With all Members of the House and the British people, I deplore the disgraceful scenes of violence in which so-called supporters of English football have been involved in West Germany this week. Over 200 hooligans from this country have been detained since Saturday.
I regret bitterly that so many German police have been needed and that the lives of people in Stuttgart, Cologne and Dusseldorf have been disrupted in this way by people from this country. The only positive aspect of this week's events has been the success of the measures taken to control the fans within the grounds at England's two matches in Stuttgart and Dusseldorf. My Department has co-operated with the football authorities and the police in both countries to bring about improvements in ground control. An estimated 5,000 England supporters are still in Germany, with tickets for Saturday's game against the Soviet Union and with travel arrangements linked to that game.
Clearly, more needs to be done to control football hooliganism, as the steps taken so far have been shown to be inadequate. A number of further measures have been proposed which the Government will look at and will discuss, where appropriate, with the football authorities. They include, as regards attendance at football matches abroad, considering whether courts might be given powers in the longer term to impose restrictions on overseas travel following conviction for an offence. At home matches, we shall consider and discuss with the football authorities the conditions for admission to football grounds, including national or club membership schemes. We shall also be considering the circumstances in which magistrates can control or restrict the sale of alcohol in the vicinity of sports grounds. We will be seeking a meeting with the football authorities within the next two weeks to discuss these matters and the future participation of national teams in international competitions.
I thank the Minister for his statement. We accept that the malaise affecting our country is extremely deep-seated. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is no good making football a scapegoat all the time? This is a law and order matter, and we hope to join the Government in doing what we can.
Is it not a fact that the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs was in Spain last week discussing hooliganism on beaches in that country'? Thank goodness the Government have not yet got around to blaming that on football. It, too, is evidence of this deep-seated malaise.
If the Government are to give the courts more power to stop known troublemakers from travelling abroad and besmirching this country's name, we shall support that. Will consideration be given to making it unlawful to desecrate the national flag'? No other country would stand for people misusing the national flag in the way in which the Union Jack is misused by some of these people, many with National Front connections. The racism attached to the taunting of coloured footballers is also a matter of considerable concern to us all.
We hope to discuss the importance of understanding the social purpose of sport, and I ask the Minister to appreciate that when local authorities are starved of money, when youngsters who ought to be attracted into sports centres are priced out of them, and when physical education is downgraded in the education curriculum, we are undermining the whole future of sport, as well as sport in our community.
I assure the Minister that Opposition Members want to do all they can to support the Government in a constructive approach. Finally, will he confirm that only last week the Football Association was congratulated by his Department on accepting and carrying out all the advice offered? That is an added reason why we should see this evil not as the fault of football, but rather as a social disease to which all of us must apply our minds.
On the right hon. Gentleman's last point, the football authorities, both the Football Association and the league, were congratulated on the work done with the police authorities and my Department to tackle problems inside the grounds in the build-up to the European championships. There is one exception to that. The Government very much regret that the FA decided to take tickets for the championships. I hope that it will decide against taking tickets for any future game in which the England team plays.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his offer of support on the law and order matters that he brought to the attention of the House. However, it is naive in the extreme to believe that the acts of violence in Stuttgart on Sunday and in Dusseldorf over the past 48 hours have been unrelated to the presence of the English football team in the European championships. Where England plays football overseas, criminally minded so-called supporters are besmirching our international reputation.
I assure my hon. Friend that Conservative Members' support for the action that he proposes is every bit as strong as that of Opposition Members. We are sick and tired of so-called English fans dragging the Union flag through the gutters of continental Europe. If the football authorities cannot stop that, my hon. Friend will have our full support in every action that he takes to do so.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that support. Suffice it to say that, while one would hope that in an ideal world the football authorities would take a very tough stance—not least in the domestic game—there has, regrettably, been much heel dragging in implementing the agreement that we reached with the football authorities in February last year. The time has now come, and, as I said, in the next two weeks all the measures that I have announced today will be considered in detail. We shall have specific discussions with the football authorities, and if necessary we shall come back to the House for its support in instituting a national membership scheme with legal backing.
Now that the Minster is aware of something that many of us have been telling him for some time—that the hooligan thugs who besmirched this country's name in Stuttgart and Dusseldorf are not football fans but hard-nosed criminals, as the Minister himself said—does he not recognise that it is Government action, not the action of the football authorities, that is paramount? Does he also recognise that such criminal acts take place throughout Europe, as was shown last week when many Dutch and German hooligan thugs were arrested? Will he take the initiative and call together the European Sports Ministers and the European Home Ministers to find a common approach to a common law and order problem? Will he reiterate that he will take with him the football authorities in any future action if those authorities have to implement his measures?
