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England-Scotland Football Match

Volume 77: debated on Monday 15 April 1985

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

9.56 pm

I am grateful for this opportunity to discuss a matter that has arisen since this week's Adjournment debates were selected — the transfer of the England-Scotland match on 25 May from Wembley in London to Hampden park in my constituency in Glasgow.

The decision was taken by the Football Association on 29 March. The reason given was that the Government had made it clear that they did not wish the game to take place in London on a bank holiday weekend because, partly as there would be more crowds and partly due to insufficient policing, they felt that disorder could easily occur both at the stadium and in the streets of London.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment with responsibility for sport wrote in a letter:
"The Government is extremely concerned that the current timing of this fixture increases the risk of disorder".
I appreciate that in expressing that view the Government did not say that they wished the game to be transferred to Hampden park. They wished the game to take place midweek, as it did two years ago, rather than on a Saturday especially on a bank holiday weekend.

The Government have made it clear both in meetings with Members of Parliament and publicly to the press that they do not regard themselves as in any way responsible for the implications and results of the decision taken by the Football Association, but I disagree. First, we must ask ourselves a simple question. Would the transfer have taken place if the Minister with responsibility for sport had said nothing or if the Prime Minister had not expressed great concern about the hooliganism that had occurred at the Millwall-Luton match a few days earlier? The answer to that question is no. The transfer would not have taken place. The FA and the Scottish Football Association, of their own violition, would not have transferred the game to Hampden park. The transfer was made under Government pressure. It was because the Government were frightened about football hooliganism that the FA took that decision.

The Government may say that the FA's solution was not what they wanted. If the Government had not wished the game to be played on a holiday weekend, why did they not protest further and make it clear that if it was wrong to play such a game at Wembley on a bank holiday weekend, or indeed any weekend, because of possible crowd disturbance—

It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Neubert]

If it was right that the game should not be played at Wembley on a holiday weekend, and if Ministers had therefore asked that it should be played in the middle of a week, why did they make no protest? Why did they make no effort to tell the FA or the SFA that if it was wrong to play the game at Wembley on a holiday weekend, it would be equally wrong to play it at Hampden?

That weekend is a holiday weekend in Scotland as well as in England. If there is a risk of violence, it will now he my constituents and the constituents of other Glasgow Members, rather than the citizens of London. who will he put at risk. If there is a risk, the Minister should have protested against the playing of the match at Hampden at the weekend, just as he protested against its being played in London.

Many people in Scotland feel that the real reason for the change was that any disturbance will now appear to have been caused by hooligan Scots. A fortnight before the announcement, during discussions after the MillwallLuton match, I heard a well-known football correspondent say on the radio that the England-Scotland match would take place because it was profitable, even if that meant that the hooligan tartan hordes would be let loose on the streets of London.

The record of Scottish football fans has improved considerably. Scottish fans behave considerably better abroad than English travelling fans, whose behaviour abroad or at away games is far worse than their behaviour at Wembley. If there is an insult here, it is an insult to Scottish football fans. Over the past few years the amount of hooliganism in Scotland has decreased. I attended the 1983–84 league cup final between Rangers and Celtic. The match took place on a Sunday afternoon—I agree that that made a difference—but I took my sons, aged 9 and 11 years to that game, and there was no trouble whatsoever in a game that is traditionally associated with violence.

Scottish fans who travelled to Spain for the world cup were congratulated by the Spanish authorities and police on their behaviour. More recently, when Scotland played in the world cup qualifying games in Spain, the Scottish fans were again congratulated by the Spanish authorities on their behaviour.

I read in the press this morning that last weekend there had been many stabbings, scenes of violence and arrest at two semi-finals in England, but that the police had again congratulated Scottish fans at those two semi-finals on their behaviour.

