Orders of the Day — Football (Disorder) (Amendment) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:50 pm on 15th October 2001.

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Photo of David Cameron David Cameron Conservative, Witney 8:50 pm, 15th October 2001

It is a pleasure to follow Andy Burnham, who knows a lot about his subject. Not only is he a football fan, he is quite an accomplished cricket player, as I discovered during a game this summer.

Many of those who have spoken in the debate or have written about the subject are either lawyers or football fans, but I have to confess that I am neither: I am just a novice parliamentarian who is trying to work out whether the draconian powers in the Bill are really necessary. I fear that my hon. Friend Mr. Burns will decide that I am a member of the pussyfoot tendency when he hears what I have to say, but I believe that this is an important debate.

The debate is important, first, because we are dealing with what has been a desperate problem for this country—football hooliganism—and secondly, because we are discussing serious measures that will affect our freedoms. I accept that the background is one of overall success in football. As the hon. Member for Leigh said, there is less racism in football. Attendances are growing, accompanied by decreases in the number of offences, crimes and arrests. Football is one place where things are getting better.

Like many hon. Members, I have always been struck by an uneasy feeling when England travels abroad to play football, not just because I want the team to win so much and fear that they will not do so, but because I fear that when I switch on my television set I will see terrible news about hooliganism and dreadful behaviour. However, I also feel uneasy about the Bill.

I have no difficulty with the concept of banning orders or with the previous measure's provision combining international and domestic banning orders to stop people seeing football matches either at home or abroad. Neither do I have a problem with the idea of taking someone's passport away after a banning order has been looked at by the court. However, I have some difficulty with the concept of courts imposing bans on individuals who have no convictions, although I acknowledge the statement in the explanatory notes:

"The court must make the order if it is shown"—

I repeat "shown"—

"that the person has previously caused or contributed to violence or disorder in the UK or elsewhere and if it is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for believing that a banning order would help prevent football related violence or disorder."

At least in that case the defendant has his day in court.

My real difficulty, which I am sure some hon. Members share, is with the police stopping individuals leaving the country because—well, just because. That is the big question. Perhaps the police just do not like the look of the individuals concerned. The explanatory notes state that the police can

"give a person a notice . . . not to leave England and Wales, and under certain circumstances to surrender his passport, if the police have reasonable grounds for suspecting he has previously caused or contributed to violence".

That is the difficult bit—the bit that leads one to ask what has happened to the concept of criminal proof in our criminal justice system, to our ability to travel freely, and to the crucial principle of innocent until proven guilty.

The hon. Member for Leigh says that we are dealing with a unique problem, but is it unique? In a way, every crime is unique, but we do not resort to measures such as those in the Bill. That is why we must think very carefully about them. I instinctively trust the police; none the less, it makes me nervous when we give them increased powers—especially powers of the nature of those in the Bill—because it increases the chance of abuse. If we give the police too many extra specific powers, a few bad apples could give the police service a bad name. We should always think and debate carefully before we give more and more specific powers to the police. We should ask them to use everything else first.

Are the police using all the possible intelligence to follow hooligans and to share information with other police forces? Are they doing everything to help the French, Dutch and Belgian police forces to arrest people in those countries instead of Parliament giving our police service more powers? Sometimes, even the police are nervous about being given extra specific powers. When I was a naive special adviser in the Home Office, I remember visiting the Police Federation. At that time the great concern was over identity cards and whether we should have them. A member of the federation said, "If we have identity cards, we would need to have a power of arrest in respect of those not carrying cards, and that would be bureaucratic." Naively, I asked, "What do you do now?" He replied, "We have the ways and means Act." I asked what it was, and he said, "I stand on someone's toe and he calls me an expletive deleted, and I arrest him for a breach of the peace." Sometimes the police are sceptical about new specific powers.

It must be said that there has been an enormous amount of legislation on football disorder. We have had the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol) Act 1985, the Public Order Act 1996 and the Football Spectators Act 1989. My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe read out some of the Acts—