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Football Fan Violence: Euro 2016

Volume 611: debated on Tuesday 14 June 2016

(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary to make a statement on the incidents of violence in Marseille over the weekend involving England fans at the Euro 2016 football tournament.

As I told the House yesterday, the trouble that occurred in Marseille involving England supporters was deeply disturbing. Yesterday I also made it clear that co-ordinated groups of Russian supporters were responsible for instigating a good deal of the worst violence. I note that within the past hour UEFA has announced that Russia is subject to a suspended disqualification from the tournament. This Government’s priority now is to work with the French authorities to ensure that the events of the weekend are not repeated.

This morning I updated Cabinet colleagues on the full range of measures we are taking ahead of the match between England and Wales in Lens on Thursday. It had already been agreed with the French that an additional contingent of UK police spotters would be deployed to help identify troublemakers. The Foreign Office is advising supporters without tickets to avoid travelling to Lens and nearby Lille; it has drawn fans’ attention to the fact that Russia is playing Slovakia in Lille tomorrow afternoon and has said that English and Welsh supporters should be on their guard.

Stadium security is a significant concern following the breakdown of segregation in the Vélodrome stadium. We are all acutely conscious of the dangers when crowd management inside a stadium goes wrong. Discussions are going on with the French police about reinforcing the stewarding operation in Lens on Thursday night.

The House will already be aware of the robust operation in place in this country to prevent known troublemakers subject to football banning orders from travelling to France before the start of the tournament, as a result of which almost 1,400 passports have been surrendered. Following the violence in Marseille, nine British nationals were arrested, six of whom have now been given custodial sentences for their involvement in that violence. We expect all to be subject to additional court proceedings on their return to the UK, to examine whether banning orders should be imposed.

I am deeply concerned at the very serious injuries suffered by some England supporters in Marseille. The Foreign Office has additional staff in France and is providing consular assistance to those who have been hurt and to their families.

I am confident that all the measures that we and the French are taking will help, but I conclude by echoing the England captain and manager, who have urged fans to stay out of trouble. As UEFA’s decision relating to the Russian team shows, the penalties for individuals and for the teams they support could be severe if there is more violence in the days ahead.

As the dust settles on a terrible weekend in Marseille, attention is turning to security around England’s next game. While England fans were certainly not blameless at the weekend, it is clear that they were the subject of extreme violence meted out by Russian supporters. Whatever the rights and wrongs, we cannot afford to see any repeat of that. I am sure we are all agreed on that, but there are real fears that there could be a repeat.

The chairman of the Football Association has raised serious concerns in a letter to UEFA. He identifies a number of major security lapses in the stadium on Saturday. He says that stewarding was poor and segregation insufficient, and that fireworks and flares were taken in and then let off. That is extraordinary, given the heightened security around the tournament. Greg Dyke also points to a situation where England and Russian fans may come face to face again tomorrow in Lille. The thousands of people from the three home nations who are out there to enjoy the football will now be worried about their safety. That is why we have brought this urgent question today.

With respect to the Home Secretary, she did not provide a full statement on these matters yesterday. Can she confirm today exactly how many police are being sent to France and what precisely they will be asked to do? She mentions football banning orders. In 2010, 3,174 football banning orders were in place. Now, that number is 2,181. Why has it dropped so significantly? She says that 1,400 passports were seized in advance of the tournament, but there are over 2,000 banning orders. What happened to the other 600 people whose passports have not been taken?

On stadium safety, will the Government today contact UEFA to reinforce the FA’s concerns at a very senior level? Will the Home Secretary ask UEFA to investigate claims that Russian ultras have links to the official Russian delegation?

On policing, it would appear that some tactics were heavy-handed and the indiscriminate use of tear gas added to the general sense of chaos. We accept the sensitivity of policing, but will there be any discussion with the French authorities on policing going forward? Will there be any discussions about managing particular flashpoints in Lille tomorrow and keeping supporters separate?

What is needed now more than anything is honesty and cool heads on all sides. Many England fans were clearly the victims of violent extremists and poor security, but it is not acceptable to march into someone else’s town singing provocative songs about the second world war and launching bottles at police. Ahead of Thursday and the rest of the tournament, all sides now need to take a look at themselves and resolve, from hereon in, to make this the festival of football we all want it to be.

The right hon. Gentleman raises a number of issues. I can assure him that we are in touch with a number of people. This morning I spoke to Assistant Chief Constable Roberts, the police lead on these matters. ACC Roberts was in fact in the middle of a meeting with French police and others, so I am not able to give the right hon. Gentleman the full results of that meeting. However, I will be able to speak on some of the measures being taken. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport spoke to the Russian Sports Minister after the events that took place in Marseille at the weekend. As I said yesterday, I have spoken with my French opposite number, Bernard Cazeneuve.

