Police Reform Bill [Lords]

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Norman Baker: The Minister's comments are reassuring. It is the first time that we have heard unequivocally from a Minister of the Government's full support for specials, which some of us were beginning to doubt. I do not say that in a churlish way. I tabled the new clause to test the Minister's opinion and he has given satisfactory answers. He did not quite say that he thought it was okay but that the Committee should not vote for it, although at the end he chucked in one or two reasons why the Committee should not vote for it. It is the fate of Opposition Members to table amendments with which the Government agree but which they advise their hon. Friends to reject. That is the way of life. The Minister has put on the record his strong support for specials and the steps he intends to take. It seems a good way to proceed. It would be churlish to try to push this matter to a vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New clause 14

Recovery of the cost of policing

    '( )—(1) The Secretary of State shall prepare a report on options for police authorities to reclaim the cost of policing—

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    (a) major sporting events, including Premier League football games, from the football clubs and other sporting organisations concerned, and

    (b) areas in the vicinity of nightclubs and public houses, from the owners of the licensed premises concerned,

    and on related issues.

    (2) The Secretary of State shall lay the report before Parliament by 1st October 2003.'.—[Ms Prentice.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Ms Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I cannot believe that it is six weeks since we tabled the new clause. This is the first time that I have moved an amendment from the Government Back Benches, so it is particularly exciting. It will be even more exciting if the Minister agrees to accept it. [Interruption.] Well, he may do so for old times' sake.

First, I am a football fan. I have a share in a season ticket to Glasgow Celtic. This is not an anti-football amendment. It is not just about football, but about a number of commercial activities that cost the police resources. The issue was raised with the Home Affairs Committee by the Met, although it also gave examples of other police forces having similar problems. The Met recovers about £300 for policing what it calls a low-level Chelsea game—I make no comment about the standard of games at Stamford bridge—but the cost of such a game can be up to £28,000. Clearly, the difference is paid for by the community at large. At present, police forces can only recover costs for policing within the grounds. In fairness to the premier league and others, the fact that they have increased the standard of stewardship within the grounds means that there is less policing within the grounds. In fact, some grounds can be police free or have a low level of policing. However, a great deal of policing still happens outside football grounds, in nightclubs and at other big venues where many people gather.

Premier clubs that are opposed to the principle of the new clause would argue that they already pay their precept. That precept covers everyday policing. I have consulted the Metropolitan police on the matter. If there were no football ground in a particular part of a borough or a town, there would be no need for extra policing on a Saturday. In London, about 500 police officers are deployed to cover football grounds on a Saturday afternoon and those police officers could be in the local high street or elsewhere dealing with criminal activities.

I know that the Minister is beginning to deal with the problem, but I hope that the new clause is—in the words of the hon. Member for Lewes—another wake-up call and that the police can have back some of the costs that they are having to take on board when dealing with such events. The Home Affairs Committee asked for the circular 34/2000 to be reviewed. It was put to me by officers from the premier league that the National Audit Commission looked at the matter 10 years ago and that some of the issues that it raised then need to be reviewed, too.

Football clubs would argue that they already invest more than £1 billion in making their grounds safer.

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Much as we welcome that, it should not be set against the cost of policing. Football clubs should be increasing safety at their grounds; they should be improving them. In the past, I have visited grounds that have horrible facilities. I give them credit for improving the grounds, but let us not say that that is where they should stop. Football clubs would also say that they put a great deal of money into local communities to help social inclusion projects.

Mr. Osborne: Would the new clause cover the cost of policing trains in which fans travel to and from football matches? I have often travelled on the west coast main line in trains that are full of Manchester United supporters. It is not a great experience.

Ms Prentice: The hon. Gentleman made a good point. Deciding where policing begins and where it ends is complicated. We would not want to put all the costs on Old Trafford of sending Manchester United fans to Manchester although I can see that there would be some benefit in doing that—[Laughter.]—given the few Manchester United fans who live in Manchester.

Mr. Hawkins: What about Celtic fans living in Lewisham?

Ms Prentice: Actually, there are quite a few. There are probably more Celtic fans living in Lewisham than Manchester United fans living in Manchester.

