[Relevant document: The Tenth Report from the Home Affairs Committee on Powers to investigate the Hillsborough disaster: interim Report on the Independent Police Complaints Commission, HC 793.]
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The events of 15 April 1989 were a tragedy. Ninety-six innocent men, women, and children lost their lives. More than 700 people were injured, many seriously. The impact of those events on all those who watched the tragedy unfold, desperate to help, on the survivors, and on the families and friends of the 96 victims, is felt to this day and must never be forgotten.
We have today an opportunity to address what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister called the “double injustice” that has been suffered, first through the tragedy itself, and then through 23 years of lies and obstruction. That is why we have brought forward this fast-track legislation.
With the publication of the report of the Hillsborough independent panel on 12 September, the truth about the events of that day is finally known. I pay tribute again to the Right Rev. James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool, and all the panel members for their dedicated and tireless work in producing the report. It has drawn a line under the lies, rumour, innuendo and conjecture that have surrounded the disaster for the past 23 years.
I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) for his contribution in getting us to this stage. I also pay tribute to the hon. Members for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram), for Halton (Derek Twigg) and for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), who have worked tirelessly to get to the truth. The whole House is grateful to them. I am also grateful to the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), and the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), for the constructive discussions that they have had with me and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, which have enabled us to introduce the Bill in a spirit of co-operation across the whole House.
I also pay tribute, not least, to the families of the victims. Without their unwavering commitment, we would simply not have reached this important point in the search for justice. I believe that without their dedication, there would have been no independent panel, no report into the Hillsborough disaster, no parliamentary debates and no possibility of exposing the truth and obtaining justice.
May I again put on the record the unanimous support of the Select Committee for the Bill? Aspects of our tenth report, which we published this morning, go beyond the scope of clauses 1 and 2. Will the Minister assure the House that he will look at those other points, for example on the creation of a lead investigator, the need for co-ordination by the Home Secretary and the need for her to publish a timetable? Even though those points are not relevant to the Bill, they are very relevant to the future conduct of the investigation.
I am grateful to the Select Committee for producing the report for this debate and for taking parts of it out of its important wider investigation into the Independent Police Complaints Commission. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that all the points that he and the Select Committee have made are under consideration. Clearly, it is in everyone’s interest that the various investigations proceed as fast as possible, consonant with the fact that many of them are being carried out by bodies that are rightly independent of Government.
The Police Federation and the superintendents have written to express their reservations and I have written back to them. I obviously meet the Police Federation and the supers regularly. I am meeting the Police Federation next week and this matter will be on the agenda. I have not had a formal exchange with ACPO, so it would be unfair for me to express its collective view.
The findings of the independent panel’s report are deeply distressing. The failure of the authorities to protect the fans, the attempts to blame them and the doubt cast on the original coroner’s inquest are particularly troubling findings. It should not have taken 23 years to get to this point, but finally the report gets us to the stage of knowing the truth—a truth that is now accepted by all. The report exposes many attempts that were made by the authorities—those charged with protecting the public and with uncovering the truth of the events—to change official records, obscure the truth and paint a different picture of what happened.
The truth is both shocking and essential, but it is not the end. As the Bishop of Liverpool has said, we now need to move from truth to justice. It is that move that is at the centre of the Bill. As the Home Secretary set out to the House in the debate on 22 October, the Independent Police Complaints Commission has announced an investigation into the panel’s findings. That is an important step on the path to achieving justice for the victims of the disaster.
The IPCC will investigate the conduct of the officers at Hillsborough on that day, and those who were involved in the subsequent investigations. That means that it will investigate both misconduct and criminality, not only of any officers who are still serving in any police force in the UK, but of any officers who have since retired. Normally, the IPCC would pursue retired officers only for matters relating to criminal behaviour. For criminal behaviour, the sanctions are clear: the officer, serving or retired, will face criminal charges. For misconduct matters, sanctions can bite only serving officers, so it is rare to undertake an investigation of retired officers for misconduct. However, in relation to Hillsborough, the IPCC has made it clear that it will investigate retired officers for both criminal behaviour and misconduct because the public interest is compelling.
I welcome the Government’s proposals, but I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman, like me, is surprised that page 10 of the Bill research paper states that the IPCC cannot already compel serving police officers simply to attend an interview in connection with any ongoing investigation. Does he believe that there should be clear sanctions against those who refuse to do that?
The hon. Gentleman asked two questions. First, he asked whether I was surprised that the power did not already exist. To some extent, yes I am. Obviously, the IPCC was set up under the Police Reform Act 2002 and given powers then. Perhaps this is the first time that so much focus has been on it—indeed, it has caused the House to agree to emergency legislation to give the IPCC that particular power.
