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Restriction On Sale Of Alcohol In Vicinity Of Sporting Events

Volume 78: debated on Thursday 2 May 1985

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

'After section 74 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980 there shall be inserted the following—
"74A. Where the Secretary of State has designated a sporting event under this Act, he may instruct the closure of premises which sell alcohol for consumption otherwise than on those premises, within a radius of 1 mile from the designated sporting event.".'.—[Mr. Maxton.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

6.15 pm

I hasten to assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that I have only one more motion. I promise that I shall then be quiet for the rest of the evening.

I do not think that is the case. I think that my right hon. Friend's constituency is not within a one-mile radius from Hampden park.

Ibrox might be, I agree.

Those of my constituents who live in the Hampden park area have asked: Is it logical, having said that there should be no drink within the grounds or on buses and trains going to the ground, that drink should be allowed near the ground? My constituents suffer from this problem. This is a recent phenomenon in the Hampden area, because the Mount Florida area used to be one of the dry areas of Glasgow. There were no pubs or off-licences. A change in the licensing laws has meant that there are off-licences.

People purchase cans of beer and bottles of whisky from the off-licences and drink them in the street before going into the ground. They do not get drunk, but the empty cans and bottles finish up in the gardens and closes of the people living in the area. Those people are entitled to some protection.

There is some evidence that crowd behaviour improves if the authorities make it difficult for people to drink outside the ground. I went to one of the two league cup finals in Hampden on a Sunday afternoon. Of course, off-licences are not permitted to be open on Sundays. There is no question but that crowd behaviour on the two occasions on which matches have been held on Sunday afternoons was much better than it had been on other occasions, despite improvements in other areas. I think that it is logical to extend the drinking limitations.

I am not saying that, on every sporting occasion taking place on a designated sports ground——

If my hon. Friend listens, he will know that I am not saying that these limitations should apply to every sporting event at every sports ground. The legislation makes it clear that all drink is banned at two specific areas—near a designated sports ground and at designated sporting events. I am referring to the latter. The Secretary of State might designate a game at Hampden, Ibrox or Parkhead.

My hon. Friend said, "Murrayfield." It could have problems. There could be a crowd, and therefore it might be better to ban drink. The drink would be banned only for specified games. The Act defines the duration of a sporting event. It is two hours before the sporting event and one hour after. A limited period is affected. I hope that the Minister will consider an extension of the present powers. Everyone in Scotland agrees that the powers have had an effect on crowd behaviour at footbal matches, and possibly rugby matches at Murrayfield, over the past two years. We can only hope that the Government will introduce similar legislation south of the border rather than the piecemeal action that they are taking. The provisions of the new clause are a logical extension of the present powers.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) on his ingenuity in raising all kinds of topics. We have relatively few opportunities to discuss matters such as football hooliganism, and we should not therefore miss this one. The hon. Gentleman was correct to raise the subject.

In England, the Football Association, the Football League and the clubs have been criticised for failing to act, but ideas are shot down before being fully discussed.

The hon. Gentleman's proposal is worth considering although we can see all kinds of practical difficulties—for example, whether one mile from the ground is the correct radius. If there were a one-mile radius in Dumfries no one would obtain a drink at all. The geography of a place and the layout of the streets might make it impractical to have such a limit. Thee might be a frontier. People would be able to obtain a drink on one side of the frontier but not on the other. The matter must be considered carefully.

There has been a successful change in attitude in Scotland since the legislation, following the McElhone report, introduced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when he was the responsible Minister.

Everyone within the United Kingdom now points to Scotland and says, "You have taken steps and set an example. The situation is infinitely better." People are saying to England and Wales, "Come on. Let us take practical steps also to show that crowd behaviour can be improved by controlling the consumption of alcohol." Scotland has dealt with drink on buses and trains.

As we did when discussing the last matter, we commend highly the work of the police in assisting the stewards and clubs to make crowd behaviour more manageable. We shall never get rid of all crowd trouble. We must not be complacent. We must think of ways of improving the legislation for Scotland. The success that has been achieved in recent years is a splendid base on which to build. Other countries are jealous of the reputation of Scottish fans at home and abroad. I hope that in their interests other countries will follow Scotland's actions with regard to drink. I am perturbed to see that England may only be bringing in a ban at selected grounds. England must go the whole hog and ban drink at all grounds if there is to be an impact on behaviour. Trouble could arise if a small ground which has had no drink ban suddenly meets Arsenal or Chelsea or any first division club. The legislation must be all or nothing.

I want to pay a warm tribute to the Football Trust and to the Football Ground Improvement Trust. They are funded by a percentage of football pools income. We should be grateful to the football pools promoters for providing that money. The trusts have enabled improvements to be made to terraces and fences. Television cameras have been installed to keep an eye on awkward corners. They can provide valuable evidence as to who starts hooliganism in a ground.

It is now recognised, although it took a long time, that the behaviour of players on the field has a bearing on the behaviour of the crowds on the terraces and in the stands.

The hon. Member for Cathcart has included the word "may" in the new clause. The hon. Gentleman's intention, were the Minister to pursue the matter, would be not to have a universal ban on one mile, or any specified distance, around a ground, but to provide the flexibility to cater for any type of sporting event where there may be difficulties. We should sometimes look a little further into the future and hope—it may take rather longer than we would wish—that in five or 10 years we shall wonder what on earth we were doing in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s having all this hooliganism at football matches and other major sporting events. Discipline at home, in school and in the country may work itself through, and the standard of living and of behaviour may be much better than it sometimes is at some football grounds.

