. I wholeheartedly commend it to the House.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.— (Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare.)
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Lord Phillips of Sudbury
My Lords, this is plainly a measure that will enjoy great popular support. It affects the most followed and fascinating of all our national games, which captures the imagination and support of all sections of society and vast numbers of people. In so far as there is offensiveness at football matches, before and after games and excessive supporter zeal—some of which can be described only as sheer viciousness—everybody will support what the measure endeavours to achieve.
Therefore, I hope that my comments will be viewed in light of my general support for anything that improves the status quo. However, I hope that the House will allow me to point out some of the Bill's particularities about which I am deeply concerned. I shall give some examples.
My first concern relates to Clause 1(3) of the Bill, which stipulates expressly that, when an international football banning order is made, it shall be added to a sentence imposed by a court for the offence of which the accused was convicted. That is fair enough. However, it goes on to say that an international banning order may be made,in addition to an order discharging him"—that is, the person charged—absolutely".That is a statutory mandate requiring a magistrates' court that has given an absolute discharge to someone accused of an offence under the Bill to make an international banning order against that person. I am sure that lawyers in the House will realise that courts—I suspect that we shall be dealing mainly with magistrates' courts—grant an absolute discharge only when it is a purely technical offence or when there are exceptional circumstances or abnormal conditions. That is offensive and unacceptable.
Clauses 1(2), 5(3) and 6(1) effectively replace with a civil test a traditional criminal test for convicting someone accused under these provisions; that is to say, they replace the typical criminal test of 'beyond reasonable doubt" with a civil test of "on balance of probabilities". I am interpreting the language of those clauses somewhat. At present, the court must be satisfied that, by making the order, it would help to prevent violence. In future, the court must be satisfied, 605that there are reasonable grounds",to believe that making the order would help to prevent violence. That is a radical change to the traditional test of guilt for criminal offences under our law, which is the very bedrock of our criminal jurisdiction. I am a deeply unhappy man on that score.
I shall give the House a third and final example—one of many—of the sorts of provisions in the Bill that I believe should not be passed. I refer to line 26 of Clause 2(2) on page 3 of the Bill. It amends Schedule 1 to the Football Spectators Act 1989. That schedule sets out the various offences—called "relevant offences" in the Act—where, if there is a conviction, the courts can impose a banning order.
Clause 2(2) states:For the purposes of paragraphs (f) to (1) above—(a) a person may be regarded as having been on a journey to or from a designated football match whether or not he attended or intended to attend the match".So we have here a completely Alice in Wonderland provision, which says that even though a person did not intend to attend the match, and did not attend the match, he or she can still be found guilty of a relevant offence under Schedule 1. Let us look at one of the sub-paragraphs of Schedule 1 to which the provision will apply. Sub-paragraph (g) refers to,any offence under … the Criminal Justice Act 1967 (disorderly behaviour while drunk in a public place) committed in a highway or other public place while the accused was on a journey to or from a designated football match".With this Bill, the person concerned does not have to be on a journey to or from a designated football match or have any intention of travelling to or from a football match.
This is not one bridge too far, but several bridges too far. In our zeal to clamp down on the small minority, as the noble Lord, Lord Archer, rightly said, of serious, vicious hooligans, we are in danger of abandoning those principles and protections which are at the very heart of our criminal justice system and which protect the innocent as well as seek to convict the guilty. However important such measures may be to our great national sport, we must not jettison or lower those standards which are at the very heart of our criminal justice system. If and when—I say with certainty that it will be when—there are convictions of perfectly honest and decent citizens by overzealous prosecution under provisions which will not only allow the courts to convict but require them to convict, we shall be shooting ourselves in both feet.
Perhaps I may refer to another extraordinarily unusual provision of the Bill. I refer to Clause 1(2A), which states:Where the court has power to make an international football banning order in relation to the accused but does not do so"—that is, it acquits—it shall state in open court that it is not satisfied that there are such reasonable grounds as are mentioned in subsection (2) above and give reasons why it is not satisfied".Quite abnormally—I do not know of any comparable provision in our criminal law—it will require magistrates, when they have acquitted, to say why they have acquitted and to give their reasons. Although it is 606 normal to give reasons, it is rarely compulsory. In criminal cases such as this, the whole tenor and direction of that provision is to steer far too strongly the courts to convict.
