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Football Spectators (Relevant Offences) Regulations 2022

Volume 825: debated on Thursday 3 November 2022

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Football Spectators (Relevant Offences) Regulations 2022.

My Lords, this is a simple but important measure, which will ensure that those convicted of football-related offences involving class A drugs can be subjected to football banning orders. We had been on a long-term downward trend when it came to football disorder. However, we have just had a football season which saw more football-related arrests than in any of the previous seven seasons. Sadly, it is clear that, after pandemic restrictions were lifted, some football fans have concertedly pushed at the unlawful boundaries of safety and security, and this includes taking cocaine while attending football.

The police have been clear that they have seen an increase in drug-fuelled disorder at regulated football matches. This backs up the conclusions of the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, who was commissioned by the Football Association to undertake an independent review surrounding the completely unacceptable disorder by England football fans seen at the Euro 2020 final. The noble Baroness found that cocaine use was rife during Euro Sunday, and witnesses on the day were terrified by the reckless and aggressive behaviour of some fans. Unfortunately, this trend has continued since the Euro 2020 final. A recent study found cocaine traces on nearly all tested toilet cisterns at a major football ground, and the police have found it necessary to carry out matchday operations to seize drugs at football matches and arrest individuals. Cocaine use is highly harmful to both the user and those around them. There is a clear nexus between those who are under the influence of class A drugs and those who have propensity to cause trouble.

A football banning order is an effective tool to help to combat this rise in football-related disorder. We want to be clear that anybody causing trouble at football matches is liable to a ban from all regulated football matches for between three and 10 years. Football banning orders have historically proved successful in preventing known troublemakers continuing to offend and deterring others from offending. This is an important point: we want to prevent offenders attending matches and deter others from future offending. Watching football is not a crime, obviously, but commit crime at football, spoil the match experience for everyone else, and you are not welcome and will be prevented from attending.

The instrument contains a measure to address this; it will ensure that those who turn up to football matches in possession of class A drugs or intending to supply class A drugs to others will be subject to football banning order proceedings following conviction. This will give the police an effective tool to combat the rise in drug use seen at football matches. Police data shows that there were over 140 reported arrests for drug offences during the 2021-22 football season. We cannot allow decent football fans to be frightened of attending matches, or football stadia to become unsafe.

I reassure your Lordships that this order has the backing of the Football Association, the Premier League, the English Football League and the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for football policing. I know your Lordships will recognise the detrimental effects that class A drug supply, possession and use can have at a football match, and I hope that your Lordships support this measure to combat these offences that have contributed to a rise in football-related disorder. I commend this order to the Committee and beg to move.

My Lords, I welcome the statutory instrument and thank the Minister for introducing it so clearly. I regret that it is necessary. It is depressing that, according to the official statistics published by the Home Office on 22 September, the incidence of football-related disorder is at its highest level for some years—a fact that the Minister referred to. There were 2,198 football-related arrests under Schedule 1 to the Football Spectators Act 1989 in the 2021-22 football season—around 59% higher than those in the 2018-19 pre-Covid season and comparable to the levels seen in the 2011-12 and 2013-14 seasons. A new factor is the incidence of drug-taking at football matches, hence the reason for this order.

Those of us who were involved with the efforts of the football bodies and the Government to tackle what was described as hooliganism associated with the game in the 1980s and 1990s knew that alcohol played a huge part in many of the events that shamed English football at that time. Your Lordships may have seen that there is currently a three-part series of programmes on Channel 4 on Monday evenings which centre on the Italia 90 World Cup. They remind us how dire the reputation of English fans at home and abroad then was.

We had hoped that this was all behind us, but quite obviously that is not so. That impression is reinforced if one studies the excellent independent report produced for the FA by the noble Baroness, Lady Casey of Blackstock, on the events surrounding the Euro final at Wembley on 11 July 2021, to which the Minister referred. This was the subject of a Private Notice Question I asked on 6 December—almost a year ago now—in which I said:

“She makes it clear in her report that we shall never know for sure how close we came to a huge disaster involving major loss of life, caused by 6,000 ticketless fans outside the stadium who were ready to storm inside had England won the penalty shootout.”—[Official Report, 6/12/21; col. 1641.]

