HL Deb 21 January 2002 vol 630 cc1335-42

3.10 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [Repeal of provisions of Football ( Disorder) Act 2000]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton

moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 2, leave out "In"

The noble Lord said: Members of the Committee will recall that at Second Reading I explained at length why the Government believe there to be a compelling good cause for maintaining Sections 14B, 21 A and 21 B on the statute book.

The measures contained in the Bill are, l believe, a tailored, proportionate and effective response to English football disorder abroad. They strike the right balance between national and international interests and individual civil liberties. They have undergone a thorough practical and legal examination in the past 18 months. In that regard, I argue that they have not been found wanting.

To lose the measures in August next year would, in our view, send out a negative message to our European partners, undermine English and Welsh anti-hooligan strategy and weaken the powers of the police and courts to act against the thugs. It would also be seen as an encouragement to hooligans to resume the pattern of repeat offending overseas at precisely the time when England is preparing to embark on its Euro 2004 campaign.

In recent weeks, we have all received a timely reminder that the menace of domestic hooliganism has not been eradicated. Of course we must be careful not to draw too many conclusions from events in Cardiff and the copy-cat behaviour elsewhere. There is no evidence of the return of the virulent strain of mass hooliganism which marred our national game in the 1970s and 1980s and tarnished our reputation. However, the shameful scenes in Cardiff reinforced why government, the police and the football authorities must avoid any hint of complacency.

It is equally important that Members of this Chamber and the other place remain ever vigilant. We must ensure that the police and the courts have the powers they need to nip in the bud any resurgence of the hooligan phenomena.

However, the Government recognise that the measures in question are radical and that their impact warrants careful scrutiny. The Government also understand why many Members of the Committee are of the view that the provisions need to be tested for a longer period of time before being firmly enshrined, without time limit, on the statute book.

That is why during Second Reading I announced that the Government were prepared to initiate a further trial period. Amendment No. 2 is the outcome. I am delighted to be able to say today that the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, and the noble Lord, Lord McNally, have felt able to add their names to it. We therefore have all-party agreement to the approach being adopted.

The amendment seeks to extend the lifespan of the measures in Sections 14B, 21A and 21B for a further five years, whereupon they will either lapse or be renewed by statute. The Government have opted for a five-year period following careful consideration and study of the international football calendar. A five-year period will enable the powers to be in place for the 2006 World Cup in Germany and, importantly, for the 2008 European Championship qualifying matches which will take place while these measures undergo further parliamentary scrutiny.

I want to repeat the commitment I gave at Second Reading regarding the submission to Parliament of further impact reports on how the measures are progressing. Detailed reports will be submitted before the question of renewal is resurrected and at ad hoc periods during the next five years should the need arise.

I am most grateful to both parties for their careful consideration of the proposition I put to them between Second Reading and Committee stage and I am delighted that they have joined the Government today in supporting the amendments. Amendment No. 1 is of course a paving amendment for Amendment No. 2. I hope that all Members of the Committee will support the amendment and I beg to move.

3.15 p.m.

Lord McNally

I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation of Amendment No. 1. When I looked at the Marshalled List I realised that although I had been invited to put my name to Amendment No. 2 I had not been invited to put my name to Amendment No. 1 and I began to try to find some squalid back-stage deal between the Labour and Conservative Front Benches. However, the Minister's explanation has put my mind at ease. I want to make clear the fact that we on these Benches support both the paving and substantive amendments.

Perhaps I may take up a couple of minutes of the Committee's time in putting the matter in context. As the Government and Minister know, we on these Benches have been concerned about the civil liberties aspect of the matter. My noble friend Lord Phillips has been firm on it and his absence today does not reflect the fact that he has weakened his concern but that, like me, he accepts that a five-year trial period is sensible and covers crucial periods.

I hope that the football authorities at all levels use that five-year period to try to get to the root of the problem in both domestic and international games. When we previously debated the matter before Christmas it was a particularly emotive time in the wake of the trial of the Leeds players and the focus on football that that produced.

However, the sad fact is that in only a few weeks since Second Reading the situation has become worse rather than better. There have been examples in the domestic game on and off the field of disorder created by players; of disorder at grounds; and a deterioration in the public esteem of football. If the football authorities do not realise that the cycle of violence on the field and the terraces and the misconduct of players away from the game is in grave danger of causing permanent damage to the game, they are even more short-sighted than they appear. Violence, foul language and racism is still too endemic in our football.

As was said at Second Reading, and it bears repetition, leadership from the top is required; that is, from the FA and from the chairmen and their boards. Many board chairmen invest heavily in corporate social responsibility in companies outside football. It is time for football to do likewise. Under Gordon Taylor, the players' union has in many ways done some admirable work at all levels, but I should like to see much more leadership from the union, instilling a sense of responsibility into what is now the extremely privileged group playing football at the highest level.