Secondly, I know that sanctions are of particular concern. As has been said, we will debate the matter in detail on an amendment to the relevant clause in Committee later. However, I preview my thoughts on that by pointing out that clear sanctions will be available to chief constables and forces to apply to those who refuse to obey what will be an IPCC instruction, and later a requirement. They will be very powerful.
The Minister may recall that I wrote to him about retired officers, and I thank him for his response. Will he be clear about whether such former officers would be required to attend any sort of interview? My understanding of the Home Affairs Committee report is that the Bill does not provide for that, and that could hinder the investigation. Will he make it clear whether there is a way of ensuring that people are available to be interviewed?
The case is different for retired officers because they are essentially members of the public. The police cannot compel a member of the public to attend an interview as a witness. If the police feel that it is necessary to interview someone, they have to arrest them if they are unwilling to help voluntarily. It would be strange to give the IPCC powers that the police do not have. Having said that, my expectation is that—inevitably, in this case—there will be many retired officers, simply because of the length of time since Hillsborough, and that they may have useful evidence to give as witnesses. I hope and expect that many will wish to help.
It is 23 years since Hillsborough and more than 20 years since most of the incidents that concern us occurred. Has the Minister any idea of how many officers from that time are still serving, and how many have retired or moved on?
The IPCC is still going through that information. The majority of officers may well have retired by now. This is a large undertaking and represents the biggest single investigation that the IPCC has ever done. It estimates that this will involve it investigating more than 2,400 officers. That is the overall quantum—the actual division is not yet clear. Obviously, many officers may have moved to other forces, and so on.
I have very great confidence in that. There are two points to make in response to the hon. Gentleman, the first of which is that similar sanctions under the conduct regulations are not in any other Bill, so it would be anomalous suddenly to pluck out the sanction for this offence and put it in legislation. Secondly, and more importantly in practical terms, given the enormous and understandable public interest in the matter, the relevant chief officers will be extremely keen to ensure that they use their powers to take sanctions—ultimately, officers who break the conduct regulations in that way can be dismissed. The conversations I have had with senior officers in recent days suggest that that is the case.
I said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) that the IPCC has said that the investigation will be the biggest it has ever undertaken. The Government recognise the additional burden that such a large investigation places on it. We have made it clear that we will ensure that the commission has both the powers and the resources it needs to conduct its investigations into Hillsborough. We take that commitment seriously, which is why we have introduced this fast-track Bill.
The IPCC has accepted two separate complaints, which may or may not overlap. One is in relation to Orgreave in 1984, and the other is in relation to the mystery over the investigation into Norman Bettison for an alleged major theft in August 1987. How will the IPCC be able to look at those two investigations when it has such a heavy burden placed on it, particularly if it finds anything that in any way crosses over because of the individuals involved or anything else?
I should restrict my remarks to Hillsborough, which is the purpose of the Bill; it is deliberately narrowly drawn. It is for the IPCC to decide how to use its resources. The Bill gives a power to the IPCC to consider events previously investigated by its predecessor body, the Police Complaints Authority, but it is for the IPCC to decide whether exceptional circumstances obtain to allow it do so. It is for the IPCC to decide whether to accept individual complaints. On the hon. Gentleman’s other complaints, may I urge Members on both sides of the House not to indulge in debate and speculation about individuals? I would not want anything said on the Floor of the House to jeopardise any live investigations being conducted by either the IPCC or the police.
Since the publication of the panel’s report, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I, and Home Office officials, have liaised closely with the IPCC, which has identified two additional powers it needs urgently in order to take forward its investigations into Hillsborough. Those powers are contained in the Bill.
As many hon. Members will know, discussions with the IPCC regarding its powers have been taking place for some time. I am aware of the calls for wider reform of the IPCC and how police complaints are handled more generally. Let me be clear to the House that those discussions are still taking place. The Home Affairs Committee, to which I gave evidence last week, is coming to the end of an inquiry into the IPCC. Naturally, the Government will want to study the Committee’s conclusions and recommendations before coming to a final view on any wider reforms to the IPCC. If there are other gaps in the IPCC’s powers, we will plug them as soon as is practicable, but the Bill’s focus is on gaps in the commission’s powers that it has identified as preventing it from undertaking a thorough and exhaustive investigation in Hillsborough without delay.
One of the things that emerged clearly from the report was the role of South Yorkshire police federation in putting out the “alternative” view of Hillsborough. I suspect I know the answer, but I want to be clear for the record—that someone cannot argue they were acting in a representative capacity as a police federation representative in order to escape what is being sought under the Bill. In other words, the Bill’s provisions will apply to them even if they were acting as representatives of the police federation and its members, just as they would to police officers generally.