Lastly, I believe that football itself has a greater responsibility for the problems which the measure seeks to address than the noble Lord, Lord Archer, will admit. He said that football clubs have played their part. I do not think that they have. Football in this country, particularly professional football, is characterised by a greedy and loyalty-free culture on the part of far too many players, managers and owners, a culture which lives by the professional foul and makes light of it, which makes the life of referees almost impossible and which sets a moral example to the youth of this country—and not just to the youth of this country—that almost stimulates the excessive hooliganism which the Bill seeks to address. For my part, on simple, ancient, traditional libertarian grounds, I shall want to consider the Bill very carefully in the course of its passage through Parliament.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Lord McNally
My Lords, my noble friend has made some telling points from his experience as a distinguished lawyer. I hope that the Minister will take note of them because these matters will certainly be raised in Committee.
In discussing the Bill, my noble friend was correct to draw attention to the wider responsibilities of football. The noble Lord, Lord Archer, will recall the recent debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Cowdrey. I remember the noble Lord, Lord Archer, speaking with pride about the standards set in the sport with which he is now closely associated, the game of snooker. It sets professional standards which other sports could well follow with some benefit.
For any of us in middle age there is a contrast between modern sport and the sport of our youth, when sporting values stood for something. I had the joy and pleasure of visiting Bloomfield Road in Blackpool throughout the 1950s to watch one of the great soccer teams of that era. The contrast now with some of the problems besetting soccer is dramatic. The difficulties besetting the sport have no single solution. We remember the attempts to introduce identity cards in the 1980s and the disastrous experiment in fencing in fans, which had to be abandoned after the tragedy of Hillsborough. There was also heavy-handed policing. I remember going to Selhurst Park in the 1980s in my guise as a Manchester City supporter and feeling my hackles rise as we were dragooned from railway station to ground by a massive police presence of horses and men. We felt like refugees in a war. One has to add that soccer fans have been treated to disgusting and sub-human facilities.
Over the past few years there have undoubtedly been improvements on all fronts. There is certainly better intelligence about the kind of people who make trouble at soccer grounds. There is also better policing. Thanks to the Football Trust and others, there has been a considerable improvement in ground facilities. The 607 noble Lord, Lord Archer, is right to say that we must look at this problem of hooliganism not least because, if it goes unchecked, it is likely to threaten the civil rights of all of us to enjoy our soccer and, indeed, to play host to the 2006 World Cup.
We have to face the fact that a visit to a soccer ground can still be both threatening and unpleasant. In those circumstances, I welcome the Bill. We on these Benches will support it, although, as I said, my noble friend Lord Phillips raised civil liberties issues which merit discussion in Committee. The Bill targets troublemakers rather than soccer fans in general. It hits at the touts and others who undermine good policing and good crowd control and it outlaws behaviour which all too often is simply tolerated as "laddish", such as obscene and racist chanting.
However, we must put the Bill in context. We have to seek improvements elsewhere as well as in legislation and legal sanctions. Grounds must be improved and made safer. I recently visited the Norwich City ground and was very impressed by the policing and the CCTV coverage which enabled the police to identify and pinpoint troublemakers inside the ground.
As my noble friend pointed out, many clubs and many players are now extremely wealthy. I have long had a bee in my bonnet that clubs and players must accept a wider social responsibility for their behaviour both on and off the pitch. There must be a greater community involvement by soccer clubs to influence young fans in their behaviour. Recently there was an excellent campaign in the schools called "Kick racism out of football" which could be emulated in many other areas. Both the noble Lord, Lord Archer, in his previous speech and my noble friend this evening said that players must show respect for the referee and for the rules which permeate the whole atmosphere surrounding a sport.
Airlines, bus companies and railways should take greater responsibility for the people they transport to football grounds. Clubs should exercise much more ruthlessly their right to refuse admission.
The media have a role to play. If England do play Argentina early next year, I wonder what kind of media build-up we will have for that match and how much that will encourage the yob element in their behaviour. We know that the last time we played Germany the Daily Mirror surpassed itself with bad taste; it even got ahead of the Sun in that respect.
