Football (Disorder) (Amendment) Bill

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Mr. Denham: I take the hon. Gentleman's point. However, it is not altogether surprising that the figures should have come out as they have in the first year of the Act's operation, while the police service have become used to it. I still think that section 14B orders will account for an increasingly large share of those that are issued under the Act. However, it is worth remembering that both are subject to the same legal test, whether they are applied for ahead of or during the five-day control period.

Several hon. Members asked about information. I shall be happy to work with officials to provide information to the Committee and, ahead of Report stage, I will check the official record in some detail to see whether there have been any requests for information that I have not picked up this afternoon. More generally, it might be helpful if I consider what future reporting arrangements there should be on the operation of the Act. Clearly, the way in which the Act pans out will be of interest to hon. Members, and it may be useful to set out in more detail what further information should be provided and on what basis.

The time scale is essentially something that the House must decide. The Government's view is that we have sufficient information to make a reasoned judgment about the basis of the measure, its targeted nature and its proportionality. The history of the Government's approach is well known: it is true that there have been discussions about a sunset clause after five years. The legislation has been in operation for just over a year, and we have a significant amount of statistical information. Our view is that there is a sufficient basis of knowledge to enact the Bill and make the measure permanent.

Of course, legislation changes over the years. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South is concerned that the Bill will always be about football. However, the reality is that, if public order needs were to change, no doubt the House would either build on the measure or incorporate it in new, wider public order legislation. I was involved in discussions with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport earlier this year about disturbances at cricket grounds. The conclusion of our joint review was that this was not the time to introduce public order legislation to cover cricket.

It is probably a mistake to take the view that enacting the Bill will mean that for ever and a day there will be one glorious—or inglorious—piece of legislation about football and nothing else. The House has shown itself capable of adapting legislation over time to meet changing needs, and I believe that we are now in the position to press ahead.

Simon Hughes: I am grateful to the Minister for his considered and reasonable response. It is helpful to know that he will think about how a reporting exercise can most appropriately be carried out, irrespective of the nature of the Bill. I pick up from his last remarks the encouraging fact that the Government will at least try, somewhere in the queue, to ensure that we have coherent legislation that pulls things together rather than, as we pointed out on Second Reading, lots of different Acts dealing with football. It is also encouraging to hear that the Government may look at the wider issue that I, the hon. Member for Northampton, South and other hon. Members raised—that it may be sensible to avoid legislating for specific circumstances and to use accepted general principles across the board.

If I gave the impression that my party had a problem with people being stopped at ports of departure, that was wrong. I have no problem with that. The police are entitled to act at such points, when there is relevant evidence. I pay tribute to the way in which the police use their increasingly effective tradition of police intelligence training. Some people who are stopped may just be going shopping for the day, but it is a logical place to apprehend suspects.

The other issue that I did not pick up entirely is that of the sufficiency of video evidence. The Minister made the reasonable point, as did the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) here and on the Floor of the House, that because the authorities are frequently unwilling to prosecute, for reasons that I understand, which involve not wanting to spend taxpayers' money dealing with foreign hooligans, it is valid to use as ``evidence'' information that has come from abroad that has not been used in a criminal case.

To be clear, for the record and the Committee, I do not take the absolutist view that there are no circumstances in which a banning order cannot be imposed if there has not been a previous conviction. I have never taken that view, but I have argued that we should proceed incrementally. Because the people who have been picked up and banned so far happen to have criminal records—although in my view that is not irrelevant—that is where the legislation should take us now. If it becomes clear from a much more sophisticated policing operation and from the courts that a significant number of people are being missed, there will be an argument for going ahead with legislation. One should take measures where there is certain, rather than prospective, justification for them.

There is not a huge amount between the Government and us on the issue. We do not say that there will never be circumstances in which legislation is justified—indeed it would be illogical for us to say that, because my party has accepted that anti-social behaviour orders, for example, are appropriate in some circumstances and are similarly based on evidence rather than criminal conviction. Indeed, some local authorities such as Islington have used such orders to manage criminality on estates and so on.

I still hold most strongly to the view that we need to respond carefully and sensibly to the point made by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield that we appear to be in danger of using the supplementary power as the main power. We should deal with the issue on the grounds that police intelligence, when it is sufficient to identify an undesirable character, should be acted on immediately, rather than waiting until the last moment.

More important, we are at too early a stage to reach a final view on the appropriate form of the legislation. As I said earlier, I have no theological view about whether the renewal should be done annually or every five years, but it is too soon for us to sign off the Bill as perfectly drafted or small and beautifully formed. In the light of that, and having consulted my Conservative counterparts, I am happy not to press my amendment when the time comes, rather than go through the ritual both today and on the Floor of the House in a few days' time. We have had an exchange of views and facts, and we can debate the matter further on Report. It is also appropriate that hon. Members who are not on the Committee have the opportunity to read what we have said and form a view. I shall not press my amendment to a vote today.

Our strong view is that the final Act should not set the provisions in stone for ever, and the Minister can anticipate an amendment to that effect tabled on Report. The evidence has not yet persuaded us—I hope that that is not an inappropriate way to put it—that we need to move from a ``conviction plus suspicion'' to a ``no conviction and other grounds'' basis. This has been a helpful Committee, and it has been unusual in that I do not remember ever serving on a Standing Committee that effectively finished consideration of the Bill in one sitting, which is still a realistic prospect.

Mr. Grieve: I share the view of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey that this has been a useful discussion. I thank the Minister for providing us with much more information—albeit at the last moment, although I appreciate that that was due to force of circumstances. That fact on its own inclines me to the view that it is proper not to press my amendments now, but to give some time for further thought in the light of them. However, I should flag up two points.

First, this debate has highlighted some cross-party disquiet about whether the Bill should be open-ended. The Minister should take the opportunity between now and Report to consider that carefully, because it is difficult to see the disadvantage of ensuring that a piece of legislation with controversial aspects is revisited within a reasonable time. If this Committee and Second Reading are anything to go by, to do so would not take up much parliamentary time and, if the Government have a stated view by that stage, hon. Members, having considered the matter carefully, will probably be able to come rapidly to an opinion. I hope that the Minister will discuss that with his officials and colleagues.

Secondly, the debate has highlighted the difference between sections 14 and 21 of the 2000 Act, and I will pick up on a point made to me by the Minister when we were discussing bail. I made a mistake, but it is noteworthy that the question of bail does not arise under a complaint procedure although it does under the summary procedure. I used to deal with complaint procedures in magistrates courts in my early years at the Bar, and they normally concerned paternity cases. That illustrates how akin to a criminal procedure the summary procedure is. That might be an argument for distinguishing between the section 14 and section 21 procedures; the more I revisit the 2000 Act, the more I notice how different the section 14 and 21 procedures are on infringing individuals' liberty. I hope that the Minister will take that on board. One possibility would be to revisit only the section 21 procedure in five years' time, which could be done by means of a Government amendment.

I am grateful for the Minister's contribution and for the opportunity to discuss the issue. I hope that there will be an opportunity between now and Report for further consideration to ensure that the Bill's final form meets with widespread approval among hon. Members on both sides of the House. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 2 and 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill to be reported, without amendment.

        Committee rose at eleven minutes past Six o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Illsley, Mr. Eric (Chairman)
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Bailey, Mr.
Betts, Mr.
Burnham, Andy
Clarke, Mr. Tony
Denham, Mr.
Gibson, Dr.
Grieve, Mr.
Grogan, Mr.
Hughes, Simon
McGuire, Mrs.
Murrison, Dr.
Russell, Bob
Selous, Mr.
Stoate, Dr.
Wright, David

 
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Prepared 23 October 2001