Short of reading again what I have just said, that is what we are doing. The Select Committee, of which he is a distinguished member, is conducting an investigation. It has not published its final report, but when it does so the Government will look at it and all the matters it raises seriously.
The Minister says that the IPCC has asked for two powers that are contained in the Bill. What conversations has he had with the IPCC since the Bill was published about anything that is missing? He says he has had conversations with chief officers, specifically on sanctions. What conversations has he had with the IPCC about sanctions?
I have had extensive conversations with the IPCC. I have seen its briefing to Members, which led to the all-party group amendment. I have specifically discussed sanctions with the IPCC. As I have said in more general terms, if there is a need to widen the IPCC’s powers the Government will look at it with an open mind and with a view to legislation, but it is sensible to await the Select Committee report before committing ourselves in any detail. It will be for the IPCC to investigate whether individuals involved on the day should face misconduct or criminal proceedings; we must ensure it has the powers it needs. The IPCC has been clear: that fully to investigate the terrible events of 15 April 1989 it needs to hear the testimony of officers involved on the day and in subsequent investigations.
I thank the Minister for the correspondence he gave the all-party group yesterday. He makes absolutely the right case on the powers the IPCC needs for retired officers. Does he agree that, even if there are substantial legislative issues with retired officers, there is an absolutely clear moral case that retired officers should co-operate with the IPCC?
Yes, absolutely. I agree unequivocally, and it is a widely held view in the police service as well. I know that the hon. Lady understands that retired police officers are just members of the public, however, and therefore that giving the IPCC powers that the police do not have to compel witnesses to appear would be anomalous and certainly not something we would want to do through emergency fast-track legislation. Nevertheless, she made the moral case very powerfully.
The IPCC has existing powers to interview officers and former officers who are themselves the subject of an investigation for either a conduct or a criminal matter. The IPCC can already compel a suspect to attend an interview, but it needs to hear from officers not just when they themselves are the subject of the investigation. It also needs to obtain evidence through interviews from those who might have seen the events unfold, when they might have seen or heard of fellow officers amending statements and records—in other words, when they had witnessed key events in relation to Hillsborough.
As I have said, the IPCC can compel officers who are themselves under investigation to attend for interview. Clause 1 extends this power so that serving police officers and police staff can be compelled to attend for interview as witnesses as part of any investigation managed or independently undertaken by the IPCC. The power will apply to officers in Home Office forces and other policing bodies, such as the British Transport police. I am clear that any serving officer who fails to comply with a request to attend such an interview should face disciplinary measures. I emphasise that point once again.
That is consistent with the existing regime that applies when a person who is the subject of an investigation fails to attend for interview. For the sake of clarity, I will repeat that such disciplinary matters may have serious consequences, including— ultimately—dismissal. I have set out that the power granted through clause 1 applies to individuals still serving with the police. The IPCC will not be able to compel a retired officer to attend an interview as a witness through the use of this power.
Several hon. members have asked why the provision should not apply to retired officers, but, as I said, they are in the same position as ordinary members of the public and so are no longer bound legally by the same responsibility as serving officers—although the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) made the point about moral responsibility. To grant the IPCC the power to require a retired officer to give evidence simply as a witness would provide the IPCC with greater powers over the public than those available to the police. I think the House would rightly be uncomfortable about that.
Let me again be clear, however: that does not mean that the IPCC cannot or will not investigate retired officers for misconduct or criminality that they might have committed. The IPCC will do that. We are just not providing the IPCC with the power, at this stage, to compel such retired officers to attend an interview as a witness to events on the day or thereafter. Crucially, the IPCC has not asked for that power in relation to the Hillsborough investigation, so the House does not need to rush its consideration of the matter.
I know that many concerns have been expressed in the House and outside that an officer who wants to avoid the repercussions of their actions can simply retire and avoid all sanction, but that is not the case. The IPCC can and will investigate any individual suspected of criminal behaviour. It has the powers it needs to pursue these individuals and bring them to book. For example, the IPCC already has the power to require an individual, serving or retired, who is suspected of misconduct or criminal behaviour to attend an interview. The IPCC can, in appropriate cases, refer a matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions where there is evidence of criminality in relation to Hillsborough.
If an individual is subsequently convicted of a criminal offence, in connection with their service as a police officer, they could lose the majority of their pension. It will be for the relevant police and crime commissioner to apply for this sanction. That is in addition to any penalty ordered by a court. Let me be clear: charges can be brought regardless of the employment status of the individual concerned.