I turn to the role of the national media. It is no use football correspondents tut-tutting about behaviour when they are gathered around a table in a Sky television studio, but then, when they write for their newspapers, whipping up all kinds of animosity and xenophobia for games both domestic and international. En passant, I wonder what Ladbrokes.com was thinking when it placed the following advert in the London Evening Standard: Bet tax free on the dirtiest game since naked mud wrestling"? The advert referred to the forthcoming Leeds versus Arsenal game. I watched it yesterday and, with no thanks to Ladbrokes, it was not a particularly dirty game. However, the advert underlines the point that many people working in the media and in betting and gaming make a good living from football, but they themselves need to begin to demonstrate a sense of responsibility if we are to succeed in stamping out the extremely damaging phenomena that have grown up in our national game.

I am glad that the Minister has promised to produce regular reports on the effectiveness of the Act. I hope that the Bassam committee set up to look at these matters is kept in being and continues to report and to stimulate action not only in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, but also in the Home Office, thus ensuring that we get proper, joined-up government.

I welcome the belated appointment of Professor Derek Fraser as the new independent football commissioner, although it appears that he will head up the sporting equivalent of the Press Complaints Commission. Professor Fraser will need to establish very early on the fact that he has not been appointed simply as a stable-door slammer or as an apologist for what is wrong in football; rather he should ensure that the Independent Football Commission is a regulatory body with teeth. However, early reports are not very promising.

At some stage I should like either the Select Committee in the Commons or even perhaps a Select Committee of this House to look at this matter. Such a committee could bring some of the various bodies into the public gaze and thus make them justify their behaviour. Ultimately, of course, all this boils down to the behaviour of the individual football fan, but so many influences could be brought to bear by those who bear real responsibility. Furthermore, there are opportunities to improve the image of soccer.

It is worth reminding the Committee that the game itself is played with immensely more skill and that the performances of the players are beyond the dreams of only about a decade ago. One of the good things for which we can take credit is that, after the tragedies of Hillsborough and Heysel, we have learnt the lessons and today our stadia are among the best in the world. As I have said, many opportunities are available. In my remarks on Second Reading I said that many good things are being done by individual football teams. Yesterday I found it heart-warming to read that Niall Quinn, the Sunderland player, is giving away to charity the entire proceeds of his testimonial, estimated in the region of £1 million. Perhaps one of our television companies could make that donation even larger by broadcasting the game.

So it is not all bad news, but a strong message needs to be sent out if we are going to make the Act work; that is, the Act cannot be considered as a stand-alone measure, it will need a great deal of thoughtful action taken by many different bodies as well as by individuals with real responsibility in this area. In that respect, we wish the amendment well.

Viscount Bridgeman

In rising to support the amendment, noble Lords will recall that there was considerable disquiet in another place at the absence of a sunset clause in this Bill. For that reason, we were particularly pleased when on Second Reading the Minister announced his intention to introduce one. Originally we looked for a four-year period, but the live-year period will at least save the run-up to the World Cup from being involved in the passage of legislation through Parliament. That is welcome and we very much support the approach.

I should like to associate my remarks with those made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, in particular as regards the upsurge of violence in the domestic game which we have seen since our debate on Second Reading. We are also particularly grateful for the Minister's assurance that regular reports will be produced to chart how the legislation is working and what progress is being made. We have had two excellent reports which provide excellent examples to follow. The amendments have the support of these Benches.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

I am disappointed not to be following the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, who has managed to precede me with libertarian speeches attacking the legislation from the very first time the temporary measure was introduced two years ago.

Like other noble Lords I, too, welcome the Bill and the amendment which has been moved in such a spirit of amity and cross-party unity. I should like in particular to associate myself with the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally. The events over recent days in football remind us of just how many undercurrents are at work in the game which could easily break out into something a great deal more serious. Legislation of this kind is necessary, as is a continuing review of the difficulties. It was interesting to note that Mark Steele, the spokesman for the National Criminal Intelligence Service, has gone on the record as saying that football violence is once again on the increase.

In the debate on Second Reading, a number of noble Lords, including myself, referred to the trial and subsequent partial acquittal of the Leeds players. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, received a considerable volume of correspondence for his comments relating to the behaviour of those players. I received only one letter to which I was able to reply in a fairly measured way. I recall commenting in the debate that I hoped that the Football Association would feel that those players were not appropriate representatives of their country and that they would not be chosen to play for England. In that context, I very much welcome the robust attitude demonstrated by Adam Crozier, chief executive of the Football Association, not specifically on these cases—I hope that he will come to that conclusion in due course—but in considering the role of players as models and examples for young people. I applaud also his clear unwillingness to allow players who set a bad example to be given the great privilege of representing their country.

Like the noble Lord, Lord McNally, I welcome the appointment of Professor Fraser. I think that the body has been set up around 15 months late. The report of the Football Task Force, which noble Lords with longer memories than I will recall reported in December 1999 with the proposal to establish an independent football commission, had something rather more robust in mind than the body which has emerged from that process. However, I wish Professor Fraser well and I look forward to meeting him in a few weeks' time. I hope very much that the commission will be as forthright in its work as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has indicated.

