Court's Power to Order Suspension of Passport

New Clause 84 – in the House of Commons at 5:15 pm on 28th June 1988.

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`(1) Where a person is convicted for an offence punishable with imprisonment the Court by or before which he is convicted may in addition to or instead of dealing with him in any other way disqualify him for holding or obtaining a United Kingdom passport, a British visitor's passport or a British Excursion Document.

(2) A person who is disqualified by an order of a court from holding or obtaining a United Kingdom passport, a British visitor's passport or a British Extension Document may appeal against such order in the same manner as against a conviction and the court making such order may if it thinks fit suspend the disqualification pending an appeal against the order.'—[Mr. Favell]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Mr Anthony Favell Mr Anthony Favell , Stockport

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I hope not to detain the House too long because since I tabled new clause 84 the Minister with responsibility for sport. my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan), has announced the Government's five-point plan to combat football hooliganism. One of the proposals under consideration is to give courts the power to suspend passports in appropriate cases. Consequently, the idea has been thoroughly debated in the press, so my task made a little easier.

My hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for sport has an extraordinarily difficult job, and he has the support of hon. Members in his task of combating football hooliganism, which we have all witnessed on television in recent weeks. The majority of those to whom I have spoken since I tabled new clause 84 have said that they are behind him in his efforts to stamp out the sort of behaviour that we have witnessed, whether or not those measures have the whole-hearted support of the football hierarchy.

Like many others, I am a keen football supporter. The fact that I regularly visit my boyhood team, Sheffield Wednesday, and also Stockport County, proves my bona fides. But the majority of football supporters are also proud of their country, and if the activities of the minority bring the country into disrepute, severe measures are warranted.

7 pm

My new clause is intended to give the courts power to suspend the passport of a convicted person in the same way that they are allowed to suspend a person's driving licence for some driving offences. If society judges that someone is not fit to drive for a set period, I see no earthly reason why a court should not decide that someone should be deprived of his British passport. The holding of a British passport is a privilege, and many would agree that it is a privilege which society has the right to withdraw.

I understand that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will suggest to the House that computerisation is not sufficiently advanced to enable the authorities properly to administer any such ban, certainly in the case of British visitors' passports and excursion documents. It might be a good idea if, with the leave of the House, my hon. Friend spoke early in the debate in order to set out the Government's position.

The vast majority of the British people are worried about the activities of hooligans abroad, and it would be useful if the Minister could set out the Government's attitude to the new clause and in particular, for example, say whether the Government merely intend to delay its implementation or to introduce legislation of their own, and, if so, when we can expect it. In addition, when can we expect the passport system to be properly computerised in order to enable that legislation to be put into effect?

It might also be an idea if the problems posed by Belgium allowing British people into the country solely on proof of identity were to be addressed, and if the Belgian authorities were invited to withdraw that privilege. After the appalling disaster at the Heysel stadium, it might be a good idea for that country to have better checks on who enters.

Not only would the suspension of passports reduce the likelihood of the kind of behaviour abroad in which football hooligans indulge; it would also reduce the kind of behaviour that we have seen in tourist resorts abroad, in particular in Spain. Many will consider it an act of punishment to have a British passport withdrawn. If somebody who has indulged in violent behaviour is told that they will not be able to go abroad on holiday, so much the better. That would be a suitable punishment, as well as ensuring that our name abroad is not besmirched.

I have no doubt that the new clause, aimed at the mindless hooligan, will be opposed by some libertarians—the same mindless libertarians who, in the 1960s, extolled the virtues of a permissive society, of which we are now reaping the bitter harvest. The indiscipline that was then introduced into schools when freedom of expression took away the power of teachers properly to punish, as well as the lack of a proper curriculum, is now leading to the indiscipline of those teenagers.

Those libertarians have had their day. Now it is the turn of those interested in a different type of freedom. It is now the turn of those who want the freedom to enjoy our national game of football at home and abroad, free from bad language, obscene gestures and violence. The time has now come for those who do not attend football matches but live near grounds to be able to enjoy a Saturday with their families free from fear of drunken louts damaging their property or worse. The turn has now come for those who want to enjoy their annual holidays in Majorca, Benidorm or on the Costa Brava, free from shame at the activities of their countrymen who don clothes bearing the Union Jack and then drag it through the mud. I commend my new clause to the House.

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

I am glad to be able to intervene in the debate in favour of what the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) is suggesting, although certainly not accepting the logic at the end of his speech. It is not apparent to me that the difficulties with which we are dealing, of evil-minded people misbehaving at home or abroad, at football matches or on beaches, can necessarily be put down to the changes in society about which he talked. He was unwise to take that line.

