Mike Penning responds to a debate on football hooliganism

29th June 2016

Mike Penning responds to a debate on football hooliganism following events at the Euros in France.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. Although we might have had more Members here this afternoon, the debate has been well mannered and factual. My hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) secured this debate because of what we have seen at the Euros and because of what has been happening in the UK and Northern Ireland.

I am an ardent Tottenham Hotspur fan who was born in Edmonton. I have no choice about the matter. I must say how disappointed I was with the five Tottenham players in the England side that played—I think they played—not particularly well against Iceland. I wish Wales well in their next game. I hope that they will go further and do better than they did against New Zealand in the rugby tour.

It is fair to put the record straight for the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris). Perhaps she never thought she would be standing opposite me as a shadow spokesman talking about this, but she has done really well. We are good friends and I wish her well in whatever role she takes on. She stepped into the breach today and she has done really well.

On the Euros, 65 UK supporters were arrested: 45 English, and 11 from Northern Ireland and nine from Wales. The offences by England supporters were six for assault, 14 for public order, 13 for drunkenness, nine for criminal damage, two for drugs and one for ticket touting. For Northern Ireland, the figures are two for criminal damage, two for public order, one for drunkenness, four for assault, one for ticket touting and one for pitch encroachment, which used to be called an invasion. For Wales, the number is limited to the nine that let the country down: five for drunkenness, two for assault and two for possession of a flare. How on earth did they get flares through the grounds? Flares come in large and small sizes; some are actually pyrotechnics and have explosive content and some are very small.

I want to talk about what happened in the Euros and how let down I felt as the Policing Minister, but our officers did brilliantly in liaising with the French who police events slightly differently. I will talk about the preventive measures that we took and about what is happening here in the United Kingdom, without dwelling too much on individual sad events around the country.

In the run-up to the Euros, we had extensive liaison with the excellent football police unit, which I have the honour of funding from my budget, and with the French authorities and other countries in Europe to try to prevent what we saw outside the grounds and, sadly, inside the grounds. We gave the French whatever assistance they asked for and proactively offered more, particularly with spotters. We tend to know some of the characters that were involved. In fact, we prevented an awful lot of them from travelling; 99% of the passports that were requested to be submitted under the banning orders were submitted, so those people could not travel. Subsequently, we arrested or stopped at the borders a further 35 individuals who were attempting to travel. They were known to us and should have submitted their passports. Although that was a significant success, we saw on our TV screens some serious disorder.

In Marseille, we had officers helping the French authorities. We traditionally police football matches by keeping the fans apart, but the French police did not make much of an attempt to do that. They police a different way because they are armed and do not like getting too close up when they have their weapons with them in case things start to happen. They police very differently. We would have been much closer to the fans. We said to the French in no uncertain terms, “If you arrest and prosecute them, we will keep them out,” and to a large extent that has been done. We continued to send officers to games, including the Wales and Northern Ireland games as well.

It is enormously disappointing that the vast majority of football fans who went to support their country, no matter which part of the United Kingdom they came from, were tarnished by a small minority of people whose behaviour ended up in the most abhorrent violence we have seen for many years. There is no condoning that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford said, and we must come down on them with the full force of the law. Those who were arrested do not have to be prosecuted for a banning order to be imposed. I will write to the hon. Member for Stirling (Steven Paterson) with full details to clarify the position.

 

Will the Minister consider one step further than the banning orders? Will he consider prosecutions in the UK for offences connected to football hooliganism that are committed abroad? There are offences already that are tried in this country when they are committed abroad. Will he consider bringing football hooliganism offences within the scope of current legislation?

 

I have spoken to my hon. Friend outside the debate and I will look at that matter. It opens up a really difficult area of other types of prosecution. At the moment, we prosecute people for committing very serious offences abroad. I will look into it, but it might have consequences way beyond what we are trying to do.

I noticed that the shadow Minister—for today, but I hope she gets the job full-time, as we get on so well—alluded in her speech to young people. However, the video footage and the banning orders that are in place suggest that the people in question tend not to be young. Sadly, many of them are my age. They came up through the ranks of a violent, gang-type culture many years ago. Inside the grounds, UEFA has a policy that the police do not carry out segregation. It is a UEFA rule, and it is necessary to apply to move from that. I think that there was a request for that for the subsequent games, but certainly after the Russia-England game. Hon. Members will have noticed that there were very few police in the ground, and the French police were criticised for that, but it is a UEFA rule. It is completely different here in the UK, where we use stewarding extensively to keep people apart, as well as outside the game, and we also use traffic management orders; but in the ground, police are available to carry out segregation, and they often do so.

