House of Commons
Wednesday 12 September 2012
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before Questions
That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, That she will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House a Return of the Report, dated 12 September 2012, of the Hillsborough Independent Panel.—(Stephen Crabb.)
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Independence (Defence Industry)
1. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Defence on the effect on Scottish-based defence jobs if Scotland becomes an independent country. (119848)
I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues on defence matters relating to Scotland. There is no doubt that there would be far-reaching implications for all sectors of the economy, including the defence industry, should Scotland become independent.
I thank the Minister for his answer. I am very proud of the immense defence work that has been undertaken in Fife—for example, at Raytheon in my constituency. The contribution to national security has been immense. According to the Ministry of Defence, the new Type 26 frigate that is about to be commissioned will be the backbone of the Royal Navy for decades to come. Can the Minister advise how likely it is, in the light of possible separation, that the frigates will be built in Scotland?
I pay tribute to the hundreds of skilled workers in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency who contribute so much to United Kingdom and, indeed, international defence through the work that they do at Raytheon and elsewhere, and I agree that this is not the time to be putting that at risk. On the specifics of the Type 26, it is clear that if Scotland were an independent country, the rest of the UK would be applying European Union procurement rules, which basically keep such contracts for the domestic market. We would therefore be locking ourselves out of the potential for millions of pounds-worth of work involving hundreds of jobs in Scotland, and that is not acceptable.
Does the Secretary of State agree that Scotland makes a magnificent contribution not only in terms of manufacturing, as we heard from the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Lindsay Roy), but in terms of basing and recruitment? Will he welcome, with me, the fact that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has gone to great lengths to keep Scotland in the Union as regards defence, and does he agree that that would very probably be lost if there were to be independence?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to focus on what would be at stake were Scotland to become independent and separate from the rest of the United Kingdom. The Scottish contribution to UK defence is absolutely immense, but Scotland gets a huge amount from being part of the UK. We are safer, and we have more clout, as part of the United Kingdom, and I do not want to put any of that at risk.
Since this Government took office, service personnel numbers are at a record low and commitments have been broken on returning troops from Germany, on facilities, and on the retention of historic Scottish regiments. Is this totally embarrassing record the reason why the Secretary of State for Defence has never even visited Scotland since taking office?
If we are talking about embarrassment on defence policy, the hon. Gentleman should look to his own party’s policies on these matters. In Scotland we have access to a UK defence budget of £34 billion—the fourth largest in the world. We have 15,500 service personnel and 40,000 people working in the defence industry in 800 different companies. That is an immense contribution from UK defence to Scotland and from Scotland to UK defence.
To correct the Secretary of State, service personnel numbers are just over 10,000; I am sure that he would want to amend the record on that.
So the Secretary of State is not denying that the Secretary of State for Defence has not even been to Scotland since taking office. The Defence Secretary was asked for a meeting in November last year. He was asked for a meeting in March this year and nothing came of it. An offer was made of discussion through the former Armed Forces Minister, the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey), when I met him and the joint chiefs of staff in June last year, but there has been no formal response from the Government since then. Why is the Ministry of Defence so bad at dealing with Scotland?
I completely reject what the hon. Gentleman has said. Defence Ministers, as well as the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell) and I, have made regular visits to different defence installations around Scotland; indeed, we have done so only in the past couple of weeks. I understand why the hon. Gentleman wants to dodge the serious issue here. He does not want to focus on the Scottish National party’s defence policy, particularly the little trick it wants to pull on NATO. The SNP knows that people want NATO security and defence, but it wants to have a pick-and-mix approach—to take on the baubles of NATO and not the obligations. That just will not do.
Common Agricultural Policy
3. What discussions he has had with his ministerial colleagues on reform of the common agricultural policy as it affects Scotland. (119850)
14. When he last met the Scottish Government’s Agriculture Minister to discuss the common agricultural policy; and if he will make a statement. (119861)
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have frequent discussions with ministerial colleagues on common agricultural policy reform. I last met UK and Scottish agriculture Ministers during the royal highland show.
With the difficulties in the harvest this year, rising commodity prices and an interest in increasing productivity and production in the world of agriculture, will those talks focus on the need to recalibrate the common agricultural policy towards our production and food costs and prices?
We are in agreement with the Scottish Government that the common agricultural policy and, indeed, policies pursued by both Governments, should seek to maximise food production in Scotland.
Will the Minister assure us that he will be heavily involved in reforms to the common agricultural policy and that, once agreed, they will apply equally to Scotland, England and all parts of the UK, particularly with regard to cross-compliance measures?
The Government have shown by their actions that they are committed to involving not just the Scottish Government, but all the devolved Administrations in developing the UK position on the CAP reform negotiations, and that will continue to be our position.
I am sure that everyone in the House will agree that the current negotiations in Europe may have a significant impact on food prices, especially at a time when Scottish families are under such pressure from rising food prices. Precisely what correspondence or meetings have the Minister and Secretary of State had with other ministerial colleagues to discuss this issue facing Scottish families?
The Secretary of State and I have had a range of meetings with colleagues across Government and in the Scottish Government to address not just the CAP reforms, but issues such as the cost of living and the economic policies being pursued in Scotland. As the hon. Lady well knows, our view is that the Scottish and UK Governments should be working together on economic matters in Scotland. We would much rather that that was also the view of the Scottish Government, rather than their incessant focus on constitutional matters.
I thank the Minister for that interesting answer. Yesterday, in response to a question of mine, the Secretary of State seemed to have no grasp of the impact of rising food prices in Scotland. Last week, Save the Children launched its first appeal to fund its work in Scotland, revealing that a quarter of parents have less than £30 a week to spend on food, and Citizens Advice Scotland tells us that applications for support for food and other basics has doubled. We all know, just as the Minister has indicated, that that is a result of the choices that he and his Cabinet colleagues have made. Are he and the Secretary of State proud that food banks are fast becoming the hallmark of his Government in Scotland?
The hon. Lady was not present at this week’s reception at Dover house, where many of the leading stakeholders on child poverty, including Save the Children, were in attendance and there was a significant discussion about the issue. She can be assured that both the Secretary of State and I take these issues very seriously.
The so-called greening measures proposed for the new CAP have caused consternation throughout the farming community. In a recent National Farmers Union survey, almost three quarters of those surveyed thought that they would have an adverse environmental impact; half thought that they would harm biodiversity; and all of them thought that it would cause financial problems for their business. What is the Minister doing to make sure that those measures do not form part of the new CAP?
The Government are aware of those concerns, not just in Scotland, but throughout the rest of the United Kingdom, and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), has reported to that effect. The Government will seek to do all they can to minimise the impact of such greening measures, if they are adopted.
Olympic and Paralympic Games
4. What assessment he has made of the effect on the Scottish economy of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games. (119851)
6. What recent assessment he has made of the effect on Scotland of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games. (119853)
A total of £33 million worth of Olympic and Paralympic contracts were awarded to businesses in Scotland. Businesses will also have benefited from the hugely popular events that took place in Scotland. The games have been very successful and provide a great springboard for the Glasgow Commonwealth games in 2014.
The Olympic and Paralympic games show how great sporting events can be used to regenerate large parts of our cities and their surrounding areas. Will the Secretary of State ensure that the lessons from London 2012 about regeneration and legacy are shared with the organisers of Glasgow’s Commonwealth games?
The hon. Gentleman has focused on exactly the right issue—legacy. When congratulating all the Scots and others who participated in the Olympics and Paralympics, we are reminded of this summer’s great festival of sport and its fantastic outcomes. Apart from inspiring a generation—obviously, that is already under way—what matters is that we get regeneration in the regions around London and across the UK. I believe that the economic legacy will be strong, and I hope that the lessons from London will be learnt in Glasgow as well.
During the Olympic games, I was privileged to be a games-maker at Hampden, along with people from many different backgrounds volunteering for the first time. The Secretary of State has discussions with the Scottish Government on many different issues, but will he urge the organisers of the 2014 Commonwealth games to take the best from that volunteer programme to ensure that many people can get involved in Glasgow 2014 in the same way?
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, whom I saw in the games-maker uniform and who was very helpful when I visited Hampden for the United States versus France women’s football game—clearly he has talents for things other than politics. He makes an important point. The volunteering legacy is one of the most important parts of the games—perhaps one of the more unexpected parts—and I hope that that legacy will be evident in Glasgow in two years and that people across the whole of Scotland will take part.
Would my right hon. Friend like to take the opportunity to congratulate that Scottish gold medallist, Mr Andy Murray, on his remarkable marathon triumph in the US? Has he noticed that the term “Scolympian”, coined by the Scottish First Minister, appears rapidly to have fallen into disuse? Also, has he heard of any Scottish competitors selected either for the Olympics or Paralympics, or any medallist in either games, complaining that they were representing the United Kingdom, not Scotland?
I join my right hon. and learned Friend in congratulating Andy Murray on his Olympic gold medal and on securing his first grand slam title—an immense achievement that is being celebrated the length and breadth of the country. The Olympic games demonstrated the great benefits of working together, whether in terms of financing, training or, indeed, competing—our first Olympic gold was won by a Scot and somebody from the south-west of England. That was great and perhaps makes the point that we are better together.
Would the Secretary of State like to clarify further that there is no conflict between being Scottish and being British, and that millions of reasonable people in the UK and all over the world live happily as both?
There are occasions when the hon. Lady and I have differences of opinion, but we are at one on this issue. She is absolutely right. I am sure that people across the House will accept that being Scottish and being British—all these things—can be done at the same time.
The Scottish National party would like to take this opportunity, too, to congratulate Andy Murray on a fantastic win. The whole of Scotland and the UK is celebrating that magnificent success. I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that we must look beyond the mixed economic impact and appreciate the huge lift that the games gave to Scotland. All of Scotland was cheering on Team GB. We supported our Scottish athletes as well as those from right across the UK. Team GB was Scotland’s team, and it was great that they did so well. Will he assure me, however, that he will work as closely as possible with the Scottish Government to ensure that we secure the maximum economic benefits from the Glasgow Commonwealth games?
On a personal level, I agree that the hon. Gentleman has consistently supported Scots and other GB Olympians and Paralympians—although that has not always been the tenor of contributions from all in his party. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) said, the term “Scolympian” did not exactly get carried high after the First Minister coined it. The hon. Gentleman’s point about legacy is important, but with the Chief Secretary and others we have already been working closely with the organisers of the Commonwealth games to ensure that they are a fantastic success. The London Olympics have created a great platform from which to do that.
