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House of Commons

Friday 27 October 1989 The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Several Hon. Members : On a point of order.

Mr. Speaker : Order. I am going to take petitions first.


Football (Identity Cards)

9.34 am

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) : I have a petition from the Football Supporters Association of the east midlands and other football supporters, and the signatures on it have been collected from places as far apart as Boston, Leicester, Derby, Nottingham and all the counties of the east midlands. The petition states : We condemn the proposed legislation to force football supporters to carry identification cards, and we believe that a system of identity cards will have little impact on the problems of football--related violence, will hinder football's attempts to attract a new generation of supporters and will lead to the eventual demise of the game as a spectator sport.

Wherefore your petitioners pray that your hon. House will urge the Government to bring forward proposals which have the support of genuine football supporters.

On behalf of those genuine football supporters, I have pleasure in presenting the petition to the House. Let the Government take note. To lie upon the Table

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : I am taking petitions first.

Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath) : I, too, wish to present a humble petition by football supporters, which brings the total number of signatures to the petition to over 430,000 which, I think, makes it the third largest petition since the war. The House will be interested to know that that represents almost exactly the gate at every football club in the country on a Saturday afternoon. The petition says that the proposed Football Spectators Bill will cause total chaos at the turnstiles to legitimate spectators entering football grounds and will impose unacceptable restrictions upon the liberties of law-abiding subjects and place unacceptable costs upon such supporters. As with the other petitions, this one states : Wherefore your petitioners pray that your hon. House will urge the Government to bring forward proposals which will have the support of genuine football supporters. And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, etc.

To lie upon the Table.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker : There is one more petition.

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Student Loans

9.38 am

Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) : I wish to present a petition organised by the students of Goldsmiths' college in my constituency and signed by David Anteh, 7 Malpas road, Brockley and 1,200 others. The petition states :

The humble petition of citizens and students of Great Britain and Northern Ireland showeth that any proposals to introduce the payment by students of tuition fees and student loans, whether partially or fully, will further limit access to higher education. Wherefore your petitioners pray that your hon. House do reject any proposals to introduce the payment by students of tuition fees or student loans and your petitioners in duty bound will ever pray etc.

The petitioners fear, as I do, that student loans will seriously limit access to--

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Lady must not make a speech on this matter. She must present her petition now please.

Ms. Ruddock : This matter is of concern to the students and staff of Goldsmiths' college because that college has equal opportunities for women, black students and part-time students, all of whom would be disproportionately affected by the Government's proposals. I am pleased to present this petition on their behalf.

To lie upon the Table.

Points of Order

Mr. Speaker : I shall now take points of order.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport) : In view of the uncertainty and confusion in the international money markets, Mr. Speaker, have you had any indication from the new Chancellor of the Exchequer about a statement on the economic situation?

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) : They are paying his wages.

Mr. Speaker : Order. It is intolerable to have background conversations going on when I am listening to a point of order.

Dr. Owen : I should have thought that it was in the interests of all hon. Members that we should hear about any new Government economic initiative, such as a change in the base rate or a change in policy towards sterling, not through the press but here in the House. Therefore, it seems reasonable to ask you whether you have had any indication of the Government's intention to make a statement in the House.

Mr. Speaker : I shall deal with one matter at a time. I have had no such information. Normally I should receive notification before 10 o'clock.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is an important issue. While you have not had notification of that, the Opposition did not have notification that two Bills were to be guillotined this week. That causes us anxiety. First, the Government should come to the House as an urgent priority to sort out the enormous chaos caused by the squabbling between Nos. 10 and 11 Downing street. Secondly, at least on this occasion, the Government should give proper notification

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to the Opposition and on the annunciators so that they cannot slip in a few platitudes in the middle of the debate this morning, but must provide an adequate explanation to the House. I raise this matter because of theirconduct--

Mr. Speaker : Order. This matter was raised yesterday. I heard the Leader of the House apologise for the fact that no notice was given. We cannot pursue that matter now. I am sure that in future notice will be given.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You said that you had no information that the Government sought a statement from the new Chancellor of the Exchequer. Will you confirm that, if the new Chancellor is willing and considers it necessary, as many of us do, to make a statement about exchange rate policy, it would still be possible for you to arrange a statement at 11 o'clock if you received notice between now and then, after the Chancellor has seen the response of the British exchange markets to overnight falls in New York?

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Speaker : Is this the same subject?

Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw) : Yes. In a similar crisis 25 years ago, John Profumo lied to the House. He was asked to come to the House to explain his actions. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) made a serious allegation that the Prime Minister had misled the House, because at 3.15 pm yesterday she said that the Chancellor had her full support

Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. Ashton : I have not finished my point of order.