As I said, the police were meeting—I think they are still meeting as we speak—to consider what extra action will be taken around Lille and Lens. My understanding is that there is an expectation that there will be a greater police presence around the stadium, for security both outside and inside the stadium. The right hon. Gentleman asks how many police we have sent to France. We do not talk about numbers for operational reasons, but we are involved in a number of things: police spotters are trained to spot potential troublemakers; we are providing support on post-incident analysis of, for example, CCTV footage; and we are providing some investigative support. Whatever the French have asked for, we have been willing to provide. As I said, that goes for both police and British transport police.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the change in number of the approximately 2,000 people subject to a football banning order here and the nearly 1,400 who have had passports taken away. The answer to his question is that we have taken passports away from those who are passport holders; the others do not hold passports.

Clearly, the disgraceful scenes in France, in particular by Russian thugs, are to be condemned. What has my right hon. Friend done about assessing the position of Russia hosting the next World cup in 2018? The implications for the safety of England supporters, and of supporters from around the world, have to be considered. We all want to see the beautiful game played on the field, not thugs on the terraces ruining it.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Our current focus must be on the immediacy of Euro 2016, but he is absolutely right that, following this event, we will need to look carefully at the next championship event, which, as he says, is due to be held in Russia. There will be concerns about that in view of what we have seen with the Russian supporters. As my hon. Friend says, and as I reiterated yesterday, any fans, whoever they support, who get involved in violence during these games are letting down not only themselves, but all the law-abiding fans who want to go and enjoy a good football tournament.

Of course we must take steps to protect fans from all the home nations from violence at the hands of others while they are abroad, but does the Home Secretary agree that we must also address the appalling behaviour of some of the English fans? In the 1970s, we had a serious problem with football hooliganism in Scotland. We managed to address it, and now the tartan army win awards for their good behaviour and their charitable work. Scotland may not have a world-class—[Interruption.]

Scotland may not have a world-class football team—yet—but we have world-class fans who know how to behave themselves, as it appears do the Welsh and the Northern Irish fans. My point is that the problem of recurring football hooliganism is not insoluble. What is most worrying, however, is the undertow of racism to this football hooliganism, and if it is allowed to continue unchecked, English fans will not be welcome abroad. What is being done to address that? Finally, a senior politician in Marseille has demanded that the United Kingdom pay towards the cost of the clean-up operation after the trouble on the city’s streets. What steps will the Home Secretary take to ensure that these costs fall on the fans responsible and not on the British taxpayer?

I think that tone of the hon. and learned Lady’s remarks was somewhat unfortunate. Yes, as I indicated yesterday at Home Office questions—the hon. and learned Lady was in her place at the time—some England supporters were involved in the violence; and as I indicated just now in response to the urgent question, nine England supporters have been arrested and action is being taken against them by the French criminal justice system. Those people will be considered for banning orders when they return to the United Kingdom. Football hooliganism can erupt anywhere with any group of fans. We have experience here in the UK of dealing with football hooliganism in the past. Arrangements, including banning orders, are in place, and they do work well, but we are, of course, ever-vigilant and will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that the law-abiding fans who wish to enjoy football are able to do so.

English football hooligans who take part in such violence bring shame on our country. It would appear in this case that the bulk of the responsibility lies with some really nasty Russian football hooligans. Anyone who takes part in violence needs to take responsibility for it. Frankly, the French have enough to worry about with the terrorist threat to this football tournament, and this is the very worst time to have to get involved in other issues. Will my right hon. Friend redouble her efforts to make sure that the French have all the intelligence they need to weed out the few troublemakers who are catching the headlines?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We are working with the French authorities to ensure that they have as much information as possible about the individuals who might be troublemakers. Given our expertise with police spotters, greater numbers of them will be in France for the match on Thursday, so that they can provide exactly that support to the French authorities.

I see in his place the record-setting, long-serving Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee. I call Mr Keith Vaz.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is ludicrous to believe that politicians, Ministers or shadow Ministers can control what supporters do at a football match. However, it is a worry, given that more matches are to be played, that flares and other weapons were being taken into stadiums at a time when France is on such a high state of alert. Interpol is 200 miles away from Marseille. What action is being taken to flag up the names and the photographs of those involved with Interpol so that we can ensure that these people cannot travel across borders in the future?