Just for the record, will the Minister clarify something? Criminal behaviour could lead to someone who is serving or who is retired facing a reduction in their pension. What happens if somebody is found guilty not of criminal behaviour, but of wrongdoing? Does the same sanction still apply?
The sanctions apply if someone is convicted of a criminal offence—I think that is the point the hon. Gentleman wishes to be clarified. If someone has not been convicted of a criminal offence, matters affecting their pension would, not least, engage human rights legislation as well, so things would be much more difficult in those cases.
I understand the Minister’s point that if someone was guilty of a criminal offence, there would be consequences, but what if someone who was serving and was investigated at the time had been found guilty of not carrying out their duties in an appropriate manner? That would have been a disciplinary matter rather than a criminal matter. Is there any sanction that could apply in those circumstances?
I think we are getting into the realms of speculation about individuals. There is a clear distinction, which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will recognise, between criminality and pure misconduct. It is clearly difficult to take disciplinary action against someone who is no longer an employee. At the most serious end, many of the Hillsborough cases would potentially involve criminal sanctions, but too detailed speculation on these matters might be unhelpful in the long run, not least to the families and others seeking justice as well as truth.
Where there is a need to gather sufficient evidence to decide whether a retired individual should be the subject of an investigation for misconduct or criminality, does the Bill contain sufficient powers to enable that evidence to be gathered?
The IPCC already has considerable powers to gather evidence, and it is not the only body involved in these investigations. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General is looking at whether to apply to reopen the inquest, so a coroner may be involved as well. There will therefore be thorough investigation, and I would be surprised and disappointed if any avenue of inquiry fell through the cracks. As much as can be done in the investigation is being done and will be done.
The overall point I would like to reassure the House about is that where individuals are suspected of misconduct or criminality, the IPCC has the powers it needs, so clause 1 is solely about its powers relating to witnesses. The power is essential if the IPCC investigation is to maintain public confidence and show that it has left no stone unturned—precisely the point that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) made. Information from witnesses will ensure that the IPCC investigation has a broad and thorough evidence base.
As we have discussed, the sanctions carry real weight for serving officers. It would not be appropriate to extend that to retired officers at this time. I should perhaps repeat that I fully expect the vast majority of retired officers called as witnesses to attend willingly. The importance of the matters being considered would cause any decent human being to provide whatever assistance they could. However, we want to ensure that the IPCC has the clear statutory basis to be able, independently and authoritatively, to require serving officers who may have useful information for the purposes of the investigation—because they witnessed events—to attend an interview. This power is needed urgently. The IPCC is currently scoping its investigation, but it wants to make rapid progress, and I know that many people inside and outside the House want that as well. It plans to start calling witnesses early in the new year, so this power needs to be available to it by then if the investigation is not to be held up.
Clause 2 will allow the IPCC to investigate matters that were previously subject to investigation by its predecessor, the Police Complaints Authority. This power will be exercised only when the IPCC is satisfied that the exceptional circumstances of a case justify its use. That is a high threshold. The IPCC has made it clear to me that, without this power, certain key events of the Hillsborough disaster would be out of scope of its investigation, as they have previously been considered by the PCA. In particular, the PCA investigated the decisions to open exit gate C at the Leppings Lane end of the Hillsborough ground and not to close the tunnel. Without this additional power, those matters would be out of scope of the IPCC investigation, although it is clear that those two decisions were critical to the events of the day.
So this power is needed, but it needs to be tightly drawn. We need to avoid the prospect of opening up all previous PCA investigations for review. That is why the power provides the IPCC with the discretion to reopen previously investigated cases when the matter meets the test of “exceptional circumstances”. We are confident that that terminology ensures that investigations relating to Hillsborough can be reopened, while also setting a high enough bar to prevent all PCA cases from being subject to another investigation.
I do. As I have said, it is for the IPCC to define “exceptional circumstances”, but clearly a powerful public interest would be one example. New evidence would potentially be another. The circumstances would be of that kind of order. In serious cases, a powerful public interest or the production of new evidence would enable the IPCC to say that the hurdle had been overcome.
It is for the IPCC to decide such questions. The I stands for “Independent”, so it is not for Ministers to stand here and tell the IPCC how to define its role or the powers that we give it. It is for us to give it the powers, but it must define how best to use them. So, if the hon. Lady will permit me, I will leave that to the IPCC to decide. It will decide such questions in that case and in any other, and it is right that the decision should sit with it.
I apologise for missing the start of the debate. The Minister has talked about reopening investigations that have already been looked into by the Police Complaints Authority. Given the number of officers who were persuaded to change their statements and the scale of the cover-up, does he envisage that those issues will be covered by this provision in the Bill?