I welcome the fact that we have had a chance to discuss the subject. It is right to air successes as well as disappointments over football hooliganism.

I see some deficiencies in the new clause, not in its drafting but in the practicalities of its application. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) is trying to protect those who live around Hampden park. The problem with a one-mile ban around Hampden park is that the trouble would merely be extended to those who live one mile and one yard from the ground. There would be pandemonium. Busloads of people would arrive with drink. If the drink is not allowed on the buses they might come by bicycle or other means of transport. They would bring the drink closer to the ground. Under the present legislation, such people would be stopped. They would not be allowed to take the drink into the ground.

If there were a cycle race from John O'Groats to Wick, the Secretary of State would have to designate areas of a mile all along the route. That would not close the public houses, because my hon. Friend is prepared to allow public houses to remain open within the vicinity of Hampden park, but it would close the licensed grocers and the off-licences. I do not believe that his proposal is practical. On this occasion, my sympathies lie with the Minister, who will probably say much the same as I have.

We have all seen a marked improvement in crowd misbehaviour since the introduction of the legislation. We welcome that, but to extend the legislation in the way suggested is not practical or welcome. There are sufficient powers now to enable the police to ensure that no one can enter a football ground under the influence of alcohol. People may not carry drink into the football park or premises, or consume it within the grounds. I implore my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart to withdraw yet another of his new clauses.

6.30 pm

I congratulate the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey) on using his gimlet-like and razor-sharp mind to identify the deficiencies in his hon. Friend's clause, not least with regard the selectivity of the restriction. One can imagine the representations that would have been made to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) if he had made the provision any more wide-ranging.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) that this is a good opportunity for us to reflect upon our successes in dealing with problems at football grounds and other sporting occasions in Scotland. The matter is causing concern across the United Kingdom. The provisions of part 5 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980 have in the four years of their operation proved to be a success. Indeed, they are now proving to be a model for the rest of the United Kingdom. Scotland has set an example that we hope will, over time, be reflected further afield.

In line with the instructions given to me by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudon, I must say that I am not convinced of the necessity for the new clause.

The 1980 Act already creates offences of being drunk at a sporting event, or attempting to enter while drunk or in possession of alcohol or of a controlled container—for example, a bottle or can. At the ground, anyone who had been imbibing or who was carrying alcohol could be charged with the commission of an offence. That provision is better than a restriction in terms of mileage. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun identified the weakness in that idea. Carry-outs could be bought a yard outside the mile limit, but shops a yard inside the limit would not be allowed to open. I am satisfied that the range of offences within the legislative framework, and the associated powers, are entirely sufficient to reduce the dangers of disorder at sporting events in Scotland. No one can claim that hooliganism and drunkenness have been entirely eradicated, but there has undoubtedly been—as my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries said—a marked improvement in football crowd behaviour since the new provisions came into effect. I therefore see little justification for further legislative change.

The new clause seeks to restrict the sale of alcohol from off-licences near a designated sporting event. It would add nothing to the existing law as it affects football hooligans who try to take drink or bottles into the ground. In addition, the new clause would duplicate the existing powers of the licensing board which, on the application of the police, may close certain licensed premises to the public if it is in the interests of public safety or order to do so. I refer to section 66 of the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976. The matter was considered by the McElhone working party, and it was felt at the time that that legislation was sufficient. As far as I am aware, those powers have never had to be used in connection with a football match, but I am advised that they have been used in other circumstances.

The new clause is an unnecessary duplication of existing law, in an area where there is sufficient legislation to provide the safeguards that we need.

This is a rare opportunity for us to pat ourselves on the back for the success of the 1980 legislation. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the motion.

If I had thought that I was merely giving the Government an opportunity to pat themselves on the back, I might never have tabled the new clause.

It is true that there has been a vast improvement. Everyone would congratulate the Government on it, and the Minister has rightly paid tribute to the work of the late Frank McElhone and his working party.

Hampden park is perhaps more completely surrounded than some other sports grounds by a residential area, and the people living there suffer when big games take place. This year, an extra big game has been forced upon them by the action of the Government. People feel strongly that there should be more control over what happens in the vicinity of the ground.

I take the Minister's point about the duplication of the licensing laws. Perhaps I should have a word with my colleagues in the licensing courts in Glasgow to see what they could do.

The hon. Gentleman has made an allegation that—with his love of accuracy—he will not wish to remain on the record. He suggests that the decision to transfer a certain game to Scotland originated with the Government. It was not a Government decision. It was a decision taken by the football authorities on their own initiative. The Government had suggested a change of date. I believe that the decision to move the game to Scotland was a compliment to the Scottish football fans and to the law on football matches in Scotland.

If we were not in the House of Commons, I would give the Minister a straight answer. The Minister must ask himself whether, if the Minister responsible for sport had not asked the Football Association to make a change in relation to the game, the game would be taking place at Hampden. It would not. It would be taking place at Wembley on 25 May.

The decision about transferring the game may have been that of the Football Association, but the decision to take the game out of Wembley on 25 May was forced upon the FA by the Government. The FA knew that it had no option but to cancel the game altogether or switch it to Hampden. It was the Government's decision.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.