Such a simplistic view encourages people such as me to remind the House that three years ago the Prime Minister sent for all the football authorities. The propaganda machine at No. 10 Downing street put out the fact that the Prime Minister was now in charge of matters relating to football hooliganism and all would now be dealt with satisfactorily. That, pre-eminently, has not been the case. It would be simplistic for me now to say that the Prime Minister, not the leaders of football, should be resigning for failing to carry out the promise that she made to the nation two years ago. I do not want to go that far. I want only to refute the hon. Gentleman's equally ludicrous proposition.

There is one deficiency in the new clause, and that is that it does not tell us how offenders abroad will be dealt with. As I understand it, the new clause deals exclusively with proceedings before British courts. It may well be that people who come before British courts are a threat to peace and order overseas and should be dealt with, but that is not immediately obvious from the new clause.

An even greater deficiency is that the new clause does not enable people who cause trouble overseas to be dealt with by the British courts or to have their passports or other documents removed, as many of us would wish, if they have committed grave offences overseas.

Photo of Mr Anthony Favell Mr Anthony Favell , Stockport

I recognise that the new clause deals merely with those people convicted of offences in Britain. Clearly, it would be more difficult to deal with offences that are committed abroad and, in particular, to give courts abroad power to withdraw British passports or, alternatively, for courts here to deal with offences that have been dealt with abroad. That does not mean to say that I rule that out or do not accept it. If the Government or the Opposition can find a way of dealing with that, they will have my vote.

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

It is good to know that the hon. Gentleman will bow to superior wisdom when it is forthcoming from the Opposition Benches or elsewhere. However, he will accept that it is illogical to suggest that, because someone has been convicted of an offence in the British courts, we should assume that he will commit an offence abroad and therefore we should withdraw his passport. It may well be that that will happen, but that is not automatically the case.

I want to ask the Minister several questions about our recent troubles. I start by reminding the House that at the same time as the Minister with responsibility for sport was in Germany having a look at the evil-doing of a few young people there—the majority of people there were well behaved, but a minority of people caused some serious disorder and it is important to understand the numbers involved—the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs was in Spain discussing with the Spanish Government the equally abhorrent activities of some British subjects on Spanish beaches and in Spanish bars. I make that point because we are dealing with a social disease that has nothing to do with football.

This weekend in the Birmingham papers there was a headline about football hooligans going on the rampage and 50 Leicester city supporters being arrested. Last week we had people from Leamington Spa and Warwick, and it was said that that was because there was no football for them to go to. These activities have nothing to do with football, but unfortunately football is one of the ways through which these people pursue their activities.

I believe that it would be sensible to improve the computerisation of the Home Office. If the Minister tells us that these things cannot be done yet, because Home Office computers are not sufficiently sophisticated to track down the holder of a passport or a travel document, I am sure that the whole House will say that he should get on and do something about improving the computerisation. A police officer in a motor car can be in touch with the Swansea computer and ask a motorist 30 seconds later why he is driving a car that is not registered in his name. That is the sophisticated computerisation available to the police in transport matters. Surely the Home Office ought by now to be moving in that direction.

If one of the Home Office's points is that it is willing to consider this as soon as it can be put into practical effect, that is to be welcomed, and it will certainly be welcomed by me. In the meantime, however, other things ought to be happening.

One thing astonished me about the difficulties recently encountered with a few hundred people in Germany. The German police locked them up, sobered them up and let them out again. I find that quite incredible. I would like to know what sort of arrangements the Government had with the German authorities with regard to sending back here as soon as possible the people who were causing difficulties and offence in Germany.

That can be done and, indeed, was done in the course of my experience. On one occasion, having no authority, as far as I know, to do any such thing, when I was the Minister with responsibility for sport and an important match was being played on the continent, I liaised with my colleague, the Dutch Minister for Sport, and said that anybody going to the match without a ticket, hotel accommodation and proper travel supervision ought not to be allowed into his country. As a result, the Dutch authorities allowed in everybody who had a ticket and told all those who had not got tickets that they had better get back on the boat and come back here. It was a very successful operation. I do not know whether any such operation has been contemplated by the present Government.

Photo of Mr Neil Macfarlane Mr Neil Macfarlane , Sutton and Cheam

I think that the right hon. Gentleman and I have probably shared some similar experiences during the past couple of decades. European history over the past 20 years is littered with examples of European police forces surrounding a number of our so-called football fans, putting them in cells for the night and then getting them out of the country as quickly as possible without a conviction. That is the underlying problem. I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that once there has been a conviction, there is the basis for some harmonisation with our European colleagues in getting that conviction endorsed on the passport.