The previous Government passed a perfectly sensible piece of legislation when setting up the IPCC to prevent it from becoming a body that would investigate every controversial police case that had been investigated by its predecessor body. The reason for including this provision in the Bill is that the IPCC has told the Government very firmly that it needs the power to investigate a case that has already been investigated by the PCA, for the reasons that I have given relating to what happened on that day, and that it wants the high hurdle of “exceptional circumstances” to be set. One element that would enable it to get over that high hurdle would be the arrival of significant new evidence in a public interest case. As the hon. Gentleman says, the fact that there is evidence of statements having been altered on an industrial scale certainly hits the target as far as new evidence is concerned.
To clarify, if during the IPCC’s investigations into Hillsborough, it comes across other major events that might not be in the public domain at all yet might give some indication not of what happened at Hillsborough or how it happened, but of why certain things happened, will it be able to look into or pass on relevant information at a future stage? In other words, can the IPCC look at things that are not directly related to Hillsborough but that come out as reasons for actions that are, on the face of it, unrelated but could be worthy of investigation in themselves?
Again, it will be a matter for the IPCC to decide what to do with the evidence it finds. Inevitably, in this kind of investigation, the evidence it finds will be public. I think I can see where the hon. Gentleman is trying to go. As I say, the IPCC has considerable powers of investigation and it could make things public that might enable someone to make a complaint, at which point it would have to decide whether its powers were sufficient or whether its new powers conferred under this Bill could be triggered. The underlying point is that the IPCC is independent: it is for the IPCC to decide what best to do with the evidence it finds during the course of its investigations.
The Bill is narrow in scope, but crucial to the process of achieving justice for the 96 individuals who died as a result of the Hillsborough disaster, for those who were injured and for the families and friends of all involved.
I thank the Minister for his patience again, but I am certain that he must understand the nervousness on Merseyside when this particular issue goes through this House. I know, because I have spoken to him, that the Minister is fully aware of and appreciates the current situation of Anne Williams, whose online e-petition reached over 100,000 signatures some weeks ago. Will he assure us that none of the investigations that will be carried out through the additional powers of the Bill will in any way impact on the time scale of the new inquests? Will he say more about his latest expectations regarding the timing of the application to the High Court to quash the original unsound verdicts?
On the first point, I know that the IPCC is extremely aware of the desire for things not to appear to be unduly delayed. Indeed, that is one reason why we are here today—to put a Bill through all its stages in one day, which shows that the House and the Government are trying to speed the process up as much as we can.
On the application to the High Court, I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General is proceeding as fast as he can, and I think a decision will be made public very shortly. I can go no further than that, but the hon. Gentleman’s wider point is well made, and I absolutely take it. I am very conscious that people want to see that this process, having started after the report, is not unduly delayed at any stage. I am very keen, as I know are many other people who have been involved from the start, that that should happen.
That explains why the House should not today consider the wider reform of the IPCC, although we will examine whether there are other gaps in its powers. We have asked it what tools it needs to progress its investigations into Hillsborough, and this short Bill will ensure that it has the two additional powers for which it asked. The Bill thus represents an important step on the road from truth to justice for Hillsborough. All who support that aim will, I hope, support this Bill. I commend it to the House.
I must now announce the result of the deferred Division on the draft order amending schedule 1 to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. The Ayes were 288 and the Noes were 213, so the Question was agreed to.
I must also announce the result of the deferred Division on the draft Civil Legal Aid (Merits Criteria) Regulations 2012. The Ayes were 287 and the Noes were 213, so the Question was agreed to.
Let me begin by thanking the Minister for the discussions in which he has engaged outside the Chamber with Opposition Front Benchers, namely my right hon. Friends the Members for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) and for Leigh (Andy Burnham), and me. We have greatly appreciated those discussions, and, like the Minister and, I am sure, many other Members, we welcome the Bill.
The events at Hillsborough 23 years ago were a tragedy of monumental proportions. The lack of justice for the families and friends of the 96 victims sits heavily on all Members of this place, and indeed on the great city of Liverpool, which I am proud to say is the city of my birth. Constituents of mine died at Hillsborough. I know of the problems that the families have experienced since then, and the pain that it has brought them. The campaign for justice has been long fought, over many years. I recall our debate early in 1998, to which many Members who are in the Chamber today contributed. We recognise and pay tribute to the campaign for justice and for the families, and today we will help it to proceed to a conclusion.