Let us not say that it is all doom and gloom. More than a third of a million people go to watch premiership games every weekend, and football is still a safe environment where people can go to support their clubs, whether at a Spurs-Arsenal match or a Celtic-Rangers match, which will happen this year for the first time in many years—or Hemel Hempstead Town versus St. Albans, which is where I end up most weekends. We are not in the territory of the way things were, and we are not going to get back there. We will use the full force of the law to make sure that people can go with their young children to enjoy a football game in the same way as many of us enjoy a rugby or basketball match, or a match of any other type.

To return to the point about youth, we must of course educate young people. I will not make a spending commitment, such as the shadow Minister has possibly just made on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition, but I understand where she is coming from. When I went, two or three months ago, to the Spurs-Arsenal game at White Hart Lane, I was with the Metropolitan police throughout the game and for nearly two hours before and well over two hours afterwards. It was obvious while we were outside, waiting for the Arsenal fans to be escorted, with a significant police escort, towards the ground, that there were people—predominantly middle-aged men, but not only men—who did not have tickets and had no intention of going to the football match. They were waiting at a corner close to the ground to antagonise the fans and create a serious situation. There was disorder; but those people were not kids. They were grown men and some women who should know better. Arrests were made. There were horses, and the mounted police did a fantastic job of keeping apart people who frankly wanted a punch-up. Although the vast majority of what goes on is perfectly okay, there are still difficult situations, as we saw in the cup final.

The point has been made that the police can do more. We will help them in doing that, and perhaps even, if we need to, give them more powers; but actually, the football fans need to say that enough is enough. There is so much money in football today; the clubs themselves have a responsibility as well. There is an issue—it comes up with the police football unit—about getting clubs to pay the police bills after matches, although the sums involved would probably be just loose change to one of the forwards or defenders who let my country down by the way they played in the Euros. It is a question of trying to get clubs to pay their bills and to take responsibility. I have had numerous meetings in the past couple of months with the premiership to say, “Come around the table and try to talk to us about this.” Initially they say, “Of course you want more money from us”—but actually it is their event that we are policing. It is sometimes enormously difficult to get the limited amount of money from them that they are responsible for paying back.

I want to talk about where things are going. There is some evidence—I have asked the unit to come back to me on this—that violence is to some extent moving down to the lower leagues, where not many police are expected to be around and there is not as much stewarding. There is always stewarding, but the question is whether there will be enough stewards and whether they are professionally trained. Violence happens because people think they can get away with it. The people responsible are not fans. They are just out to cause other people harm, and they get some kind of kick from that. As soon as the relevant information becomes available I will share it. It is important to look not just at the top—England fans abroad—but at what appears to be happening much further down.

We will do all we can to make sure that people can go abroad. We will, in particular, support other countries when they have events. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport spoke to the Russian Sports Minister and has offered help in the context of the World cup, as we go forward with that. UEFA and FIFA need to take a careful look at how policing is carried out in their grounds; they do not have to wait for an event. Different countries police differently, but it is crucial that we come down with all the force of the law on those who create disturbances, ruin football matches for everyone else and assault people. At the same time, everyone in the football family needs to take responsibility.

 
I made a point in my speech about governing bodies perhaps punishing the teams for fans’ behaviour. Does the Minister agree that for the forthcoming World cup FIFA should consider disqualifying teams for fans’ behaviour inside or outside grounds, if investigations prove that they have taken part?
 
There is much to consider in what the hon. Gentleman says. This is not the debate or place at which to make such a commitment, although I have never sat on a fence in my life, on any issue. The principle of those in the football family taking responsibility for their club and their country is crucial, whether in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales or England.

This has been a useful debate. We do not want to treat all football fans as bad people, but they must put their hands up and say, “Enough is enough; we want to go to football in peace.” In our case, together with my Scottish friends, we may also need to enjoy losing occasionally, although we will cheer Wales on. I wish them every success.

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