5. What recent discussions he has had with his ministerial colleagues on the Government contracting services to post offices in Scotland. (119852)
Ministerial colleagues and I regularly discuss issues regarding post office services in Scotland and we recognise the importance of maintaining the network. That is why the Government have committed funding of £1.34 billion to secure its long-term future.
The Post Office has delivered Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency services—including car tax renewal—well for many years, and it is trusted and supported by the public. Does the Secretary of State agree that the DVLA contract should not simply be handed over to the cheapest bidder, and that when deciding to whom to give the contract, the high quality of service delivered by the Post Office for many years should be given a high weighting?
May I put my hon. Friend’s question in context? We ended the compulsory closure programme that we inherited from the Labour party, which saw 5,000 post offices close over a seven-year period, including more than 400 in Scotland. We are investing in the post office network to ensure that it is sustainable. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the DVLA contract must be conducted under EU procurement rules, and it is about not only the cost but other important criteria such as customer service and security of supply. We will ensure that all those objective tests are met.
One in five post offices in Scotland is under threat of closure because of this Government’s policies. The nationalists criticise that, but they have scrapped the post office diversification fund, which shows them to be no better than the Secretary of State and his friends. If a post office does not accept parcels, cash deposits or withdrawals, and does not provide DVLA services, is it a post office? Is the Secretary of State happy to sit idly by while the Tories and the nationalists destroy our post office network?
May I welcome the hon. Gentleman on his debut at the Dispatch Box? He has a strong track record in Scottish politics, and I look forward to the debates that we will have over the months and years ahead. It was, however, quite a cheek to lead with that question, not least because—as I said in an earlier reply—it was the Labour Government who closed 5,000 post offices across the UK, including more than 400 in Scotland. We want to see a sustainable network. We are investing in that and are determined to ensure that services across the country go through the Post Office.
Is the Secretary of State aware that since 2005, the level of Government services that go through post offices has fallen from half to a fifth? Losing the DVLA contract would have a dramatic effect and possibly lead to the closure of many more post offices. If the Government cannot do anything about that, what is the point of saying that the Post Office should be the front office of Government?
I share the hon. Gentleman’s desire to see a sustainable post office network. Over the past two years we have reversed the previous Government’s damaging policies, and we are committed to significant further investment in the network. I do not, however, see the same level of support coming from his colleagues in the Scottish Parliament.
Minimum Alcohol Price
7. What assessment his Department has made of the introduction of a 50p per unit fixed minimum alcohol price in Scotland. (119854)
Alcohol abuse harms individuals, families and communities throughout the United Kingdom. Clearly, a range of responses is required to address the problem, and the Government continue to engage with the Scottish Government on the issue of minimum unit pricing.
Given that this policy has the potential to affect my constituency of Carlisle, what measures are the Government taking to introduce proposals for minimum alcohol pricing in England and Wales?
The Government continue to consider the position in the rest of the United Kingdom, and before any proposals are introduced in England and Wales, there will be an extensive consultation.
12. Sadly, one of the problems that can arise from alcohol misuse concerns people getting into trouble in Scotland’s coastal waters. Is the Minister aware that there will be a delay of 15 months between the closure of the Clyde coastguard and the maritime operations centre being up and running? Is he as concerned as I am about the safety implications of that? (119859)
As the hon. Lady will know, although there are changes to the management arrangements of coastguard operation centres, the same local volunteers, lifeboats and helicopters will remain in the coastal waters of Scotland. There will be no change, and it is wrong to suggest otherwise.
Trade Unions (Blacklisting)
8. How many publicly funded projects in Scotland have been undertaken by firms which engage in blacklisting against trade union members. (119855)
Information on this is not held centrally. Regulations were introduced in 2010 to outlaw trade union blacklisting in the UK. We welcome the Scottish Affairs Committee’s inquiry into blacklisting in employment, and encourage all hon. Members and interested parties to feed their views into the inquiry.
I thank the Minister for his response. I, too, commend the Scottish Affairs Committee’s inquiry. If there is tangible evidence that Government contracts are being awarded to companies that are engaging in blacklisting trade unionists, will those contracts be reviewed?
The hon. Gentleman is a strong campaigner on this issue. As I said in my original answer, I suggest he put that view to the Scottish Affairs Committee so it can form part of its report. We will certainly take its report very seriously.
Talk is cheap, but what would the Minister actually do? He must know that blacklistings are happening today. What will his Government do if we identify people who are doing it? What will he do?
In the first instance, the 2010 regulations provide a route for individuals who believe they have been blacklisted. As I said in my previous answer, the evidence sessions being held by the Scottish Affairs Committee are a good way of reviewing how those regulations and other laws are working in that regard. We will take its report very seriously.
9. What recent estimate he has made of public expenditure per head of population in Scotland. (119856)
Since this question was last asked in February, no new official figures have been published. The most recent estimate of the level of public expenditure in Scotland, published in October 2011, shows that the level of public expenditure in Scotland was £10,165 per head for the year 2010-11.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Ten thousand pounds per year on average is paid by taxpayers to people in Scotland, but in my constituency and the rest of the east midlands it is £8,000 per person. Is that fair?
The last time my hon. Friend raised this point, it followed a discussion with Mrs Bone and other members of the family. I appreciate that she is otherwise distracted getting herself ready for this weekend’s charity run, for which the whole House will wish her all the best. I regret that when she focuses back on politics, the answer she will hear is very little different from the one I gave a few months ago, namely that our priority is to sort out the public finances and the mess we inherited from the Labour party. We are focused on that relentlessly, and any future review must wait until it is completed.
It is a fact that Barnett spending was higher in both Northern Ireland and London than Scotland. Does the Minister know that Scotland has 8.4% of the UK population, but pays 9.6% of UK taxation and is more than paying its own way?
I agree with one part of the hon. Gentleman’s observation, namely that spending around the UK varies considerably. We need to take all spending into account as we assess the situation. As for believing the Scottish National party’s figures, we must continue to agree to differ.
West Lothian Question
10. What recent discussions he has had with the Deputy Prime Minister on the West Lothian question. (119857)
I am in regular contact with my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister on a range of issues. When the commission on the consequences of devolution for the House of Commons has concluded, we will have an opportunity to discuss its findings and its official report.
Is the Secretary of State confident that the commission will report on time in spring 2013? Is he also confident that it will bring forward meaningful proposals when it reports, and not just another recommendation for another commission or inquiry to kick the question further into the long grass?
These are very serious issues. That is why we have the expert commission looking very seriously at them. The commission has a cross-section of experts, representing all parts of the UK. All in government look forward to its findings and to debating them.
I am glad you called the new Member for West Lothian, Mr Speaker—I inherited Tam Dalyell’s question. The new question, clearly, is how many questions should there be in the referendum in Scotland? In my constituency, they say it should be one: do people want to separate from the rest of the UK or stay in the UK? Does the Secretary of State agree?
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman that there should be only one question on the ballot paper.
Olympic and Paralympic Games
11. What involvement his Department had with the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games; and if he will make a statement. (119858)
I refer my hon. Friend to the answer the Secretary of State gave to a previous question.
Does my right hon. Friend not agree that after a summer of sporting success, the last thing that the people of this country want is to see Team GB torn apart?
I could not agree more. The success of Team GB at both the Olympics and the Paralympics has been celebrated as much in Scotland as in any other part of the United Kingdom.
Does the Minister agree that one of the great successes of the Olympic games was the role played by London’s Mayor? I wonder what will happen to him in the future. Does the Minister also agree that when we come to the games in Glasgow, it is essential that they are run by the city of Glasgow and that we do not have nationalist politicians trying to muscle in?
The hon. Gentleman will know that the Mayor of London is a great supporter of Scotland and the Commonwealth games, and of ensuring that the legacy from the Olympics is carried into the Commonwealth games in Glasgow.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Q1. If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 12 September. (120385)
I am sure the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to Guardsman Karl Whittle of 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, who died on Friday from wounds that he sustained in Afghanistan in August, and to Sergeant Lee Davidson of the Light Dragoons. These were courageous and much respected men. They gave their lives in the service of our country. We remember their friends and their loved ones, and we are for ever indebted to them.
I am sure the House will also join me in welcoming the renaming of the Clock Tower today as the Elizabeth Tower, following the campaign led by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood). I believe it is a fitting tribute to Her Majesty the Queen and the incredible service she has given to our country for 60 years.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and I shall have further such meetings, in addition to my duties in the House today.
I, too, pay tribute to our troops who have died. We often vote for war in this House, but it is far braver people than we who have to do the fighting.
The number of women who have lost their jobs under the Government’s cuts has been twice that of men, and the statistics out today show that the number of female redundancies has been rising over the last few months. In addition, we now have nine Departments with not a single woman Minister. Now, I know the Prime Minister likes to think of himself as butch—[Interruption]—he told us so last week in this very House—but what has he got against women?
The unemployment statistics today actually have a number of very encouraging figures in them, including the fact that women’s employment—the number of women in employment—is actually up 128,000 this quarter, with 250,000 more women in work than at the time of the last election. I think that is encouraging. Obviously the way that we have treated public sector pay—the public sector pay freeze and, in particular, protecting low-paid people in the public sector—has actually helped women, but do we need to do more to help women into work? Yes. Do we need to do more to help with child care? Yes. Do we need to help encourage more women into politics and see more women at a higher level? Yes to that as well.
Q2. Local businesses and industrious people in my constituency of South Ribble are working hard and playing their part to aid the recovery of the economy. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister join me in condemning the irresponsible threats of co- ordinated strike action by the trade unions, which will do nothing but undermine the efforts of my constituents? (120386)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to speak up for her constituents who work hard and do the right thing. Today’s unemployment figures show an extra 1 million net private sector jobs since the election, which is something that shows our economy is rebalancing. However, she is right to say that the trade unions provide a threat to our economy. Since the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) became leader of the Labour party, it has received £12 million from the three unions that are now threatening a general strike. They threatened a strike to stop our fuel supplies; they threatened a strike to disrupt the Olympics; now they threaten a strike to wreck the economy. When the right hon. Gentleman stands up, I think it is time for him to say that he will take no more money from the unions while they make this threat.
I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Guardsman Karl Whittle of 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards and Sergeant Lee Davidson of the Light Dragoons. Both showed the utmost courage and bravery and our thoughts are with all their family and friends.
I also join the Prime Minister in celebrating the renaming today of the Clock Tower as the Elizabeth Tower, which was done with all-party support and is a fitting tribute to the service Her Majesty the Queen has shown to our country.
The fall in unemployment today is welcome, but all of us will be concerned that the number of people out of work for more than a year stands at 904,000, the highest level for 17 years. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that that is a particularly troubling statistic, because the longer someone is out of work, the harder it is for them to get back into it and the more damage is done to them, their families and, indeed, our economy?
