HL Deb 20 October 1999 vol 605 cc1097-100

3.10 p.m.

Lord McNallyasked Her Majesty's Government:

What special consultations and measures they plan to ensure that the Euro 2000 games between Scotland and England in Glasgow and London in November are both safe and successful.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home office (Lord Bassam of Brighton)

My Lords, I am taking a close interest in the arrangements. All agencies associated with them will be in close contact during the build-up to the matches. They include the respective football associations and the Metropolitan, Strathclyde and British Transport police forces and the National Criminal Intelligence Service. The aim throughout will be to ensure that spectators can enjoy both matches in a safe and secure environment as they did when the two teams met at Wembley during Euro 96.

Lord McNally

My Lords, I thank the Minister for those details. However, does he agree that the eyes of the world will be on those two games and that if things went badly wrong our chances of staging the World Cup in 2006 or the Olympic Games in 2012 would be severely damaged? In those circumstances, might it be a good idea to call together sports editors, particularly those of the so-called "red tops" in both England and Scotland and suggest that they do not spend between now and the games whipping up the kind of hostilities and hatred which could well bring about hooliganism and which undoubtedly they would all condemn the day after it occurred?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McNally. It would be much better if the press and media generally spent time focusing on the games. If we have a message to deliver to the editors today it is that we want them to encourage responsible behaviour by spectators. We want them to encourage passion, pride and perhaps some patriotism but more than anything else we want them to encourage the good behaviour of all involved.

I do not see it as inevitable that there should be bad behaviour at either of those games or the events surrounding them. Members of your Lordships' House will want to encourage good behaviour and we must do all we can in our communications to ensure that that is the case. I am sure that all those on the "terraces" opposite and the "terraces" behind will do their best to whip up the right fervour and enthusiasm.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, in view of the exceptionally high international profile of the two matches, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, set out, will the Government assist the football authorities financially with the policing and security of the matches, or charge them a large sum of money?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, it is our belief that the football authorities are well resourced to meet the expectations of the public which are quite rightly placed upon them. I am sure that with our active encouragement they will do the job in hand.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, I declare an interest as vice-chairman of the Government's Football Task Force. Does my noble friend agree with me that to talk of racism in the context of ticket application arrangements in relation to these two matches is both unhelpful and nonsensical? Indeed, it undermines the efforts that serious people in football are making to kick racism out of the game. In view of the fact that it is a legal requirement on both Scottish and English authorities to segregate fans at both games, should we not be applauding their efforts to keep the fans apart through segregation rather than belittle them in the way that the tabloid newspapers and others have done?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, my noble friend makes a good point. We do not want to trivialise matters. We believe that segregation is right at football matches. We do not believe that the arrangements that have been made in any way, shape or form breach the Race Relations Act, although the matter is one for the Commission for Racial Equality. It has been referred to them.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the best way to keep order at football matches is to keep down the amount of drink consumed before and during the game?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, it is a well known fact that there is an association between the consumption of alcohol and occasional outbreaks of disorder surrounding football matches. We can achieve much by encouragement and that is what we shall attempt to do in this instance.

Lord Peston

My Lords, since safety is alluded to in the Question, can my noble friend say who is responsible for explaining to the two teams what the role of the spherical object placed in the middle of the pitch is? Who can explain that that is what is meant to be kicked rather than members of the other side?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am beginning to feel like a referee. My noble friend is right. It is the round object in which we should be most interested and getting it into the right net, whether one is a Scotland or an England fan. Let us hope that the correct outcome on the day comes to pass. However, footballers in general have an important role to play in setting a good example. I hope that all of those who play association football between now and the next two England-Scotland matches bear that very much in mind. Their behaviour on the pitch reflects the behaviour of the fans and colours the flavour of the game. We should take every opportunity we can to encourage good behaviour among football players and football fans alike.

Lord McNally

My Lords, I greatly welcome the spirit and the content of the Minister's answers today. My initial Question referred to the role of the print media. But many of the target audience—the young audience—watch programmes like "Soccer AM", and "Match of the Day" and listen to Radio 5. Would it not be beneficial to encourage the television and broadcasting authorities to join, as he suggested, in getting the message over that hooliganism is stupid and that all true fans of football should disown the hooligans?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, that is the case. My 10-year old son reminds me of that each and every week when he listens to, and watches, various programmes and hears the messages that go out to football fans countrywide. We recently introduced the new legislation relating to football offences. I am pleased to say that that legislation received widespread publicity. Indeed, I have received complaints to that effect from fans throughout the country who read my article in their local football magazine, so I know it to be true.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, folio wing the question relating to alcohol, would it not be possible to shut the pubs in the vicinity and give the publicans a free ticket to the match?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am rapidly becoming responsible for a whole range of new policy. I am not sure that this is quite within my remit.

All noble Lords will appreciate that matters relating to the consumption of alcohol, the opening times of pubs and so forth are operational issues. The issue is one on which the police, football authorities, local authorities and all others concerned keep a careful eye in assessing the risk of the outbreak of disorder. It is an important message and it has been conveyed.

Forward to