It is indeed the case that the problems of football hooliganism that we are experiencing in this country are also being experienced internationally—not least in Germany, Holland and Italy. The scenes that I witnessed last night, in which more than 200 Germans were arrested, reflected that fact. It is regrettable that the problems that we are seeing with hooligan behaviour in and around football grounds cannot be divorced from the fact that the English team is playing. It remains a fact that the games are providing a target for thugs. Therefore, we must take action on two fronts: we must continue to contain the problem within the grounds and do further work, and we must pursue a range of judicial measures, which I have announced today, and which we shall discuss in a European context in the coming months.
I agree with my hon. Friend that the nation is deeply shamed by the behaviour of hooligans abroad, and I hope that we can accept the word of the football authorities that these people are truly nothing to do with the real sport of football. If that is the case, they should be isolated from the game of football. The Football League has been recommended by its advisers to put in place as soon as possible a membership scheme that will isolate people who are not true football supporters. May we have a guarantee from my hon. Friend the Minister and from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that they will press the football authorities to put in place as soon as possible a membership scheme?
The partial membership schemes that have been in place before and since the February 1987 agreement have not achieved the desired results expressed today by my hon. Friend. For that reason, it is essential that, as a matter of urgency, we assess whether a comprehensive national membership scheme can be put in place as soon as possible. That would be high on the agenda with the football authorities. Only then can we identify each and every person who goes to football matches, and thereby, we hope, remove membership cards from people who have caused problems. We need deterrents against hooliganism, and existing membership schemes are, regrettably, ineffective.
I have the same sense of disgust and despair as the Minister about the events in Germany over the past week. Does he accept that it is not football that is the cause of hooliganism, but football that has become a vehicle for it? Will he ensure that whatever steps the Government take they will not prejudice the rights of the millions of law-abiding citizens who watch football every week throughout the United Kingdom, who should be entitled to do so and who should certainly be entitled to follow their national teams abroad if they choose?
The vast majority of individuals who enjoy football in this country and abroad attend matches without any intention of causing damage or behaving like the louts that we have seen in downtown areas of West Germany during the past five days. It is a fact of life that, to deter those louts, both inside and outside the grounds, we must put in place a comprehensive package of measures that is tougher than the voluntary one so far agreed. It is the Government's intention, both domestically and internationally, to pursue that target, because it is not satisfactory simply to divorce football from the hooligan element that we have seen follow it around the continent and during the domestic season.
While assuring my hon. Friend of our full support for any effective measures he takes to deal with football hooliganism. may I ask whether he agrees that there is a need for action not merely on two but on three fronts? Hooliganism is not restricted to football. if my hon. Friend reads the newspapers every weekend, he will realise that towns up and down the country are being desecrated by mobs of young hooligans fuelled with alcohol, that police officers are being injured and that the police service is worried about the problem. Does he agree that there is a dire need to take effective action, not to loosen the licensing laws, but to tighten them?
I agree with my right hon. Friend's comments. For those very reasons, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is addressing himself to a number of issues in his area of responsibility, particularly those relating to the licensing laws and the availability of drink. He mentioned these issues today at a press conference and they were emphasised in my opening statement. We a re concerned, first and foremost, in this private notice question with the availability of drink, which has done so much damage around football grounds. It is interesting to note that the smallest number of incidents occurred last night, which was the only night when the town centre was kept dry for the football match.
Is the Minister aware that the inquiry into events at Stamford Bridge on 28 May after the Middlesbrough-Chelsea game is now under review by the Football Association? Will he confirm the receipt of a series of letters from my constituents to the management of Chelsea football club, alleging that there was no segregation at the ground, that alcohol was freely available and that the police had little regard for the safety of Middlesbrough supporters? Will he pass that file to the Football Association so that it can take that into account and refute or confirm the allegations?
A number of the points made by the hon. Gentleman and his constituents have been brought to the attention of the Football Association. I regret that t he urgent report requested from the football authorities following that ugly incident at the end of the season is still not forthcoming and that the latest assessment by the football authorities has been adjourned and deferred once again. When there is a major incident such as that, that sort of heel dragging is unacceptable. and the football authorities need to ensure that they have a firm grip on such incidents and that they take appropriate action, which they have not done to date.
Is my hon. Friend aware that there is strong police evidence that the National Front has infiltrated English football supporters clubs and is corrupting and enticing quite a few decent supporters to undermine society? That is smearing our businesses and holidaymakers abroad. We have a Prime Minister who has made us proud to be British. Let us keep it that way. I have been ashamed to be British during the past three days, and incidents of the kind that we are discussing must be stopped.