I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the dangers and the threat of long-term unemployment. I think it is worth putting in front of the House the full figures today, because not everyone will have seen them: unemployment is down by 7,000 and employment is up by 236,000 over the quarter. I think this is significant because it is a real-time, live figure: the claimant count, the number of people claiming unemployment benefit, in August was down by 15,000. As I have just said, when we look at the number of private sector jobs, which is vital when we need to rebalance the economy, we see that there were over 1 million net new private sector jobs over the past two years. He is absolutely right that the long-term unemployment figure is disturbing. That is what the Work programme is designed to deal with. We have got the Work programme up and running within a year, it has already helped 690,000 people, and the key part of it is that for those who are hardest to help—people who are on the incapacity-style benefits and have also been long-term unemployed—we pay their training providers more to help them into work, and that is the key for dealing with this problem in the time ahead.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the Work programme, but not only is long-term unemployment at its highest level for nearly two decades, but over the past 12 months we have seen a 247% rise in the number of young people who have been on the dole for over a year, and that is happening throughout the country. Is that not the clearest evidence so far that his Work programme is just not working?
I do not accept that. First of all, on the youth unemployment picture, it is disappointing that youth unemployment is up 7,000 over the quarter, but of course the youth unemployment figures include young people in full-time education. If we look at the picture for the number of young people in work—youth employment—we see that it is actually up 48,000 over the quarter, so that is a more encouraging picture. In terms of the youth contract itself, that is now up and running. Around 65,000 young people have taken part in work experience programmes, which were criticised by some people sitting opposite and some trade unions, but actually within 21 weeks half of them have been taken off the unemployment register and have proper work. That is very encouraging, because it actually means that it is about 20 times more cost-effective than the future jobs fund it replaced.
I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that to all the young people across the country looking for work that sounds like a rather complacent answer. The reality is that, because of his failure on long-term unemployment, borrowing—the key test he set himself—was up 25% in the first four months of this year. He borrowed £9.3 billion more in the first four months of this year than last year. That is £1.6 million in the hour of Prime Minister’s questions. We gather today that the Government might miss the overriding economic test he set himself, which is that debt will be falling at the time of the next election. Is it not a fact that he is failing the very test he set himself, and is that not the surest sign yet that his plan is just not working?
First of all, there is absolutely no complacency in this Government over either the issue of youth employment or the issue of long-term unemployment. That is why we are putting so much energy and effort into the apprenticeship programme. We have seen 457,000 apprenticeship starts in the last year, which is a record figure and something we want to build on in the years ahead, with £1.5 billion invested. The right hon. Gentleman raises the issue of borrowing. This Government in the last two years have cut the deficit by a quarter. I have to say that, if he is concerned about borrowing, why does he have plans to put it up? There are many ways to reduce borrowing, but the one way it cannot be done is by increasing spending and increasing borrowing, which is what he tells us to do.
The reality that this Prime Minister cannot get away from after two and a half years is that borrowing is rising on his watch. That is the reality: borrowing is up 25%—£9.3 billion—in the first four months of this year. When the Prime Minister gets up to reply, perhaps he can tell us whether this morning’s reports—that the Government will not meet their target to have debt falling by the end of this Parliament—are correct, or whether he will stick to the promise. The reality is that he is failing the tests he set himself, and it shows that plan A is not working.
It is this Government who have cut the deficit we inherited by a quarter. That is what we have done in two years. Normally, at this stage in the proceedings, I say that the Labour party has no plans, but on this occasion I can reassure the House that it has, and the new plan is called predistribution. What I think that means is that we spend the money before we actually get it, which I think the right hon. Gentleman will find is why we are in the mess we are in right now.
I will tell the Prime Minister what this is about. It is about having an economy that works not just for a few at the top, but for everyone else. It is not about a Prime Minister who cuts taxes for millionaires while raising taxes for everyone else. When he gets up to reply, perhaps he can answer the question that he has not answered so far—is he going to be a beneficiary of the 50p tax cut?
This is an economy that has generated 1 million new private sector jobs. I know the right hon. Gentleman does not want to talk about predistribution, but I have done a little work and I can tell him about his new guru. His new guru, the man who invented predistribution, is called—and I am not making this up—[Interruption.] They do not want to hear —[Interruption.]
Order. Members on both sides of the House need to calm down. Let us hear the Prime Minister’s answer.
I am surprised that Labour Members do not want to hear about their new guru. He is called Mr J Hacker, and Mr J Hacker’s recommendation is that we spend an extra £200 billion and borrow an extra £200 billion in this Parliament. From the work I have done, I have discovered his new book: it is published by Princeton University Press and it is called “The Road to Nowhere”. The right hon. Gentleman does not need to read it; he is there already.
Let me compliment the Prime Minister on such a butch answer. What a week it has been for Mr Butch: he has briefed against the new International Development Secretary, the former Transport Secretary; he was knocking back the claret while sacking the Welsh Secretary; and the Environment Secretary was sacked because she was too old—and replaced by a man who was older! That was very butch. The reality is this: between now and April the Prime Minister is going to have to answer the question—he has not answered it yet—whether he is going to get the top-rate tax cut, which is a tax cut for millionaires by millionaires. The reality is that the Government’s plan is failing, they stand up for the wrong people, and plan A is not working—he should change course.
On a day when we hear that this economy has created 1 million net new private sector jobs, all we have learnt from the Labour party is that it has learnt nothing. Labour is still committed to the spending, the borrowing and the debt that got us into this mess in the first place. That is the truth, and it cannot hide it from the British public.
This year is the 10th anniversary of Breast Cancer Campaign’s “Wear it Pink” day. We have seen many improvements for breast cancer sufferers over that time, but there is still much more to be done, including improving early identification of this disease for all ages. Will the Prime Minister meet the chairs of the all-party parliamentary group on breast cancer and the leading charities for further discussion?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue, and I shall be very happy to have that meeting. I think that we have made big leaps forward under Governments of all parties in advancing the agenda on breast cancer. My hon. Friend is right to say that early identification—early diagnosis—is vital, but there is still more to be done. I pay tribute to the thousands up and down our country who not only wear those ribbons but take part in so many different campaigns, so much fundraising and so much awareness-raising, and I shall be delighted to welcome my hon. Friend to that meeting.
Q3. Rochdale is proud of its strong links with the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. We now know that the decision to axe its second battalion was made by Ministers, not by the professional leadership of the Army. Given that morale is at an all-time low in the armed forces, why will the Prime Minister not reconsider? (120387)
These are obviously very difficult decisions, as we move towards a regular Army of 82,000 and an expanded Territorial Army of 30,000. Clearly we had proper discussions—and it is for Ministers as well as the armed forces to make the decisions—about how best to structure that Army to maintain as many cap badges and historic regiments as possible throughout the United Kingdom. That is how we reached those decisions, and we defend those decisions, but if people want to come forward with alternatives, we will of course always listen to them.
Q4. Does the Prime Minister agree that the improvement in the balance-of-trade figures is very welcome, and demonstrates that we can rebalance our economy by expanding our trade with the rest of the world as well as with Europe? (120388)
My hon. Friend has made an important point. The trade figures that were published yesterday showed the biggest cash decline in the trade deficit for 20 years. As I have said many times at this Dispatch Box, we face great economic difficulties in this country and across Europe, but we are seeing a rebalancing of the economy, and the growth in private sector employment that I have talked about. Manufacturing now accounts for a growing rather than a shrinking share of the economy. There has been a big increase in exports, particularly exports to the fastest-growing parts of the world. We need more of that to happen, alongside small businesses creation and activity by entrepreneurs, if we are to rebalance our economy and make it stronger for the future.
Q5. Before the election, the Prime Minister promised a moratorium on hospital closures. Last year he told me that Ealing hospital would not close without the support of doctors and patients, so why are the doctors and patients having to march next Saturday to keep our hospitals open? (120389)
Let me say again to the hon. Gentleman—who is quite right to raise the issue—that there are no plans to close Ealing hospital. I understand that Ealing Hospital NHS Trust is planning a £4 million capital programme for 2012-13, which includes refurbishing some wards. The trust’s proposed merger with North West London Hospitals NHS Trust is a matter for the trusts themselves.
It is clear that the reconfiguration of front-line health services is a matter for the NHS, but, as the hon. Gentleman and other Members know, any proposed changes in clinical services must be subject to the four tests of support from GP commissioners, strengthened public and patient engagement, clarity on the clinical evidence base, and support for patient choice. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue, but that is how it should be approached.
Barbara Haddon from Felpham in Bognor Regis has crumbling vertebrae, is in constant pain, and can walk only short distances. She is 87 years old. She recently applied for the renewal of her blue badge, but, like many other constituents who have written to me, she was turned down because of the way in which the new national blue badge improvement service is being implemented locally. Will the Prime Minister intervene to ensure that the scheme is implemented fairly and appropriately throughout the country?
I will look very carefully at the case that my hon. Friend has raised, because I think it important for this reform to be carried out properly. I think that all of us, as constituency MPs, receive two sorts of complaints. Some are from those who have seen people who have the blue badge and do not merit it, while others are from those who want the blue badge and deserve it, but cannot obtain it.
While I am at the Dispatch Box, let me pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his long-standing work on educational standards and his belief in true rigour in schools. He has seen many of his ideas put into practice, and that is what we come into politics to achieve.
Q6. The Adam Werritty affair should have taught Ministers important lessons about becoming too close to their outside advisers. Now it appears that the Prime Minister’s climate change Minister, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker), may be making similar mistakes. Given media reports today, does the Prime Minister have the same complete confidence in his climate change Minister as he had in his former Defence Secretary? (120390)
The climate change Minister is doing an excellent job; I want to put that on the record. I have consulted the Cabinet Secretary, and both he and the permanent secretary at the Department of Energy and Climate Change have examined the issue, and I do not see the need for a further inquiry on that basis. The key point I would make is that the individual in question was hired by civil servants after a properly run competition.
This month marks the 40th anniversary of the expulsion of Asians from Uganda by Idi Amin. They came to this country with nothing but the clothes on their backs, but they picked themselves up and soon integrated themselves into the fabric of Britain. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister join me in commending this community and the Conservative Government of the time, who took the courageous decision to let them in, notwithstanding the enormous opposition in the House and the country at large?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this topic. The Asians who have come from Kenya and Uganda have made an extraordinary contribution to this country, and it was absolutely the right decision to welcome them here, as happened in the 1970s. Those who opposed it were, I believe, profoundly wrong. I would also say to my hon. Friend, who is from that background, what an incredible achievement it is within one generation for someone from that background to come to Parliament and make such a distinguished contribution.
