Football (Disorder) (Amendment) Bill

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Mr. Clarke: Offences did indeed rise by 8 per cent., but does my hon. Friend acknowledge that the majority of those offences took place well away from football fixtures? We need to consider disorder not only in the context of a particular sport, but where it takes place. We need to re-evaluate that 8 per cent. so we know how many offences occurred at football fixtures and how many occurred away from the event.

Mr. Grogan: I entirely accept my hon. Friend's contention that many violent offences, although football-related, occurred away from the ground. I also accept what he said on Second Reading about the incident at a cricket match at Headingly earlier this year, which I witnessed. I accept that it is not simply a question of violence at football grounds. However, football-related violence has done more harm to our country's reputation over the past 30 or 40 years than anything else, even holiday-related violence. It had to be dealt with. We were in danger of being thrown out of the European championships.

The 2000 Act has proved itself over the past year. Not one example has been given of the Act having caused a real injustice. It is now time to make its provisions permanent.

5.30 pm

The Minister for Police, Courts and Drugs (Mr. John Denham): I welcome you, Mr. Illsley, to the Chair. I shall endeavour to be brief in answering the many questions that have been raised. I am sure that all hon. Members will have noted the conduct of the debate so far, which has clearly laid to rest the idea that the Government would be heavy-handed; the stories that have been circulating in the media recently are utterly untrue.

Winding up the Second Reading debate, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), committed me to sharing with the Committee whatever additional information I was able to gather. In a moment, I shall give the Committee as much of that information as I can.

Four themes run through today's debate. The first is the basis on which banning orders should be obtained—other than banning orders on conviction—and whether that basis should be reliant on other convictions for violence or public disorder, or whether, as the 2000 Act is drafted, it should have wider scope. The second is whether the travel-related powers of section 21A and B that have effect during the five-day period are justified. The third is whether the provisions should be in force for a limited period, perhaps under a sunset clause. The fourth is the information available about the operation of the 2000 Act.

On Second Reading, a number of hon. Members asked for additional data on the use of summary powers under section 21B. Much information is already available, and several hon. Members have cited some of it today. Since the 2000 Act came into force, 98 people have been detained and issued with section 21B notices preventing travel and commencing banning orders on complaint proceedings. That is an increase of one on the position reported in the supplementary impact report. As a result of those section 21B notices, 55 people have had orders on complaint imposed by the courts, 23 cases are currently adjourned and 18 applications for orders have been refused by the courts. I understand that of those 18 applications, 13 were refused by the courts at the initial hearing and five were refused after adjournment. I shall return to the question of adjournments, which has understandably been of concern this afternoon. I shall first reinforce a few points about the use of the powers.

It was always intended that the summary police powers would enable the police and courts to prevent known troublemakers from travelling to a match overseas in circumstances when the police force of the area in which the person resides had neither sufficient time nor opportunity to seek a section 14B order from the court; the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan). Although the use of the provisions comes at the end of an intelligence and information-based process, it is not possible to design a system that can tell the police or the courts the name of everyone who may be intending to travel to a particular match. That is why section 21 powers are integral to the operation of the Act.

It is worth bearing in mind that the powers cannot be used arbitrarily. Before they can be exercised, the police must apply the two-stage test under section 21A(1). They must have reasonable grounds for suspecting that the person before them has caused or contributed to violence or disorder in the United Kingdom or elsewhere, and that making a banning order would help to prevent violence or disorder from taking place at or in connection with a regulated football match. Were the police to detain someone unreasonably, that person would have the usual forms of redress, such as a claim for wrongful arrest and unlawful imprisonment.

Last week, the hon. Member for Beaconsfield asked about the length of detention for individuals who were detained under section 21A, but who were not issued with section 21B notices. I am advised that in respect of the Munich control period, only one of the 13 people detained and released was held for four hours. The average time of detention was less than three hours. That may seem a long time but, as I have already explained, all individuals detained during that period were intercepted as a result of an extensive police intelligence operation. It was not a matter of detention, but of obtaining and assessing the merits of any previous misbehaviour.

The hon. Members for Southwark, North and Bermondsey and for Beaconsfield asked about the number of section 21B prompted court hearings that were being adjourned. They feared that adjournments were resulting in people being prevented from travelling without being made subject to a banning order. That is true, narrowly speaking, but it is not a consequence of the summary powers. It is important that the Committee understands that. The Act makes it clear that the appearance before a magistrates court must be within 24 hours. It does not stipulate how long the proceedings should last. It does not set out what bail conditions should be imposed if proceedings are adjourned. Those are quite properly matters for the court. It is for the court to decide whether to accept the plea for adjournment from a person who is subject to complaint proceedings and who wishes to delay those proceedings and a decision in order, for example, to seek further legal advice.

Since our debate on Second Reading, we have obtained information from the Football Banning Orders Authority—to which I am grateful—in respect of 20 of the 22 cases that were adjourned during the Munich control period. We have not yet identified any adjournment that was prompted by any reason other than at the request of the person before the court. They were not police-based requests, for example. It is clearly in the interests of the police to resolve matters in one hearing and it is equally proper for an individual to delay proceedings to prepare a comprehensive response to a complaint.

The key issue, which has been rather lost so far in our discussions, is that when an adjournment is granted, the individual will not be subject to travel restrictions unless the court considers it appropriate to impose bail conditions that prevent travel from taking place in accordance with section 21C(4). Such conditions could be imposed only after the court had heard representations from both parties about whether such conditions were appropriate in the individual circumstances. Thus, the individual will not be subject to lengthy travel restrictions before the determination of the complaint, save after a fair hearing. It has been suggested that the mere fact of a case being adjourned would prevent an individual from travelling without a court having considered the case for imposing such bail conditions. In all the cases that we examined, the individual seems to have prompted the adjournment, but the courts that have, on considering the evidence, imposed the travel restriction.

Simon Hughes: I had assumed that the circumstances were as the Minister explains; regardless of how the adjournment had come about, the court had taken the decision that, as the application was for a banning order, it would err on the side of caution and ensure that a bail restriction meant that the person involved could not travel. Will the Minister confirm that in all 20 cases that he has had reported back—for which we are grateful—the court decided that the person involved could not travel? The effect is the same; the person could not attend the match.

Mr. Denham: I should like to double-check that against the figures, but I believe that it is a reasonable assumption that the bail condition was imposed. As hon. Members recognise, several sets of figures are flying around, but I am sure that that is true in the vast majority of cases.

I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman is right to assume that a court decision about bail restrictions is simply erring on the side of caution. The court must take responsibility for making a proper decision—presumably having heard the reasons why the police applied for the order—and given the person involved the opportunity to explain why it is unfair. It is slightly mischievous to pretend that it is not a proper court-based process.

Mr. Grieve: The Minister used the word bail, which intrigued me. My understanding was that section 21B(6) made specific provision under the section 21B system for

    ``Any passport surrendered by a person under this section''

—that is, taken by the police officer at the port—to

    ``be returned to him in accordance with directions given by the court.''

I took that to be the administrative provision that allowed the court to return the passport, pending a final hearing. What is the provision in respect of bail? As we are discussing civil proceedings in court, I would not have expected bail to be involved unless the person involved had failed to attend at some point. I should like the Minister to clarify that, as I was slightly confused.

 
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