|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Banks: The world can now rest easy: the hon. Gentleman has explained why he supports Senegal. In next Friday's match, I shall be supporting France, mainly because most of the French team seems to play in the Premier league and its captain, Marcel Desailly, is a great Chelsea player. After those revelations, it appears that the hon. Gentleman and I will continue to be on opposing sides for next Friday's football.
There has been a tremendous build-up to the FIFA World cup, which everyone acknowledges is the greatest single sports event on the planet. We are all looking forward to it. When I was Minister for Sport, I was asked whether England would win the 1998 World cup, and being an honest sort of bloke who knows a bit about a football, I replied, "I don't think so, but who knows? Anything can happen in football." For that fairly unexceptional, not to say cliché-ridden, comment, I was ripped to pieces by the tabloid press and accused of being a traitor. Apparently, I did the wrong thing as Minister for Sport: I now realise that I should have said that if Glenn Hoddle, who was then the England coach, chose 11 good Englishmen from a bus queue on the Tottenham Court road, they would be capable of beating any team of Johnny Foreigners. Unfortunately, I told the truth instead, and if we did win the World cup that year, someone should tell me and explain why the French went off with the medals.
One has to be honest about our chances. We all send great good wishes to Sven-Goran Eriksson and however many of the England team are still able to walk, but the fact remains that we are in a tough group. I expect the team to do well, but I expect England to do far better at the 2006 World cup, when some of our younger players will have come through. I know that our team will acquit themselves well, and we in this country will be shouting our support for them.
None the less, we learned a lesson. It is a great credit to Parliamentnot only the Government, but Parliament as a wholethat there was all-party support for new, much tougher legislation, which took the form of the Football (Disorder) Act 2000. I have held many discussions with police on the issue of football violence, in which I take a close interest, and I believe that that Act is working. More than 1,000 banning orderssection 14B ordershave been imposed. When an order is imposed, the person on whom it has been imposed has to surrender their passport before and during a competition. As I said, more than 1,000 football hooligans have had to surrender their passports.
It is interesting to compare the 1,000-plus banning orders secured in the run-up to this year's World cup with Euro 2000, when only about 100 banning orders were in place. During Euro 2000, 965 English fans were arrested, only one of whom was subject to a banning order; however, closer analysis revealed that more than 40 per cent. of those who were arrested had previous convictions for public order offences. That prompts the question: what were they doing there? At that time, there was legislation in place that the courts could have used to impose banning orders, but they clearly had not done so, despite the fact that 40 per cent. of those arrested had convictions for public order offences.
Given the number of banning orders now in place, it is obvious that this country's courts are far more ready to impose section 14B orders. However, the statistics show great variations between different court areas; that is a matter of considerable concern which the Government should investigate. Let me give a few examples. In 200001, 108 Everton and 78 Liverpool fans were arrested for football-related offencesa total of 186 arrests; however, the breakdown of the banning orders reveals that only 11 have been imposed on Everton and Liverpool supporters. Taking Merseyside as a whole, the courts there have imposed only 15 banning orders. Hon. Members should keep those facts in mind as I give the statistics for another area of the country. Again in 200001, 49 Stoke fans were arrested for football-related offences and 98 banning orders were imposed in the Staffordshire court area. In total, the Staffordshire courts have imposed 149 banning orders.
There is no simple correlation between arrests and banning orders, because not all arrests end in an appearance in court and conviction, but I could have given a range of examples to illustrate the inconsistency. That gives rise to a series of important questions. First, why is there such a wide discrepancy in the number of bans
I have been examining the figures carefully, and I am concerned. We need far more information if we are to discover why the impact of the Football (Disorder) Act is so patchy. We must try to achieve a degree of uniformity across the country in the application of justice following the commission of arrestable football-related offences.
Football violence and hooliganism in this country have decreased. That improvement has happened for a variety of reasons: legislation has been introduced, and the clubs are doing far more within their grounds with CCTV cameras, greater police involvement, better stewarding and more publicity. All those things have contributed to what one can only describe as a much improved situation within our game, but there is much more that we can and must do.