The right hon. Gentleman mentions stadium security and flares being taken in, and we are discussing with the French police what further steps they can take on security both at and inside the stadium on Thursday. The UK police are working with the French, and with the Russian and Slovakian police—the match on Wednesday will be Russia versus Slovakia in Lille—to ensure that every action is taken to identify and act against troublemakers. Action has been taken against England fans, and there are also some reports about the French authorities taking action against some Russian fans.

The French authorities, police and armed forces have had to face the horrors of the Charlie Hebdo and Paris attacks in recent months, so does the Home Secretary agree that no matter what the provocation from Russian thugs, it is beholden on English football fans to show restraint and respect to the French authorities?

Yes, and we should give that clear message to the England fans. As I said, the England captain and manager have urged and encouraged fans to go and enjoy the football, to show respect for the authorities, and not to get involved in violence or hooliganism.

I was at the match on Saturday in Marseille, and the scenes that we saw in the stadium were of a sort that we thought we had left behind 30 years ago. It was an appalling, co-ordinated and violent assault on England fans by the Russian fans, and it was very worrying. It is clear that the French police were entirely focused on preventing terrorism, and they had no real strategy for preventing hooliganism. By taking responsibility for running the tournament at this time, the police have a responsibility to keep fans safe. How will the Home Secretary ensure that the French police—who were non-existent three minutes after the attacks had started—police all aspects of the tournament, including hooliganism and violence, and are not just looking at terrorism?

UEFA’s rules about police presence in the stadium are different from the rules that we tend to operate in the United Kingdom, where we do have a police presence in the stadium, but those sorts of discussions are currently taking place at an operational level. I have spoken to Assistant Chief Constable Roberts, who is leading UK policing involvement. The police are sitting down and discussing with the various authorities how much policing can be put into the stadium, and what action can be taken for security outside the stadium for those who are entering it, as well as those inside.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will join me in commending the Wales fans whose conduct at Bordeaux was widely praised in the French press. She has mentioned the measures that she is putting in place, together with her French colleagues, in anticipation of the match at Lens. Given that that will be the first encounter between two British teams, does she share my concern that it may prove to be a possible target for an external terrorist threat, and are the security services bearing that in mind?

My right hon. Friend will be reassured to know that the Secretary of State for Wales spoke to the Football Association of Wales yesterday about those matters, and we are working with authorities from all the home nations involved in this tournament. The security and terrorist threat for France remains critical, as it has been for some time, but I assure my right hon. Friend and the House that law enforcement and security services in the UK are working closely with their French counterparts on the terrorist threat that we all face.

Does the Home Secretary share the conviction that football—the beautiful game—can often be a force for good, and that most football fans, both here and abroad, are there to enjoy the game? What will she do in the coming days and months to spread that message, and what conversations will she have with the FA, and others, to ensure that those who come in peace outnumber and out-voice those who come to do violence?

I share the hon. Lady’s comments about football, and as president of the Wargrave Girls football club I see the effect of football on young people, and the excitement, interest and benefits that it can give. On a more serious note, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will be in touch with football authorities in the United Kingdom, and we must make it clear that people should be enjoying this sport. People should not feel fear when they go to a game; they should know that they are going to enjoy it, and come away having done so and feeling better for it.

Banning orders have been effective in the past, but they have tended to be imposed for domestic incidents, rather than those that have taken place abroad. Will the Home Secretary assure the House that every effort will be made to identify troublemakers abroad so that whether or not they have been arrested, banning orders can be imposed and we will not have problems from those people in the future?

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. When people are identified, consideration will be given to taking action through banning orders. It is possible to give banning orders for violence that has occurred outside the UK.

The appalling violence must be condemned, whoever perpetrates it and wherever it comes from. I am sure that the Home Secretary will agree that fans from England, Wales, Northern Ireland and indeed the Irish Republic who have behaved in an exemplary way deserve praise, and that they are the vast bulk of fans. Our thoughts are with the family of a fan from Northern Ireland, Darren Rodgers, who was killed in an accident in Nice, and I am sure that the good wishes of the whole House go to his family at this sad time. Will the Home Secretary impress on the French authorities and UEFA the lessons that they need to learn about the events of last week?

I echo the right hon. Gentleman’s comments, and the House sends its condolences to the family of Darren Rodgers. That was a terrible accident to happen in any circumstances, but for someone who was going there to enjoy watching the football, it is an appalling tragedy for his family.

We are talking to the French authorities about how matches can be policed, but the right hon. Gentleman is right to say that the vast majority of fans are law-abiding and go to enjoy the game and have a good time. We should praise them when they do so, and I encourage all fans from England, Wales and Northern Ireland to carry on doing that and to ensure that we have a tournament of which everybody is proud.