Q7. Last week’s reshuffle was clearly a painful experience for many, but can the Prime Minister advise us why he recommended knighthoods for five of his redundant male Ministers, when there was “nothing like a dame” on offer for his sacked female Ministers? (120391)
I take the view that when people come into public life, work hard in opposition and in government and make a contribution, we should recognise that. It should not only be permanent secretaries who receive these honours; we should also be prepared to honour Ministers who have worked hard and have served their country.
Order. The hon. Member must be heard.
Our armed forces are always willing to do what we ask of them without complaint, but there will be a detrimental impact on individuals’ training, deployment opportunities and rest and recuperation if we ask them to keep this country going in the face of strikes. Is that not another reason why the unions should think again?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point, and I hope the trade unions who are meeting and discussing this appalling idea of a general strike do think again, and think of the good of our economy rather than their own selfish interests.
My hon. Friend makes an important point about our armed services, and it is right to put on record again what a fantastic job they did in the Olympics and Paralympics, stepping up to the plate and putting such a friendly and smiling face on our games. From everything I saw at the Olympic games, our armed services were pleased to play that role, and I know that there are times when we can call upon them and they will be pleased to serve.
Q8. Many of us are shocked and saddened that child poverty in the UK has become so severe and widespread that Save the Children has found it necessary to launch its first ever appeal for British children. Unfortunately, Members on the Government Benches saw fit to attack Save the Children and even accused it of publicity-seeking. Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to distance himself from those comments, and support the report that led to this appeal? (120392)
I am a strong supporter of Save the Children; I think it does an excellent job. As long as we recognise that the sort of poverty we tragically still have in Britain is very different from the poverty of people surviving on $1 a day in sub-Saharan Africa—as long as we respect the differences between those sorts of poverty—I think it is absolutely right that non-governmental organisations, charities and voluntary groups campaign on poverty issues here in the UK as well as overseas.
Q9. In a Commons debate last year on rural broadband, I highlighted how poor the service is in Pendle, including in the village of Newchurch, which might be unique in the country in having a particularly poor service when it rains. So does the Prime Minister share my joy at plans this week to cut the red tape that is holding back the roll-out of superfast broadband, which is so desperately needed for businesses in Pendle and across the UK? (120393)
I certainly join my hon. Friend in his campaign to make sure that all our rural communities have access to superfast broadband. It is not just an issue of money, and this Government are putting the money in; there are also planning issues to address, because some councils have held up giving permission for the necessary cabinets and other things that have to be put in place at street and village level. That is why our planning reforms, announced by my right hon. Friend the Communities Secretary, are going to sweep away that bureaucracy so that we can get broadband everywhere.
Despite the Prime Minister’s recent valiant efforts, does he not realise that denying thousands of our disabled constituents adequate levels of benefit is merely underlining the fact that the Tories really are the nasty party?
I simply do not accept even the premise of the right hon. Gentleman’s question. The fact is that we are not cutting the money that is going into disability benefits. The question is how best to reform those disability benefits so that disabled people actually get access to the benefits that they require. I think that anyone who has looked at disability living allowance or who has had to fill in the forms knows that it needs reform. The reform has been led by many of the disability groups, which want to see something that is much more related to people’s disability and faster to access, too.
Q10. Will my right hon. Friend join me in celebrating a major inward investment by the Chinese firm Huawei, which is investing £1.3 billion over five years to create 700 jobs in the UK? Will he encourage it to come to Wycombe? (120394)
I am delighted to say that I welcome the investment by Huawei and I met its founder and chairman yesterday at No. 10 Downing street. It is a significant investment of £1.5 billion. I am afraid to tell my hon. Friend that some of the jobs are going to be created—I very much hope—in Banbury, next to my constituency, but with an investment of this scale I am sure that there will be opportunities around the rest of the country. The firm is coming here not for the weather, but because we have highly trained engineers, we have excellent universities, we have a leading role in the telecoms and mobile industries, and it thinks that this is a Government who are open to business.
Will the Prime Minister explain why in the previous Parliament Members of either House who were shown to have deliberately abused the expenses system were, quite rightly, forced to face the full rigour of the law, whereas in this Parliament the same proven dishonesty results in the restoration of ministerial office and a seat at the Cabinet table?
The hon. Gentleman may be referring to the Minister for Schools, my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr Laws), who is attending Cabinet and is a Minister of State in the Department for Education. He made very clear the mistakes that he made in terms of the expenses system, he resigned from the Government and I think you should—
Order. The Prime Minister’s answer must be heard.
As I have said in relation to this in the past, I do think that it is right to give someone a second chance.
Q11. Does my right hon. Friend agree with Kevin O’Toole, the managing director of Eurocraft Enclosures Ltd in Dudley, who contacted me about the Government’s plans to sweep away unnecessary health and safety red tape to say: “At last years and years of regulation are being replaced by a simple concept called common sense”? Is it not common sense to remove the headache of inspections for low-risk businesses? Is not scrapping unnecessary and unpredictable inspections a valuable piece of deregulation that will help more small businesses to grow? (120395)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight this. We have 3,000 regulations in our sights that we believe can be radically scaled down or reduced, and we have made good progress already. We also believe that there is more we can do to exempt particularly small firms from regulation, and the new Ministers in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will be pressing ahead, with the full support of the Secretary of State, on this very important agenda.
Q12. Four years ago, the Prime Minister gave his support to High Speed 2 as providing an alternative to short-haul flights and therefore to a third runway at Heathrow. As he is now dithering over Heathrow, is he also dithering over HS2? (120396)
No, I fully support HS2 and think that it is an investment that needs to go ahead for the good of our country.
Following the recent reshuffle, there has been speculation in the press that some new appointments indicate a shift away from our green agenda—[Interruption.] Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to scotch those scurrilous allegations and reaffirm our commitment to being the greenest Government ever?
I congratulate the hon. Lady on her new role in the Treasury. She has every ability to ensure that the Government deliver on our green commitments. What I would say to her and all our right hon. Friends is that it is this Government who set up a green investment bank with £3 billion to spend and this Government who have committed £1 billion to carbon capture and storage. We have the first incentive scheme anywhere in the world for renewable heat, we are putting money into low emission vehicles, we have the mass roll-out of smart meters and we are also the first Government to introduce a carbon floor price. Those are all steps of a Government committed to the green agenda.
Q13. In 1993, the chairman of the Conservative party, Norman Fowler, said that if the £365,000 given to the Tories by Asil Nadir was stolen, that money would clearly be returned. Now that Asil Nadir has been convicted of theft, does the Prime Minister agree with his party’s former treasurer, Lord McAlpine, that it is tainted money that shames the Conservatives and that they have a moral duty to give it back? When will the Prime Minister go in his pocket and get the cheque book out? (120397)
I have not seen the evidence for that. What I would say to the hon. Gentleman, however, is this: what about the £12 million that his party has taken from the trade unions that are threatening to bring this country to its knees?
Q14. The Government—[Interruption.] (120398)
Order. The House must calm down, as I want to hear Mr Menzies.
The Government do aspire to be the greenest Government ever, so, with that in mind, will the Prime Minister assure me that before any decision is taken to extract shale gas from Fylde there will be both a public consultation and the establishment of an independent body to co-ordinate a gold standard of regulation so that the environment is never compromised?
As my hon. Friend will know, all fracking operations for shale gas have been suspended while we study the minor tremors that occurred in Blackpool last year. The Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society have produced a full independent review into the risks of fracking and I can assure my hon. Friend that any future shale gas production would have to meet stringent safety and environmental standards, follow deep consultation with local communities and fit within our overall energy commitments.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the report of the Hillsborough independent panel. Today, the Bishop of Liverpool, the Right Rev. James Jones, is publishing the report of the Hillsborough independent panel. The disaster at the Hillsborough football stadium on 15 April 1989 was one of the greatest peacetime tragedies of the last century; 96 people died as a result of a crush in the Leppings Lane terrace at the FA cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.
There was a public inquiry at the time by Lord Justice Taylor that found that the main cause of the disaster was
“a failure of police control.”
But the inquiry did not have access to all the documents that have since become available, it did not properly examine the response of the emergency services, and it was followed by a deeply controversial inquest and by a media version of events that sought to blame the fans.
As a result, the families have not heard the truth and have not found justice. That is why the previous Government, and in particular the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), was right to set up the panel and it is why this Government insisted that no stone should be left unturned and that all papers should be made available to the Bishop of Liverpool and his team. In total, more than 450,000 pages of evidence have been reviewed.
It was right that the families should see the report first. As a result, the Government and I have had only a very limited amount of time to study the evidence so far. But it is already very clear that many of the report’s findings are deeply distressing. There are three areas in particular: the failure of the authorities to help to protect people; the attempt to blame the fans; and the doubt cast on the original coroner’s inquest. I want to take each in turn.
First, there is new evidence about how the authorities failed. There is a trail of new documents which show the extent to which the safety of the crowd at Hillsborough was “compromised at every level”. The ground failed to meet minimum standards and the “deficiencies were well known”. The turnstiles were inadequate. The ground capacity had been significantly over-calculated. The crush barriers failed to meet safety standards, and there had been a crush at exactly the same match the year before. Today’s report shows clearly that lessons had not been learned.
The report backs up again the key finding of the Taylor report on police failure, but it goes further by revealing for the first time the shortcomings of the ambulance and emergency services’ response. The major incident plan was not fully implemented; rescue attempts were held back by failures of leadership and co-ordination; and, significantly, new documents today show that there was a delay from the emergency services when people were being crushed and being killed.
Secondly, the families have long believed that some of the authorities attempted to create a completely unjust account of events that sought to blame the fans for what happened. The families were right. The evidence in today’s report includes briefings to the media and attempts by the police to change the record of events. On the media, several newspapers reported false allegations that fans were drunk and violent and stole from the dead. The Sun’s report sensationalised these allegations under a banner headline “The Truth”. This was clearly wrong and caused huge offence, distress and hurt. News International has co-operated with the panel and, for the first time, today’s report reveals that the source for these despicable untruths was a Sheffield news agency reporting conversations with South Yorkshire police and Irvine Patnick, the then MP for Sheffield Hallam.
The report finds that this was part of police efforts
“to develop and publicise a version of events that focused on…allegations of drunkenness, ticketlessness and violence”.
In terms of changing the record of events, we already know that police reports were significantly altered, but the full extent was not drawn to Lord Justice Taylor’s attention. Today’s report finds that 164 statements were significantly amended, and that 116 explicitly removed negative comments about the policing operation, including its lack of leadership.
