|DRAFT FOOTBALL (DISORDER) (DURATION OF POWERS) ORDER 2001
Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): Will the Minister elaborate on his assertion that there is scope to increase the number of orders on complaint? Surely there is scope to increase the number of such orders only if there is justification for them. If there is justification, then presumably they will have been used in the past. If there is not, they will not be used, so I do not understand how this is a variable, flexible friend for the police or other authorities. Either there is a basis for taking action or there is not. How many of the section 21B noticesthe ``report within 24 hours and then we shall decide what to do'' noticesmentioned in the document, particularly at paragraph 19, resulted in an order being made that prevented people from travelling?
Mr. Denham: If the hon. Gentleman had followed the whole of my last paragraph rather than just the final sentence, he would know that the answer to his first point is on the record. This has been the first year of operation of the Act. It would have been extraordinarily surprising if it had been uniformly and consistently applied in every part of the country in its first year. It is reasonable to believe that as the courts and the police become familiar with itknowing, for example, the standard of evidence that is required and the information that has to be collectedthe use of its provisions will grow.
The hon. Gentleman is correct to say that that does not mean that the legal basis of the Act will change or that there is any suggestion that there should be local flexibility in how the Act is interpreted. I am merely recognising the fact that it takes time for all those involved to become familiar with the various aspects of enforcing legislation such as this.
The question about the number of section 21B notices that translated to orders is fair and one that I have raised in the past few days, but record keeping does not allow it to be answered as the hon. Gentleman and I would like, so we shall have to return to the matter as we monitor the Act in the coming year.
We seek to extend the powers for another year. To lose them at such an early stage would send the wrong message to supporters who are tempted to act wrongly and to authorities and police forces throughout Europe, so I commend the order to the Committee.
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): I join the Minister in welcoming you, Mr. Sayeed, to the Chair for our proceedings, which will be relatively brief, but nevertheless important. However, although Opposition Members do not object to the order continuing for a further year, the Minister should describe in his winding-up speech the Government's longer-term prognosis and whether they intend to renew the order year after year.
A balance always has to be struck between the rights of the individual and the protection of the public. Many Opposition Members start from the presumption that one ought to take a libertarian approach. Sadly, as the Minister said and as all hon. Members know, the country's reputation aboard has been besmirched by serious football-related violence. However, many of those who committed the thuggery and intimidation with which we have become all too familiar have little genuine enthusiasm for sport.
Many Labour Members who share my passion for sport, including the hon. Members for West Ham (Mr. Banks), for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) and for Feltham and Heston (Alan Keen), would agree that a lot of the violence is committed by people with no genuine enthusiasm for football who travel abroad and use sporting occasions as an excuse to be violent. Such actions create the need for the order, sad though that need is, but my hon. Friends and I want to be reassured that the measure does not represent a creeping reduction in the rights of the individual. I anticipate that the hon. Member for West Ham, as a former Minister for Sport, agrees that a balance must always be struck.
The Minister referred to what has happened since the powers came into force. I think that I am right in saying that, after the introduction of the order, the BBC transmitted a programme in the ``MacIntyre Undercover'' series that revealed the planning by so-called domestic football hooligans of some of the most serious violence. However, that description could apply equally to those who travel abroad to commit mayhem. It would be helpful to know the Government's longer-term plans in the light of the revelations made by that programme.
The Minister said that he and his ministerial colleagues believe that the order complies with the European convention on human rightsobligations that the Government imposed on themselves and the country when they incorporated the convention in British law under the Human Rights Act 1998. Although it has yet to be fully tested in the courts, I am prepared, at least for this afternoon's proceedings, to accept the Minister's assurance, while making the Government aware that we shall keep a close eye on the order and on other legislation to ensure that it complies with those obligations.
I was interested in what the Minister said about the recommendations of Lord Bassam's working group and we shall read those 55 recommendations with some care. Sadly, the Minister is right that we have to have such a provision in place for what he called the next high-risk match, which will take place on 1 September, and for the Euro 2004 qualifying matches. We want our sports teams to succeed and we want them to be supported by genuine sports fans, not by people who want to use sporting events as an excuse to cause mayhem.
I want to raise one other point. Cricket is another of our national sports and I know that the Minister shares my enthusiasm for it, but, sadly, it has been damaged this summer by hooliganism, violence and serious physical assaults, all of which are unacceptable. The sport is not specifically covered by the order, but the Minister, whose answers to my written questions reached me today, knows that all hon. Members are concerned about the violence at the one-day international cricket matches between England and Pakistan and Pakistan and Australia earlier this summer. Although the order refers only to football, it would help if he said whether the Government have plans to consider extending the overarching legislation, which is headed
The official Opposition have no objection to the order.
Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I welcome you, Mr Sayeed, to the Chair and I welcome the Minister to his new responsibilities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) and I should declare an interest: he supports Colchester United and I support Millwall. When our teams last met at Millwall, we thrashed Colchester, although my hon. Friend was there to enjoy the game with me.