Let me again place on record my sincere thanks to the Right Rev. James Jones and the Hillsborough panel, who have done such important work to enable us, by means of the Bill and other measures, to right some of the many wrongs that have been perpetrated over those 23 years. I pay particular tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh for leading that process in government, and for not abandoning it in opposition. I think it is telling that every Member representing the city of Liverpool was present for the Minister’s speech today, and that so many Members on both sides of the House representing the north-west and, indeed, other parts of the United Kingdom are present for the debate.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the cross-party nature of what has happened since 2010, when the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) took action to enable the independent panel to sit, has shown the House operating at its absolute best, and that more has been achieved for the victims of Hillsborough since then than was achieved in the preceding 20-odd years?
I hope it can be said that death does not bear a party banner, and that the tragedies faced by many of my constituents and those of other Members throughout the House have led us to take action that will achieve the justice that they seek, the justice that they want, and the justice for which they have fought in the face of the lies that have been perpetuated in the community around them for so many years.
We should recognise that the Bill is one step—albeit a small step—towards our achieving justice for the 96 families, their friends, their relatives, and the many people who were injured on that day; but we should also recognise that that journey towards justice is far from over. As we have heard today, the Attorney-General is considering whether there should be a fresh inquest. We certainly want to see the verdicts of the original inquest crushed, and we want the Director of Public Prosecutions to review as a matter of urgency evidence relating to the important matters that occurred that day. The Independent Police Complaints Commission is, of course, already looking into the conduct of police officers.
The Bill is part of the process of securing justice for the relatives, friends and families, but it is only part of that process. Justice will not be achieved until all the matters to which I have referred have been dealt with to the satisfaction of the families, in line with the Hillsborough panel’s recommendations.
Based on the report, the IPCC wants to look into two potential criminal and misconduct issues. First, it wants to examine the conduct of the police on 15 April 1989, addressing the culpability of the individuals and organisations involved and the safety standards, planning and operational decisions of that day that led to the Hillsborough disaster. Secondly, an equally important, but perhaps even worse, series of incidents is being examined: the evidence suggesting a cover-up in the weeks, months and years after the disaster. Of the 164 statements taken by officers on that day, no fewer than 116 were changed in some way, shape or form. That is deceit on a huge scale and we need to get to the bottom of it for the sake not only of the integrity of the police, but of justice for the 96.
I thank the Home Secretary for having listened to the concerns expressed by the shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford about the powers available to the IPCC. It must have the tools it needs to carry out a thorough investigation into both allegations of criminality and misconduct and the events of the day. The families who have campaigned for that—as well as for the inquest, for the quashing of the verdicts and for the Director of Public Prosecutions to review the evidence—demand no less.
My right hon. Friend called in October for the inquiry to have those powers, because she recognises that it must get to the bottom of why so many police statements were altered. Although the IPCC can pursue officers it believes to have committed crimes, it does not at present have powers to compel serving or former officers to be interviewed as witnesses; nor can it compel civilians to give evidence. Those obstacles must be removed, and the Bill achieves that. What consultations did the Minister have with the families prior to the publication of the Bill, and does he intend to have further discussions with representatives of the families in the next few weeks?
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) has said, the Home Affairs Committee welcomes the Bill. It has also made some helpful comments, and I hope the Minister will reflect on them. It is clear that the IPCC does not have the powers it needs to meet the objectives it has set itself. Indeed, it has informed the Home Affairs Committee that
“where police officers refuse to attend for interview, IPCC investigators can only seek the information they need through the submission of written questions to officers via their solicitors or other representatives. Not only can this seriously undermine public confidence in IPCC investigations, it can also impact on the overall effectiveness and timeliness of investigations.”
Clause 1 will remedy that, and I welcome it.
There is a separate issue. My right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary has rightly asked Lord Stevens to address in his independent review for our party whether there should be a new police standards body and to look at the role of the IPCC going forward. That is a debate for another day, but as the Minister has recognised, in the longer term we will need to put in place a strong body to provide the safeguards and standards required to hold the police to account. That will take time, however, and the friends and families of the victims and the communities of Merseyside, Liverpool, my area of north Wales and beyond demand that we have early action. That is why this Bill is before us today.
I am very much on the side of my hon. Friend, and I again want to pay tribute to him and to the impact he has made on these matters since his election in May 2010. He knows the community where he lives and which he represents. He knows that they want to see those matters dealt with urgently, as do all hon. Members; those of us who have bereaved relatives in our constituencies know what that means to them and how they want to see the main important matters that my hon. Friend has brought forward addressed.
Clause 1 will amend the Police Reform Act 2002 to confer witness attendance powers on the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The way in which that will be done is set out in newly published regulations from the Minister, which will adopt a similar approach to that set out in the 2002 Act. Clause 2, on the application of part 2 of the 2002 Act, will deal with questions that the Minister has also mentioned. It will amend the legislation currently preventing the IPCC from investigating any matters previously considered by the Police Complaints Authority. Given that these issues occurred under the PCA’s jurisdiction, it is vital that that bit of the Bill is also put in place.