In recent years, awareness of violence at Scottish football matches has increased and the problem has been tackled. As Minister responsible for sport in Scotland, Frank McElhone did football in Scotland a tremendous service when he produced his report. The Minister for Sport nods his head. That is fine, but the report is now eight years old. What have the English authorities done about it? I accept that the Government incorporated part of the report in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980, which bans the carriage of drink into almost every football ground in Scotland bars drunks and forbids drink on football supporters' coaches and trains.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it might be because the Scottish Football Association has been so successful in eliminating violence from grounds that the Government wanted to switch the match to Scotland because Scotland could be trusted whereas England could not?

I take my hon. Friend's point. Perhaps Scotland is suffering from its own success. That seems a bit rough on my constituents. I suspect that it will be some of the English fans who cause the problem.

The law bans more than alcoholic drinks. Any container that can be interpreted as a missile is forbidden from a ground—it might be a Coke can, a lemonade bottle or even a Thermos flask. The law seems to have reduced the violence. Dunfermline college of further education recently did a study which showed that all-seat stadiums produce less violence.

It might be argued that my constituents are used to football crowds going through, but they plan ahead and know when the games will take place. This game has been sprung on them. Organisations and clubs have made arrangements for that day and will have them disrupted. It will not be possible to get near bowling greens and tennis courts because cars and coaches will be parked on side streets all around the ground. Even if there is no trouble there will be disruption.

We should also consider the cost incurred by those who had arranged to travel to Wembley. Many have already booked coaches, hotels on the way and hotels in London. A range of organisations are affected. They might have paid deposits for the full fee, but the Government are making no effort to ensure that they are compensated.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a cost to the public purse in the form of policing arangements and others to accommodate the fans?

That is an important point which the Government have not answered. I assume that they will give Strathclyde region police force extra funding. Perhaps they would like to subvent Department of the Environment money to do that. The loss that worries me is that of fans. Football fans come from the poorer quarter of the community and some of them will have saved for two years to make the journey to London. They are now to lose money.

British Rail and ABTA should be congratulated, because they have been prepared to make an effort to ensure that some repayment is made. However, many supporters have not booked through travel agents which are members of ABTA. Many people have made their own arrangements, such as travelling with one-man operation coach companies. Such companies are not in a position to compensate and will not do so.

Many other people have booked into hotels which do not belong to the major chains. Here again, these small London hotels will be unable to make refunds. Therefore, many people will lose money—individuals, small travel agencies and even some of the larger ones. Indeed, some of the smaller travel agencies say that they could be forced out of business as a result.

The minimum which the Governmnt should do is to call a meeting of all the organisations concerned to ensure that compensation is properly co-ordinated, In my view, they should make some funds available for compensation, because they are responsible. Whether this decision was inadvertent is irrelevant. The Government created the situation by putting a lot of pressure on the Football Association to transfer the game. Whether the game should be played at Hampden or at another venue is also irrelevant. This situation would not have occurred but for Government intervention.

Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that this ought to be the most important annual fixture between two international sides? Had the Scottish and English Football Associations been asked in January to consider changing to another weekend, would they not have been well advised to think seriously about doing it then so that they could have given plenty of notice about an alternative venue?

I know that the English association was told, but I do not think that the Scottish Football Association was made aware of this possible change. However, to some extent the football authorities bear some responsibility, because to saythe least they have been criminally stupid.

There is, however, a case for Government compensation, because the Government created the problem. It was they who put on the pressure after the deplorable scenes at the Luton-Millwall match. In the longer term, the Government must clarify the future of the England-Scotland match at Wembley. Following our meeting with the Minister responsible for sport, the press thought he made it clear that never again would the England-Scotland match take place at Wembley on a Saturday. We should be told tonight whether or not that is true, If it is, it is an even greater insult to the Scottish fans.

In effect the Minister is saying, "We will not transfer the cup final or the rugby league final from a Saturday. the only game that we will insist is played mid-week is the England-Scotland match." The implication is that the scottish fans are causing the problem, yet we saw the trouble that was caused at the two FA cup semi-finals in England, which presumably will occur at the final to be played at Wembley on a Saturday. Therefore, the Government must think seriously about the implications of this decision.