I hear loud and clear my hon. Friend's strength of feeling and I recognise, as does everybody associated with the football world, that extreme political wings have been associated with much of the organised vandalism and incidents connected with football. It is abhorrent that racial abuse has been associated with that; I share the view of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) about the appalling incidents of racial abuse that have been associated with that extreme political wing. We must do everything that we can to ensure that they do not happen again.
Does the Minister accept that the main burden of his remarks relate to the behaviour of English supporters? Without in any way wanting to display a holier-than-thou attitude, I hope that he will take these comments from one who has been a football supporter for more than 50 years and has attended gatherings that were better behaved than those on the Terrace of the House of Commons at present, at Hampden park, with over 100,000 people, at Ibrox park, with over 100,000 people and at Wembley stadium, with over 100,000 people. At that time there was a great deal of social cohesion. What is wrong within society is not a problem for football. We should be fighting for the preservation of football as a spectator sport, and we should therefore all unite in condemning bad behaviour and in supporting the action of clubs and the football associations in trying to stamp that out.
It is important to recognise that many football clubs have taken determined action in recent years to try to stamp out the hooliganism that has been associated with the national game. It is also important to recognise that every club that drags its feet on the issue is also dragging down the national game and those who have worked so hard for it. I regret that too many have dragged their feet. Closed circuit television should have been in every ground months, if not a year, ago. I confirm that the main problem overseas has involved alleged English supporters.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his strong views on this matter and on his resolve to put it right. Düsseldorf was a disaster for the country, but we should remember the England v. Scotland game, and the riots at Middlesborough v. Chelsea, when people were appalled by what they saw. Is my hon. Friend aware of the one club that has produced a 100 per cent. membership scheme? Is he aware that three seasons ago there were 115 arrests and seven stabbings? Over the past two seasons and 80 league games there has not been one arrest or stabbing at the ground. In tennis terms, is that not 6–0, 6–0, 6–0 for the introduction of a national identity scheme, which overnight would show the Football Association and the Football league that they have abdicated responsibility for the safety of the game? No matter how reluctant the Government may be, they must accept the responsibility to preserve the national game and look after the people who live near football clubs.
I praise Luton Town football club for its tough and determined action on this issue and for implementing a scheme that has had undoubted success for the town and the club. It is regrettable that the Football Association and the league have not warmly welcomed the initiative taken at Luton. If they do not fast realise that the lesson learned at Luton Town, which if extended nationwide would lead to a nationwide membership scheme, is the right way forward, then the Government will have to show them the way forward.
Has the Minister seen a report this week by the Association of Chief Police Officers, which was outlined in The Times, which states that this is a law and order problem and that football is the victim? To say that the clubs are not doing enough to protect themselves is like saying that women do not do enough to protect themselves against rape. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that last weekend, miles from a football match, 200 drunken youths ran riot in St. Ives in Cambridgeshire, five policemen were beaten up in rural Andover, and two more were beaten up in Newbury? We have the Notting Hill carnival and new year's eve celebrations. Is he aware that 272 Britons are in gaol in Spain and that this is a law and order problem, not among deprived dole queue kids, but of the "Loadsamoney" mentality created by the Government? The Minister praises Luton Town football club, but why will he not stop the passports? That is the membership card. That would stop the fans travelling to Germany.
If the hon. Gentleman feels that this is in no way a football problem, he should take cognisance of those who attended the Scarborough v. Wolverhampton Wanderers game on 15 August last year, those who went to the QPR v. Chelsea game, those who saw the Arsenal v. Millwall game on 9 January or those who witnessed the appalling incidents inside the gates at Chelsea at the end of the season. Football clubs must take tough and determined action. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we must take action inside the grounds, which is primarily a matter for the football authorities, and outside the grounds.
It is impracticable under current circumstances to take away passports to achieve the hon. Gentleman's goal, but it may not be impractical when the computerised system is introduced within the next two years. That is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made his announcement earlier today, which I have repeated. As foolproof a national membership scheme as possible would also help considerably to identify potential troublemakers and ban them from grounds.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is now no technical or practical reason why there should not be created on a self-financing basis in this country a proper membership system for those who attend football matches? The main reason for creating such a system is to protect the overwhelming majority of decent people who wish to go to matches in peace. As to supporters going overseas, until British football shows some real initiative in resolving the problem, should it not be made clear that its clubs are not welcome elsewhere in Europe?
On my hon. Friend's latter question, I was glad to note today that the FA and the league have decided to withdraw their application for English clubs to be readmitted to European competition. I agree with my hon. Friend's first point and only wish that the football authorities would do the job. They are the people who are meant to run, and ought to run, football, and it should not be left to the House and the Government to intervene. I regret that it looks as though we will have to do so.