I do not know whether right hon. and hon. Members have been watching the BBC's programmes on football hooliganism. Last Sunday's programme was about hooliganism in and around Cardiff City football club. It made chilling viewing. It was extremely scary and at the same time highly informative. Perhaps the BBC's timing in raising the matter of football hooliganism was not brilliant, but it needed to be done. I suppose the same criticism could be applied to me, because instead of extolling the virtues of the beautiful game I am underlining some of its darker aspects.
When watching the programme, it became obvious that some serious matters need to be addressed at Cardiff City football club, not least the behaviour of the club's chairman, Sam the Man, whose behaviour was extraordinary. I know Sam the Man pretty well. He was helpful to us during the 2006 World cup campaign, when he was chairman of Wimbledon. However, something has happened to him on the road down to Cardiff, and it is not nice to see. It is not surprising, given what we saw during the programme, that Cardiff City fans top the section 14B banning league table, with no fewer than 112 banning orders.
It is not only Cardiff City. The scenes that were witnessed, and the violence, following the Millwall-Birmingham City play-off match were equally disturbing. Statistics show that only 23 banning orders have been imposed on Millwall supporters. I suspect that a much larger number will be imposed when the police have finished studying the video evidence and making their inquiries about those who were involved in the recent appalling scenes outside Millwall's ground.
Yesterday, the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis continued to amplify his suggestion that Millwall football club might be sued for damages. I do not agree with that. In the ground, the football club has absolute responsibility for the behaviour of the fans. As I have said, the level of football hooliganism has improved significantly because the clubs take the matter seriously.
I do not see how we can extend responsibility for the behaviour of football fans to way beyond the confines of the football club. Once fans have gone outside the club, it is a matter for the police and a law-and-order issue. There are those who say that the only reason for the fans being outside the club is that they were previously inside the club, so the club should take more responsibility. That is a perverse piece of logic because it would mean that any drunk who came out of a pub and caused problems down the street could cause the pub to be sued. The same could happen to a night club.
I suppose that we could reduce the argument to the absurd by saying that if someone's house was burgled by a couple of Millwall supporters that person could sue the club. I do not think that the Commissioner is correct in his assumption and I still do not believe that it is one that we should support, although I entirely support the action that the police are taking in respect of football violence and the fact that they are working closely with others to implement the laws that we pushed through.
If a club is not prepared to take seriously the violence of its fans or to deal adequately with them where there is sufficient evidence that they have behaved badly or criminally but have not been arrested, the football authorities should think about expelling clubs from the football league. The imposition of a £20,000 fine on Cardiff is hardly a big deal. Sam the Man is a rich man and the club can easily afford £20,000. However, the threat of expulsion from the league might concentrate minds. I am not advocating that Cardiff City should be expelled from the league, but I argue that it is one of the sanctions that the football authorities should consider. That would send a stern message to the football clubs.
Images of the Cardiff-Leeds cup match earlier this year and of violence after the Millwall-Birmingham match went around the world, because our television is seen in so many countries. English language newspapers are circulated more widely throughout the world than other countries' newspapers. Football violence in the United Kingdom is swept round the world. People pick up their newspapers and say, "It has happened again." That reinforces the image that our game is riddled with violence, which is the most pervasive and corrupting influence on our game.
Unfortunately, as I know from bitter experience of the 2006 World cup campaign, that is still the abiding image. Despite everything that we have done in this place and despite the actions that have been taken by the police and the clubs, it is still thought worldwide that English football is riddled with violence. There are far worse cases of football violence in Italy, other parts of Europe, Argentina and Africa, but they do not get the same media coverage. To an extent, other countries manage to get away with it.
It is gruesome television on a Sunday evening, but I suggest that right hon. and hon. Members try to catch the next edition of the BBC programme on hooliganism. It will deal with Lazio and the extremely racist and violent gangs that surround that club. We might think that the situation in the UK is bad, but the programme will show that it is nothing compared with that in Italy, especially at Lazio. The wrong message tends to be sent out.
The great majority of our fans are decent, law-abiding people who follow the team to enjoy the football, and hope to get a good result. We shall have 8,000 of them in Japan for the first phasemore than any other country, excluding the host country.