I hope that they will now introduce legislation along the lines of the McElhone report, not the half-hearted measures which they are at present proposing, which suggest that drink will be banned only at grounds where trouble is caused. All football grounds should be told to ban drink. Such a ban should even include Twickenham and Murrayfield. There must be fairness which is apparent to all, and if a ban applies only to some grounds it will be unjust and unfair.

Funds must be made available to ensure that football recovers and that football grounds become social centres. That was the other half of the McElhone report which was never put into effect. It should be implemented now so that football grounds again become the social centres which large numbers of people can attend. The Government are responsible, and I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply.

10.9 pm

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) for leaving me a few minutes, and to the Minister for agreeing that I should contribute to the debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his usual diligence in seeing the opportunity for a second Adjournment debate, and on choosing an important subject. Although the terraces in this arena may be empty tonight, I assure all those who are present that the terraces in Scotland are livid at the way in which the Government have acted in such a ham-handed fashion and bungled the issue of the Scotland-England football international.

For an ex-president of the Scottish rugby union to intervene and defend the decision to transfer the game at the last minute tempts me to ask what might have happened if it had been the Calcutta cup match—but then, it would not have happened with rugby. The Government have a heavy responsibility to bear. The intervention of the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) was highly inaccurate because the Scottish Football Association did not receive a letter from the Government on 10 January. Only the English Football Association received it. The Government are responsible for bungling the matter and casting a slur on the good name and hard-earned good reputation of Scottish football supporters.

I give a hearty welcome to all the England supporters who will come to Hampden on 25 May and to the Prime Minister if she wishes to come. But the most dangerous event in Scotland in May will be the Tory party conference at Perth. All the English supporters who come to Hampden will see how football supporters should behave. The incident that triggered off this issue was the violence at the Luton-Millwall match. The English Football Association dispensed a punishment of a £7,000 fine on Millwall for which the chairman had to write a cheque there and then, and told Luton Town to build a fence around its stadium, which costs £30,000. The total fine, therefore, was £37,000. The consequences have been more far-reaching.

The Government's intervention has produced a shambles. It was caused by the Prime Minister meddling in something that she should have left well alone. [would not be averse to her staying in the far east, the middle east or whatever eastern state she wishes to visit until the international is over. She should have kept out of the matter. However, as soon as she saw an opportunity to wage yet another war she could not possibly resist it. This time the war was about the Scotland-England football international.

The Minister will say that the Government did not insist that the venue of the game be changed. However, in a year when the EFA and SFA are involved in the World Cup qualifying matches, and at a time when both English and Scottish cup finals are taking place and when senior clubs from England, which provide many of the internationalists who will play in the Scotland-England match, are involved in European cup finals, to suggest that they could have found another date was tantamount to suggesting that the game be cancelled completely. The Minister with responsibility for sport was primarily responsible for this. I do not believe that the Scottish Office was consulted. The first that it knew about it was on Friday when the announcement was made. If the hon. Gentleman does not understand the confusion and congestion of dates at this time in the football season, he is not fit to be Minister with responsibility for sport.

That sums up this whole sorry state of affairs. By universal agreement the Minister responsible for sport must resign to atone for his fumbling incompetence. I hope that when the Minister replies he will make it abundantly clear that this is not a slur on Scottish football supporters who have rightly earned a high reputation.

10.19 pm

First, may I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) On his speed and his knowledge of procedure in obtaining this second Adjournment debate. It seems to be a characteristic of Scottish Labour Whips, because the last time that I answered an Adjournment debate in similar circumstances, it was initiated by the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg).

The facts about the match were set out in Hansard by my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for sport in a written answer on 2 April, but I welcome the opportunity to set out the position more fully because it has been misinterpreted. Tonight, not so much the hon. Member for Cathcart, but certainly the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing), misunderstood the position in several important aspects. The first point is that we should look back to 1983 when the England-Scotland match was switched from bank holiday Saturday following representations from British Rail, the police and the Government. Therefore, this year, my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for sport wrote to the Football Association, not soon after the troubles at the LutonMillwall match, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) said, as long ago as 10 January.