I hope that it will focus on one particular area; that is, implementation of one of the first of the recommendations made by the Football Task Force relating to racism. The situation has improved slightly but still has an awfully long way to go. I recall that during Question Time recently the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, drew attention to the fact that little work seemed to have been done on implementing the recommendation. I hope that the new commission will take it as its main task and seek to stamp out the problem of racism, which lies at the heart of so much of the violence to be found in football. I endorse also the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that the committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Bassam should continue with its work. I wish the Bill well and hope that it passes through all its stages.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Desai

I did not speak at Second Reading but, before the orgy of all-party agreement on the Bill goes too far, I should say that I did not like the Bill when it was presented. In general, I do not like Bills which mark out certain sections of the population and laws which restrict their civil liberties. This is not too bad, but I would have welcomed the withdrawal and expiry of the Bill rather than its continuing existence.

The fact that there is violence in football is neither here nor there. We have laws on the statute book to deal with that. To single out football fans as we do is not justified. That remains my view, but I have no wish to oppose the amendment.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

It seems that we are almost universally agreed. Standing at the Dispatch Box today, I rather regret that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, is not in his place because I believe, quite firmly, that the case he makes should be well put. He is, quite rightly, a clear advocate of maximising the protection of long fought for and hard won civil liberties, even when they may be the civil liberties of football hooligans who, some may think, should not enjoy such liberties. However, it is important that that argument is heard and is well put. To give the noble Lord, Lord Phillips his due, it is because he and others have put that case that we in government have thought long and hard and concluded that these measures— which are, in their way, draconian—should be reviewed regularly. There should be regular reports to your Lordships' House and another place, and these should be placed in the public domain and become the subject of public debate. The issues deserve to be debated publicly.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, made his usual valuable contribution. My only disagreement with the noble Lord is probably that which occurs regularly between Blackpool and Brighton. Blackpool scored a last-minute equaliser in the most recent game, which I greatly regret. The noble Lord did not raise that issue today and therefore I shall not go on at length about it.

As ever, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, made some important points. I am particularly drawn to the key question of leadership within the game. It is important that managers, players, commentators and supporters exert leadership and take responsibility. Without that, fans will react in the way they do. We must remind them that that is not only wrong, but that it is counter-productive to the game and destroys its image. It is a beautiful game, and what they do mars and denigrates it and draws it down. We do not want that. After all, the game is one of our most profitable exports and does a great deal for international relations when played in good spirit and good heart. For those reasons, if not many more, it is important that we assert the value and importance of leadership at every level of the game—particularly at club level, where what people say and do obviously matters.

I am pleased that we have support for the Bill from all sides of the Committee. I am also pleased that I have been able to reiterate our commitment to bring forward regular reports. I do not know about the fate and continued existence of the so-called Bassam committee, but the working party is still there. More importantly, its recommendations are being carefully worked through. In saying that, I pay great tribute to David Bohannan, who heads the Home Office unit on football disorder, for the work he has done. I know that that work is being valuably taken forward. Work is being carried out with the clubs, the footballers, the PFA, the Football Association, the Premiership and the Nationwide League and is proceeding at a pace.

I hope that the report's findings will feed into the work of the Independent Football Commission. Although some noble Lords have drawn attention to the delay in appointing a chair for the commission, now that that appointment has been made I expect careful thought to be given to the relationship between football hooliganism and raising standards in the game, and ensuring that we have good, fair, sound and effective regulation. Clearly that is what the game needs.

I was also attracted to the proposition of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that a Select Committee should be set up. That is an interesting contribution to the debate and powerfully makes the point that these matters need to be kept in the public gaze to ensure that the debate does not fade away. The game deserves more than that.

I am grateful for all contributions. We have agreement on the amendments and there will be a five-year sunset clause. This is a small but important Bill. Putting this kind of legislation on the statute book for another five years will do much to bring people to consider carefully which way we go in dealing with football hooligans. It is important that we should proceed with the legislation and ensure its continued effectiveness during an extremely busy period—not only in the domestic game but in the international game through three very important international competitions, Euro 2004, the World Cup 2006 and Euro 2008.

I am grateful for all contributions and support. I hope that this legislation, after further consideration here, will speed its way back to another place and receive widespread support and acclaim.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 1, line 4, leave out ", subsections (2) to (5) are repealed" and insert "is amended as set out in subsections (2) and (3).

(2) For subsection (2) there is substituted—

"(2) But

  1. (a) no application under section 14B of the Football Spectators Act 1989 (banning orders made on a complaint) may be made, and
  2. (b) no power conferred on a constable by section 21 A or 21B of that Act (summary measures) may be exercised, after the end of the period of five years beginning with the day on which section 1 of the Football (Disorder) (Amendment) Act 2002 comes into force."

(3) Subsections (3) to (5) are repealed."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.

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