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is necessary to have a conviction. If the continental police practice is to round up people on suspicion without producing a conviction, I agree that it adds to the difficulties. Perhaps we might suggest to them, now that we are all in the European Community and Ministers meet from time to time, that our practices ought to be co-ordinated as soon as possible.

Photo of Mr Joe Ashton Mr Joe Ashton , Bassetlaw 7:15 pm, 28th June 1988

Why is it necessary to have a conviction? Surely something could be written in the back of the passport indicating that the holder was detained overnight. When we had currency regulations many years ago, written in the back of one's passport was how much foreign currency one had drawn. If this was written in the passport, a ticket to travel abroad would not be issued.

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

I am sufficiently keen to protect civil liberties in this country not to want people to be sent away just because the police are suspicious of them. I would not endorse the idea of any such thing being entered in a passport without a conviction.

If continental police procedures are not as precise in this respect as ours, they ought to be brought into line with ours. That would enable us to reach agreement.

When Aston Villa, to which club I am addicted, played in the European cup final, I was involved in taking several thousand people to Rotterdam. We took them there and brought them back without the slightest problem from any one of them. We did it by organising the travel, hotel arrangements and stewarding arrangements in a sensible way. West Midlands police officers gave up their time. We put them in a yellow coach which could be easily identified. We took many of them over beforehand to liaise with the Rotterdam police. It was a tremendous success.

I understand that on this occasion the Home Office refused to do any such thing with the England supporters. I cannot understand why the Home Office refused to repeat what had been a very successful operation. It is quite clear that when we are playing abroad there has to be a degree of supervision, for the protection of our decent supporters and the good name of this country. I urge that example on the Government, while they are getting their computers into good order to carry out a more detailed arrangement. It is possible to take people abroad and bring them back here without difficulties, and we owe it to our European partners to do that if it is possible.

I understand that this recent operation, for some reason that escapes me, was put in the hands of the chief of police of British Transport. I read that he asked for the same facility of having policemen travelling and was refused by the Home Office. If so, it is very much to be regretted. It was obviously a contributory factor in these disorders.

Photo of Mr David Evans Mr David Evans , Welwyn Hatfield

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the public perception is that hooliganism is football's responsibility? I do not say that it is; indeed, I believe that it is not. The public perception here and abroad is that we export trouble. Unfortunately for us, some who say they are football fans and who go abroad—at the moment we have no way of identifying whether they are football fans—misbehave and bring out the worst in German, Dutch and other European hooligans. It is then hung around the necks of our people.

I believe that, until we can prove to the Europeans that we have put our house in order and are prepared to be determined, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) has suggested, and until we remove people's passports and make the punishment fit the crime, every time our people go on holiday and misbehave and bring out the worst in those who live in the countries in question, the blame will be hung around the necks of the British people, and our flag, as one of my hon. Friends said the other day, will be dragged through the gutters of Europe. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that public perception here and abroad is that we export trouble?

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

I have to say very gently to the hon. Gentleman that his activities as chairman of Luton Town football club in assuming that every visiting supporter is going to cause trouble have not helped us to deal with this matter. The hon. Gentleman is quite honest. As the chairman of Luton Town football club he has said, "I will not have a single decent citizen, supporting any club in the land, come to my club, Luton." That is what he is saying and the logic of carrying that further is that no decent English football supporter should be allowed to support England abroad.

That approach runs away from the problem. It should be opposed on grounds of civil liberties. It is a monstrous attack on the 99 per cent. of decent football supporters in this country. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman went down that road, but I am glad that Luton Town football club is moving back to a more civilised position in believing that supporters of two clubs can come together to enjoy the game—I hesitate to say, "having a drink and then driving off," in view of the debate that we have just had. Nevertheless, they could enjoy a good social occasion——

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

I give way to the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans), which is only fair because I am disagreeing with him.

Photo of Mr David Evans Mr David Evans , Welwyn Hatfield

I advise the right hon. Gentleman that Luton Town football club allowed away fans for about 100 years, but in the last year that we had away fans we had 113 arrests and six stabbings. However, in the last two seasions, when it has been a members-only club, we have not had a single arrest or stabbing inside or outside the ground. I do not believe that people's liberty, privacy and right to carry on their ordinary business in and around a football ground on a Saturday afternoon should be restricted by the hooligan elements of any away supporters.

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

I am glad to tell the House that Aston Villa football club in my constituency has not had any stabbings for several years and it allows visiting supporters. I do not understand the hon. Gentleman's logic. I am sorry if there have been any such difficulties at Luton, but we do not solve the difficulties by trying to abolish people's right to attend a football match.

