Inside Parliament: Tory talks tough over football thuggery: MPs take football disorder debate to heart - House exercised by state of national game - Lilley cautious on Goode pensions report - Backbenchers urge Commons pay freeze

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Indy Politics
Those members of Manchester United's Red Army who feel they were victims of heavy-handed treatment by the Turkish police can at least be thankful they will not be meeting David Amess on the doorstep when they get home.

The Conservative MP for Basildon told the Commons yesterday of the terrible vengeance he would visit on any boy of his who brought the nation and its national game into disrepute through thuggery.

'These disgraceful individuals should be dealt with in a very serious fashion because of the shame they bring on our country, themselves and their families. They all must have parents, I presume, who love them. If I had a son who behaved like that, quite frankly I would string him up.'

But as the parliamentary 'day' progressed and the Government found itself struggling with further defeats by peers on the Railways Bill, the uproar and disorder in the Commons suggested a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Deputy Speaker Geoffrey Lofthouse fought to keep control as opposition MPs demanded a suspension of business.

John MacGregor, Secretary of State for Transport, was howled down with shouts of 'resign]' as he moved the rejection of amendments reinstating an unfettered right for British Rail to bid to run services. Labour MPs forced a technical division with the device 'I spy strangers' and donned top hats to continue with points of order during votes.

John Prescott, in probably his farewell despatch box appearance as Labour's transport spokesman, said: 'This controversial Bill, this arrogant Government, this incompetent Transport Secretary have reduced this Parliament to a running farce.'

By coincidence, Mr Amess introduced his Private Member's Bill intended to put up further barriers to potential troublemakers travelling to other countries as English fans were under arrest in Istanbul. The spur for his Football Matches (Violent and Disorderly Conduct) Bill was the trouble at last month's Holland-England match.

The Bill has all-party support but with the parliamentary session almost over it has no chance of becoming law. The procedure, however, offered Mr Amess 10 prime- time minutes to air his views.

'We cannot and should not stand by and allow our national game to be brought into disrepute.' He said action had to be Europe-wide and complained that foreign police found it easier to ship suspected offenders out of the country rather than prosecute.

The day's business opened with other foreign matters, Foreign Office questions, during which Secretary of State Douglas Hurd said Britain would welcome a return by South Africa to the Commonwealth as 'a happy end to a sad chapter'. It would be for South Africa 'when the time comes' to decide.

Statements by Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, on reform of adoption law and by Peter Lilley on occupational pensions followed. Mr Lilley, Secretary of State for Social Security, said he wanted to create a framework for occupational pensions which was 'secure, stable and fair'. But he told MPs the Government was still considering the report of the Goode committee on pension law and the earliest possible date for legislation would be the 1994-95 session.

The committee, set up following the Maxwell pension scandal, made 218 recommendations. Mr Lilley said he would be issuing papers for detailed discussion, focusing on solvency, surpluses, management of schemes, compensation, and regulation.

MPs on both sides of the chamber wanted action to prevent employers taking 'unilateral pension holidays' and a compensation scheme to protect members in the event of fraud or theft.

Mr Lilley said he recognised the case for some form of compensation scheme, 'as a long stop', behind a strengthened legal and regulatory framework. But Donald Dewar, Labour's social security spokesman, found the reference to a long stop 'somewhat grudging in tone. The Maxwell pensioners still living with uncertainty and fear will see the safeguards being built into the system as a frustrating case of locking the stable door after the horse has bolted,' he observed.

Mr Lilley said the priority had to be prevention. 'Of course it is right to have a compensation scheme as a long stop, but that must be the last resort and not the first resort.'

Agreeing with David Willetts, Tory MP for Havant, that it was important not to over-regulate, he said: 'We must ensure we don't impose such burdens on employers that they cease to operate pension funds. That would be to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.'

The frantic manoeuvring by whips and backbenchers which followed the Lords' defiance on the rail Bill included a time-wasting series of divisions on the final stage of Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill.

The Bill, paving the way for a redevelopment of the old docks area of Cardiff, already had 'a long history all of its own', John Redwood, Secretary of State for Wales, noted. It began as a private Bill five years ago, was taken on two years ago by the Government and has been pored over at Westminster and in Cardiff for hundreds of hours. 'There are those who think it's challenging for a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the length of time its passage has taken,' Mr Redwood said.

Further down the order of business lay the controversial government motion to increase MPs' pay by 2.7 per cent from pounds 30,854 to pounds 31,687 a year. Labour MP Frank Field and Tory Michael Stern joined to urge a pay freeze while left-wingers said any rise for MPs should automatically apply to public sector workers.

Propping up the whole extraordinary timetable was Tony Banks, Labour MP for Newham North West, hoping to use his adjournment debate to discuss the Government's support for elephant conservation.