Contained in the noble Baroness’s report were a number of comments about drug-taking. For example, page 26 says:

“Eyewitness accounts given to the media in the immediate aftermath of Euro Sunday state that there was use of drugs, in particular cocaine, among the crowd. These are supported by the Review’s survey, which suggests illegal-drug taking must have been widespread and taken place in plain sight. More than 3,500 respondents (47 per cent) said they saw illegal drug taking when they arrived at Wembley.”

As the noble Baroness pointed out, and the Minister has confirmed today,

“Football Banning Orders (FBOs) can be given to supporters in relation to alcohol misuse. Offences include ‘possession of alcohol or being drunk while entering/trying to enter a ground’. But there is no equivalent provision for drugs”—

so far. As the Casey report says on page 117,

“drug use in football stadiums is a growing concern for football and policing officials.”

She cites the finding of cocaine traces on almost all the toilet cisterns of a major football ground.

Unsurprisingly, the noble Baroness said in recommendation 5 that

“the Home Office should consider … ensuring that the FBO regime to ensure drugs-related disorderly behaviour is treated in the same way as alcohol-related disorder”.

This SI implements that recommendation, and therefore I welcome it. I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that the Government are taking equally seriously the other recommendations contained in the noble Baroness’s outstanding report.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing these regulations. It will be well known that Liberal Democrats feel that drug misuse should be treated as a health issue rather than a criminal issue, but we draw the line where drug misuse leads to disorder or anti-social behaviour. Clearly, in this situation, drug taking at football matches is fuelling the disorder.

Do not get me wrong: cocaine is an extremely dangerous drug, and in my own professional experience I have seen people—healthy young men—die very quickly of heart attack from having excess cocaine in their systems. But here, we are talking about reckless and aggressive behaviour, as the Minister said. I do not attend football matches and I do not take cocaine, so I have to take other people’s word for the impact that taking cocaine in those sorts of environments has in terms of causing reckless and aggressive behaviour. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, who has a wealth of experience of soccer issues, for his very helpful and informative speech about the record on this issue, particularly the report of the noble Baroness, Lady Casey.

I am not sure about traces of cocaine on toilet cisterns. I think there were similar findings in the House of Commons, so we have to be very careful in drawing conclusions as to whether that is an indication of the prevalence of drug-taking. However, it seems absolutely ridiculous that football supporters can be banned for alcohol-related disorder and not for disorder related to the taking or supplying of cocaine at football matches. We therefore wholeheartedly support the regulations.

My Lords, I too thank the Minister for introducing this statutory instrument, which we support. I declare an interest as a sitting magistrate who has fairly regularly put in place football banning orders for various reasons. As the noble Lord said, this is about adding the possession or supply of class A drugs at football matches as a reason for giving a football banning order.

We welcome the work that the police have done with the football authorities to reduce violence and drug-fuelled behaviour at games, although I note the figures that the Minister and my noble friend Lord Faulkner gave about the deteriorating situation in recent years. As my noble friend said, it used to be so much worse back in the 1990s.

When was this matter first raised? Was it really as a result of the European final that it came starkly to the attention of Ministers, or were there concerns before that? Also, is there any evidence of similar concerns or problems with other major sports, such as cricket or rugby? Obviously we are talking about football banning orders, but how wide does this problem go?

Has there been any wider work done on why these problems seem to be worsening? Is it because of drug use, or are there other problems behind it? Is this being investigated by the Home Office? Is it that drugs are more generally available? There has been an increase in drug-related deaths in England and Wales in recent years, and we know that communities and children’s lives are being blighted by county lines gangs. What is being done to tackle the supply of drugs reaching fans and to ensure that police forces have the resources to support specialist drug enforcement teams and take action on recognising child criminal exploitation?

