HL Deb 25 February 2002 vol 631 cc1227-30

2.56 p.m.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale asked Her Majesty's Government:

What recent advice has been given to magistrates to encourage the imposition of banning orders on those convicted of criminal offences in connection with football matches.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, detailed guidance on football-related legislation has been issued to the courts since the Football Disorder Act 2000 came into effect in August 2000. The Lord Chancellor's Department issued advice in August 2000 and supplementary guidance in July 2001. Comprehensive Home Office guidance on football-related legislation was updated and issued to the courts in August 2000.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

My Lords, those clubs and police forces that are doing their best to protect their games and grounds against hooligans will sadly be disappointed with that response. Does the Minister know that last season magistrates refused two out of every three applications for banning orders on convicted hooligans? The scoreline reads: Everton 0, hooligans 9; Middlesbrough 0, hooligans 18; Stockport County 0, hooligans 14; and, top of the league, Walsall 0, hooligans 35. What can the Minister do to encourage magistrates to make better use of banning orders to protect our national game and prevent English hooligans getting to World Cup games this summer?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I assure my noble friend that much has been done. He outlines a most depressing scoreline, but I should remind the House of some more encouraging figures. As of today, 951 individuals are subject to banning orders. Of those, 873 can be prevented from travelling to matches overseas. That is a huge increase on the 100 individuals who could be prevented from attending the Euro 2000 championships. One need only look at the recent Holland versus England game to see the difference that the measures have made. On that occasion, there were only 12 English arrests. When England last played in Holland in 1993, there were well over 1,000 arrests, together with great disorder. The nature of the offences has also changed. There was a little drunkenness. Two gentlemen were caught relieving themselves at a convenient point. Only one person was arrested as a result of violence. That is a significant improvement and our football fans should rightly be congratulated on their change of heart.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, there is not the slightest doubt that everyone will welcome the successful way in which the Football Disorder Act worked at the recent England versus Holland match. Everyone involved deserves some congratulations. However, does the Minister agree that magistrates' courts are the first line of defence as soon as an order is applied for, and that it is therefore essential that the courts have a clear idea of their proper function and administer their decisions in a consistent and rigorous manner? Sadly, such an approach is still necessary. Is the Minister satisfied that magistrates' courts are adequately briefed—I shall not say instructed—on how to proceed?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, we have given a great deal of guidance; I dare say that all noble Lords will have seen the magnificent publication Guidance on Football-Related Legislation, produced by the Home Office. To encourage magistrates even further, as I said in my initial Answer, the Lord Chancellor's Department has issued further guidance to magistrates. We understand the concerns about inconsistency in imposing orders across the country. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor is certainly concerned about the issue. Last October, in a speech to the Magistrates' Association, he stressed that, when the legislative criteria are satisfied, there is no discretion and the court must make an order. That has been clearly underlined by my noble and learned friend. Magistrates have the benefit of a legally trained magistrates' court clerk to assist them in making such determinations, and there has been a steady increase in the number of orders made. We therefore hope that the message is getting through and that we shall see greater consistency.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the behaviour of the spectators at Cardiff yesterday and the result of that match prove beyond doubt that those supporting the two clubs set an example to the rest of the country? There was no difficulty at all with the police.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I am happy to acknowledge that. I also understand that it was Blackburn's most successful game since probably 1926. Many congratulations to them—although we hope that noble Lords who are true Spurs supporters are not too gloomy about the outcome.

Lord Ouseley

My Lords, does the Minister believe that, notwithstanding the role of the courts in dealing with bad behaviour by football fans, the behaviour of professional footballers has an impact on the behaviour of football fans at football matches? If that is the case, is there not an inherent double-standard in the way in which the football authorities behave in selecting players who have criminal convictions to represent this country at an international level? Do the Government intend to bring their influence to bear on the football authorities to prevent highly paid professional footballers with criminal convictions representing this country?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, it is a matter for the Football Association to decide which footballers are chosen. The noble Lord, however, has raised issues that the association must properly take into consideration. Although the Government cannot influence that decision, we can say that the banning orders apply equally to all individuals, be they players or supporters. The universality of the provision is helpful.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, has my noble friend studied the remarks of Assistant Chief Constable Ron Hogg, of the Association of Chief Police Officers, who was interviewed on BBC Radio 5 on 31st January? He said that current legislation is very effective and works very well when used, but that between 300 and 400 football fans who have been convicted of offences of violence that should have resulted in a banning order are still free to travel this summer to the World Cup in Japan and Korea. In view of the fact that the number of England fans travelling under the auspices of the official travel club is likely to be only 4,000—one-tenth the number who went to France—does the Minister accept that 400 fans who are travelling under their own steam but who have criminal convictions could do great damage to the name of English football in the World Cup competition?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I certainly understand the noble Lord's fear. I can reassure him that the authorities both in the United Kingdom and in Japan are working extremely hard together to ensure that those who might wish to disrupt the World Cup are not able to do so. I also know from my noble friend Lady Amos that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has put very valuable information about the subject on its website. There is a very joined-up approach to ensure that those who wish to behave badly have a very limited opportunity to do so.

Lord McNally

My Lords, further to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, does the Minister agree that while football should receive support from the police and from magistrates, the solution to its many problems lies inside football itself—not only in leadership by players and directors but by continuing to improve ground safety and CCTV coverage, refusing to admit known hooligans to the grounds, and implementing a mass of policies that together will make football grounds safer places to be? Will the Minister therefore reject entirely the siren voice of Kate Hoey and others who have called for a return to terraces at football grounds, which would be an invitation to further hooliganism?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a number of points, but I think that I should properly deal with only a couple of them. The first point was on leadership. I certainly agree that leadership is immensely important. I also agree that the effort being made to improve grounds is very helpful in enhancing the levels of intelligence available to police and other agencies and targeting those who have created huge problems. As for the comments of my honourable friend Kate Hoey, 1 shall allow her to speak for herself.

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that whereas some of the figures that she has cited today fill us with some hope and confidence, we must never be complacent? Must we not also work to try to ensure that the behaviour of football crowds at association matches is as good as that of fans at Rugby League matches—in which I have a certain interest?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, yes.

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