I should like to return to the question of computers and those difficulties with which I have already dealt. I hope that the Minister will say that he at least does not object to that matter, because in previous debates in the House, Ministers have said that they find removing the passports of people who are convicted and who are known to have caused trouble objectionable in principle. There is no logic in that argument. The courts of this land remove passports from people every day of the week and do so before people have been found guilty of anything. Many such people have only been charged, but they are required to surrender their passports as a condition of bail. Therefore, there can be no objection in principle to taking away somebody's passport.

One of the propaganda myths that was put out from No. 10 and by the Minister with responsibility for sport was that that cannot be done because we are now in the European Community and everybody has a right to travel within Europe. I am a president of the European Movement and am as strong a supporter of the Community as anyone in the House. I want to protect our European partners from the evildoers that we might be exporting to them. It is up to us to find a sensible way of doing that, and I suggest that one way would be the removal of passports.

I should like to make another point in this short debate, which I am grateful to the hon. Member for Stockport for initiating. It has now been suggested that the Minister with responsibility for sport will present a Bill to the Cabinet.

We are told in the weekend press that he has been invited to attend the Cabinet meeting on Thursday to defend his proposals. One of his two proposals is that we should have compulsory membership cards and that nobody should be allowed to go to a football match in this land unless he is a registered member of a football club. The Minister even threatened to extend that to rugby and boxing. If it were extended to boxing, we would not have boxing matches such as that on Saturday at Luton Town football ground. I hope that it was profitable. I do not know——

Photo of Mr David Evans Mr David Evans , Welwyn Hatfield

Do not believe everything that appears in the press.

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

I do know that if the Minister with responsibility for sport had his way and if one had to be registered in a membership scheme before attending a boxing match, whatever the attendance at the boxing match at Luton Town football ground on Saturday, it would have been halved.

Membership schemes are nonsense. They are totally impractical, and I hope that Home Office Ministers realise that. It is impractical to say that people cannot attend football matches without being registered on a membership scheme. What could one do in a place such as Wembley where the cup final is held and where about 100,000 tickets are sold? How can it be right for a son to say to his father who comes to stay with him for Christmas, "I am sorry, Dad. I can't take you to the football match because I haven't registered you as a member of the local club."? If such schemes come about, there will be a tremendous amount of deception, and the effect on football as a whole will be serious.

The idea is grossly offensive. When the Minister responsible for sport gives us the statistics—that is, unless a Home Office Minister can give them—we should ask how many thousands of matches were played in this country in the past year and at how many of those matches there were serious problems of any sort. The answer would be minuscule in terms of percentages. That being the case, it is quite wrong to impose a membership scheme. The best way forward is that suggested by the hon. Member for Stockport: to identify the culprits, stop them going to football matches and remove their passports.

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

I have another point to make, but I shall give way to my hon. Friend.

Photo of Mr Joe Ashton Mr Joe Ashton , Bassetlaw

I should like to give my right hon. Friend the figures because he is making an excellent case. There were over 4,000 first-class professional games last season and at only eight was there any trouble inside the ground.

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

Order. The debate is almost widening out into a general debate on football hooliganism. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) will now address himself to the narrower point with which the new clause deals.

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

This is the Second Reading of the new clause and although I always bow to your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it seems to me that on a Second Reading we can deal not only with what is in the new clause but what is left out of it.

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

No. I advise the right hon. Gentleman and the House that there is a difference between a Second Reading debate and the Second Reading of a new clause. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will now address himself to the content of the new clause.

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

I bow to your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as I always do, and am now coming to my last point. However, I am sorry if that is our procedure. If it is, I think that we should change it. It is clear to me that a new clause, which is being added to a Bill, should receive the same Second Reading treatment as is given to the Bill itself. I am sorry that I did not fully appreciate the position.

I come now to my last point which is germane to this issue. The Home Secretary and the Minister responsible for sport are now threatening English football and saying that they will have to consider whether English teams should be allowed to play again in international competitions abroad. They are doing that because they do not have this new clause, or anything like it to deal with the offenders. You will see, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that this point is extremely pertinent to the proposal. It is monstrous to suggest that the English football team should be prevented from playing in international matches. That would totally destroy any international respect that we have. It would also destroy the standards of excellence that every sport must have if it is to inspire other people to attain such standards at all levels.