The Football Association was responsible for the match, because it was originally scheduled for England. My hon. Friend wrote to express the concern of the Government and of the travel authorities about the match going ahead on bank holiday Saturday, and recommended that it be switched to another date. The Government believed that to hold the match on bank holiday Saturday would significantly increase the risk of disorder. Labour Members rightly referred to the serious problems that resulted recently from the behaviour of a minority of English football fans.

As the hon. Member for Cathcart said, the football associations decided to switch the match to Hampden. The Government were not consulted about that decision, although they were informed the day before.

The hon. Members for Cathcart and for Falkirk, East talked about the belief in some quarters that this was a slur on Scottish football fans, and I wish to nail that allegation now. I repeat what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland said in a statement:
"I am incensed by suggestions that the decision to stage this year's England v Scotland football match in Hampden Park is the result of fears of disorder caused by Scottish supporters. Nothing could be further from the truth. In recent years we have seen Scots football fans proving they are capable of supporting their team without causing trouble. One only has to look at recent crowd troubles in England to see the contrast."
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) made the fair point—I wish to underline the fact—that the police are content for the match to go ahead at Hampden, which is a tribute to Scottish football fans.

It is true, as the hon. Member for Cathcart said, that the authorities in Seville were impressed by the conduct of Scottish supporters during the 1982 World Cup finals, and at the recent World Cup qualifying match in Spain. The hon. Gentleman was right to point out the improved behaviour of Scottish football fans since the Government implemented the provisions of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980, following the excellent report from the late Frank McElhone. The football authorities and the police believe that the Act has had a major beneficial effect. Of course, it is not the whole story, and measures such as the closed circuit television system that I inspected recently are also important.

I apologies to the hon. Gentleman, but I cannot give way as I have very little time left and I must answer a number of specific points

The hon. Member asked about compensation. The decision to transfer the game was not at the request of the Government. However, our view could hardly have been a surprise to the Football Association, because it had received my hon. Friend's letter in January. I wish to join the hon. Gentleman in paying a tribute to British Rail, the Association of British Travel Agents and British Airways for their specific announcements about refund measures. I hope very much that others who hold deposits from Scottish supporters will respond in a like manner. However, there can be no question of Government compensation, as I made clear when the hon. Members for Cathcart and for Falkirk, East came to the Scottish Office to discuss the matter.

The hon. Member for Cathcart asked why it was all right to go ahead on a bank holiday weekend in Glasgow. There is no history of serious disruption on bank holiday Saturdays in Glasgow, and I do not believe that there is any reason to think that there will be serious disruption this time. Of course I regret the inconvenience to the hon. Gentleman's constituents. However, the decision was announced on 29 March, so it is not fair to say that no notice was given. There has been a reasonable period of notice for the organisations to which the hon. Gentleman referred to try to change their plans.

On police costs, I can confirm that policing arrangements for the match will be as usual. Those costs incurred inside the ground will be recoverable from the organisers of the match, while the responsibility of the police for public order outside the ground will be as usual. Although I wish to make other points, I am prepared to give way to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West, who tried to intervene earlier.

I wished only to ask whether the Minister was aware of any discussions between the Department of the Environment, the Home Office and the Scottish Football Association. It is clear that the English Football Association was consulted by someone, but the Scottish Football Association was not.

I can confirm that, following the letter from my hon. Friend the Minister responsible for sport on 10 January, there were discussions between my hon. Friend and the Football Association on this and other matters. I can also confirm that the Scottish Office was kept informed throughout by my hon. Friend.

Hon. Members have asked about future Wembley internationals, and I wish to make the position absolutely clear. The Government believe that it is a common-sense precaution to avoid the England-Scotland match being held on a bank holiday Saturday. That means that the match can be held either mid-week or on any other appropriate Saturday. That is a perfectly reasonable position. I hope that in future years the Football Association will be very meticulous about its consultations with travel authorities and the police in deciding on the dates.

This debate has been useful in putting the true position on the record and in correcting some of the misapprehensions of the hon. Member for Falkirk, East, especially on the timing—

The Question having been proposed at Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. Deputy Speaker adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at half past-Ten o'clock.