Mr. Speaker : I know. The hon. Member made broadly the same point yesterday. We cannot continue with it today. The Front Bench gave the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) the answer.

Mr. Ashton : With respect, Mr. Speaker, I am not asking the Front Bench. It answered the point, but I am putting it to you. Despite the Prime Minister misleading the House at 3.15 yesterday afternoon--

Mr. Speaker : Order. If the hon. Gentleman makes that kind of allegation, he should write to me, because it is a matter of privilege. I will not have that allegation made in the Chamber today.

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Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On 19 October the Home Secretary said in a statement on the Guildford and Woolwich pub bombings :

"the four persons involved will be eligible to apply to me for compensation under the provisions of section 133 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. The amount of the compensation will be determined by an independent assessor."- -[ Official Report, 19 October 1989 ; Vol. 158, c. 273.]

Yesterday, at Question Time, the Home Secretary said :

"But I hope that Opposition Members, in their pursuit of this matter, will take into account the fact that the people who suffered most from it were not those who were wrongfully imprisoned, but those who were murdered at Guildford."--[ Official Report, 26 October 1989 ; Vol. 158, c. 1035.]

My point of order is that the Home Secretary made it clear in his statement that the four had been wrongfully imprisoned, that the convictions were quashed and that, as there had been a miscarriage of justice, the four could apply to him for compensation. Yesterday, however, he seemed to go some way from accepting the decision ofthe Court of Appeal, prejudicing their right to compensation--

Mr. Speaker : Order. No--this is a matter of argument between the hon. Member--and perhaps other hon. Members--and the Home Secretary. It is not a matter of order for the Chair. I said yesterday--the whole House must accept and recognise this--that I cannot be held responsible for answers given, provided that they are in order. The Home Secretary's answer was in order.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point of order for you is that the House is being denied access to information. Clearly, the Government and the former Chancellor of the Exchequer had access yesterday and previously to the Treasury's autumn forecasts. Setting aside Walters and all the rest of it, those forecasts were the basis of the ex-Chancellor's decision yesterday. Will the House be allowed to see that information, so that we can know the true extent of the economic catastrophe and of what happened yesterday?

Mr. Speaker : That is a spurious point of order, even for a Friday morning.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : I wonder whether you could assist me, Mr. Speaker. I understand that you have one particularly strong, peculiar and far-reaching power, which is not often exercised, but which you share with my wife. You have the ability to section a Member whom you feel is probably bordering on insanity. I think that you should move directly to No. 10 Downing street, as clearly there is a candidate there for your exercise of that power.

Mr. Speaker : I was chosen by the House to be the Speaker. Let us move on.

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Football Spectators Bill [Lords] [Ways and Means] Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Football Spectators Bill [Lords], it is expedient to authorise the payment into the Consolidated Fund of any fees received by the Secretary of State under the Act-- [Mr. Moynihan.]

9.45 am

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : This ways and means resolution should not pass without comment. It is a narrow resolution which was made available to Members only this morning. It should have been provided earlier in the week, as is the custom. The Government have been thrown into chaos by the huge diversion in economic policy between the former Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister's croney, who was employed at the taxpayers expense to the tune of £50,000 a year--at least there had been some saving to taxpayers--so it is understandable that the Government have not been able to issue the resolution earlier for Members' consideration. The resolution relates to clause 10(2) of the Bill :

"An application for a licence in respect of any premises shall be made in such manner, in such form and accompanied by such fee as may be detemined by the Secretary of State."

That is a wide power. The Secretary of State has absolute power to determine the fee, the manner and the form in which the fee shall be levied. Will the Minister give an account of what scale of fees he has in mind? As has been demonstrated by the number of petitions presented this morning, there is widespread anxiety among football supporters and clubs about the scheme, which will involve football clubs in expenditure. I want that assurance from the sports Minister today.

Unfortunately, it seems that the fees will not be listed in a statutory instrument. The primary legislation gives the Secretary of State the power to levy the fees, so this is the only opportunity that we shall have specifically to discuss the fees. The Minister now has a useful opportunity to tell the House whether he will bear in mind the position of football clubs so that some of the marginal clubs are not driven out of existence.

Some football league clubs are in a good financial position. They are wealthy and powerful. But that does not apply to all clubs. Several clubs are struggling for survival. This wretched football identity scheme will create more problems for such clubs, so the Secretary of State should take into account their financial position and the effect of fees on them. Will the Minister give that assurance?