In advance of the attendance of the Minister with responsibility for sport at the Cabinet meeting on Thursday, I should like to convey to him the thoughts of Opposition Members and, indeed, all involved in football. I suggest that if football is to be treated in that way, the Government should not do it by intimidating the football authorities. They will need to introduce a Bill. It is a monstrous proposal that any sport should be prevented by the Government from competing internationally. It would be monstrous in social terms and outrageous, as it would be an admission by the Government that they are unable to control the disease with which they have been dealing during their 10 years in office, apparently so unsuccessfully. I hope that we hear no more of that nonsense and that we return to the practical issue of identifying and dealing with offenders, taking out court orders to prevent them from going to football matches and removing passports or travel documents from those wanting to go abroad.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton 7:30 pm, 28th June 1988

We all agree that football hooliganism is a disgrace to us here at home and a shame to Britain when it takes place abroad. I have received more letters and representations about it than I received about capital punishment.

The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) says that football hooliganism has nothing to do with football. It is a little difficult to accept that statement, as it clearly has a great deal to do with football. Football triggers off that violence. A great deal of violence might well happen elsewhere if there were not football matches, but a great deal of it would not happen but for football matches. It does not advance the matter further, therefore, to say consistently that it has absolutely nothing to do with football.

Photo of Mr Denis Howell Mr Denis Howell , Birmingham Small Heath

In that case, how does the hon. and learned Gentleman think that the rampaging Leicester city supporters in Warwick and Leamington last week could be said to have anything to do with football, when we are in the closed season?

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

They were Leicester city supporters. It is difficult to think with what else they could have anything to do, if not a football club.

We can deal with hooliganism here in Britain by banning drink from football grounds, by reducing the availability of alcohol outside football grounds on football days, by better policing and better control by means of video cameras and crowd separation—all of which we are now doing—and by membership-only admission. The right hon. Gentleman says that that is madness and that it cannot work, but we have living proof of the success of a membership scheme with an outstanding club. Clearly, that can be extended in the future.

Photo of Mr David Evans Mr David Evans , Welwyn Hatfield

My hon. and learned Friend may be interested to know that, since we had a membership scheme at Luton and crime at the ground disappeared, there has been no increase in crime in Hertfordshire or Bedfordshire on Saturday afternoons.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

That underlines my point, and shows that there is mileage in that membership scheme. It is of course true that it requires some deprivation of freedom, that it is infuriating, and that it might mean that some of our children cannot go to football matches. Unfortunately, that is the price that must be paid for football matches to which people can go without fear and trepidation.

We also have the power of the courts in this country to award stiffer sentences for football hooliganism. We can deal with football hooliganism in Britain, but we cannot deal with it abroad. It is a great shame when people go abroad, say that they are the representatives of Britain and then smash their way around the towns and countryside of our friends and the countries with which we want to live in peace, contentment and happiness. That is the disgrace and shame, and we can do nothing about that.

Most of us would like to see the offenders abroad arrested, imprisoned and the key thrown away, but that is not happening. The Germans do not appear keen to arrest, charge and imprison those offenders. Our shame is therefore heightened by the press publicity that those people court. We have seen the most atrocious, boasting representation of the British flag in all its offensive horror.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) has introduced his proposal in that context. If we could do something to stop the thugs travelling abroad and disgracing Britain by this measure, if it is practicable and enforceable, everyone would agree that it would be a sensible step forward. I appreciate that we can sometimes go to other European countries without a passport: that is a problem. There is no point in taking away someone's passport if he or she does not need it to go to a certain country.

That is where the agreement with other countries comes in. There is no reason why those countries should not agree to require, if not a passport, a document, to be shown to them. If a person does not have that document or passport, he or she could be refused entry. That is the very measure proposed by my hon. Friend. It is not a deterrent measure here, but it is a deterrent measure abroad, because people would not be so freely allowed to travel abroad to cause their mayhem.

I recognise that that would represent a limitation of that individual's civil liberties. Such liberties are vital and could so easily be lost. We must defend them. However, in this case, we are dealing with people who have been convicted of violent crime and who would thereby forfeit their rights to full civil liberties. We are more entitled to make them forfeit their right to a passport or a travel document when they have been convicted than we are to make them forfeit their right to it while they are on bail and innocent until proved guilty.

I agree with the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath: there is no great principle here. Besides, those people have a choice not to do evil and to preserve their liberties, or to engage in deliberate thuggery and thereby forfeit the rights which they are entitled to enjoy only if they conduct themselves as decent, law-abiding representatives of Britain. I do not think that the civil liberties argument is all that convincing.

My hon. Friend the Minister may say that we are not yet ready, that the technology is not yet good enough, that there are not sufficient data banks and that we have not yet produced the document that would allow that to be enforced. He may be right, hut that is no reason why we should not give the Secretary of State power, by regulation, to introduce that prohibition as soon as the technology catches up.

