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Euro 2016: Fan Violence

Volume 773: debated on Tuesday 14 June 2016


My Lords, in an effort to avoid a double act, I wish to repeat in the form of a Statement a response to an Urgent Question given by the Secretary of State for the Home Department in the other place on violence in Marseilles at the Euro 2016 Championships. The Statement is as follows.

“The trouble that occurred in Marseilles involving England supporters was deeply disturbing. 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 UEFA has announced this morning 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 that 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 United Kingdom police spotters would be deployed to help identify troublemakers. The Foreign Office is advising supporters without tickets that they should avoid travelling to Lens and nearby Lille. The Foreign Office has drawn fans’ attention to the fact that Russia is playing Slovakia in Lille tomorrow afternoon and said that English and Welsh supporters should be on their guard.

Stadium security is an area of significant concern following the breakdown of segregation in the Vélodrome stadium. We are acutely conscious of the dangers when crowd management inside a stadium goes wrong, and discussions are in hand 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, which has seen almost 1,400 passports being surrendered. Following the violence in Marseilles, nine British nationals were arrested and six have now been given custodial sentences for their involvement in the violence. Our expectation is that all will be subject to additional court proceedings on their return to the United Kingdom to examine whether banning orders should be imposed.

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

We are confident that all the measures we and the French are taking will help, but I would conclude by echoing the England captain and manager, who have urged fans to stay out of trouble. As the UEFA decision in relation 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”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, the violence in Marseilles is to be deplored. It has involved a small minority of England supporters, although organised groups of Russian supporters have apparently been at the heart of the most violent acts. Whoever is to blame, the reality is that matches are taking place in other parts of France, involving other nations’ supporters, without the violence we have seen both inside and outside the stadium in Marseilles.

We can express our concerns about the policing arrangements and tactics in the streets of Marseilles and about ineffective security and segregation arrangements in place inside the stadium. However, the fact is that this is far from the first time that a small minority of England supporters has been involved in violent scenes when our national team has been playing in major competitions abroad. It damages us all and our country.

For the Government to say that they are “hopeful” the French police will reinforce the stewarding arrangements for England’s next game is not sufficient, since clearly the current approach has been shown to be inadequate. What further action are the Government taking in conjunction with UEFA and the French authorities to ensure the safety of the vast majority of supporters from the three home nations involved, who are only in France to enjoy the football? In addition, what further action are the Government taking to prevent similar trouble arising, associated with England and Wales playing in Lens on Thursday, particularly bearing in mind that the previous day Russia will have been playing in Lille only some 25 miles away, and that many England and Wales supporters are likely to be basing themselves in Lille alongside Russian supporters?

I entirely concur with the observations of the noble Lord with regard to the outrageous behaviour of a very small minority of English supporters, which casts a shadow upon all those others who simply wish to enjoy a UEFA championship tournament. With regard to further steps and to policing within stadiums, one has to bear in mind that the conditions for policing and the segregation of fans differ between Europe and our domestic football league. Under the present UEFA rules, it is not possible for the police to be stationed within the stadium during the match. Consequently, segregation is left to stewards within the stadium. That is the subject of ongoing discussion.

With regard to further assistance from this Government, further police officers were requested by the French, and police spotters will be provided in Lens in the run-up to the match between England and Wales. In addition, British Transport Police officers have been stationed on cross-channel services, and indeed on services to Lens and up to Lille itself. Furthermore, the Foreign Office has given advice that those without tickets should not travel to Lens or to Lille. As the noble Lord observed, on the day before the match in Lens there is a match between Russia and Slovakia in Lille.

My Lords, first, we express our condolences to all those innocent parties caught up in this violence. Secondly, can the Minister give us some assurance that co-operation between European states, whether in or out of the EU, is very important, and that such things as are available to us, including the European arrest warrant, will be used to pursue anybody who we discover has been involved in this after the event, if not before?

I cannot say to what extent the European arrest warrant will have to be deployed in respect of persons responsible for these actions in France. However, persons who return to England may be subject to the civil procedure relating to football banning orders, which results in the loss of their passports. With regard to co-operation, there has been co-operation between the English and French police authorities since well before the championship began, and that co-operation continues.

Will the noble and learned Lord express admiration for the actions of the 24,000 Welsh supporters on Saturday night in the Slovakia game, in that they reacted to their success by way of exquisite choral harmony, thus endorsing the words of Dylan Thomas:

“Thank God, we are a musical nation”?

My Lords, would it not be desirable for the Russian Government to provide the kind of assistance to the French Government that the United Kingdom Government are providing? Will my noble and learned friend tell the House what steps we are taking to encourage that?

I am not sure that at this stage the Government would wish to encourage the Russians to place police officers in France for the purposes of the championship.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the behaviour of the 24,000 Welsh fans at Bordeaux on Saturday, of whom I was one, was described by the French police as incident-free and by the French press as a joyous occasion? Will he commend to the English fans the need to replicate this approach to sport in whatever remaining games England have in this competition?

I believe that such commendation is not required because the vast majority of English supporters are decent and peaceful. We are dealing here with an exception, where a tiny minority has tarred the others. I do not believe that one should assume that, because this tiny minority has brought this shadow on the game, it reflects the views of the vast majority of English supporters.

My Lords, the British police are trying to track down the British hooligans who took part in some of the riots that we saw over the weekend. Do we know what Russia is doing about that? If it does nothing, does that not raise the question of whether we should have the next championship in Russia?

We are not aware of the steps that the Russians are taking in response to the events in Marseilles. The question of where the World Cup should be held is for FIFA, not for the Government.

My Lords, further to the question from my noble friend Lord Hailsham, should not Her Majesty’s Government take a position on what the Russian Minister has said about his fans’ behaviour in France?

We will take the Russian Government’s response into consideration. Indeed, I understand that the Russian Sports Minister was present in the stadium at Marseilles at the time of the match. It will be the subject of the further ongoing inquiry that has been initiated by UEFA.

My Lords, I am very apprehensive—in fact, I am almost paranoid—that a sword of Damocles is hanging over the England team. My worry is that somebody or some group of people could trigger an event during, after or before the match. Can the Minister guarantee that the French authorities and our own authorities will have an enormous presence there to make sure that there is no injustice?

The policing and security arrangements at Lens are a matter for the French authorities, not for this Government. Of course we have stepped forward to assist them when requested to do so, but we cannot guarantee anything in that regard.

My Lords, the Minister is of course right to say that the decision as to whether the 2018 World Cup should be staged in Russia is a matter for FIFA. However, do the Government have a view on the desirability of that, should the suspended disqualification of Russia from this tournament turn into an actual disqualification because there is further trouble in France?

That involves a series of hypotheses. It appears to me that we should await the outcome of the events, and indeed of the inquiry into the events, in Marseilles.

Will the Minister recognise that what has happened has happened? We are not talking just about hypotheticals here; we have seen real, calculated violence from a group of Russian supporters. It is very serious, and is it not rather complacent of the Government to say that we will wait to see what happens?

It is not a case of being complacent. The question posed by the noble Lord proceeded upon the basis of the suspension hanging over the Russian team becoming an actuality. It has not become an actuality, and it is only that hypothesis that I referred to.