Later on we will deal with an amendment, but it is important to refer now to the issue at the heart of it. I have pressed the Minister strongly, as have my right hon. Friends the Members for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford and for Leigh, on the issue of the sanctions in place should an officer fail to attend an interview. Such an officer would indeed be subject to misconduct proceedings, and the Minister has explained to me privately, and has explained to the House today, how he believes those will deal with that issue. I simply say to him that we will be maintaining a strong watching brief, because we may need to revisit the sanctions issue either in Committee or at a later date.
The amendment tabled by the all-party group on the Hillsborough disaster, so ably chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), raises that issue. We will have the debate when we deal with the amendment, but it is important that those who refuse to address the needs of the IPCC—if there are such people, and there may not be—face some sanction. The Minister has made it clear to me that that will involve police misconduct proceedings, which could involve dismissal, loss of pension or other issues. The key question is this: is the sanction sufficient? We will test that at a later date.
Discussions also have progressed with my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary and myself on the IPCC’s inability to compel retired officers to attend interviews. The Minister has agreed to look at this matter. He has given an explanation again as to why retired officers should not be eligible to be brought for interview; this was because of the difficulties of legislation and other related matters. In a letter that he sent the shadow Home Secretary on 22 November, which was copied to me, he said:
“As I set out on Monday, we understand the calls to grant a power to compel retired officers to attend interviews, and” —
this is important—
“will consider these in slower time, but do not feel it is appropriate to grant such a wide-ranging power through fast track legislation.”
Will the Minister indicate during this debate what exactly he means by “slower time”? I would like to know with whom he is discussing these issues, when he intends to report back to the House on them, and whether he will explore the issues that we have discussed in respect of human rights legislation and pension confiscation. Will he report back to the House after this fast-track legislation on those matters?
A commitment made by the Minister today—even now, dare I say it—from across the Dispatch Box to report back to this House on those matters would be of great interest. It would be very much welcomed by Members of this House, who are concerned that officers involved in incidents at Hillsborough who have retired will not be subject to criminal proceedings because they are not involved in criminal activity but could give information that is beneficial to a range of other matters relating to the Hillsborough inquiry. I want to know from the Minister, now or later, what he means by “slower time”, because it is important. I would welcome reassurance that those powers are available and will be considered. I will not push him further than that today, but we will revisit the question in due course.
I would also like the Minister to confirm my understanding of the situation with the IPCC’s oversight as it extends to private contractors that provide services to or on behalf of the police. The legislation is put in place for Hillsborough, but also for other events, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) mentioned, and for all time until it is changed by future legislation. Will the Minister confirm that police community support officers and those individuals who undertake private contracting for the police force will come under the auspices of the Bill? I know the answer to that question, but I want the Minister to put it on the record in the Chamber before the Bill is passed.
I welcome the fact that the IPCC has suggested that it will be in a position to take witnesses early in the next year. All Members of this House who are involved, both those who represent the city of Sheffield—I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) in her place—and those who represent constituencies in the north-west would welcome an early conclusion. The Minister has been keen to say that the investigation will be independent, but I would welcome some indication of the time scale within which, once the Bill has been approved, he would expect the IPCC to conclude its consideration of these matters. If he cannot do that today and wants to give it further consideration outside the Chamber, I would welcome it if he could drop a note to Members who speak on the subject on Second Reading. An indication from the IPCC of its intended time scale would certainly be welcome.
I genuinely support the Minister’s Bill, but I would also welcome his comments on correspondence that I have received in the last 24 to 36 hours from bodies representing the police that have considered the Bill post-publication. It worries me, so I ask the Minister to give some consideration to the points it raises. First, I have a letter from the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales addressed to my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary and copied to me. It is from Chief Superintendent Derek Barnett, the president of the association, and the very first line states:
“It is disappointing that the only notification…of this legislation was a telephone call from an official the day before the Bill was tabled.”
He goes on to say that he shares
“your commitment to ensuring that the Hillsborough case is fully and properly investigated in a manner that is both expeditious and thorough, and with the eventual outcome that the full circumstances of those terrible events are once and for all indentified and that justice can be seen to have been done.”
The police superintendents support elements of the Bill, but I am slightly surprised that they were not consulted about it as a whole apart from by telephone on the day before it was tabled. Between now and the Bill’s consideration in the other place, will the Minister meet the superintendents or contact them and listen to the points they want to make? I support the Bill as it is, but the superintendents want to make some points about it and the lack of consultation is concerning. They will have a role to play on these matters in future and the Minister might find that they support him.