If technology in that area is moving as fast as in every other area, we would probably implement such a power through regulation a great deal sooner than we have implemented other powers, not just in legislation generally, but particularly in Home Office legislation. I would be disappointed if my hon. Friend the Minister were so shy on this occasion as to say that we are not yet ready, and therefore that we should not do it.

If we add the new clause, or something like it in the other place, to the Bill, the Government will be seen to be taking a step to deal with this sad and humiliating problem. It would certainly delight a number of my electors in Burton, which has a good football team—alas, it has not yet reached league status, although we are hopeful. It would certainly do more than any other measure to check the movement of football hooliganism from Britain abroad, which brings so much shame to this country.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

I congratulate the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) on giving us the opportunity to discuss ways in which we might deal with football hooliganism. I do not agree with his solution. I consider it to be impracticable. Also, it fails to address the meat or the nub of the problem.

I was first taken to a football match when I was six years old. I watched the team in the town in which I was brought up, Burnley, beating the team of which the hon. Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Evans) is now chairman. That was in 1954. From about the age of eight onwards, I was allowed to go and watch football matches, walking to and from the ground on my own and watching the match on my own. No one had any fears that I might be molested or injured. That was at a time when the team which I followed, Burnley, was far and away the best team in the English league and was winning the first division.

Much has changed since those days. I took two of my daughters to watch, alas, a fourth division match between Burnley and Wigan Athletic a couple of years ago. Although the crowd was down from the 25,000 of the 1950s to about 2,000 in the 1980s, it was nothing like as pleasant a scene when it came to the behaviour of those in the ground.

There is no doubt that great thuggery has come to, or at least near, our football grounds. It is thuggery equalled only by the thuggishness of the headline writers of some of the popular newspapers. Those hooligans who travel abroad and cause mayhem in the bars of Dusseldorf and other European cities take comfort whenever they see a headline in The Sun or the Star which extols their thuggishness. The headline writers should realise that, when they use intemperate language and give banner headlines to what has happened, it is in a perverted way encouraging the hooligans to indulge themselves in further hooliganism.

I do not accept the thesis that football is responsible for football hooliganism. When I used to go as a young boy to Turf Moor to watch Burnley football club, hooligans had already been invented. In those days, though, they were tearing up the seats in the Odeon cinema when "Jailhouse Rock" was being shown, and later "Expresso Bongo". A few years after that, those with the same temperament had given up destroying cinema seats. They had not reached football grounds, but they were buying themselves secondhand Vespas and Lambrettas and fighting on the seafronts in the riots of mods and rockers. Hooliganism is not new. It happens, however, to be the misfortune of the hon. Member for Welwyn and Hatfield and the rest of us who, in our smaller way, support football that hooliganism, for the time being, is attacking our enjoyment of the greatest national sport.

Nor is hooliganism an especially British problem. We should not beat our breasts and say, "Alas, football hooliganism is a British disease." The Dutch have football hooligans, and seriously so. The Italians have football hooligans. Although there was disgraceful behaviour at the Heysel stadium by British football supporters, Italian supporters were committing crimes there as well. There are football hooligans in France. In the past two or three weeks, we have seen the hooligans of organised, peaceful and thorough Germany provoking British hooligans.

This hooliganism does not have a great deal to do with football. At any time in society there are those who are bent towards violence, who will find violence wherever it can be obtained. We should be trying to solve the problem of how to deal with hooliganism in general. We should not be beating the football clubs for something for which they are not really to blame.

If anyone goes to the Liverpool football ground or, as I did earlier in the past season, to a match at Goodison Park, the Everton football ground—I am talking about the larger grounds—he will find the best organisation that can possibly be arranged, and little hooliganism. Even grounds where visiting supporters are permitted to attend can be organised in a way that avoids hooliganism within them. We have already heard statistics that there is little hooliganism actually at football matches.

Photo of Mr Roland Boyes Mr Roland Boyes , Houghton and Washington 7:45 pm, 28th June 1988

As someone who watches football every week of his life, may I ask whether the hon. and learned Gentleman agrees that the nasty trend in football is racism? At many football matches, a black player who is a member of the opposing team will be taunted mercilessly throughout the game. I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman's main thesis that a hooligan is a hooligan, and that we should not use the term "football hooligan". One of the problems, however, is that the National Front, with its vicious Right-wing attitudes, has latched on to many football clubs and stirred up trouble inside the ground and outside with the crowds. There are laws to deal with racists and other such people, and it would help if the police would deal with this problem urgently.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. He will know that many of the finest footballers in Europe—England, France, Holland and many others—are black. Those of us who enjoy football go to watch them rather than many of the home-grown players. It is outrageous that there should be racism at football matches, and it should be dealt with urgently, but that is not quite the problem that I am seeking to address.