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) : Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Cryer : I shall finish my point. We want an assurance that, in applying the power that we grant to him, the Secretary of State will take into account the financial position of clubs, if necessary levying only a nominal fee, and that he will not regard this power as a means of raising revenue. The resolution requires that the fees be paid into the Consolidated Fund.

Mr. Vaz : Does my hon. Friend agree with me and other members of the Committee which considered the Football Spectators Bill that, as the Taylor inquiry has not yet produced a report, the best course of action would be to withdraw the motion and the Bill until we have the final report from Lord Justice Taylor?

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Mr. Cryer : That would be an extremely sensible course of action. The Government promised that they would be able to take into account the results of the Taylor inquiry as the Bill progressed through Committee, but that was patently not the case. I expect the Government to give solid, cast -iron assurances to the House about the level of fees that they will levy. I hope that the assurances are rather stronger than those which were given to the House about taking into account the results of the Taylor inquiry.

One of the problems with ministerial assurances, although I continue to look for them as they provide the only opportunity that we have to obtain assurances in respect of ways and means motions, is that, at a time of Government chaos of the sort that we have seen over the past 24 hours, Ministers can move with amazing rapidity. For example, only yesterday at 6 pm the right hon. and learned Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Waddington) was the Government Chief Whip. By about 7 pm, he was the Home Secretary.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying far from the ways and means motion. I know that he appreciates that it is a narrow motion.

Mr. Cryer : Indeed, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I am saying that I am seeking assurances about the level of fees that will be levied. The difficulty is that the Minister for Sport can be changed. I shall welcome the assurances that I hope he will give, but he could disappear tomorrow. An alteration should be made so that a system of fees and safeguards is set out in the Bill, and the fees should take into account the financial position of clubs. That would be of great advantage to the House. It might be to the advantage of everyone, including the Government, if it is borne in mind when legislation is being drafted that the Prime Minister sacks people at a minute's notice and exercises arbitrary, chaotic and arrogant power.

9.53 am

Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath) : I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) for filling the void by catching the eye of Mr. Speaker while we were waiting for the Minister to explain the proposal that is before us. We have been considering the Bill for a long time and it is unfortunate that we never get any explanation from the Government. As my hon. Friend says, they continue with their proposals to levy licence fees and other unacceptable charges. At the end of the day, the burden will fall on innocent spectators and not on the clubs. It will fall also on the Consolidated Fund. It is outrageous that the motion is on the Order Paper. We are proceeding with a measure to tax football and also, possibly, to impose further expenditure upon Government funds. It is entirely inappropriate and, in my view, foolhardy.

It is a matter of major importance that, following one of the most horrendous catastrophes witnessed in British society for a long time--the Hillsborough disaster--the Government found it necessary to appoint one of the most eminent judges in the land to hold an inquiry. We know before we have his report that extremely serious matters will have to be discussed following his pronouncements. All these matters will bear on the licence fees that are likely

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to be levied on football clubs throughout the country, and we know that we cannot have the Taylor report before December.

We cannot have a debate, which we have been promised, before January, which is half a football season away. Yet the Government choose to proceed with powers to set up a licensing authority, which will have the right to charge without any appeal being possible. They are giving a licensing authority the power of taxation without representation before the Football Spectators Bill is on the statute book. In effect, they are implementing the measure now.

Mr. Steve Norris (Epping Forest) : Come on, Denis.

Mr. Howell : It is perfectly true.

It is ludicrous that any Government should proceed before the Lord Justice of Appeal whom they appointed has pronounced upon their schemes-- [Interruption.] May I say to the Minister--

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. It would be helpful to the right hon. Gentleman who has the Floor if there were not so much cross-talk across the Chamber.

Mr. Howell : Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker. The object of the ways and means motion is to give the licensing authority the power to charge. When the Minister considers the events at Hillsborough and when he asks himself whether there will be additional difficulties at the turnstiles when the identity scheme is imposed, he should ask himself also what would have been the consequences if the scheme had been in operation at Hillsborough on the day of the disaster.

It is inconceivable that Lord Justice Taylor will say anything other than that the Bill is nonsensical and, furthermore, a danger to public safety. I have no doubt that he will say that it should be withdrawn. That is not a far-fetched hypothesis but one that is based on reality. The Government's decision to allow the licensing authority to be set up and to impose fees on football in circumstances that mean that we might not have a scheme at all is crass stupidity of an order that very few of us have seen before. That is an additional reason-- [Interruption.] Conservative Members are laughing. I suppose that this week they have seen more crass stupidity than most of my right hon. and hon. Friends can evisage.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : My right hon. Friend has referred to the problems associated with Hillsborough and the report that is being prepared by Lord Justice Taylor. Is he aware that there were great problems at the Conservative party conference when the breakdown of a computer meant that many Conservative Members were denied access? There was no violence outside the conference centre, but inside--

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. The intervention by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) is far removed from the speech of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell).