The clubs would say that they contribute to the local community through the after-school clubs, football schemes and so on. That is excellent. They have put some £50 million a year into such schemes. However, that is £2.5 million for each of the 20 premier league clubs, which is not enough to buy a half-decent fullback. Although we are grateful for the fact that they are being more community-responsible, that, in itself, is not enough.

4.45 pm

Finally, I should like to make two points. First, what I have said should apply to not just football, but to other major commercial events. There is an inconsistency in charging, and that could be rectified if the Home Secretary ordered a report. Secondly, I agree with what the premier league says; the measures must be fair, proportional and accountable. Matters have not changed since the Taylor report on Hillsborough, and it is time that we changed them.

Norman Baker: I am always interested to hear contributions from Labour Members, both in Committee and elsewhere, particularly when they are unauthorised, as this one may well have been. We will find out. If the Minister, who has found reasons to reject every new clause and amendment tabled by Opposition Members in the debate, accepts the only Labour new clause, he will not be a popular man—[Interruption.] He will at least be a partisan man, so he might be popular in some quarters.

With all due respect to the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Ms Prentice), I do not think that the measures will work. It is dangerous to go down the road of saying that someone who undertakes an illegal activity should be charged for it. That is what the new clause says. It is like Yarl's Wood in reverse; although I am keen not to have the police authority landed with

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the bill, I am equally keen that we should not land external people with bills. What about the cost of policing for those who legitimately hold a demonstration? Are they to be charged for that? If a demonstration is controversial and more police are required, will the price go up?

What about those who export animals through ports? I am totally against live exports, but I respect the right of people to carry on their activities legitimately. The cost of policing those activities is enormous. Should those who legitimately export animals be charged? What about those who legitimately wanted to hold miners strikes? Should they have been charged for the police that were necessary? I do not think so. It is dangerous to say that people should be charged.

On proposed new subsection (1)(b), if those who run public houses and nightclubs do so responsibly, as I am sure most do, they cannot be held responsible for what happens when people leave their premises and go out on a public highway. The provision would be very unfair on nightclubs and public houses. I am sorry to put a dampener on the hon. Lady's proposals. It would have been nice to agree with her, especially as there are only 10 minutes to go before we pack up. Also, if my pensions proposal was a bureaucratic nightmare, to use the Minister's phrase, the provision is even more so.

Huw Irranca-Davies: I am happy to support the new clause. I have only a couple of minutes, so I shall be brief.

I have a story about a policeman in Gilfach Goch, which is in one of my valleys. It is a remote community that has suffered over the years from the withdrawal of a visible police presence. We were pleased to see the return of a community bobby there. He was welcome in the community, but two days out of five he would disappear, as if abducted from the streets. When I met him, I said how well he had been received in the community, and asked him the reasons for his disappearance. He gave one simple reason. He was being diverted from his normal duties to the policing of major events in the Millennium stadium in Cardiff and elsewhere. Such events include not only premier football matches, but pop concerts, the rugby world cup and so on.

I pay tribute to the Millennium stadium and other stadiums; they are a fantastic growth area in the tourism and events industry. However, there is the question of how much we should disaggregate their costs. Should there be normal policing costs, or should the South Wales police be expected to subsidise such events? I pay tribute to the Home Office, which has stepped in this year and recognised the problem in our valley communities by giving additional funds, although that is a one off as far as I know. Day by day and week by week, we are losing community bobby visibility throughout south Wales because of these events.

I am not a great football supporter, but I am a big fan of rock music. I support the Manic Street Preachers, the Super Furry Animals and other excellent bands that have come out of the valleys of

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Wales. However, to what extent should we lose police presence at the top end of the valleys for the benefit of people who travel to an event and have a very enjoyable time?

Mention has been made of red herrings such as the miners strike. I understand the point that the hon. Member for Lewes was making. However, the issue of whether a union can be charged for policing was dealt with in the middle of the 19th century after the Taff Vale incident. We are trying to go beyond the precept and identify when events make a profit. Let us again consider the Millennium stadium. The stadium does not make profit at the moment. It hosts fantastic events and does wonders in boosting Wales' image. However, events that visit the stadium and make a profit should be able to contribute toward additional policing costs.

 
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