Photo of Mrs Mildred Gordon Mrs Mildred Gordon , Bow and Poplar

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it is remarkable that, although the National Front and other Fascist groups have been organising on the football terraces for a long time, we never read any articles in the newspapers to the effect that "Fascist hooligans" have disgraced Britain? For some reason, the Fascists appear to be protected by the newspapers.

It was only after the Heysel stadium incident, when the Belgian media talked about the British Fascists, and when in Germany these hooligans raised their arms in the Hitler salute, which is illegal in Germany, that mention was made of these activities in our press. After that mention, these matters were quickly covered up. The blame is not attached to the instigators of the violence, who are deliberately spreading it.

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

Order. I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) will not allow himself to be diverted fron the new clause by the interventions which have been made.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

I shall not, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I merely express the hope that everyone in the House is opposed to racism at any sort of sports fixture. I hope also that the police, and the clubs, will take appropriate action.

I was saying that the problem of hooliganism is not especially British and that it does not affect football alone.

Photo of Mr Anthony Favell Mr Anthony Favell , Stockport

The hon. and learned Gentleman will recall that I explained that the clause was directed to anyone who indulges in violence and not only to football hooliganism. It seeks to deal with anyone who besmirches our name abroad. Against that background, will he explain why he opposes the new clause?

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

I was trying to get to that, but I was diverted.

I do not believe that forbidding the people to travel is the right solution. The way to prevent hooliganism is to show hooligans that the courts are both ready and able realistically to deal with their hooliganism. It must be shown too that hooliganism can be detected effectively, and I applaud the measures that have been taken within football grounds.

There is some evidence, unfortunately, that when football hooligans are caught as a result of video detection and taken before the local magistrates court, extremely paltry penalties are imposed upon them. There are still cases of hooligans being fined for offences of personal violence at football grounds. That seems entirely inappropriate when football is a sport which we hope that we can enjoy with our families.

It is not only the British courts that have to deal with these offences. I urge the Minister to take every possible step to ensure that the courts in other countries with which we have frequent sporting relations, especially other EC countries, prosecute and sentence British hooligans. It should be permissible for the criminal record which a British subject has acquired in a foreign country to be included in his criminal record in the United Kingdom.

That would mean that, when a British court came to deal with a hooligan, it would be able to take into account the entirety of his character and antecedents, including what has happened abroad. Sometimes, foreign convictions appear on an antecedent form, but there is no means of ensuring that that happens. British courts would be substantially strengthened in sentencing the British hooligans if they could refer expressly to the fact that the hooligans had been previously convicted in some other country, and thus could justify stiffer sentences.

Forbidding travel will not have any real impact on the problem. There is a world of difference in terms of administrative problems between removing the passports of people on bail—a small numerical group—and dealing with the generality of the issue of passports. I have considerable doubts about whether the proposed system can be made to work so that it cannot be easily avoided by those bent on hooliganism.

Football is blamed for what has been happening, but in the past weeks at the matches in the European championship in Germany, there was virtually no serious hooliganism within the grounds. There was much hooliganism outside the grounds—in the bars, pubs and clubs—but there was little evidence that the people involved had been to any matches. This reinforces my point that people will be hooligans wherever their hooliganism can be paraded. That is another reason why we should take a European view of the problem and try to ensure that we have as near as possible common standards of prosecution, conviction and sentencing.

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) on this imaginative new clause to cure a vile social disease. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) said, this problem causes our country great humiliation. Indeed, I think that he said that it was a humiliating problem. The new clause seeks to deal with vandals, hooligans, muggers and one of the lower forms of criminal pestilence which I think my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport would not mind including in his description, the graffiti artist. My hon. Friend hopes to deal with such offences, whether at home or overseas.

My hon. Friend suggested that the problem can be dealt with by the removal of passports for a period. He wants to do what many of us want to do—to punish people. He wants to prevent offences from taking place and, at the same time, where possible, to keep people out of prison. Putting people in prison when that can be avoided is not only expensive but, much worse, extremely barbaric, and it leads people to a criminal career later. If we can prevent that, let us do so.

It is suggested that we withdraw passports. We want to prevent people from travelling. We live in a modern and enlightened society, and I think I can say that there is no hon. Member more modern and enlightened than me. I suggest that this intention to prevent travel, if allied to a little humiliation, could have very much the effect that my hon. Friend wants. It might even be more effective than his suggestion.