A football match should be a safe, accessible, enjoyable experience for fans of all ages, so what wider work is being done by the Home Office to encourage safe and positive environments for sports fans? We of course support the statutory instrument, but my questions go a bit wider, to other sports and to how this impacts on drug policy as a whole. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken and particularly note the widespread support for this measure, which is as it should be. I am sure we all agree that there is no place for class A drugs or the disorder they give rise to at football matches. This simple, practical measure to tighten the law will ensure that the football banning order regime properly encompasses those who commit drug offences related to football. I take particular note of the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, on the dangers of cocaine misuse.

I will try to address some of the specific points that your Lordships raised. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, quoted the statistics; I will go into a little more detail on those. Official statistics for the 2021-22 season show that there were 2,198 football-related arrests, which is a substantial increase—59%—on the last complete pre-Covid season. It is important to note that football-related arrests had previously been on a long-term down trend, reducing by some 50% since the 2010-11 season to record lows. Last season’s arrests total was comparable with the 2013-14 season. There were also 170 dedicated football officer-related incidents of supporter drug use during the 2021-22 season.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, also referred to the Channel 4 documentary on Italia 90. I have not seen it—I am still mentally scarred by our loss to Germany, of course—but I will definitely watch it.

The noble Lord asked what the Government have done in response to the Euro 2020 final. The Home Office responded robustly to that disorder and to the subsequent reports. We extended coverage of FBOs to persons convicted of online hate crime offences connected to football and other physical hate crime offences previously not covered. We have amended the threshold test for FBOs to increase the likelihood that a court will impose an FBO following a conviction for football-related offences that are violent, disorderly or cause harm to others. We have also extended the FBO regime and the Football (Offences) Act 1991 to include elite domestic women’s football. That prevents persons subject to an FBO attending women’s club matches and ensures that persons convicted of football-related offences can be made subject to an FBO. We are also keeping tailgating under review, which is someone without a ticket entering a stadium behind a ticket holder. Tailgating with any element of disorder could be an arrestable offence, with an FBO imposed following conviction.

The noble, Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked some specific questions. The problem has got worse since fans started to return to stadia post pandemic, as these reports outlined. Other sports do not seem to suffer from the same disorder problems as football, so there are no plans to expand these orders yet. The noble Lord also asked about the current scale of class A drug use. Police have gathered extensive evidence, again during the 2021-22 football season, to show the scale of cocaine use inside football stadia and users’ involvement in violence and disorder. Police have intensified their enforcement action against the misuse of cocaine at football matches, which includes specific operations targeting users. The National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for football policing, Chief Constable Mark Roberts, is clear in his belief that cocaine use is a significant factor in violence and disorder at matches in England and Wales.

There was a rise in football-related disorder during the 2021-22 football season and police are clear that there is a direct link between cocaine use and this rise, which has caused, as we all agree, unsavoury scenes at widely publicised events. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, also asked whether drugs were more available and other aspects of that. I am afraid that I do not have that information to hand but, if he permits, I will write with more details on the current state of knowledge on the matter.

We have witnessed an increase in football-related disorder and drug use at matches. It has become apparent that more needs to be done to prevent this becoming more widespread. By banning those who commit class A drug offences at football matches, we are sending a clear message that drug-fuelled disorder will not be tolerated and that those who attempt to supply or possess class A drugs will be banned from attending all regulated football matches.

Before the Minister concludes, does he not agree that drug offences are fairly unique in that a drug crime is recorded only when police make an arrest? Therefore, the more effort the police put into the enforcement of offences involving possession or supply of drugs, the worse the problem appears in terms of the statistics. The emphasis should be on reducing the disorder that results from drug-taking rather than placing any reliance on the number of people arrested or convicted of drug offences at football grounds, because that could be the product of enhanced police enforcement rather than an increase in use.

The noble Lord is almost certainly right, although I cannot prove or disprove that either way. But as I said, a considerable and comprehensive report was written after the disturbances at Euro 2020 which highlighted these issues, so it would be logical to conclude that police upped their activity and I would imagine that that led to an increase. However, I cannot prove that, and if I am wrong, I will of course notify the noble Lord. In the short term, I commend the regulations to the Grand Committee.

Motion agreed.