There is also a responsibility on television not to promote yob culture. "Fantasy Football" with Baddiel and Skinner and "They think it's all over" with Gary Lineker and David Gower are two programmes which I enjoy in parts. But, watching both, I am left a little uneasy about the way they promote the yob approach to sport and to soccer in particular. As someone who has perhaps gained a reputation for criticising Rupert Murdoch and all his works, perhaps I may praise Sky's coverage of soccer, in which Andy Gray tries to educate. More importantly, there is a programme which perhaps noble Lords do not regularly watch but which I recommend "Soccer AM" which is shown on Saturday mornings on Sky Sports 2. It has two young presenters—Tim Loveday and Helen 608 Chamberlain—and the whole programme is aimed at promoting a love of soccer, an understanding of soccer and the fun of soccer without in any way encouraging the yobbish element.
In many respects this Bill is needed, alas. However, there are some elements of it which merit closer examination, not least in the civil liberties area. But it is time to reclaim the beautiful game for the vast majority of those who want to watch it. I watched the women's soccer World Cup on television. I caught a glimpse there of just how enjoyable soccer can still be, with very large crowds enjoying good football in excellent facilities. A visit to a soccer ground should be a pleasant, safe and enjoyable event for all the family. I do not think this measure provides all the answers; but it is a declaration of intent on behalf of all of us and a positive step. In those respects, I welcome it.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Baroness Anelay of St Johns
My Lords, I, too. thank my noble friend Lord Archer for introducing the Bill, to which I add my support. I congratulate him on explaining the provisions of the Bill so clearly.
I wish the Bill a fair wind, although I understand we may face a Committee stage. It is important to place these measures on the statute book before English fans cross the Channel this winter when a record number of club teams will take part in European competition. The season will climax with the European nations championship in Belgium and Holland next year.
As other noble Lords have made clear, it is important to state from the outset that the vast majority of football fans are decent, law-abiding citizens who simply want to go to a match for an enjoyable afternoon or an evening of family entertainment. I hear, and listen to carefully, the concerns voiced by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury.
We should also congratulate the many football clubs in this country which have done so much to make football a safe, family spectator sport, and which run many events to encourage the development of sporting behaviour among young people. I recognise the concerns about the way in which individuals and football clubs act as role models to the young today—as, indeed, they always have.
I listened with great interest to the words of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, about "taking us down memory lane". Like him, many years ago I watched football—as I do now; although I am not a fanatic, I am certainly an occasional fan—and I have some pleasant memories of watching Arsenal's second team play in the late 1950s. I must say to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that the only reason I saw the second team was that my aunt who took me to watch thought the first-team games were far too rough for a young girl. I managed to change her opinion of me as I grew a little older.
Over the past few years the clubs have worked closely with the police to try to overcome football hooliganism in all its forms. In the past six years arrests inside grounds at league matches have declined by nearly 40 per cent, as my noble friend Lord Archer said. Arrests outside grounds have fallen by 17 per cent. That is not 609 enough; that is where the problems still lie. There are isolated incidents in domestic football stadiums, but the problem, as we are all well aware, is now mainly focused on situations arising outside the grounds.
In May, I was lucky enough to be invited to watch the FA Cup final. I declare an interest at this stage; my ticket was donated to me by the FA. The registration of interests in this House is a very arcane matter. When one goes to try and register an interest of a gift one is told, "No. One does not do that here. Just mention it when you stand up to speak". I am lucky to now have the chance to put that interest on record.
Like most people that day, I travelled to the ground by public transport. Unlike most other people I was travelling on my own and I was not dressed in the favours of either side. I wore my Arsenal 1971 double winners badge very discretely under the lapel of my green suit. As your Lordships might imagine, I stood out like a sore thumb against the tide of black and white stripes and red and white—and that only refers to the face paint of the various supporters!
The journey to the match could not have been easier. But on leaving, like everyone else going by public transport, I faced the prospect of joining the vast, heaving mass of people trying to get to Wembley Underground. From the pedestrian overpass I took one look and I chickened out. It was not the people who put me off but the thought of standing there in the heat for so long. So I decided to walk instead to Neasden station, the hub of the universe in north London. It could have been a difficult walk. I was accompanied, as one might put it, by a significant number of Newcastle United fans. They could have been forgiven for being a trifle disappointed about the result and it could have been a difficult journey. It was quite the reverse. The walk was a very pleasant walk among fans. They were well behaved, lively—very lively—and pleasant company. They are the people who represent the vast majority of fans in this country. They are the people whose reputations are besmirched by the few who misbehave. They are the people whose reputations this Bill will help to keep intact in the future.
