Previous SectionIndexHome Page

9.48 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): We have had an excellent debate. It is often the case in the Chamber that some of the lower-key debates are the best. The apparent expertise about football and the issues involved has produced an enjoyable, informative debate. In the time remaining, it will be difficult to refer to all the issues and all the Members who have participated, although I shall do my best.

The House and the other place have wrestled with the problem of football hooliganism on several occasions. The laws that have been passed have made an important contribution to tackling domestic football disorder, but the international aspects of the problem have proved a very tough nut to crack. That is why the Football (Disorder) Act 2000 included some radical measures. Those measures were controversial, which is why they were time limited and subject to review.

All the available evidence suggests that sections 14B, 21A and 21B of the 2000 Act have had a major impact on fans' behaviour and have gone some way to repairing the damage that football hooliganism has inflicted on our national sport and on our national reputation. The measures have been subject to legal scrutiny and to the scrutiny of a high-risk match. They have not been found wanting.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) described the problems. In graphic detail, he referred to the fear and disruption that have been caused by hooliganism. He has a long history not only as a football fan but as a supporter of civil liberties, and he told us that we had to keep the issues in balance. I agree, and the proposals do exactly that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Hepburn) made, on behalf of his constituents, an appeal for common sense. He reminded us of the scale of the problem and asked whether we could encourage other countries to introduce measures similar to ours. Other Members pointed out that other countries are considering similar legislation. The Belgian presidency is encouraging other European Union countries to introduce similar measures and it has been supportive of the legislation that the Government have introduced to try to tackle the problem of football hooliganism and, in particular, football hooliganism abroad.

The hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) gave us his version of a history lesson and tried to make sure that none of us would forget his role in the earlier measure that he introduced. He wanted the monument to his political career made permanent. I do not know whether it will be his only monument—I am sure that he will go on to far greater things. He should, however, talk

15 Oct 2001 : Column 1022

to his hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench who appear to have doubts about the proposals in the Bill. They, not the Government, need persuading.

One of the most surprising things in the debate was the fact that the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) got the hon. Member for West Chelmsford mixed up with the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes). I can creep to those involved by saying that it was an astonishing mix-up. I do not think that any two Members differ so much in their views, so I was surprised that such confusion took place.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe and other Members referred to the role that racism plays in football disorder. He asked us to try to ensure that effective measures would be taken in that regard and that we would not merely pay lip service to the problem. He has considerable expertise in this issue, so he will know that the working group chaired by Lord Bassam published a report in March. One of its key recommendations was that all stewards should be reminded of their responsibilities to act against racist remarks. The football authorities have given a commitment to implementing that recommendation and the Government are committed to monitoring progress on that important issue. We shall keep an eye on it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) spoke of the shame that was brought on our nation by a small minority and said that he was concerned that we should not introduce general restrictions that would affect all football fans. Only well structured, intelligence-led measures, such as this Bill, that target the real hooligans who are at the core of the problem will avoid the measures that he is so worried about and prevent the damage to our national sport that took place so often in the past.

The hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) was worried that the legislation was draconian. It is my view and that of the overwhelming majority of hon. Members who have spoken tonight that it is proportionate to the problem. That is why the courts have found in its favour and supported it, and why they believe that it complies with the requirements of the European convention on human rights.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether the Scottish anomaly still exists. It does, but it should affect only a relatively small number of people. If the measures continue to have effect, it should be possible in the overwhelming majority of cases for bans under section 14B of the Football Spectators Act 1989 to be imposed on football hooligans before they leave England and Wales. Only a relatively small number of people will give us a problem by exiting via Scottish ports.

Mr. Cameron: I am grateful for the Minister's response. However, should we renew every year the specific power of the police to stop people travelling abroad? It seems to me that we should, because civil rights are being affected. A police officer needs to have only a suspicion in order to have reasonable grounds for preventing someone with no previous convictions from travelling abroad, which has a serious effect on our civil rights.

Mr. Ainsworth: I was coming to that. The record shows that my hon. Friend the Minister for Police, Courts and Drugs has tried to give the House the maximum

15 Oct 2001 : Column 1023

amount of information. The need for more information before we agree to the legislation was the thrust of the main attack by the Conservative Front Bencher. It was also a concern of the Liberal Democrat Front Bencher. My hon. Friend has given the House two reports and a commitment to try to share any information that he can before and during Committee proceedings. I only hope that hon. Members will judge whether the legislation is justified and necessary based on the information that is put before the House. Some of the information requested will not be available, but I hope that they accept that my hon. Friend is genuine in his desire to ensure Members that he will make information available so that the House can make a proper decision.

My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) made a phenomenal intervention. He did violence to sociological studies and to Sheffield Members of Parliament as a breed, but he decided on balance not to do violence to the Government or the legislation. He believes that the proposal is justified and intends to support it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Clarke) objected to the slur that is placed on football and its supporters. He said that it was unfair because the same problem exists in many other parts of society. He knows that the Government are trying to implement measures to tackle yobbery in general. My hon. Friends the Members for Selby (Mr. Grogan) and for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey) rightly reminded us of the serious depths to which we have fallen. They appealed to us to accept that the Bill is necessary and proportionate to the problem.

15 Oct 2001 : Column 1024

The main objection of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey was that he would not accept the measure unless there is a conviction. That is not acceptable. I hope that the House will support the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).