I have another interest to declare. Last October, I availed myself of the two nights in a European Union capital for which we can all ask and observed the policing of the England-Finland game in Finland. I spoke to the authorities in both countries, including the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the English police officers who travelled with the team, and I am grateful to them for their co-operation. It was a trouble-free event.
My hon. Friend and I shall not oppose the order for a simple reason: as the Minister knows, although we have concerns about some details, we cannot amend it. We can either renew it for a further year or oppose it, so we shall reserve our detailed comments until next year's Queen's Speech through which the Government anticipate providing an opportunity to reconsider the legislation. I hope that we shall have plenty of time to do that; once the summer holidays are over, there will be no reason to programme debate in such a way that the legislation is rushed through, as it was last time.
My colleagues in both Houses, with some Conservative and Labour Members, sought to draw the Government back from the more draconian proposals that were originally on the drawing board. Indeed, we negotiated the sunset clause and the renewal order as part of a package that allowed the legislation to pass last summer. We support the idea of doing a check now and then to reconsider the legislation, because, without doubt, it takes away liberties and we need to be sure that it does so only when that is justified. That is why sections 14B, 21A and 21B are controversial: people's liberty can be taken away without a conviction. Those matters need to be watched most carefully, and we shall certainly continue to watch them during the coming year.
I shall be brief in asking the Minister a couple of questions that relate to the figures. My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester and I are disappointed and surprised that neither the Minister nor his officials were able to answer my question about the link between the section 21B notices and the orders imposed after a complaint. In his winding-up speech or later, but certainly on the public record, will he tell us, as best he can and without identifying the individuals, the basis on which those 30 section 21B notices were served and whether the orders were made on complaint, because the table in paragraph 19 refers to 44 of them?
The fact that 339 orders were made on conviction is not controversial, because that is an unarguable and logical processif a person is convicted of a relevant offence, an order follows. The controversial question relates to the circumstances in which the 44 others were made. That is why we need the maximum information.
On the conclusions, I have asked the Minister about the scope to increase the number of orders and I understand his point about the need to understand the working of the Football (Disorder) Act 2000. I should be grateful to know whether the Government intend there to be a commonly applied policy given that different police forces can exercise their discretion. It would be reassuring to know that, whichever port of exit people use and whichever police force happens to be the controlling agency, there will be common standards.
On the result of the work done earlier in the year by the then Home Office Minister in the House of Lords, Lord Bassam, I should be grateful if the Government found time after the summer recess for a debate on the causes of and the way to deal with these problems. I should also be grateful if Ministers put in a bid for such a debate.
The hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) and I are veterans of such discussions and it is clear that the issues are complicated. Happily, the number of offences and the amount of bad behaviour has dropped, but we need to keep an eye on the factors that lead to the problems that we have experienced. It would be entirely sensible to introduce new legislation to renew or amend the order through a debate on the working group's report, which was published in March and which contains recommendations for action. I refer to paragraph 27.
It is only fair to note that 35 exemptions were granted to those against whom enforcement orders had been made. That is a reasonable number. We made the point that if, for example, somebody had an order made against him or her, but then suffered a bereavement or had to go on an urgent business trip, that person should be able to apply for and gain the right to travel abroad. It is encouraging to know that that provision has been used and that exemptions have been agreed to.
The last set of questions is about the report's tables on club and international games. My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester and I presume that the club figures on notices issued are cumulative. Leeds United, which is the club with the largest number of so-called supporters who have received a notice, had 25 notices issued in relation to the Barcelona game in September 2000 and 45 issued in relation to the Valencia game in May 2001. Is 45 a cumulative figure representing the sum of the original figure and subsequent notices? If one carries out the same exercise for Manchester United, one notices that 11 orders were issued for the Valencia game and the same number for the Panathinaikos game. I presume that the second figure represents people who had already been banned.
To amplify my question about notices, did any result in orders? As I understand it, under such a notice, a person is required to report within 24 hours and further action then is considered. It would be helpful to know what the final decisions were. I ask the same question about England and Wales games. Some 78 notices were issued for the France and Belarus matches at the beginning of the period covered last summer and 454 were issued for the European championship away game against Greece in June 2001.
Can we take it that the figures are cumulative and that notices were issued to the same people on each occasion? It would help if the Minister clarified whether an order was made after a notice was issued. Alternatively, did the same people present themselves on separate occasions or, if they took no action, were they served with a notice because they were on the list held by the relevant authorities before the control period? That would mean that the list was growing. If we are to understand how the 2000 Act and the fairly draconian new powers have been used, some explanation of the process and the figures would be helpful.
As I suggested to the Minister, I hope that, after today, we see better behaviour from those who go to England away games and those at the margins who attend such matches. Without doubt, that would help the team's morale and improve both the reputation of English football and the way in which it is considered by football authorities abroad. I hope that we have time for a considered debate on the legislation, possibly in the autumn and in different circumstances, before we consider new measures in the next legislative year.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2001||Prepared 10 July 2001|