As my noble friend has said, this Bill is yet another measure in what has become a patchwork quilt of measures to address the problem of football-related crime. All Governments over the past decade or so have tried to tackle the problem effectively and have received cross-party support for doing so. Last summer, when I was Home Affairs Whip, I was pleased to be able to speak in support of the new clause inserted by the Government in the Crime and Disorder Act. As I commented then, my honourable friends in another place felt so strongly about the matter that they tabled similar amendments and, on Report, gave up much of their Opposition time so that the problems of football hooliganism could be addressed.
I welcome all the measures in the Bill. In particular, I am glad that Clause 9 addresses the anomaly whereby one individual who makes racist chants is presently outside the scope of the Football (Offences) Act 1991.
610 I also welcome Clause 2, which adds ticket touting to those relevant offences designated as football related. And I welcome Clause 10, which closes a loophole on ticket touting by extending the provisions affecting domestic football matches already included in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, to cover the sale of tickets for designated football matches played overseas. Tickets for overseas matches will be sold legally only by authorised sellers. Ticket touts are the blight not merely of football but of all sports.
I listened to each of the careful points made by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, who is well known as a lawyer. If there is a Committee stage, the House will be able to address his concerns separately. I recognise his worries. I read the account of the proceedings in another place very carefully. On balance, the questions about civil and political rights were well answered in Committee. The Bill as a whole addresses the problems of civil and political rights in a way that is acceptable.
There has been a dramatic transformation of the game in recent years, and not only in terms of the numbers attending matches; the manner in which games are broadcast and the money involved has changed the whole way in which football is followed. In addition, there has been a transformation of the game, thanks in large part to the dedicated work of the Football Trust, following the publication of the Taylor Report. The Government have required the lower league clubs—if I may call them that without offending them—to comply with the recommendations of the report. Therefore, it is not merely those clubs in the spotlight that are affected.
The Minister will be aware that some clubs still face problems as a result of trying to comply with the Government's wishes, while being thwarted by planning decisions that are made against them. I hope that the Minister has taken note of the problems of Barnet FC. Members of the club will travel to Downing Street on Saturday to put their case to the Government more publicly. Barnet Football Club enjoys sound management and loyal, well-behaved supporters; and the club has plans to meet the requirements of the Taylor Report. But at present, its plans have been thrown into crisis by the decision of the Government's planning inspector to refuse permission for a new stadium. I hope that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the DETR can hold joint talks about this issue to find a solution. I shall not put questions to the Minister now. I fully recognise that it is not his duty to answer my questions on those matters. As I mentioned to him in advance, I wish to place them on record, and I hope that he will listen and report them to his colleagues.
We now have some of the finest stadiums in Europe, if not in the world. Every division of football has grounds of which we can be proud. No doubt that will help the Government in their efforts to bring the 2006 World Cup competition to Britain. We on these Benches wholeheartedly support those efforts.
611 We support the Bill and hope that it will have a speedy passage on to the statute book.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Lord Burlison
My Lords, first, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Archer, for introducing the Bill. I am grateful to have the opportunity to give the Government's response.
The Bill recognises that the football supporter is an essential element in today's game. We must ensure that we do all we can to provide a safe and secure environment for all those who want to enjoy and be a constructive part of the sport.
Football in this country has seen major advances in the past decade. During debate on the Bill in another place, my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department said:Football hooliganism is no different—it has moved on, too … trouble in and around the ground is almost a thing of the past, save for a few isolated incidents. We have achieved that through a number of successful measures—all-seater stadiums, closed circuit television and more effective policing and stewarding. We should also recognise the effect of legislation that was introduced and supported by all parties in the early 1990s to help combat hooliganism".— [Official Report, Commons, 16/4/99; col. 509.]There are still around 4,000 arrests each year connected with football in the domestic game. The activities of the hooligan have now moved away from the ground and often occur some time before the start and completion of a match and often at some distance from the stadium.