Queen's recommendation having been signified—

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52(1)(a) (Money resolutions and ways and means resolutions in connection with bills),

Question agreed to.


Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [28 June],

Question put and agreed to.

15 Oct 2001 : Column 1023

15 Oct 2001 : Column 1025

Mrs. Jean Brett

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Ainger.]

10 pm

Mr. Richard Page (South-West Hertfordshire): This is a tale of error, denial and bureaucracy, but it is also a tale of courage and determination. It is the story of how Mrs. Jean Brett went against the national health service in a battle that started with her operation in March 1988. Ninety-nine out of 100 people would have given up by now and just walked away, but Mrs. Jean Brett is one in 100, as those who have seen her battling to keep Harefield heart hospital in existence will testify.

I look the Minister straight in the eye and say that to do full justice to this painful saga would take hours, but I have only 15 short minutes to present the case. Many years ago, I promised that when I saw the whole story coming to a conclusion I would raise it on the Floor of the House, because I wanted to ensure that it would never happen again. What I have to describe is disgraceful and shows bureaucracy and Government Departments at their worst.

To begin, I can do no better than quote from the opening paragraphs of a full-page article in The Observer of 22 April by a reporter called Yvonne Roberts. She starts:

she recalled.

The article continues:

very wisely—

Such a brief outline does not cover the patently inexcusable delays. In November 1992, when Mrs. Brett asked for an apology and an explanation, she was told by a hospital manager to make a formal NHS complaint, which would be answered in about two months. She was told that solicitors should not be used, as compensation in the NHS could be arranged.

15 Oct 2001 : Column 1026

I see my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), who has been very supportive throughout the campaign, in his place. He knows Mrs. Brett and her campaign to try to keep open our heart hospital at Harefield very well.

Seven months after the hospital manager's message, Mrs. Brett was told that Watford hospital had engaged solicitors and that she should do the same. The hospital did not, however, tell her of the options of community health councils, the ombudsman or clinical review procedures. She was told only of the most expensive option: solicitors. Two years passed, after which, as the article in The Observer stated, Mrs. Brett was not only tired out but £30,000 lighter. On the face of it, Watford hospital had won, but it had made a slight miscalculation: it had not reckoned with Mrs. Brett.

In 1996, Mrs. Brett asked that the NHS complaint be answered, and an independent review panel was convened under a new procedure. At that point—surprise, surprise—the most important half of Moorfields eye hospital records went missing. In December 1996, despite the fact that two independent consultants who had examined Mrs. Brett said that she had no sign of glaucoma—I am no expert, but I am given to understand that it is an irreversible eye disease—the panel did not admit that she had been misdiagnosed. We should bear in mind the fact that she had had one unnecessary operation and that the consultant wanted her to undergo the procedure for a second time.

Enter the ombudsman, to whom the review panel replied ambiguously that it was

So the two independent specialists and Moorfields were wrong, but Watford hospital was right. Eventually, on 23 December 1997, the chief executive of Watford hospital admitted to Mrs. Brett that there had been a misdiagnosis, but the promised formal apology failed to appear.

Following my correspondence in February 1998 with the Secretary of State for Health, of which the Minister will be aware, a recommendation for conciliation emerged. That state of limbo continued until Hillingdon CHC entered the scene—one of those councils that the Government want to abolish. It stepped in to recommend an independent conciliator, Roxanne Glick. The Glick report appeared in May 1999.

The article in The Observer continued:

Detailing the way in which Watford hospital then handled the matter is not possible, given time constraints. Suffice it to say that a £3,500 unilateral ex gratia offer was made on a "take it or leave it" basis, with no prior discussion or debate. The Minister knows the basis on which ex gratia payments are offered and may be taken up. The answer to the offer was a decided no.

15 Oct 2001 : Column 1027

In April 2001 The Observer article appeared. On 25 April I asked the Secretary of State for Health whether he would reconsider the hands-off policy on ministerial intervention. At the same time, I asked for an assurance that the Glick report had been studied. On 7 June 2001, I received a response signed by Lord Hunt that made it clear that the Glick report had not been studied. In addition, the letter contained the extraordinary statement that Mrs. Brett's treatment had been appropriate and that further ministerial intervention would be inappropriate. I cannot regard that reply as a serious one. Not least because there had been no ministerial intervention up to that date, the reply shows the dangers of Ministers signing letters put in front of them by officials when they have not studied the background material. In addition, those who have any connection with the Maxwell case know that I simply do not give up that easily.

The time has surely been reached to bring an end to a sad and sorry story. The inaccuracies of the replies and actions over the years are too numerous to mention in the time available to me. I can only speculate about and shudder at the amount of management time and money that the national health service must have been wasted during this period—money that could have been put into patient care. Why should my constituent—why should anyone—have to go through such an ordeal to get an answer and fair play?

Why has the Glick report recommendation that the past glaucoma cases of the responsible consultant should be examined to establish the soundness of the diagnoses not been implemented? I ask the Minister to investigate why, despite my representations, the nightmare has been allowed to continue unchecked for so long, and to ensure that similar cases can be prevented in future. I ask that an independent assessor be appointed to determine what recompense might be paid to my constituent. The ball is now firmly in the Minister's court.

Next Section

IndexHome Page