Football (Disorder) (Amendment) Bill

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Mr. Grieve: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it looks as though the most likely way in which one will be made subject to a banning order is through being picked up at the port? On the face of it, that appears to be even more likely than having an ordinary section 14 order made against one.

Simon Hughes: It looks like that. The hon. Gentleman and I agree that the far better process, for everyone concerned, is for the police to gather evidence from their normal sources of intelligence and go to the court to obtain an order against someone not only for a particular tournament but for future matches. The reason for my concern is that—while I accept that the sample in the report was small—more than a quarter of those who were pulled up going out of the country at the time of football matches had had no case proved against them: in Scottish law, that is a not proven verdict. That is unsatisfactory. The issue turns on whether someone is free to go to a match. If someone applies for a visa to come from India to a family wedding and is given permission after the couple have got married, that is no good, because it is too late. There is no point in a court deciding that one is free to go to a match after it is over. The reduction of liberty has happened.

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It is right in principle and in practice to make two points at this stage. First, we should stand by the principle that someone must have been convicted of a crime before their liberty is taken away. Secondly, if there is some justification for not standing by that principle, the courts should show what it is, which they have never done so far. The Government of the day may decide to break with that principle, but any such measure should be time-limited.

We must be careful—the new Parliament will offer much to test us in this respect—that we do not bring the law into disrepute. Of course, most people are law-abiding. One of the great fallacious arguments is, ``If you have nothing to hide, why are you unhappy with this law that takes away your liberties?'' The answer is, ``You never know when it might be you.'' People will always be in favour of such laws, and opinion polls show 80 per cent. ratings to that effect. However, the man who was arrested in Belgium at the time of the last European tournament, against whom there appeared to be no evidence at all, would not take that view. In a different context, nor did the constituent who came to see me this morning alleging that what was said about him was not true and that he should not have been arrested. We must ensure that the law is credible with people not only in theory but in practice.

Andy Burnham (Leigh): The hon. Gentleman suggested that 80 per cent. of the public tended to support such measures. Is not that the point? One of the important aspects of the Bill is the message that it sends to football supporters who have committed offences while watching England games abroad. That message is simply that we will never again tolerate the scenes that we saw in Charleroi and Marseilles a couple of years ago.

Simon Hughes: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but I fundamentally disagree with it. It is not the purpose of Parliament to pass laws in order to send messages. The other day the Home Secretary announced that he intended, through legislation that we have not yet seen, retrospectively to make hoaxes about biological, nuclear and chemical weapons a criminal offence subject to a sentence of seven years imprisonment. I understand the message, but it is wrong to legislate retrospectively. If the matter is urgent, we should be dealing with it today as a priority. The courts, not Parliament, should send messages. When a law has been passed with a tariff, the court is allowed to send a message by giving a tough sentence after conviction. I have always been completely unpersuaded by the view expressed by the hon. Gentleman. It is wrong in principle. I invite the hon. Gentleman, who is a relatively new Member of Parliament, to think about it. Parliament should never pass laws to send messages, because that is how we take away liberties without thinking about it.

The interests of the minority should always be thought about in passing a law. They are more important in that context than the interests of the majority. The majority will often go along with tougher laws to reduce liberties and give more powers to the police. However, while one minority may be affected today, another may be affected tomorrow, and the hon. Gentleman may be in the minority that was affected on the third day. He may then realise that his approach to the law is wrong. I am sorry to disagree with him so strongly, but I am clear about that matter.

It is possible to introduce a law that is justified, and we need to be confident in the law, but that confidence should be based on the fact that the law works fairly for everyone. It is better that a law should sometimes not punish everyone who has offended than that a law should sometimes punish those who have not offended. That is the principle of the jury system. It is better to let off people who are guilty than wrongly to punish people who are innocent. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman agrees or disagrees with me about that, but it seems to me to be the basis on which criminal justice has always worked in this country. It is a fairer and better basis than one that takes away liberties from someone who is not guilty.

We believe that the measure should at most be extended for only a limited period. A renewal opportunity should be provided and annual reports should be given in a way that is transparent. In any event, we want understanding of what has happened to the people whose cases were not concluded at the time of the report. I hope that the Minister will provide the information that we all think necessary to enable us to make a judgment about this matter. If any more information exists—it must be centrally held and available; I do not accept that that is not possible in this instance—it would be helpful to have it, if not today, then in good time for Report stage of the Bill. Given the rapid progress that we are making, that will no doubt be quite soon.

Mr. Tony Clarke (Northampton, South): I want to make brevity my watchword, in contrast to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey. The provisions before us leave little room for amendment, but my right hon. Friend the Minister will know that I have some sympathy with the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield. Our choice is surely whether to revisit the measure every year, to stigmatise football for ever by means of a timeless Act of Parliament, or, in five years, to return to the measure to assess its effect.

Opposition Members have talked about the impact on individuals and on civil liberties. I have less concern about that matter. Surely, with injunctions and bail conditions we already impose quite strict penalties affecting civil liberties on people who may want to commit offences, violent or otherwise, but no one has yet mentioned the obvious impact of the Bill on the game of football. My concern is that if we impose the measure for ever and a day, we are telling the football world that it must wear its shame for ever and a day. There must come a time when football can tell the nation that it has paid its penalty and proved that it has corrected all that was wrong in the game.

Mr. Grieve: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's comments about the reasoning behind the five-year clause. However, I want to pick him up on a point about injunctions. He is right that people's civil liberties may be restricted by injunction if they have threatened someone, committed trespass or done any of a range of other things. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey made some pertinent remarks about this. I do not know of an injunction that has prevented someone from travelling abroad. Injunctions have been granted to prevent people from taking children abroad, but it is draconian to prevent someone from travelling abroad themselves. That is one instance in which, for once, we can complain of a breach of Magna Carta. Usually when people make that claim, it is a load of cobblers, but it would be accurate to say that the provision in the Bill is in breach of Magna Carta.

Mr. Clarke: I was trying not to mention my love of Northampton Town, but the hon. Gentleman has ensured that it will appear in Hansard. I do not disagree with him, but my concern goes wider than the question of travelling abroad. The point is how, through legislation, to rid football of the disorder that has so shamed it in the past decade.

The amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield would give the House the opportunity to consider, after five years, patterns of disorder in other sports and aspects of civic life. On Second Reading, I mentioned my concern at the increase in holiday violence, by which I meant people travelling abroad and committing violence. That shames our nation, yet there is no Act of Parliament or other legislation to prevent it from happening.

Simon Hughes: A point made in earlier debates is that it is unfortunate for football that there is now a range of legislation related to it alone. Much of that law is actually public order legislation that would be far better consolidated and applied to people who have—we can argue about the detail later—a history of or a conviction for violence. That would prevent people from causing trouble at a political meeting in Germany or a rock concert in Ibiza.

Mr. Clarke: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will consider the arguments made by Opposition Members. They are valid and they are shared by Labour Members. If the amendments are probing amendments, as I imagine that they are, I hope that between now and Third Reading my right hon. Friend will consider how we can resolve the need for legislation that ensures the banishment of football hooliganism from our country and overseas events—football should not wear that shame for ever—and gives us the chance after a period of, say, five years to return not only to football disorder and violence but to disorder in our country per se.

 
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Prepared 23 October 2001