The report also makes important findings about particular actions taken by the police and coroner while investigating the deaths. There is new evidence which shows that police officers carried out police national computer checks on those who had died, in an attempt, and I quote directly from the report,
“to impugn the reputations of the deceased”.
The coroner took blood alcohol levels from all of the deceased, including children. The panel finds no rationale whatsoever for what it regards as an “exceptional” decision. The report states clearly that the attempt of the inquest to draw a link between blood alcohol and late arrival was “fundamentally flawed”, and that alcohol consumption was
“unremarkable and not exceptional for a social or leisure occasion”.
Over all these years, questions have been raised about the role of the Government, including whether they did enough to uncover the truth. It is certainly true that some of the language in the Government papers published today was insensitive, but, having been through every document—and every Government document including Cabinet minutes will be published—the panel found no evidence of any Government trying to conceal the truth. At the time of the Taylor report, the then Prime Minister was briefed by her private secretary that the defensive and “close to deceitful” behaviour of senior South Yorkshire officers was “depressingly familiar”. It is clear that the then Government thought it right that the chief constable of South Yorkshire should resign. But, as the right hon. Member for Leigh has rightly highlighted, Governments then and since have simply not done enough to challenge publicly the unjust and untrue narrative that sought to blame the fans.
Thirdly, and perhaps most significantly of all, the Bishop of Liverpool’s report presents new evidence that casts significant doubt over the adequacy of the original inquest. The coroner, on the advice of the pathologists, believed that victims suffered traumatic asphyxia leading to unconsciousness within seconds, and death within a few minutes. As a result, he asserted that, beyond 3.15 pm, there were no actions that could have changed the fate of the victims, and he limited the scope of the inquest accordingly. However, by analysing post-mortem reports, the panel has found that 28 people did not have obstruction of blood circulation, and that 31 did have evidence of heart and lungs continuing to function after the crush. That means that individuals in those groups could have had potentially reversible asphyxia beyond 3.15 pm, which is in contrast to the findings of the coroner and a subsequent judicial review. The panel states clearly that
“it is highly likely that what happened to those individuals after 3.15 pm was significant”
in determining whether they died.
The conclusions of this report will be very harrowing for many of the families affected. Anyone who has lost a child knows that the pain never leaves you, but to read a report years afterwards that says
“a swifter, more appropriate, better focused and properly equipped response had the potential to save more lives”
can only add to that pain
It is for the Attorney-General to decide whether to apply to the High Court to quash the original inquest and seek a new one. In that capacity, he acts independently of Government, and he will need to examine the evidence himself. It is clear to me, however, that the new evidence in today’s report raises vital questions that must be examined, and the Attorney-General has assured me that he will examine this new evidence immediately and reach a decision as quickly as possible. Ultimately, however, it is for the High Court to decide.
It is also right that the House should have an opportunity to debate the issues raised in this report fully. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will take forward a debate in Government time relatively quickly when the House returns in October.
I want to be very clear about the view that the Government take about these findings and why, after 23 years, this matters so much not just for the families, but for Liverpool and our country as a whole. What happened that day, and since, was wrong. It was wrong that the responsible authorities knew that Hillsborough did not meet minimum safety standards, yet still allowed the match to go ahead. It was wrong that the families had to wait for so long, and to fight so hard, just to get to the truth. It was wrong—quite profoundly wrong—that the police changed the records of what happened and tried to blame the fans. We ask the police to do difficult and often very dangerous things on our behalf, and South Yorkshire police is a very different organisation today from what it was then, but we do the many, many honourable policemen and women a great disservice if we try to defend the indefensible.
It was also wrong that neither Lord Justice Taylor nor the coroner looked properly at the response of the other emergency services. Again, these are dedicated people who do extraordinary things to serve the public, but the evidence from today’s report will make very difficult reading.
With the weight of the new evidence in this report, it is right for me today, as Prime Minister, to make a proper apology to the families of the 96 for all they have suffered over the past 23 years. Indeed, the new evidence with which we are presented today makes it clear, in my view, that these families have suffered a double injustice: the injustice of the appalling events—the failure of the state to protect their loved ones and the indefensible wait to get to the truth; and then the injustice of the denigration of the deceased—that they were somehow at fault for their own deaths. On behalf of the Government and indeed our country, I am profoundly sorry that this double injustice has been left uncorrected for so long.
Because of what I have described as the second injustice—the false version of events—not enough people in this country understand what the people of Merseyside have been through. This appalling death toll of so many loved ones lost was compounded by an attempt to blame the victims. A narrative about hooliganism on that day was created that led many in the country to accept that somehow it was a grey area. Today’s report is black and white: the Liverpool fans
“were not the cause of the disaster”.
The panel has quite simply found “no evidence” in support of allegations of
“exceptional levels of drunkenness, ticketlessness or violence among Liverpool fans…no evidence that fans had conspired to arrive late at the stadium”
“no evidence that they stole from the dead and dying.”
I am sure that the whole House will want to thank the Bishop of Liverpool and his panel for all the work they have done. I am sure that both sides of the House will join me in paying tribute to the incredible strength and dignity of the Hillsborough families and the community that has backed them in their long search for justice. While nothing can ever bring back those who were lost, with all the documents revealed and nothing held back, the families, at last, have access to the truth. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and join him in remembering the 96 people who died at Hillsborough, the hundreds more who were injured and all their families and friends. Today we also remember all those who had to suffer the trauma of being there that day.
Let me state right up front an uncomfortable truth for us all: it shames us as a country that it has taken 23 years to get to the truth about what happened at Hillsborough. The Prime Minister was right today to offer an unreserved apology, but all Governments during this period bear their share of responsibility for the failure to get to the truth, so we on the Opposition Benches also apologise to the families that we did not do enough to help.
What brings us here today, as the Prime Minister said, is not just the tragedy of Hillsborough; it is that the victims of the tragedy and the people of Liverpool were systematically smeared and portrayed as its perpetrators. Imagine for a moment waving a loved one off as they go to a football match, and then the impossible grief of that loved one not returning. Then imagine being unable to grieve in peace, but facing two decades of torment, a cloud of suspicion, innuendo and downright lies spread about the person you loved—lies about rushing the gate, lies about ticketless fans, lies about the drunkenness of the victims. That is what the Hillsborough families have had to endure from day one of this tragedy, and while they spoke the truth to power whenever they could, the powerful did not hear.
Nothing could compensate for what the families have suffered, but I pay tribute to all the victims’ families for their 23-year campaign for the truth. Without the efforts of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, the Hillsborough Justice Campaign and Hope for Hillsborough, the truth would have remained hidden and we would not be here today. I also commend the work of the Liverpool Echo, which kept the campaign going, as well as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) and my hon. Friends the Members for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) and for Halton (Derek Twigg). Most of all, I pay tribute to all the people of Liverpool and the people across the country who have stood with the families in the dark times, and to every single person who campaigned for this day to come.
Rightly, as the Prime Minister said, it is the families who have had first access to the report. People will want, over many days, to scrutinise properly all the documents that have been released, and I welcome the Prime Minister’s decision to have a debate in October. Some things, though, have been clear for a long time and will be clearer after the publication of the report today, and I want to put them on the record.
The tragedy was caused not by fans but by an unsafe ground and terrible mistakes and negligence in policing. There was a systematic attempt by some in the police to cover that up after the event and, disgracefully, to spread the blame to the fans, and they were aided and abetted by parts of the media. Finally, it is clear that the original inquest was hopelessly inadequate, declaring the so-called 3.15 cut-off on the assumption that all those who died had sustained fatal injuries by that time, when in fact the post-mortem records show that not to be the case and, tragically, that some of the victims could have been saved.
The picture is not one of irresponsible victims, but innocent victims let down by the South Yorkshire police, the emergency services, the Sheffield coroner and the wider public authorities. It is a picture not just of a tragedy, but of a gross injustice. The victims were not only blamed by those who were supposed to protect them, but they were blamed by those who were themselves responsible for the disaster.
After truth must come the best justice that can be provided 23 years late, so let me ask the Prime Minister three questions. The first is about the possibility of new inquests. I welcome what he said about the Attorney-General, but will he reaffirm the urgency, which I am sure he and the Attorney-General recognise, of making that decision? Secondly, today’s revelations also raise profound questions about the behaviour of the public authorities and the police, so what steps does he imagine those authorities might be able to take in response to the panel’s findings and does he believe that there is any way to hold those who were responsible to account? Thirdly, does the Prime Minister agree with me that, just as he has apologised on behalf of the Government and so too has Sheffield Wednesday on behalf of Hillsborough, the same should be forthcoming from all those who wronged the victims, their families and supporters, including those in the media, particularly The Sun newspaper?
This is a day that has been far too long in coming. To the families we say: we are deeply sorry for your loss and deeply sorry for the pain you have suffered. We sincerely hope that today marks a day of truth, so that, finally, you can grieve in peace.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he said and the way in which he said it. As he put it, this has taken too long, but all parties have had to come together and work together to make this happen. He is absolutely right to commend the local groups, the local press and the local MPs for keeping this issue alive and making sure that we reached this point.
As the right hon. Gentleman said, after truth should come justice, and I shall try to answer his three points as best I can. On the inquest, yes, it is absolutely urgent. We have to look at the Coroners Act 1988, which says that once an inquest has been held a fresh inquest can be held only if the High Court quashes the original inquest and orders a fresh one. The High Court will consider an application only if it is made by the Attorney-General or with his consent. That is a key decision-making role for him: he has to stand aside from Government to do so, but all the things that I said in my statement are relevant.
As for what other authorities are responsible, and whether further steps should be taken, again, in this country we have, quite rightly, independent authorities for prosecution and the rest of it. They will want to study what is in the report and come to their own conclusions.
On the point about apologies, the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say what he said. The important thing about making an apology is to think very carefully why one is necessary. In this case, it is absolutely necessary: there is new evidence which is vital in reaching this conclusion. The other point about making an apology is that you should make one only when you really mean it. My understanding of this long history is that apologies have sometimes been given that have not been fully meant, and not been properly made. My advice to others—and it is their decision—is think it through, and understand the extent of hurt, not just of the families but on Merseyside more widely, then do it properly.
May I thank the Prime Minister for his statement? His statement and the release of the papers will be welcome not just on Merseyside but across the country. He is aware of my constituent, Mrs Anne Williams, whose 15-year-old son, Kevin, died on that awful day in April 1989, and her 23-year battle to find out the truth behind her son’s death, and in particular, to overturn the 3.15 cut-off time in the original inquest. She has made several requests to the Attorney-General that have been turned down, and has gone as far as the European Court of Human Rights. Now that the report by the independent panel has been published, will my right hon. Friend encourage the Attorney-General to look favourably on ordering a new inquest into Kevin’s death?
