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Hooliganism At Football Matches

Volume 374: debated on Thursday 7 October 1976

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3.9 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what action they are proposing to take in order to help to reduce football hooliganism.

(Baroness Birk)

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government keep this problem under continuing review and are considering what further can be done. The Government have recently issued a fresh circular to football clubs re-emphasising the recommendations of the Working Party on Crowd Behaviour on practical steps to reduce hooliganism among football crowds.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her Answer, but may I ask whether she is aware that hooliganism has regrettably been as bad as ever since the beginning of this season and that the manager of Manchester United, Mr. Docherty, is reported as having said that the Government have got to do something and there must be a deterrent? Do the Government also accept that this has become a serious matter of law and order, because it is clear that some of the hooligans deliberately do not arrive until the game is over?

My Lords, it is absolutely true that hooliganism usually seems to reach its peak at the beginning of every season. I remember very well the noble Lord asking a similar Question at about this time last year. However, since the start of the current season—and this may be small comfort—the incidence has been rather lower than at the start of the previous season and there are signs that the Working Party's recommendations, as they apply to within the grounds, have had some effect.

In addition there have been more arrests, due to the implementation of the Working Party's recommendation which enables the police to get to the source of the hooliganism more quickly. In reply to the other question put by the noble Lord, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and my right honourable friend the Minister for Sport are aware of this and are treating it as a matter of urgency.

My Lords, would not my noble friend agree that soccer is the greatest spectator sport in our country and, in comparison with the Arts, is very poorly served by the Government? Is it not possible to consider greater tax incentives for football clubs to provide more seating accommodation and better facilities for the spectators?

My Lords, I think this is slightly outside the Question and probably part of it should be answered by my noble friend the Minister for the Arts, but I do not think he wants to be brought into hooliganism on this score. One of the problems is that without doubt hooliganism has played a part in deterring responsible supporters from attending matches, and this of course has adversely affected the finances of clubs. It is also true that, nevertheless, about 20 million people attend football matches and of that number, the number of hooligans represent only a small proportion. I do not say that it is not something that should be urgently dealt with. It is of a serious nature, but we do not know, and indeed nobody knows, all the reasons for or the answers to this problem. I can only assure the House that the Government are doing their best.

My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness a similar supplementary question to the one I asked with regard to the noble Lord's Question a year ago? Is she sure that all police authorities are making full use of Special Constabulary to help the regular police with this work, which must impose a very great strain on them, because although some may be making full use of the Special Constabulary others were not a year ago?

My Lords, as I think I replied last year to the noble Lord, there are problems. If I remember rightly, I think he wanted the Special Constabulary increased last year, and there are many reservations about that, certainly on the part of my right honourable friend and my noble friend at the Home Office. I will not go into that area, but if there is anything I can add or anything further I can tell him. I will write to him.

My Lords, as a supporter of Manchester United, may I ask whether it is not the view of the Government that a great deal of the physical outlet expressed in hooliganism is due to the failure to provide the means of expression for reasonable physical outlet in sports? In connection with the football clubs, would it not be possible for the Minister for Sport and Recreation to encourage the greater use of the stadium for physical activities by the youth who attend these matches?

My Lords, I think this may be part of the answer, but the problem is very much more complex than that. The earlier physical maturity of young people, the fact that whereas years ago young boys were usually accompanied by their fathers to matches and similar factors all play their part. I do not think one can say that increasing the facilities for sport would necessarily be the answer, because I am afraid this is not the motivation behind a good deal of the hooliganism.

My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness whether she would consider suggesting to the Home Secretary that the best cure for hooliganism is ridicule and that the stocks might be brought back and the colleagues of the hooligans might spend a good deal of time dealing with their colleague in the stocks?

My Lords, I am not prepared to recommend this to my right honourable friend. If the noble Baroness wishes to write to him she can, but I am afraid it will not have my support.

My Lords, will my noble friend look up the blueprints of some medieval carpenters which she might find in this Palace, so that stocks might be made?

My Lords, would the noble Baroness agree that, in regard to the hooliganism referred to in my noble friend's Question, 90 per cent. of it takes place outside the football ground, often a very considerable distance from it, and far too often it is the football clubs which are blamed for this? Would she not agree that the football authorities are doing what they can, but mainly it is a problem for the Home Office?

My Lords, I do not think that the clubs are to blame because, as I said earlier, where the clubs have implemented the recommendations there has been a decrease in the hooliganism, and we are appreciative of what those clubs have done. The noble Lord is quite right to say that a certain amount of the hooliganism is now taking place outside and at the moment that is concerning my right honourable friend.

My Lords, is it not the case that drink is the real cause of most of the hooliganism and that the youth of this country do not seem to be able to stand much liquor, but they have very high wages to buy a great deal of it?

My Lords, in regard to some youngsters that may be the reason, but I do not think one can generalise.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness believe that I think my noble friend Lord Lyell was not intending to say that the clubs were responsible in any way, but only that the playing of the game formed the occasion for hooliganism in the streets remote from the ground?

My Lords, I understood that and I am sorry if I did not make it clear that we were appreciative of the implementation of the recommendation by many of the clubs and the steps that they have taken. But I was also agreeing with the noble Lord that this had put the hooliganism outside the sports area and very often on to trains or into the streets around, and that was a great cause for concern.