Following the great success of last year’s rugby world cup, will my right hon. Friend commission a study into what is causing the distinction in behaviour between some who support association football and those who support rugby football?

A lot of work has been done on football hooliganism over the years, and our UK police are very good at managing football matches so that people of all ages are able to go and enjoy them.

On Thursday we will see the historic fixture between England and Wales at Euro 2016, featuring the best player in the tournament, Cardiff’s own Gareth Bale. Does the Home Secretary agree that the best antidote to what happened last weekend would be a brilliant game on Thursday, and a peaceful crowd throughout the game?

I will not comment on individual players, but I entirely echo what the hon. Lady says about the best antidote to what happened last Saturday being a peaceful and excellent game that everybody can enjoy.

I understand that the sanctions that UEFA is levelling against the Russians—a suspended disqualification and a fine—apply only to incidents that happened within the ground, because that is the extent of its jurisdiction. Does the Home Secretary agree that we need to examine the rules so that the football associations of the home nations are responsible for their fans regardless of where they are and that the rules should not be limited just to actions within a stadium?

I think that the hon. Lady’s understanding of the situation is correct. These are, of course, UEFA rules, and it not a matter for the Government to set those rules, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has heard her question.

The hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) asked a very relevant question about the next World cup, which will take place in Russia. Will the Home Secretary ask UEFA and FIFA to investigate the alleged links between the Russian football authorities and extreme groups? Will she also ask FIFA to investigate the ability and willingness of the football and political authorities in Russia to offer a safe and secure environment to law-abiding fans who want to travel to the World cup, especially in view of the amount of racism and homophobia that exists in sections of that country?

The hon. Gentleman raises a number of concerns relating to the tournament in Russia. As I said earlier, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has been in touch with the sport Ministers in Russia. I think that our immediate focus must be on the tournament in France, but I am sure that when that tournament is over, people looking ahead to the tournament in Russia will want to raise many issues, some of which will be for Governments and others for the football authorities.

Before our friends from Scotland get too carried away, may I gently remind them that there was a riot at the end of the Scottish football final on 21 May?

I want to make a serious point about how we can prevent racism and do the necessary work on the ground. For the past two decades, groups such as Show Racism the Red Card have played a tremendous part in that anti-racist work, going into schools and encouraging young people to get involved in it. Sadly, however, as a result of Government decisions, funding for such groups has been cut both by local authorities and the Department for Communities and Local Government. May I encourage the Home Secretary and other Ministers who are here today to consider restoring that support? Getting to our children first is what will end this curse.

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the significant work that has been done over the years to stop racism in football. Sadly, the job is not complete; the work must continue, and the Government and football authorities take that seriously. However, the issue is wider than racism. Before the Olympics I was involved in discussions with a number of sports authorities, including the Football Association, about homophobia at sporting events. We should all take those issues seriously and work at every level to try to cut all that out.

Any football fan who goes to a match intending to commit or initiate violence is clearly criminal and must be subject to the full force of the law. However, what we witnessed in the stadium were innocent people suffering unprovoked assaults, having to flee for their lives and risking serious injury. Will the Home Secretary ensure that the fact that those fans were wearing football shirts will not prevent them from receiving the Government’s full support so that they can seek justice against their perpetrators like people in any other walk of life?

Obviously the investigation of any incidents that have taken place will be primarily a matter for the French authorities. However, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that consular support from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is available to all those people.

I was lucky enough to be part of the 25,000-strong sea of red in Bordeaux at the weekend who witnessed Wales’s victory over Slovakia, which leaves us top of the group—[Interruption]—ahead of England. However, there is genuine concern about what those Welsh fans may face during the two group games before the next stage: the games against England and Russia. The Home Secretary is, after all, Home Secretary for both England and Wales, so what assurances can she give about what she is doing, in conjunction with other authorities, to ensure that those Welsh fans—who, it must be said, behaved impeccably in Bordeaux—are protected during the next two games?

You will have noticed, Mr Speaker, that I am trying to avoid commenting on any results of matches that have taken place.

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we are paying attention to the policing of all the matches that involve home nations. Police from Wales, England and Northern Ireland are in France, and Assistant Chief Constable Roberts is working with all the police and the French authorities on behalf of every home nation.

Following the Home Secretary’s answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), may I ask her whether she has read the remarks of Mr Igor Lebedev, a Member of the Russian Parliament who is also a member of the executive of the Football Union of Russia? He has actually said, “Well done, lads—keep it up,” to those thugs and hooligans. Given that he is a member of the so-called—apologies—Liberal Democratic party, which is a fascist party in Russia, does that not indicate that there is a wider political problem that calls into question whether Russia should host the World cup?