May I offer my condolences again to Mrs Williams and to all the family members affected by Kevin’s tragic death, which was one of the many that were originally dealt with in that single inquest? As I have said, now that the report is out, there is an opportunity for the Attorney-General to study the evidence and make that recommendation to the High Court, which many people, including Mrs Williams, will want to see.
I thank the Prime Minister for every single word of his statement today—their value in Liverpool simply cannot be calculated.
The statement comes far too late for many, of course, but finally, the full horror of Hillsborough has been revealed: a catalogue of negligence, appalling failure and sheer mendacity; a tragedy that should have been prevented, lives that should have been saved; devastating truths made far worse, not better, by the passage of time; a crude 3.15 cut-off, with no legal, medical or moral justification; parents hearing only today what happened to their children, because people whose job it was to protect them turned against the victims and the bereaved to protect themselves; a monumental cover-up, and a sickening campaign of vilification against victims, grieving families, traumatised survivors and a city in shock.
Does the Prime Minister agree with me that today the names of the 96 and of the Liverpool supporters who were at Hillsborough have been emphatically cleared? In thanking him and the Home Secretary for supporting the disclosure process that I initiated, may I ask him to continue to work with us to right these wrongs and, at long last, to bring justice for the 96?
I absolutely will continue to work with the right hon. Gentleman on this issue. He is right that the names of the 96 have been cleared. Above all, I pay tribute to the work that he has put in with huge passion and dedication on this issue—it was a brave and right decision to set up the panel; it was not easy, as there have been previous inquiries, judicial reviews and the rest of it, but it was undoubtedly the right decision—and to what he has done to help people understand the nature of what I call this double injustice. There was an injustice about fact—about these dreadful things that happened that were not properly accounted for—but also an injustice of narrative and an inaccurate version put around which, as he put it quite rightly, means that the passage of time has made these things worse, not better.
I thank the Prime Minister for his full and robust statement. I join him in paying tribute to the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) and his colleagues, who have helped us get to this place today.
I hope that the Prime Minister agrees that today’s evidence clearly vindicates not just Liverpool football club, the families and the campaign, but all those who supported Liverpool and the people of Merseyside in saying that football supporters on that day behaved normally, and they were abused and vilified without justification. I hope that we have learned two lessons. First, when reports are conducted, as they were in two previous years into that ground, someone needs to make sure that they are implemented and not left on the table. Secondly, it should not take 23 years in this case, or a similar period in the case of the Marchioness, for victims to be able to put their case to the public and for a proper inquiry to take account of all those who have something to say. We do not do public inquiries and inquests well in this country; we need to do them much better in future.
I agree with my right hon. Friend. On the specific point about learning the lessons of health and safety reports and of safety inquiries, I have not had time to study everything in the report, but I think that there will be new, detailed evidence about that issue. On the more general point, it is very important, as I said in my statement, for the people of Liverpool and Merseyside to see that the rest of the country understands why the sense of injustice is rightly as strong as it has been for all these years.
This is a momentous day. On behalf of the people of Liverpool, I thank the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for their statements of support to the families, supporters and the people of Liverpool. Finally, we have the undeniable truth; a truth that we know now means that many innocent people could and should have been saved; a truth that unequivocally confirms that Liverpool fans were not the cause of the disaster and that drink was not a significant factor; a truth that both vindicates and validates a 23-year campaign for truth and justice. Despite the criticism levelled at us of a “self-pity city”, we were right that there was a deliberate attempt to shift the blame and instigate a cover-up at the very highest level. It is not about retribution—it is about responsibility.
Today, we have made history, but now we must change history, so may I ask the Prime Minister to ensure that the Government co-operate fully with any potential police investigations into the actions of senior police officers and civil servants involved in the 1989 cover-up? Will he personally write to the families of all 96 victims and apologise? Most importantly, I urge him to work with the families, MPs and the Attorney-General so that an application may be made to the High Court to quash the original unsound verdicts of accidental death and to order a fresh coroner’s inquest. Only then will justice be seen to be done.
Let me pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who was not only there on that dreadful day but has the home of Liverpool FC in his constituency. He has campaigned very, very long and hard on this issue, including securing last October’s parliamentary debate, which was a key point in this developing issue and in getting it right.
On the hon. Gentleman’s specific points, I will look carefully at his extremely good idea of writing to the families. It has been vital that they have had this report before anybody else. Of course the Government will co-operate with any investigation. As I have said, all the Government papers that were given to the inquiry—a full trawl was done—will be published, including the Cabinet minutes. That has not been done in cases of peace and war, but it is absolutely essential, in this case, that it is. He is right that this is about responsibility; it is also about respect, and I think that that is what people have rightly earned today.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary and pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) and the hon. Members for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) and for Halton (Derek Twigg), who were actually at the tragic event. The truth is now out, and it is clear that the families of the 96 were right all along. Will my right hon. Friend please make sure that justice is done, and that justice is seen to be done?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is right. Justice is being done by the full revelation of all the documents. As I put it in my statement, obviously we cannot bring back those who have been lost, but what we can do for the families is have the full revelation of all the facts and all the documents. In that way, people can rightly see that they have access to the truth. It will take us all a lot of time to study exactly what has been revealed, but, as I tried to outline in my statement, we can see very clearly from the introduction to the report that some of the key points that the families have been making year after year have been thoroughly vindicated.
May I reiterate the appreciation expressed to the panel and the excellent secretariat and thank the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for their words and for the apology? The families and the people of Merseyside have known all along that the hearts of the people of Sheffield have been with them, as demonstrated on that terrible weekend by the help and support that was given by my own wife, Margaret, who treated some of the injured, and I visited others in hospital. No one in their right mind could have blamed the victims for what happened that afternoon, given where they were in the ground and the consequences for them. May I say to the Prime Minister that one of the lessons that has to come out of this is surely that cover-ups can only cause, and continue to cause, the greatest hurt and harm to those involved, and that in a democracy transparency and openness must be, and always will be, the right way forward to get to the truth?
The right hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point that echoes what my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) said. In holding inquiries and inquests, both of which were held in this case, not enough was done to reveal the full picture, and that is what this report does.
I reiterate that it is very important that all parliamentary colleagues study the report before making more detailed comments on it. For example, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the role that people in Sheffield played in helping those who were injured. Let me read one small segment of the report:
“Viewed entirely as an operation to deploy ambulances to the stadium, and to transport casualties as quickly as possible to hospital, the…response was rapid and efficient.”
But it then goes on to say that
“this ignores a significant component of the response to a major disaster set out in the”
“major incident plan: the provision of appropriate assessment, prioritisation and treatment on site.”
What I am trying to say is that when it comes to criticism of the police, the ambulance service or other emergency services, it is very important to look carefully at what the report itself says.
For absolute clarification, will the Prime Minister confirm that all documentation and all papers relating to this matter are now in the public domain?
It is not quite as simple as that. All the documentation was made available to the panel, and I understand from the panel that it was very pleased with the co-operation it had from everybody—from the Government to the South Yorkshire police to the media. It feels it was given every document it needed to see—over 450,000 documents. The overwhelming majority of those will be published. The only documents that will not be published—this is set out in the way the panel was originally established—are those needed for individual data protection, so some will not be revealed. However, the panel has set out the process by which that will be judged. Let me emphasise that it is a decision for the panel, not for the Government. We have not held back anything.
This is the day when the 23-year-old campaign led by the bereaved, the traumatised and the injured was vindicated. I pay tribute to the work of the Bishop of Liverpool and his panel in demonstrating so conclusively what had been suspected for so long—that there had been a major and systematic cover-up. Can the Prime Minister give us an absolute assurance that in the three key areas—who was responsible for what happened, whether sufficient lives were saved, and the critical issue of the inquest—he will keep Parliament informed about progress that can be made so that those who were bereaved and those who remain traumatised will at least start to feel that they are at the beginnings of receiving some kind of justice?
I can certainly give the hon. Lady that assurance. I think that the panel has done an excellent job, but, to be fair to it, it is not a coroner. Only the coroner can carry out a proper inquest. As I have said, there is very important evidence here for the Attorney-General to consider and to put in front of the High Court, but the panel cannot reach those judgments. Paragraph 60 says:
“It is not possible to establish whether a more effective emergency response would have saved the life of any one individual who died.”
But it then goes on to say, as I quoted in my statement, that
“a swifter, more appropriate, better focused and properly equipped response had the potential to save more lives.”
In the end, you need the precision of coroners’ reports to go into that sort of level of detail, but I think that the panel has done an extremely good job with what it had.
The Prime Minister has talked about getting it right.
Fourteen people were crushed to death around me at a funeral in El Salvador before this happened. As a Minister, I had to pay our respects to the 39 dead bodies at Heysel stadium.
Both at Hillsborough and at Heysel, people knew that the grounds were inadequate, and people had spoken about that in advance.
Could the Prime Minister say to people who want to be whistleblowers and alert people to dangers that they should be persistent and that their voices should be heard, and that when people afterwards find they have made a mistake, they should be prepared to say so early on?
My hon. Friend is entirely right in what he says. I think that this will be one of the things that come out of the report. It has been said before, and it has been known before, that there were problems with the ground, but the full extent of the fact that previous events had had similar problems and that there were quite detailed reports about the failings at the ground will be a very important part of the report. As he says, we do need people to whistleblow and to point these things out.
I also welcome the content and the tone of the Prime Minister’s statement. If, having studied the papers, either he or the Home Secretary finds that there is a case to be made for referring the conduct of the police to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, will he not hesitate to do so?
I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that people need to study the evidence in the report. The panel had access to all the documentation from the South Yorkshire police that it wanted. It is very important that politicians play their proper role in these things and the independent authorities play their proper role. There will be a lot of evidence that people want to look at before reaching those decisions.
I welcome the publication of the report and the Prime Minister’s statement, like many families in Liverpool and across the north-west, but what lessons will be learned about shaping the scope of future inquests and making sure that they have access to all relevant information?
My hon. Friend asks an important question. I think that to answer it properly I will have to go away and look at all the things that have changed in the nature of establishing inquests and public inquiries, because we have probably made quite a few steps forward. However, to be fair to Lord Taylor and his report, it came down to what the families and others saw as the right conclusion—that a mistake by the police was the principal cause of the problem. One of the deeper problems in this whole case was that after that public inquiry, there was then the questionable inquest and the media narrative that sought to undermine what Lord Taylor had found. My hon. Friend makes the important point that we should try to learn the lessons about how, broadly, to hold inquiries and inquests and how important it is to make sure that they have access to all the information at the time.