Also, we should not ignore the international scene. For example, events in Marseilles during France '98 provided the world with shameful scenes involving so-called England supporters.
Those people represent a tiny minority. The vast majority of England supporters are decent and law-abiding. However, that does not allay the international perception that all England supporters are hooligans. Not only does it damage our football reputation, it also damages the reputation of our country on the international stage.
The Bill proposes that the court should have the power to issue football banning orders on conviction for football-related offences which are committed within a time-scale of 24 hours before or after a designated match played in England or Wales. In the case of international matches, the time-scale would be set out in the order dealing with each individual country.
That will have a two-fold effect. First, it will allow the courts to deal more effectively with football-related offences which are committed away from the ground; and secondly, the courts can consider issuing banning orders against those convicted overseas of football-related offences which are committed often days before or after matches take place. That will allow the legislation more effectively to apply to the event and not merely to the location.
In the case of international football banning orders, the Bill proposes that a person subject to such an order must report to a named police station when complying with reporting requirements. It also provides for the 612 court to attach conditions to the issue of an order requiring such persons to submit their passport up to five days in advance of reporting requirements. That is intended to prevent the person travelling to the match, and to provide the police with a trigger mechanism alerting them to any potential breach of the court order. Retention of the passport by the police must be only for the period necessary to ensure compliance with the order.
As my honourable friend the Minister indicated during debate in the other place, the provision is about enforcement of the law. He said, in Standing Committee:The law states that people must not travel. This clause will ensure that they do not travel; it will simply take away their passport for the five-day period before the match".The Minister went on to say:Legitimate questions were raised during Second Reading about the Government's obligations under European legislation and international conventions on civil rights. We are satisfied that we may do everything intended by the Bill under those treaties".The Bill also proposes an important change to the present provisions of Section 3 of the Football (Offences) Act 1991 on indecent and racist chanting at football matches. The Bill proposes that it should become an offence for an individual alone to chant such distasteful remarks. I am sure that your Lordships share that view and recognise that eliminating racism is an objective not only for football but for society as a whole.
Football in this country attracts enormous interest and top players from all over the globe. The Premier League boasts some of the best stadia in the world. We have supporters who are passionate and knowledgeable about the game and generate a unique atmosphere. Euro '96 showed all these positive elements in our game, and that is why we have every confidence in our bid for the World Cup in 2006.I believe that the balanced measures contained in the Bill will help to improve the safety and security of the decent, law-abiding supporters. The Government fully support the Bill and acknowledge that it is also supported by the police, the football authorities and supporters.
I thank the noble Baroness for her comments, in particular in relation to the Cup Final. It. is surprising who one meets on such occasions. I also walked along the Wembley overpass in a sea of black and white shirts. As a Newcastle United supporter, accompanied by my son who also wore a black and white shirt, I was proud of the supporters. It was fun to travel on the Underground and to hear those supporters, whose team had perhaps lost its most important game, making happy remarks and, at the same time, calling home on their mobile telephones. The noble Baroness mentioned the issue relating to Barnet Football Club. We note her comments in that regard.
I turn to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, who made some pertinent points. I hesitate to offer an explanation to him on the basis that I may challenge his legal knowledge, which is far superior to mine. One aspect of particular merit was his concern about the erosion of civil liberties. As I understand it, 613 the intention of the Bill is not to erode civil liberties in this country, but I certainly take note of the noble Lord's comments.
As to the question of an absolute discharge, the removal of this provision means that neither a domestic nor an international football banning order could be made where the court dealing with an offender for a football-related offence had made an order absolutely discharging him. There may be circumstances in which an offence is so out of character, or committed under such provocation, that an absolute discharge is the appropriate disposal. In those circumstances, a court may well be satisfied that there is no likelihood of the offender being involved in further football disorder. If that is the case, the criteria for making a banning order will not be met and an order will not be made.
However, there may be circumstances where, for whatever reason, an offender is absolutely discharged by the court for the particular offence but the court none the less has reasonable grounds to believe that he may be involved in future football-related disorder. If so, we believe that the court should make a football banning order. The test is whether the individual has committed a relevant offence; and, if so, whether there are reasonable grounds for believing that a banning order will help to prevent future football-related violence and disorder.
