Neil Kinnock – 1985 Speech on the Heysel Stadium Tragedy

Below is the text of the speech made by Neil Kinnock, the then Leader of the Opposition, in the House of Commons on 3 June 1985.

First, I should like to repeat my complete condemnation of the violence that led to the deaths and injuries at Heysel stadium last Wednesday. Naturally, we in the official Opposition join all others in offering our deepest condolences to the relatives of all those who died and of those who were injured. As I have already said, we agree with the Government’s decision to give £250,000 to the relief fund set up by the Italian Government. I welcome the assistance being given, and announced in the Prime Minister’s statement, in bringing to justice the criminals of any nationality and of any affiliation who were responsible for the tragedy in Brussels.

As to today’s statement by the Prime Minister, I should like to tell the right hon. Lady that the Opposition support the Government’s decision to bring in legislation similar to the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980. However, we are frankly surprised at the rather restricted action proposed by the Government, and disappointed at the decision to extend Mr. Justice Popplewell’s inquiry beyond its already stretched limits. Does the Prime Minister really consider that the learned judge, with all his vigour and undoubted thoroughness, has the resources and facilities necessary for yet another major area of inquiry?

Surely it is not enough to hope, as the right hon. Lady said in her statement, that Mr. Justice Popplewell will produce an interim report in time for proposals to be implemented before the beginning of the next football season. We need a firm assurance now that the report will come in time for proposals to be implemented before the season begins, and that any necessary resources will be available for practical implementation.

I refer to the problems of football and football hooliganism. May I specifically ask the right hon. Lady whether she will bring forward proposals to ensure that some of the revenue taken out of the game is returned in the form of improved safety and security at football grounds? That is clearly necessary to assist with the cost of better accommodation and effective policing. Frankly, the proposals that we have heard so far do not begin to match the scale of the crisis in British football, both in and near to British football grounds. When we consider that it is now 12 weeks since the awful scenes at the Luton ground in the Cup match against Millwall, and that it is exactly the same period—12 weeks—until 24 August, the beginning of the new football season, that shows how ​ much speed and effectiveness is necessary to tackle the problem directly before we are afflicted again next season by the scenes that we have witnessed in this and previous seasons.

In the official Opposition and, I think, in the House generally, we are and must be intent on securing arrangements by both the Government and other relevant authorities, which will help football clubs and genuine football supporters, who are in the vast majority, and the police, to defeat the criminals who are destroying the game, terrorising spectators and inflicting misery on people who live near football grounds or who travel when football games are taking place. In the Opposition, as a basic principle, we seek properly to maintain the civil liberties of the decent and innocent majority to go to games in safety, and to live in peace. To that end, I say to the Prime Minister that our responses to this matter cannot relate simply or solely to punishment or to policing; neither can they relate only to a period of probation for English football.

On 14 March, I asked:

“Will the right hon. Lady agree that we need action to identify and deal with the causes of these afflictions and the breakdown of behaviour in society?”—[Official Report, 14 March 1985; Vol. 75, c. 431.]

We want the thugs caught and punished, but does the Prime Minister agree that in addition it is essential to discover not only those who commit the crimes but why they commit such crimes? Therefore, can we look forward to a quick and thorough investigation with that in view, which would involve the police, youth and social workers and others with direct practical experience from week to week of dealing with the issues posed by the spread of thuggery? [Interruption.] If it is the case, as Mr. John Smith and hon. Members have suggested and as others have noted in years gone by, that any of this thuggery is related in any way to political organisation by racists, Fascists or anyone else, that must be among the areas to be inquired into so that the menace to democracy is taken out.

We have witnessed a terrible tragedy in Brussels, and we now know UEFA’s response. The thuggish minority, who are a stain on British football and British society, are the cause of both. It must be our determined purpose now to ensure that they have had their day once and for all. On football grounds and anywhere else in society we shall never permit them to show their ugly and thuggish face again.