I have been examining the security arrangements that have been organised by the Home Office, the police and the Football Association, and without doubt they are the most extensive that have ever been put in place for an overseas tournament. Despite what we might read in newspapers, and knowing that there has been much discussion between the Japanese and the English authorities, I hope that the Japanese authorities do not treat every English fan as a potential hooligan. Of course, that is the result of hooliganism. When English fans travel abroad, the police authorities see an individual fan and say, "Hooligan," and many innocent people are caught up in violence.
It was to protect the interests of the innocent that we put legislation in place, and we might have to revisit it. We know, despite the fact that the great majority of the fans are law abiding and decent and go to enjoy a game of football, that it takes only a few individuals to ruin things for everyone.
I know that it is difficult for sane, rational people to understand thishowever, it is important to do sobut there are people whose only attraction to football is the violence that they can engender. They will go to the most extraordinary lengths to beat the system, and we must be ready for that. We are not talking about the dispossessedthey are wealthy professional people. One of the individuals involved in the programme on Cardiff was a millionaire. It is behaviour that crosses economic divisions and class barriers. We must be concerned about it and be ready to deal with it.
A number of people travelling to the World cup are probably already in Thailand. They could go straight to the country where the match is taking place, but the chances are that they would get caught, so they leave as early as possible, go to a neighbouring country and jump off into the country where they want to attend the match. According to statistics that I have seen, there will be 200 or so English fans travelling whose names are known to the police and have been passed on to the Japanese authorities. As I said, many, if not all, of them are probably in Thailand already. The Japanese immigration authorities, having received those names, will refuse them entry and they will be put on planes and sent back to this country.
Given that the police knew who those people were and could identify them, why were they allowed to travel in the first place? They should not have been allowed to travel. As I said in the debate about banning orders and the Football (Disorder) Act 2000, I am convinced that there are still loopholes in the legislation and we will have to return to it. Those 200 or so should not have been allowed to leave the country. Their passports should have been surrendered to the police. We must consider extending the scope of banning orders and give the police powers to impose section 14B orders on the authority of a justice of the peace. Such a banning order should automatically apply for three months prior to a competition and one month prior to an international match.
I know that there are those who say that that is rough justice. I agree. I do not demurit is rough justicebut we must do all we can to repair the damage to our reputation as a footballing nation and protect the rights of decent, law-abiding English fans.
I shall make one last suggestion, which I have proposed in the House many times. There are a number of ideas that I tried years ago. Eventually, someone picks them up and decides that they were not quite as mad as they seemed at the time. We will be seeing a lot of English flagsthe Union flag and the St. George flagflying in the grounds. Fine. It is good to see the national flag, but we will be seeing flags that have been defaced with slogans or club affiliations. That is totally unacceptable.
The flag is supposed to be unifying force in a country, but when it is carried by supporters of a football club who have written the club's slogan across the flag, or when supporters of a political party have put their slogan on the flag, it becomes a divisive symbol. I suggested years ago that the House should pass legislation or find some way of banning anyone from defacing the flag or using it as an adjunct to a political party. That goes for the Conservative party, the Labour party, which recently picked up the practice, and the National Front, which has been doing it.
When one sees one's flag linked to a party that one disagrees withwhether one disagrees violently or marginallythe symbol of unity is being used in a disunifying way. We will see that during the football matches. It should not be allowed and the Government should take the matter up.
Like all civilised and rational people, I look forward to an exciting, colourful and, above all, trouble-free World cup in Japan and Korea, but if there is any troubleI hate to say that I suspect that there will be some, although it will be nothing like Euro 2000when the perpetrators return to this country, I hope that there will be no Mr. Nice Guy waiting for them. We will revisit the legislation, and any lessons that we learnI hope that there will not be very many to learnfrom the upcoming World cup will be reflected in changes to it.
In the end, we must win this one. If people feel that football hooliganism is like waging a war on authority, we must show them that authority will win the war. I send my best wishes to the England team and all the law-abiding English fans, and hope that they all return safely and, who knowsmaybe, but I doubt itreturn with the World cup.