Football (Disorder) (Amendment) Bill

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Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West): I am not a lawyer and having heard the legal discourses on the balance of freedom, I am glad of that. Given some of the arguments, I can understand the old adage that the law is an ass. Lay members of the public would certainly agree.

I acknowledge the civil liberties issue on freedom of movement. The hon. Member for Beaconsfield has said that that is significant, but I do not agree that the provision will be a restraint on individual daily activities. Attending an international football match hardly constitutes a daily activity.

Mr. Grieve: The decision that someone leaves the country to attend such a match may be based on evidence. He may be wrapped in scarves and other accoutrements that suggest his likely destination, but not necessarily. The individual may happen to leave the country on a plane or boat going in roughly the direction in which a football match will take place. The Minister may tell us—I would be interested to hear about it—the number of people who have claimed that they were not going to football matches at all. There is no precise way to determine the reasoning behind someone's decision to travel.

Mr. Bailey: Even on the basis of the hon. Gentleman's argument, attending an international football match hardly constitutes a daily activity. Very few people travel abroad daily.

5.15 pm

The Bill includes the means for the banning orders not to be applied, because they are applied only for specified football matches. I understand that the body that determines whether a match shall be so specified is called the Football Banning Orders Authority. There are already provisions for certain international football matches not to be specified as meriting the issuing of banning orders. Free access could be obtained to such matches.

It would be far more sensible if, instead of introducing sunset clauses, we were to leave it to the banning authority not to exercise its powers to specify matches under the legislation in the case of a match for which it was felt inappropriate to issue banning orders. If hon. Members find that unacceptable, they are making the case for the legislation being permanent, because it has to be there as reserve legislation.

I am not happy about including a five-year sunset clause. If, at the end of those five years, the level of violence at international football matches were such that it was felt to be inappropriate to exercise the powers under the legislation, it would be better not to specify matches. If the sunset clause were included, we would have to go through the legal process of reintroducing the appropriate orders to continue the measures. I cannot help but feel that that—in spite of what the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey said—is sending the wrong messages.

Simon Hughes: One disadvantage of the hon. Gentleman's proposal was pointed out by the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Clarke). Football would be unique among sports in that no matter how little trouble there had been, and for however long, there would always be a threat hanging over it and a certain reputation. That would not do the reputation of football any good.

Mr. Bailey: I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but the violence that has occurred at international football matches does the reputation of football a lot more harm than such legislation. The essence of successful legislation is that the intelligence that is built up match by match can be used for subsequent matches. That is brought out very well in the evidence that was published in the report on the impact of the measures for the Germany-England game.

The danger is that, if the legislation were to be suspended for any time, there would be a hiatus during which would-be hooligans would know that they could travel to a match. They could commit acts that would have constituted reasons for them being banned had the legislation been in force, but we would have no opportunity to ban them. The result would be to create a pool of would-be hooligans who have already demonstrated criminal intentions abroad but who, because of the absence of legislation, cannot be prevented from going to matches. It is more sensible to have the legislation on the statute book while fine-tuning the Football Banning Orders Authority to state that the legislation may be non-operative for certain well-defined matches for well thought out reasons.

Finally, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey spoke about sending a message. I disagree. On occasion, legislation is necessary to send out a message. If this country had not introduced the 2000 Act after Euro 2000, a clear message would have gone out to the international football authorities that we were prepared to stand by and take no measures to prevent hooligans from going to wreck international tournaments. Had we not taken those measures and sent that message, this country would almost certainly have been banned from tournaments.

We could have a long philosophical debate over whether legislation should be introduced for such a reason. In practical terms, however, it is necessary that we do so to ensure that people understand that we are anxious to sustain certain values and principles in our conduct of international sporting obligations.

Simon Hughes: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. However, everyone banned under the 2000 Act could have been banned under previous legislation; all those people have had previous convictions and would have been liable for a ban.

Mr. Bailey: The hon. Gentleman's statement is incorrect. Around half of those who received banning orders or were detained on the way to Germany had previous convictions for violent or antisocial behaviour, albeit perhaps in non-football-related areas.

We are asking other countries to introduce similar legislation because, as has become evident in international tournaments, hooliganism is not unique to this country. Dangerous signs are appearing that an international competition exists between hooligans at tournaments, in which hooligans from various countries demonstrate who can behave in the most thuggish manner. By introducing legislation, we are making it difficult for our hooligan teams to compete in that competition. We want other countries to do likewise. If we backtrack on what we have done so far, we will send the wrong messages and make it more difficult for other countries to implement legislation that would not only help us, but would be for the good of international football.

Mr. John Grogan (Selby): I have followed the arguments made by the hon. Members for Beaconsfield and for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, who were right to challenge the Government's justification for the restrictions on football fans that we plan to make permanent. However, their case would be stronger if they could give some examples of people going away on business or on holiday who were mistaken for potentially violent football fans and detained. If the legislation represented a real threat to liberties, there surely would have been more examples in the press or from the various football supporters organisations.

Mr. Grieve: The problem is that we do not know and have only the bare statistics. We have heard that a number of people who were stopped were then released to travel, and that the court proceedings against others were adjourned; we do not know what the areas of dispute were. At this stage, after just one year and a bit, we cannot come to such decisions. That is a compelling reason for keeping safeguards to provide for a review.

Mr. Grogan: I believe that the Act should be made permanent, and I shall give my reasons in a moment. Is it not odd that we are talking about a theoretical problem? If there were really such a problem, surely at least one MP would have had correspondence about it, or there would have been stories in the papers about the Act being operated in a heavy-handed way. What is the nub of the objections of the hon. Members for Beaconsfield and for Southwark, North and Bermondsey? At one point, they seemed to be objecting to the fact that 80 people had been stopped at the port, rather than a banning order having been obtained before they set out. Much police intelligence is based on reports from clubs and one cannot be sure who is going to travel until the day of the match or the day before. The work has to be done on the way to the ports, and decisions have to be made at the ports. The fact that 80 people were detained but some were released after checks is not a bad thing. The report mentions that 30 people who had been banned from specific games were allowed to travel because they had business or personal reasons to do so.

Although both hon. Members are right to be vigilant about civil liberties, not one example has been given, either today or on Second Reading, of how an individual's liberty has in practice been trampled upon.

Mr. Grieve: On the face of it, we have some indication that 13 of those people stopped at the port were detained for unspecified periods but were then released. Their civil liberties were interfered with for a time. We also know that in nine cases, the court refused to endorse banning orders. That suggests that we do not know why they had been imposed. Perhaps the Minister can help. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is statistical evidence that there is not a 100 per cent. success rate in identifying these people? Some people have had their civil liberties interfered with when there was no reason for it.

Mr. Grogan: I accept that the court said that some of the people who were detained had no case to answer. However, that happens with any law. It is a question of proportionality.

Most football fans would regard it as proportionate that checks be made at the port on people who are regarded as suspicious; I am not aware of a campaign against that from any of the major football supporters organisations. Some people will be released after checks, and other cases will be overturned by the court; that is a proper use of legislation. I disagree with the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey. It would send a terrible message to other European countries if we had clear video evidence that people had been involved in football violence at Euro 2000, but neither our police nor our courts could do anything if those people turned up at our ports. It would tell those countries that we were not concerned. I also disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South; football violence will always be with us in my lifetime. It has been endemic in England for the last thirty or forty years. Hardly a capital city in Europe has not been affected in some way. According to the National Criminal Intelligence Service football-related crime rose byby 8 per cent. in the past year; football-related violence also rose during that time.

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