I, too, add my voice to those who have thanked the Prime Minister, not just for his statement but for the sincerity with which it was made, and for the revelation that the appalling vista has become the atrocious truth. However, the sad fact remains that there is no effective sanction against an unwise and careless media. That issue still has to be addressed, and The Sun still has to be faced with the lies that it heaped upon the heads of the bereaved.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The Leveson inquiry is separately looking at the whole issue of how the press is regulated and how mistakes that are made are properly corrected. I think that everybody, including those in the press, recognises that the current system is not working and needs to be strengthened. There is then the whole question of whether that happens through strengthened self-regulation, independent regulation or statutory regulation, but that is what Leveson is there to look at.
I am a very large football fan from a family of football fans, and a number of Members in the Chamber also go to football matches and other sporting events. The hurt and the tragedy of waving loved ones off to a football match, only never to see them again, was compounded by the defamation of their characters afterwards. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister ask the Attorney-General to seek to bring a defamation charge against anybody who was found to have spread these vicious lies? Does he agree that an appropriate starting point to help heal the wounds of Hillsborough would be for tomorrow’s front page of The Sun to feature a picture of the Liverpool football club crest with one word, “Sorry”, written across it in bold?
I am sure that the Attorney-General will listen carefully to what my hon. Friend says. As I have said, a number of apologies have been made over the 23 years by police, newspapers and others. I think that what matters is that you have to properly think through what has happened, what went wrong, what was got wrong, what it is necessary to apologise for, and then really mean it when you do so. I feel that it is very important the Government apologise as clearly and frankly as I have today because there is proper new evidence showing that the families were right, that an injustice was done, and that that injustice was compounded by the false narrative that, if we are frank, I think lots of people went along with: we all thought there was some sort of grey area and asked why all this was going on. That is why it is necessary to pay tribute to those MPs, newspapers and family groups who kept the faith and kept campaigning because they knew an injustice had been done, they knew it was wrong and they suffered in the way they did. It is for newspapers to decide what to do themselves, and I think it is important that they really think it through and feel it before they do it.
I join others in thanking the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for the way in which they have apologised on behalf of all of us for what has happened over the past 23 years. I know that it will be of some relief to the families. Even for those of us who have campaigned on this issue for many years, this report is profoundly shocking. Is it not indicative of the utter failure of our legal system that it has taken the suggestion by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) and me of a wholly exceptional arrangement to bring out, into the public domain, documents, truths and facts that were already there? This is new evidence only in the sense that it has been published. Does this not have a profound implication for how we deal in future with disasters and things that go wrong? What lessons can we all seek to learn from that?
The hon. Lady makes an extremely important point. It deserves a proper, thoughtful, considered answer, which is what we should try to address in this debate in the House of Commons. As has been said, there was a public inquiry, a coroner’s inquest and, quite rightly, by the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), a judicial inquiry into what had happened, yet these processes did not turn up what the Bishop of Liverpool and his patient panel, with the full disclosure of information, have turned up. We need to ask ourselves why that happened. What needs to change when we investigate these things? I do not have the answers today, but my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary can think deeply about it before the debate in October.
I thank my right hon. Friend and the Leader of the Opposition for their courageous statements and apologies. Tears of sadness will still be shed in Liverpool, but tears of relief will also be shed that the unvarnished truth is finally out. I remember being a schoolgirl in Liverpool and people were shell-shocked by what happened that day, and that feeling will continue for many years to come. I am equally shell-shocked by the suggestion that 164 statements were doctored by the police, which suggests a level of criminal conspiracy that is absolutely shocking. Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister ask the Home Secretary and whoever else can make this decision to start pursuing criminal charges against the people involved?
I know that my hon. Friend had a school-friend who died on that terrible day and I quite understand why she speaks with such power and force about it. The figures on the police statements are shocking. We all need to take time and read the report in full and try to see the full detail of what happened on that day. Obviously, any decisions about prosecution are for the relevant authorities but, as Members have said, it is shocking to read this. In the time that I have had this morning, I have not been able to go through it in great detail—I have seen the overview of what the panel has found and had a meeting with the Bishop of Liverpool last night—but even that completely takes your breath away when you read some of the things that he has found.
No words in the English language are good enough to describe the dignity, grace and courage shown by the families of the 96 loved ones we lost at Hillsborough. The police failed them, then the legal system failed them, but they never failed. Today we come together to receive the truth, so I thank the Prime Minister for his apology. Will he join me in hoping that all those who still suffer find some relief today and that all those who have lied and worsened that suffering feel shame in their hearts and say sorry? Will he confirm that the Government will now help us to move from the truth to justice, whether through a new inquest, accountability or further apologies? May it happen quickly.
The hon. Lady speaks with huge force and power and I agree with her every word. After truth has to come justice. For the families, nothing can bring back the loved ones they have lost, but I hope that, by revealing all this information and by the panel’s patient work in highlighting just how many things they were right about and the authorities were wrong about, they will be able to find greater peace in their hearts about their appalling losses. You never get back the loved ones you have lost, but at some stage you want at least some of the clouds to part and to see that you have got to the truth.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on an incredibly moving statement—as on the Saville inquiry, he struck exactly the right tone—and the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) on setting up the panel. When the Government have had a chance to study the full report, will the Prime Minister report back to the House on whether it sheds any light on why the Taylor inquiry did not have access to all the documents; why it did not examine the response of the emergency services; and what went wrong with the original inquest? Surely one of the ways in which we can honour the memory of the 96 is to ensure that, when future tragedies occur, people do not have to wait this long to find out the truth about how their loved ones died.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising the key questions, which are for Government to consider, because we are responsible for how these processes work. I do not have the answer today. Public inquiries and coroners’ inquests are supposed to get to the truth. They did not on this occasion and we have to answer why.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on his statement and on the fulsome apology that both he and the Leader of the Opposition have made today. The families fought long and hard for truth and justice, and they have glimpsed today the truth, which is unpalatable, disgraceful and frightening. May I therefore ask the Prime Minister to act urgently on this matter, because it needs to be redressed? Families in north Wales were, unfortunately, also affected by this terrible tragedy. Nothing less than justice will suffice, because they now believe that the moral authority of the state is at issue. It is that important.
I completely understand how those families will feel, now that, through the disclosure of these documents, we have got as close to the truth as I think we ever will. We have to understand, however, that in a democratic country governed by the rule of law it is not politicians who order prosecutions or apologies from others. Everyone has to take their own responsibility, and prosecutions and decisions of that kind must be taken in the proper way.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for their moving statements. On this day of truth, I am prouder than ever to be a Member of this House. Does the Prime Minister agree that the impact of this report will be felt not only in Liverpool but by Liverpool fans up and down the country? Many Liverpool fans in my constituency contacted me after the debate last October, and they too will see today as the first day of truth regarding the Hillsborough tragedy.
I hope that my hon. Friend is right that Liverpool fans the country over—the world over—will feel that way. As I have tried to explain, however, there is something else they need to feel, and that is not just that they have got to the truth but that the rest of the country now understands what this search for the truth was all about. That is so important in righting the wrongs of the past 23 years.
The Prime Minister delivered his statement with the clarity and sensitivity of somebody who knows what it is to lose a loved one. With Mr and Mrs Joynes, who then lived in my constituency, I attended a day of the inquest. It was one of the most harrowing events I have ever attended and it was offensive for the reasons the Prime Minister set out, but it was also ineffective, because of the deeply flawed decision on the 3.15 cut-off point. I accept that the Attorney-General has to follow the proper process, but I hope that when he considers the matter he will take into account just how deeply flawed the process was.
The right hon. Gentleman speaks with much power, having attended the inquest. The point is not only that it was 23 years ago and that inquests and the coroners’ system have moved on, but specifically that the decision on the 3.15 cut-off point, as detailed in the report, seems beyond defence. This has to be done properly, of course, but I hope that those who make the decision will consider that point carefully.
I thank my right hon. Friend and the Leader of the Opposition for their sensitive and entirely proper apologies. On hearing the grim revelation that many statements were deliberately altered, two potential criminal offences came to my mind—misconduct in public office and perverting the course of justice. Does my right hon. Friend share my expectation that any criminal investigation into these matters will be thorough and efficient?
I say to my hon. Friend, who has experience in these matters, that it is up to the authorities to study the report, what happened, why it happened, what police officers were told they were doing and were meant to do, and all the rest of it. That has to be carefully looked at by the correct authorities.
This is a hugely significant day for my constituents in Liverpool, and on their behalf I would like to thank the Prime Minister for his comments. He spoke about being sorry for a double injustice and about apologies over the past 23 years. I thank him and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for the evident sincerity of their apologies today. Will the Prime Minister join me in thanking and paying tribute to the bereaved families and other campaigners for justice for their tireless campaign for truth and justice?
I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the families. When someone loses a loved one in the way the 96 families did, it must be tempting for them to try to put it behind them and move on—to find closure in some other way—so the fact that they have bravely campaigned for justice, knowing that they have not had the truth, is huge testament to them. I am grateful for his comments about what the Leader of the Opposition and I said. I feel strongly about this, like lots of people in the country, because until this matter was looked at carefully and really understood, too many people were willing to go along with the line, “Well, it’s all a grey area, it’s all terribly difficult. There’s been an inquiry and a coroner’s report. We’ve had a judicial review.” This shows that they were not good enough. This is not just for the people of Liverpool; it is for the rest of the country to understand what the people of Merseyside have been through.
The issue of the media has been touched on already. Given their despicable behaviour, what specific action would the Prime Minister like to see taken against the media?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question. Everybody has to study the report and think about the consequences of what they did. What is new in the report is that it is not just about what the newspapers, particularly The Sun, did, but about where the information came from, how it was gleaned and the rest of it. People will want to consider that carefully before working out what to do next.
I have several constituents who lost loved ones, and I was in the stadium on the day, so may I thank the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for the tone of their statements and their apologies? We should also recognise the work of the previous Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), and the current Home Secretary, who ensured that the documents were actually delivered. What we have heard is shocking—I have had a brief glimpse at the report—but it is equally shocking that on almost every single thing that the family challenged, whether on the inquest, the 3.15 cut-off point, the post mortems or the police conspiracy, they have been proved right. That is a scandal. I welcome the fact that there will be a debate, but may we also be kept up to date on what is happening as a consequence of the report, any actions being taken and any lessons learned? The Home Secretary might want to start that when she makes her statement. The key thing is that we are kept up to date. Any documents relating to future decisions must also be made public and made available to the families and others who want to see them.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The Home Secretary and the Attorney-General are sitting here and saying that they will keep the House up to date—the Attorney-General with the decisions that he has to make and the Home Secretary with the lessons-learned exercise, which is clearly vital.
