HL Deb 26 June 2001 vol 626 cc214-6

3.7 p.m.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether in view of recent incidents of disorder at international cricket matches they will introduce fresh crowd control measures to combat the problem.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, the Minister of Sport and the Home Office Minister with responsibility in this area will meet tomorrow with the England and Wales Cricket Board to discuss a range of crowd management issues at cricket matches. The Government will assist the cricketing authorities to identify what needs to be done to minimise the potential for further crowd problems.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. The damage that recent incidents have done to the good name of cricket cannot be over-estimated. I am sure that my noble friend will agree with the Australian captain that unless these incidents stop, someone will be killed before long and that that is absolutely unacceptable. Does he recall that the introduction of the Football (Offences) Act 1991 largely eliminated the throwing of missiles, fireworks and other items on to the field of play and the invasion of football pitches after what was in effect a decade of disorder in football? Is my noble friend aware that there is now considerable support for the extension of that legislation to cricket and that the measures that the Government and the football authorities have taken over the years to combat disorder at football matches could now usefully be applied to cricket matches, particularly Test matches and one-day matches?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, it goes without saying that the football hooligan-related legislation has played an important part in changing the atmosphere at football matches over many years. The important point for the authorities, particularly the cricket authorities, to consider, working with government, is what other measures of crowd management can be undertaken without recourse to legislation. Clearly, issues such as ticketing, safety policy, the rehearsing of contingency plans, improved training of stewards, entry controls and post-match celebration controls need to be tackled. I very much doubt whether legislation will be helpful in that regard.

Earl Russell

My Lords, does the Minister agree that without being unduly metaphorical one might describe authority over cricket as a devolved jurisdiction? Does he further agree that it gives him, as it does me, the mildest degree of unease that this question is addressed in the first instance to Her Majesty's Government and not to the cricket authorities?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, it is right and proper that Her Majesty's Government consider these matters. Any serious crowd disturbance or public disorder is clearly of national importance and concern, in particular when it takes place at a cricket match which is widely viewed.

The cricket authorities and those who own and operate the grounds have a responsibility. That is why the meeting to which I referred has been set up. No doubt those discussions will bear fruit and will be helpful in tackling the problem.

Lord MacLaurin of Knebworth

My Lords, as chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board I can assure your Lordships that we take the recent disturbances at our international cricket grounds very seriously indeed. We are responsible for the safety of our players, umpires and spectators. But we have to bear in mind the traditions of people watching cricket in this country. It would be very sad indeed, would it not, if we stopped people going on to the grounds at county matches where mums and dads watch with their children?

This is a very sad new dimension in international cricket. I ask the Government to work closely with us when considering how we can ensure that the scenes of the past weeks are never seen again in cricket grounds in this country.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I entirely endorse the noble Lord's earlier sentiments. It is for those reasons that an urgent meeting has been set up for tomorrow. No doubt many issues will be considered afresh following the recent disturbances. Like the noble Lord, I find them worrying. We need to deal with them firmly. Clearly, the priority must be for those who operate and control grounds to work closely with their own staff and the police to ensure that such disturbances do not recur. I am sure that the issues I listed will be discussed urgently at that meeting.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, part of the recent trouble concerned fireworks. The Minister will recall that in the Criminal Justice and Police Act we extended the fixed penalty system to include the offence of throwing fireworks in a thoroughfare. Will the Government consider extending the provision to include throwing fireworks in a public place such as a cricket ground or elsewhere? That is one somewhat specific aspect of the recent problems.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, that seems an eminently sensible suggestion. No doubt it will be one of the issues which will be discussed at the forthcoming meetings on this important matter.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on responding with caution to the request for further legislation. We had 15 criminal justice measures during the Government's previous term. I suggest that we spend a good deal more time implementing the laws we already have. The man who threw a can of beer was breaking an existing law. Criminal damage breaks existing law. I recommend to the Government and the authorities that we consider the Justices of the Peace Act 1361. Breaches of the peace can be and traditionally are dealt with by magistrates in an effective, simple and economical way.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am not surprised by the noble Lord's congratulations on this matter. I shall endeavour to play the straight bat that I attempt to play as number 11 batsman in my cricket team. The approach that we have adopted—it relies on the existing range of criminal penalties—seems to me right. No doubt our discussions with the cricket authorities will take a careful course, considering the powers that exist and how they can best be adapted to the current situation.