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Mr. Tony Banks : I was merely pointing out, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the same problem could arise with the implementation of a football membership scheme.

Mr. Howell : I shall take up my hon. Friend's point, and I hope that I shall be able to do so within the rules of order.

Madam Deputy Speaker : The right hon. Gentleman must remain within the rules of order.

Mr. Howell : I quite agree, Madam Deputy Speaker, and the rules of order bear on the expenditure which can be forced on clubs unnecessarily, which I am sure you will appreciate.

The ways and means motion is being imposed upon us 24 hours after the Minister for Sport has changed the rules of the game. When, in Committee, we sought to introduce some pilot schemes, he said that that could not be done. When we sought to exempt certain divisions, he said that that could not be done.

Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw) : The Minister is not listening.

Mr. Howell : The Minister never listens, so that does not worry me. If he does listen, he does not comprehend, which is even worse. Only a day ago the Minister solemnly announced--not to the House as he should have done today--but in a press statement :

"Electronic turnstiles will be tested before identity cards." The Minister is seeking powers to set up a licensing authority and the Ways and Means resolution will give that authority power to charge, yet he now tells us that he does not know whether the arrangements will work and whether the scheme will be practicable ; we are now to have turnstile experiments at two or three grounds. You, Madam Deputy Speaker, are a great supporter of West Bromwich Albion, which is in your constituency. We know that you appreciate your constituents' devoted support of that team. You have been seen very recently at that very ground. You were seen there only last Saturday, and I am very pleased about that.

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North) : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howell : I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, but not in the middle of my fulsome tribute to Madam Deputy Speaker. Madam Deputy Speaker, who goes to West Bromwich Albion, knows what a struggle it has, and that every penny counts. She knows that it is vital that spectators should get into the ground promptly, and no licensing authority should set about its business before Parliament has considered the Taylor report and decided whether the whole nonsensical idea should be scrapped or whether some other scheme should be introduced.

Mr. John Carlisle : I am sorry to interrupt the cosy chat between midlands Labour Members. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Health (Mr. Howell) is misleading the House, as he did throughout Committee stage and on Second Reading, when he says that having introduced the proposals my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport is erring from his original policy. It has always been made perfectly clear--the right hon. Gentleman knows this-- that before the scheme is put into operation some sort of experiment has to take place to test the machinery to be used. The right hon. Gentleman will also know that

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it was proposed that some sort of scheme should be put into operation before the season in which the policy was fully implemented. The right hon. Gentleman is deliberately misleading the House. My hon. Friend's proposals are perfectly in line with all the statements made throughout the passage of the Bill.

Mr. Howell : That is another example of the logic with which we have repeatedly been faced this week. People say, "Everything's all right." When we ask, "In that case, why did the Chancellor resign?" we receive no answer. The hon. Gentleman's intervention belongs to the same perverted logic. The Minister has said throughout that he would not proceed in this way. If he had always intended to proceed in this way, why did he issue the press statement yesterday? He did so because what he proposed was a departure from everything that he had told us in Committee.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Colin Moynihan) : May I clarify two points, because the right hon. Gentleman is going off at a tangent? First, I have made it clear since before the introduction of the Bill that if the Government went ahead with a national membership scheme, we should need to be satisfied that the technology was up and working and correct so that the scheme could be implemented effectively from day one. The testing of that technology will be a matter for the football membership authority, which will examine in detail the appropriate technology and tests. Absolutely nothing has changed on that front. I hope that that assists the right hon. Gentleman.

Moreover, the right hon. Gentleman's comments to the effect that I have issued a presss release on this subject this week is inaccurate.

Mr. Howell : No doubt it was Mr. Bernard Ingham who gave the information to The Times. Perhaps one of his minions at the Department of the Environment told Sheila Gunn and journalists from other newspapers what the Minister wished to convey.

The statement that has been issued is wholly unacceptable to us in any case because the experiment that we are told is to take place while powers of licensing and taxation are being granted will take place over a short period. If the Minister proposes to have an experiment, it should be over a longer period--at least a season. [Interruption.] The Minister says no. Let me tell him. He obviously intends a proper evaluation of the scheme, and to an extent I welcome that, but no such proper evaluation can take place unless we judge the effects of the scheme on normal league games, cup ties and derbies, in mid-week, in good weather and on filthy winter nights. Unless we examine the effect of the scheme in all those circumstances, any evaluation will be worthless. I submit to the House that that is exactly what the scheme is--worthless.

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