If we want to stop the wrong people from travelling to a major European fixture, to stop people from going to and disrupting the local derby and to stop people from upsetting and disturbing others and causing violence at a cup match, we should clap them in the stocks for two hours if they have committed offences before. We may take away their passports as well if we like, but if they are in the stocks every Saturday afternoon there is no way they can go to a football match.

I do not want my remarks to be taken out of context. This is not a barbaric suggestion. We live in a modern and enlightened society and there are ways of devising a form of stocks. At the same time, we can prevent those so sentenced from being subjected to having wet objects hurled at them—[Interruption.] I am a great fan of my hon. Friend the Minister. He is not a wet object.

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

Order. The hon. Member must not be tempted by the Treasury Bench. I am sure that he realises that there is not a word about stocks in the new clause.

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

Quite right, Sir. I am always tempted by the Treasury Bench. I welcome the new clause. We must find a civilised way of dealing with the problem.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The suggestion by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) is perhaps a slight extension of the punishment in the community that my hon. Friend the Minister of State has in mind.

I have considerable sympathy with the arguments deployed by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell). In common with every hon. Member who has spoken, I recognise that the problems that we saw abroad recently are a cause for grave concern among us all. It is right that we should pay careful attention to any proposal that might be an appropriate response to this problem. For that reason, on 16 June, when replying to a private notice question, my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for sport said that the Government would look carefully at the kind of proposal that is enshrined in the new clause, and we shall certainly do that.

One theme running through the debate has been the need for those countries where the offences are committed to punish and sentence the offenders to a period of imprisonment there, if that is appropriate. My hon. Friend the Minister of State shares that view. Last week, when. in Lisbon attending a meeting of European Ministers of Justice, he took advantage of the opportunity to say to his colleagues that they had a duty to ensure that people who committed offences under foreign jurisdictions were dealt with under those jurisdictions and, where appropriate, imprisoned in those countries. That is an effective response to the problem of hooligans committing hooligan offences overseas.

Although I have considerable sympathy with the thinking behind the new clause, I could not recommend its incorporation into the Bill. There is a prerogative power to deny a passport, but it is used sparingly, and I think that the House would agree that it should be used sparingly. There is no doubt that the restriction on a person's ability to travel overseas is a curtailment of liberty. The House and the Government have not yet had an opportunity to reach a settled conclusion on this matter. At some stage we shall have to ask ourselves seriously whether this is a diminution of liberty that we favour. The argument is evenly balanced, and neither the Government nor the House has yet reached a final view. We must recognise that we are discussing a grave matter.

There are two problems associated with the new clause so ably moved by my hon. Friend. First, some practical questions must be asked, because they are not resolved in the drafting of the clause. I say that, not in a spirit of criticism, but simply to draw to the attention of the House the fact that these problems exist. For example, should the period of disqualification be time-limited? Should there be a right for a person disqualified from having a passport to apply to the court on the grounds of compassionate need to go abroad? Should we create an offence of applying for a passport during the period of disqualification? Should we give the court the power to impose a period of disqualification on conviction abroad by a court with foreign jurisdiction? Those practical questions have to be examined and answered, and they are not addressed in the new clause. For those reasons alone, I cannot commend the new clause to the House.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) fully covered the matter of enforcement. At the moment about 2 million British passports are issued each year by about 1,500 post offices. In addition, ferry companies issue a document called a "no passport excursion card". Until we have an effective database, we cannot enforce a disqualification of the kind that we are discussing.

The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) raised the matter of computerisation. I am glad to be able to tell him that we are soon to start a computerisation programme for the passport department and I hope that it will be completed by the end of 1989. When that happens we will be in a very much better position to enforce the sort of period disqualification that my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport may have in mind.

My hon. Friend's proposition requires serious consideration, but it also raises fundamental questions that we must consider before we can come to a conclusion on the new clause. It raises practical problems which it does not seek to resolve. At the moment there are insuperable problems of enforcement. For all those reasons, I cannot commend the new clause to the House.

Photo of Mr Anthony Favell Mr Anthony Favell , Stockport

I have listened carefully to my hon. Friend. I urge the Government seriously to consider my suggestion. I accept that it would be a severe curtailment of liberty, but that is precisely what it is intended to be —a novel form of punishment that may well suit the crime. I accept that there are difficulties about the drafting. We shall need to think carefully about that.

I also accept that the Government are not yet ready to implement the proposals in the new clause because of the problems of computerisation. I was glad to hear that the Government expect to have the appropriate data base ready by the end of next year. Perhaps careful thought should be given to whether to introduce legislation of this kind so as to be ready for that data base. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.