The second part of that test may be less likely to be met where a court thinks that an absolute discharge is the right disposal, but if the test is met, the court should not, in our view, be prevented from making a banning order if that is appropriate.
As to the suggested diminution in the criminal standard of proof, the offence will have to be proved to the normal criminal standard of proof, which is "beyond reasonable doubt". This was a matter on which the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, cast some doubt. Where a court imposes an order, it must be satisfied from the evidence placed before it in open court that the offence is football-related and that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the imposition of such an order will help to prevent violence or disorder at or in connection with a designated football match played overseas. The existing provision requires the court to adopt a high threshold. I am satisfied that the legislation, with an amendment that applies the test of reasonableness, provides sufficient safeguards for the court to consider the imposition of an order on a person convicted of a football-related offence.
I realise that I have skipped over some of the issues which need to be more clearly outlined. I am sure that your Lordships would like those issues to be dealt with at a later stage, if it is necessary to do so.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare
My Lords, I begin by thanking all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. In particular, I thank the Minister for his support which shows clearly that this is not a party-political issue but something about which we all feel strongly.
614 The noble Lord, Lord McNally, and I have something in common: we are sporting nuts. No matter what sport it is, we both know the statistics and love the game. We both suffer from being a bit Corinthian and enjoy the days when gentlemen congratulated the other side for winning. I also thank the noble Lord for his kind comments about snooker. I am aware that I go on about it. I would love to see those standards not just in football but in every game.
I hope that the House will forgive me for telling one story. I had the great privilege and honour to attend the England v. Germany hockey match in Seoul. At that game there were only 200 German fans and 200 British fans. We were a long way from home. That hour and a half was one of the best periods in my life. We smashed the Germans 3–1. On that particular day we had the better side; unquestionably, over a period of time the Germans had had the better side. At the end of the match the English crowd of 200 gave a standing ovation to the German team whose members passed their hockey sticks to the crowd. It was sentimental Corinthian stuff. I do wish we could see it in our football grounds, but I take seriously the point that in football we have had to learn to live with certain standards.
I thank my noble friend on the Front Bench. She declared an interest by saying that she had been invited to attend a football match at Wembley and had been given the tickets. I had not realised that it was necessary for me to declare such an interest. I, too, was invited by the Football Association to attend the England v. Sweden match. I wish that I had not gone. A more boring afternoon I have rarely spent, and the nil result was a complete waste of time. Although I declare this interest, had I paid I would have wanted my money back. Nevertheless, I thank my noble friend on the Front Bench for supporting the Bill. Again, it proves that this matter is non-party-political.
I turn to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. Every speaker so far has made it clear that he or she does not have the legal knowledge of the noble Lord. That puts us at a genuine disadvantage. As a result of my work with certain charities, in particular Amnesty International, and in other fields, I am aware of the noble Lord's fight for civil rights over many years, and I do not in any way underestimate it. But I was anxious when I saw his name on the list, because I knew he would bring to the House the expertise that I would lack. May I point out to him that I contacted the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and that they accepted this Bill. The European directions on this Bill have been accepted as well.
May I add also what my noble friend said from the Front Bench: this was widely debated in another place, and I did take the trouble to read the whole of that procedure. I am confident that it would be wise to let this Bill go through. Its points, I think, were indeed well made, but it would be sad if this Bill should fail to reach the statute book simply because we lacked time. Do not let us kid ourselves in this House; do not let us go about pretending; if amendments are put down and if great time is taken, this will not become an Act. That is a fact.
615 I believe that if there are some things that worry the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, we will be able to discuss them. I hope there will be a way to make it possible for this Bill to become law. However, I would like to say to him that I do not in any way under-estimate what he said today. Indeed I will read his speech tomorrow so that I might understand it more clearly.
If I may, I should like finally to turn to the noble Lord the Minister and thank him for supporting the Bill. I hope that when we do have private discussions he will be able to tell us whether he has received advice on civil rights matters. Like the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, I feel strongly about them and would need the Government to convince me on one or two clauses that he has no fear, nor need the Government have, over this particular aspect. I end by thanking him for his courtesy and for his work on this Bill. I hope that we will see it become an Act of Parliament and I ask the House to allow the Bill a Second Reading.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.