The report has highlighted so many areas where things went tragically wrong, but most importantly it has cleared the victims of any blame. I hope that this will bring relief to the families. Does the Prime Minister agree that the despicable journalism following the tragedy has had a devastating effect on the families, whose loved ones were smeared? Does he, like me and, as we just heard, my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke), hope that there will be a full front-page apology in tomorrow’s The Sun and from its proprietor to the people of Liverpool and Liverpool fans everywhere?
What my hon. Friend says is important. I have answered the question about how others need to face up to their own responsibilities. The newspaper reporting, the false police narrative and all those who coalesced around it not only did damage to Liverpool and the families but led to many in the rest of the country accepting that narrative. So this is not only an apology to Liverpool and Merseyside. It is an explanation to the rest of the country that these families were right and have been vindicated. They should be proud of that.
Is the Prime Minister aware that the author of the article referred to, “The Truth”, Kelvin MacKenzie, is still going around Britain standing by that story and has been employed by the BBC and other media outlets? Does the Prime Minister think that he is a suitable person to be employed by anyone?
Kelvin MacKenzie needs to face up to his own responsibilities. I have not had time to look at the detail of the media aspects, but we now have an account of what happened, where these false allegations came from, how they got into the newspapers, and what the newspapers, particularly The Sun, did to give them that prominence. Now it is all there, anyone with responsibility needs to face up to their responsibilities, and I very much hope that they will do so.
The events in Hillsborough stadium that day were undoubtedly a shocking tragedy. The subsequent investigation, cover-up and media coverage were a shocking travesty. To gain something positive from these awful events, what assurances can the Prime Minister give the House, and what have we learned, to ensure that these failings will not, and cannot, be repeated in the future?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Obviously, in terms of safety at football grounds, huge steps have been taken with all-seater stadiums, much better rules, far better knowledge about how to police football matches, and all the issues with crowd safety and the rest of it. There are no longer a lot of those terrible cages and things that were there in the past, and I think that we live in a different world. In learning from these inquiries, when a disaster such as this takes place it is important that we look at its causes and at what happened, rather than muddle it up with a whole lot of other issues, which I think is what far too many people did in this case.
I associate myself with the many tributes made this afternoon to the families and survivors of Hillsborough, whose tireless search for the truth has led to the publication of the report today. I also welcome the apologies from the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. The documents released confirm what has long been suspected by many: for 23 years a concerted cover-up based on smears and lies was conducted by the police, and others, against the victims and survivors of a terrible, terrible tragedy.
We know that the Prime Minister has had little time this morning to go through the report, but will he please commit to going through it after this debate, so that the families of the 96 know that the pursuit of justice is taking place at the highest level?
I can certainly give the hon. Lady that assurance. I received the report at 9.30 am. I had a briefing from the Bishop of Liverpool yesterday afternoon, which was very helpful, but I was not able to read the report until this morning before Prime Minister’s questions. I have read the summary, which I recommend to all Members of Parliament. It is a very good summary of what individual chapters find, and it links to the information that has been revealed. I am sure, however, that certain bits will require much closer study. Mention has been made of the alteration of the police reports and the importance of the media narrative, and we must also understand how so many of those things were left to lie for so long.
I am sure the Prime Minister will agree that the shocking findings that he revealed in his excellent statement show how right it was to establish the panel, and how right the families’ campaign has been over the years. I was present at Hillsborough on that day, and I was also leader of Sheffield city council. It is therefore relevant for me to reiterate today an unreserved apology on behalf of the city council for its failings in that terrible tragedy.
I revealed and released all my personal papers and documents to the panel, and I am sure the Prime Minister will join me in giving great credit to Ken Sutton and the panel’s support team for the helpful and professional way in which they have gone about their business. That contributed greatly to the production of this detailed and comprehensive report.
I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in praising Ken Sutton and the team who helped to put the report together. They have done an outstanding job in my view, and I think the way the report was released to the families first was absolutely right.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned that he was leader of Sheffield city council at the time, and it is greatly to his credit that, like others, he revealed all his papers, public and private, to the report. This is not a public inquiry or a coroner’s report. The inquiry is a proper trawl though all the relevant documentation in order to draw conclusions. There may be lessons that we can learn for other cases. Because everything is revealed, a report of this nature could be the right way to get to the truth, rather than a public inquiry.
One of those who died was 18-year-old Christopher Devonside. Christopher’s father, Barry, will welcome what the Prime Minister had to say about a potential new inquest, because that is something he and his family have called for, along with many others.
I add my voice to those who have already mentioned accountability and potential criminal proceedings. As a result of what we have heard today, and what is no doubt detailed in the report, Barry and many other families will think such proceedings entirely appropriate.
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue of accountability, and there are processes through which that is meant to happen. In this case, the chief constable of South Yorkshire offered his resignation right at the beginning, but it was not accepted by the South Yorkshire police authority. We must think through how we can hold public authorities to account and the processes by which that happens. Even 23 years on, it is completely open for the authorities to look at the new evidence and to draw the conclusions they choose.
On behalf of my constituents who lost members of their family, I thank the Prime Minister for his statement, the contents of which this House and the country will find chilling and must hold huge lessons for public services, particularly the police.
The Prime Minister rightly says that there is now a huge amount of information that those of us with an interest in this matter can read and think about carefully, and that obviously includes the Government. When the Government have completed that process, and the Prime Minister is clearer in his mind about the next steps to be taken, will he come to Liverpool and meet the families—given the catastrophic effect that this whole event had on Liverpool and the surrounding region—and tell them first what those next steps will be?
I have listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman. There is a lot of merit in what he has said so let me consider it. From everything that I have read so far, the most important next step concerns the role of the Attorney-General and consideration of an inquest. The report has identified a huge number of faults along the road, but in a tragedy such as this, the key determinants of the truth should be the public inquiry and the inquest.
Let me repeat that in the view of the families and of what we subsequently know, Lord Justice Taylor came to the right conclusion about the culpability of the police. The inquest is where major question marks arise, and that is where I think families will rightly focus. If we are thinking about next steps, there are lessons for the Government and a debate in the House, but consideration of an inquest is the most important next step to be taken. As I have said, that is a matter for the Attorney-General, and he has to stand aside from Government. In the end, an inquest can be ordered only by the High Court. That is how the processes work, and it is important that everyone, including the families, understands that.
I join those who have paid tribute to the members of the panel, and to the thorough way they have discharged their duties. I also pay tribute to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for the dignified manner in which they have led the House in its initial response to the findings in the report. The original inquest took place in the city of Sheffield, and the families of those who died will have bitter memories of the process and the conclusions drawn. I therefore ask the Prime Minister to ensure that if and when a new inquest is authorised, it does not take place in Sheffield. It is absolutely imperative that we minimise the distress to the families involved.
I have listened carefully to the hon. Lady, as, I am sure, did the Attorney-General and Home Secretary. She made a very powerful point.
I join other hon. Members in welcoming the full and fluent apology from the Prime Minister, and the profound words of the Leader of the Opposition. Those words are authoritative because they rest on the diligent work of the panel that the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) was so right to establish. The Prime Minister will know that Bloody Sunday families and survivors in my constituency have a profound empathy with those Hillsborough families that have struggled with grief compounded by grievance, and endured injustice, insult and indifference. Does the Prime Minister recognise that this report will not only mean that Hillsborough families are overcome with a sense of vindication, but that it will also provoke many other mixed and difficult emotions and issues? Will he ensure that relevant services are supported and supplemented to help the families and survivors of Hillsborough with those needs?
I am sure that with his experience of Bloody Sunday and the Saville inquiry, the hon. Gentleman is completely right to say that the families will need a lot of support and help as they digest what is in the report. The commonality, as it were, of the two things, is that a Government should not make an apology just because something bad happened some time ago. The apology should be in respect of the fact that there is new information that injustice took place and was allowed to lie for far too long, and that false stories were got up about what happened. That is why an apology is not only right, but the necessary and correct thing to do, and that is where there is common ground between the two issues raised by the hon. Gentleman.
On behalf of my constituents who lost family members and friends, I thank the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for the dignified way in which they have dealt with this very difficult statement.
One of the first questions raised with me by a constituent when I was first elected some 20 years ago was this: who gave the authority to start the misinformation through the police to the media and so on? Is the Prime Minister satisfied that he can identify those persons, and those persons who were subsequently involved in the cover-up to protect the person who started the misinformation? That is a key question. The hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) put it exactly right: there ought to be prosecutions on that point.
The hon. Gentleman asks the right question. It is necessary to study the report. The families have long believed that, although the Taylor inquiry came to the correct conclusion about police culpability, there was then a move engineered by some police officers—I believe there is evidence in the report about this—to try to put forward an alternative narrative, which was wrong, deeply insulting and very hurtful. That and new evidence on it is contained in the report, which is worth while.
I echo the sentiments of the statements of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, and thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) for setting up the inquiry. Those who have died cannot come back, but does the Prime Minister agree that their families can be assisted by two things at least? First, although I accept that politicians cannot make the emergency services and public officials apologise, perhaps the Prime Minister could ask the Mayor of London for an apology for the derogatory comments he made about the people of Merseyside many years ago as a result of the Hillsborough disaster. Secondly, in the light of the clear dereliction of duty and negligence by the emergency services and the police, will the Prime Minister consider setting up a compensation fund to make ex gratia payments to the victims’ families, so that they do not have to go through a lengthy legal process to get compensation?
The hon. Lady makes a number of points. On what the Mayor of London or others have said, the report is important. As I have said, for people right across the country, whether they are in positions of power and influence or not, the report is the proper explanation of what happened. People who thought that something else happened need to come to their senses and realise what actually happened. One of the moments that struck me in trying to understand what happened was when the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) gave that address to the fans on that anniversary. When those of us who are not from Merseyside and who have not followed this as closely as others saw just how many people turned out on that day, we also saw just what an enormous sense of outrage and injustice remained. That was an important moment. It is now for others to understand that the truth is out. Everyone needs to come to terms with it and to make the right arrangements.
I thank the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition very deeply for their comments and apologies, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) for establishing the inquiry in the first place. It will come as some comfort to the families of my constituents who died at Hillsborough on that day.
The issue of accountability is central to the debate today. Has the Prime Minister had any indication as yet on which police force could take forward any future investigation? What process does he expect to undertake to bring to account those who have allegedly taken part in criminal activity?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question, but we received the report at 9.30 am, so it clearly has not been possible to make those considerations. The Government often—not always—get a public inquiry report and are able to consider it and put more into lining up all the elements that must come next. In this situation, the report was rightly given to the families first. I have had time for a very brief look and some explanation, but the sort of questions he asks will take longer to answer.