I have seen a newspaper report of those remarks, which were utterly irresponsible and not remarks that we would expect to hear from anyone. I would not expect anyone to support the violence that was perpetrated by Russian fans against England fans, or to express any belief that that was in any respect the right way to behave. I think that it was an utterly appalling statement. I have indicated that there are issues to be addressed in the future in relation to football in Russia, given everything that has been seen.

Russian fans were high on body-building medication, covered in tattoos and spoiling for a fight, encouraged—as we heard from the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes)—by some Russian Members of Parliament. What will be done to protect British fans—indeed, all fans—from these Russian thugs?

Every effort is being made to work with the French authorities to ensure that if any extra action is necessary to protect fans from any of the home nations against the thugs who have been perpetrating this violence, that action is taken.

I was in Bordeaux over the weekend. I hope that the Home Secretary will join me in congratulating the Welsh fans on their fantastic behaviour, which she did not do earlier. However, as a seasoned supporter, I am, like the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), genuinely concerned about what will happen in the next 48 hours, when Welsh fans find themselves in a toxic cocktail consisting of a small minority of Russian and English football hooligans. The Welsh FA has advised fans not to travel to Lens without a ticket and not to stay in Lille, as have the UK Government. Will the Home Secretary call on the English FA to make a similar statement and to start taking responsibility for the actions of a small minority of its supporters?

I am happy to join the hon. Gentleman, my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) and others in praising those Welsh fans who behaved perfectly properly at the opening match in which Wales was involved. I am also happy to praise the English and Northern Irish fans who behaved perfectly properly at their matches. Unfortunately, as we know, a number of Russian supporters instigated and were involved in violence, along with—sadly—a small number of English supporters. I think that we should send the clear message that has already been sent by the England captain and manager: we want fans—all fans—to behave properly, and not to become involved in any violence whatsoever.

Like hundreds of thousands of other people, my family and I have just renewed our season tickets for our hometown clubs, but none of us fancy the prospect of sitting next to anyone who was tried and convicted of violence in France during the next season. Does the Home Secretary agree that clubs themselves should revoke, without recompense, the season tickets of any fans who are found to have been tried and convicted?

The hon. Gentleman tempts me down a route for which neither I nor any other Minister has responsibility. It is up to football clubs themselves to choose what action to take. What is important is that where we, as a Government, can take action in relation to the banning orders, that action is taken, as it has been and will continue to be.

It has not been lost on us that, as the police deal with the mammoth task of securing the Euros, there was an IS-claimed terror attack yesterday in Paris, resulting in the loss of two lives. As we send our police from the Police Service of Northern Ireland, from England and from Wales, we reduce the burden on the French authorities and, indeed, keep our fans safe. Can the Home Secretary tell us whether the Russian authorities have been as positive, proactive and productive in continuing to check on their fans as we have?

The hon. Gentleman is right: an attack did take place, which has been claimed as Daesh-related, and I understand the French Interior Minister and indeed President have described it as such. Obviously, the full details of that attack are yet to emerge, but it is important that we allow the French authorities to undertake the work that they need to do to keep fans safe, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that from the conversation I have had with ACC Roberts, it is clear the Russian police who are present in France are also working with the French authorities and the UK police on this matter.

But it is not just Russian Members of Parliament who are acting irresponsibly; so, too, are sections of the Russian media. Is the Home Secretary aware that the Komsomolskaya Pravda tabloid says that Russia is now the clear favourite to win the “alternative Euros” and has published a glossary of hooligan terms for the uninitiated? Is that not reprehensible? What discussions is she having with the Russian authorities to condemn those actions, and what conversations are the Government having with FIFA in respect of Russia hosting the next World cup?

I would like to add my condolences to the family of Darren Rodgers, the Northern Ireland supporter who died, tragically, in France. I also pay tribute to those fans who have gone from the United Kingdom, whether England, Wales or Northern Ireland—and, indeed, fans from the Republic of Ireland—and have behaved well.

Have the Home Secretary, or the forces and authorities, identified any short-term measures that could be put in place over this next week and 10 days to try to address and reduce the violence taking place in France?

Work is being done with the French authorities to look at the policing of future matches, with a particular focus, obviously, on the match in Lille and, from our point of view, the England-Wales game in Lens on Thursday. The authorities and police here will also be taking every action necessary. If there are fans who return to the UK who have been involved in violence and could be subject to banning orders, the police will take action against them.