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World Cup

Volume 175: debated on Wednesday 27 June 1990

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8.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he will be making to UEFA concerning the behaviour of England fans at the World Cup.

I have agreed with the president of UEFA that it would be unwise of the Government to take a view on the return of English clubs to European competitions until we are able to assess the behaviour of English supporters in the 1989–90 domestic season and throughout the World Cup. I will provide my assessment to UEFA as soon as possible.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating the vast majority of English fans at the World Cup who, together with their Scottish and Irish friends, have behaved extremely well? Does he agree that although the Italian police perhaps stepped beyond the bounds on several occasions, they have shown the value of dealing with trouble well away from the ground? Will the Minister make representations to UEFA that it is far better to identify troublemakers and deal with them severely, in whichever country they are caught, than to penalise the whole of English football by keeping it out of international competition?

I, too, recognise that the overwhelming majority of English supporters have gone to Italy to enjoy a festival of football and have behaved admirably.

The hon. and learned Gentleman's second point was on Italian police activity. I join him in commending the Italian police for taking tough, effective and swift measures to contain the incidents of violence.

With regard to the hon. Gentleman's third point about action by the courts, I agree that other countries in Europe and, indeed, elsewhere in the world would do well to introduce measures which allow their countries to take action against people convicted of football-related offences in the country where the football match took place. We have led the way through part II of the Football Spectators Act 1989 and I hope that other countries will follow.

Is not it the case that a number of the measures that my hon. Friend fought for with the Italian authorities in relation to Sardinia, particularly the bans on alcohol near the ground, and the ferry bans, have been particularly effective as was his work with the football intelligence unit in identifying hooligans before they reached Sardinia? Is not it a disgrace that my hon. Friend's efforts on behalf of this country are constantly being undermined by yesterday's Minister, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell), who has failed to have the good grace to welcome all the efforts that my hon. Friend has made, the majority of which, in the first stage of the competition, were entirely successful?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. The Government have always taken the view that it is important to be pro-active and to work closely with the Italian authorities to put in place as many layers of deterrence against hooliganism as possible. We have been working hard for more than 14 months and have joined the Italian authorities in more than 120 measures to deter the hooligan element. I deeply regret that a tiny minority is still intent on hooliganism and continues to cause trouble. However, we shall continue throughout the rest of the World Cup to work closely with the Italian authorities, as we have done to date, to make sure that any measures required to stamp out hooliganism have the full backing and support of this Government.

Millions of peace-loving fans want to see England back in European football. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on what he has done, but will he confirm that he intends to play vigorously on their side to get English football back into Europe?

I have made it absolutely clear to the House that the overwhelming majority of football supporters have behaved well during the World Cup and I shall make it clear to UEFA that where there have been incidents of violence involving English supporters, a comprehensive report—based on police evidence and my officials' reports, not on newspaper headlines—will form part of the full report which goes to UEFA at the end of the World Cup.

Is my hon. Friend really able to assure UEFA that British football management is sufficiently determined to meet hooliganism with touch discipline? If the Football League can relegate Swindon town from division 1 to division 3 because of the behaviour of a couple of crooks, why did it not demote Leeds united from division 1 to division 4 because of the criminal behaviour of 200 hooligans who laid waste a number of seaside towns?

My hon. Friend has made his point very clearly. I have no doubt that the Football League will pay due attention to it.

May I advise the Minister that this afternoon I have requested a meeting with the president of UEFAH—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—to make sure that he fully understands that the Minister's policies lie in ruins, as we predicted, and to assure him that the Minister's increasingly frenzied utterances, particularly about innocent people who have been deported without trial, have no support on the Opposition Benches or among responsible people? What steps has the Minister taken to tell the Italian authorities that to round up and deport people, some of whom were tourists, miles away from the scene of the incident, is a disgrace and that every citizen is entitled to defend himself and his reputation under Italian, English and European law? [Interruption.] May I say to the Minister—[Interruption.]

Order. The right hon. Gentleman should ask a question, not make a statement.

May I ask the Minister to follow the policy on which we have supported him—that guilty people should be prosecuted and dealt with, but that innocent people should be presumed not guilty rather than being rounded up as they have been? [Interruption.] It was clear that Conservative Members—[Interruption.]

Order. This is Question Time, and I must ask the right hon. Gentleman to be brief.

I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, that when I started this question, it was quite a short question.

May I finally say—

Order. I must ask the right hon. Gentleman to make his final comments brief.

That is my intention, Mr. Speaker.

Finally, I ask the Minister to reflect on the monstrous mass libel of guilty and innocent alike represented by the comments that he is reported in this morning's press to have made—that they are criminally motivated. The guilty should be prosecuted but people who have claimed that they are innocent and have not been given the opportunity to prove it should not be convicted by such mass libel.

When the right hon. Gentleman studies the record, he will see that he has echoed the pleas of the louts who comprise football's effluent tendency. The Government stand shoulder to shoulder with all decent people in this country who condemn the criminally motivated minority of so-called England fans. I remain firm in my support for the tough, swift and effective policing that has undoubtedly contained incidents which could have escalated to levels that we have seen all too often in the past.

I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman has only this morning decided that he wishes to seek a meeting with UEFA. He was in Italy for 10 days at the same time as the president of UEFA; he could perhaps have seen him then.