I also have a similar letter from the Police Federation. It is from the deputy general secretary, Stephen Smith, who states on page 2:
“I have to say that I am personally disappointed by the action taken in issuing the Bill, rather than consulting with the sub-committee in the first instance. I believe this course of action demeans the very important work that has been carried out over the last 7 years.”
The sub-committee to which he refers is the Police Advisory Board for England and Wales sub-committee, which is a negotiating body on these matters.
Whatever our view on a range of incidents, the police have an important say on this matter, and the fact that they have not been formally consulted is an oversight. Between now and Second Reading in another place, if the Bill progresses today, as I expect it to do, will the Minister make contact with the Police Federation to give the police an opportunity to have their say?
My final point relates to the scope of the Bill. The Minister knows that he is the Policing Minister for England and Wales, and that potentially, as we discussed outside the Chamber, police officers who in 1989 worked for a force in England and Wales may now work for a force in Scotland or Northern Ireland, outside the Minister’s jurisdiction. We raised the matter in our informal discussions and I do not believe I have had a response from the Minister, unless I missed it. I would welcome an update on the progress that he has had with the devolved Administrations in Northern Ireland and Scotland on ensuring that the terms of the Bill would not encounter any difficulties from those Administrations. They are different Administrations and have different police forces. If somebody is now employed by the Police Service of Northern Ireland or the Scottish police force, that could present difficulties. I would like to see the matter resolved. The Minister has said outside the Chamber that he has discussed it and is coming to a conclusion on it.
I welcome support for the Bill from Liberty, the human rights group, which believes that this is the right course of action. There is cross-community support for the Bill and I wish it fair passage. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) referred in an intervention to the petition organised by Anne Williams. Perhaps the Minister winding up the debate can give us an update. As we know, Anne Williams has a very difficult and challenging illness and wishes to ensure that her concerns about her family’s loss are resolved before her illness reaches a sad conclusion, as she expects it to do. We should consider an early opportunity to discuss that petition again in the House. May I press the Minister for an early answer from the Department on the earliest possible inquest into the family of Anne Williams?
The Bill has widespread support. There are some issues which I have raised with the Minister today that we want to see explored in detail, but I know as somebody who represents families who lost relatives at Hillsborough, I know from being born and growing up in Liverpool the community that I represent, I know from my support for that football team for my entire life, and I know from the contributions, work and efforts of my right hon. and hon. Friends from across the region and across my area of north Wales that the events of Hillsborough in 1989 caused such challenge, tragedy and concern that we now want justice for the families of those 96 victims and others who were injured.
Through their effort, passion and commitment the families have brought the case to the stage that we are at today, where an inquest is potentially pending, verdicts can be quashed and the Director of Public Prosecutions is going to act on the matter. The Bill gives an opportunity for the Independent Police Complaints Commission to provide answers and take real action on the concerns that have existed for many years. I welcome the Second Reading of the Bill. We will return to issues in due course in Committee, but the Opposition support the Bill here and in another place and look forward to the day when the IPCC’s investigation leads to satisfaction, truth and justice for the families of those who were lost in Sheffield on that day in 1989.
I, too, welcome and warmly approve of the Bill. The whole country was shocked by the findings of the Hillsborough independent panel. In subsequent statements and debates in this House, it has become obvious that there is a huge groundswell of parliamentary opinion that swift action needs to be taken to achieve swift justice for the 96.
Outside this debate, the Attorney-General is doing absolutely the right thing by pushing for an early referral to the High Court and for it to make a speedy decision on the validity of the original inquests. The Home Secretary has done absolutely the right thing by calling for the IPCC to investigate both the actions of the police on the day of Hillsborough and their subsequent involvement in any form of cover-up. She promised that the IPCC would be given the powers and resources it needs to pursue that investigation, and that is what the Bill delivers.
I would like to thank the Home Secretary for the speed with which she has brought the Bill forward. The families of the Hillsborough victims and the survivors are understandably looking for swift justice. Given that the IPCC intends to begin calling witnesses to its investigation at the beginning of next year, the sooner it is in possession of the necessary tools, the better.
It is important to say that, as with all the progress that has been made on Hillsborough since 2010, I am delighted that the Bill has cross-party support today. I know that the shadow Home Secretary spoke in favour of fast-track legislation during the Bill’s First Reading a fortnight ago, and Opposition Members have been a great help in advancing the Bill.
I agree entirely. I know families of people from Chester who sadly died that day, and 23 years later it still affects them daily. It is up to us in this House to ensure that we achieve a swift resolution for them, and that is what we are trying to do. It is what we have been trying to do since the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) set up the independent panel three years ago. Absolutely everything we do is to ensure that we get justice for all 96 and all survivors.
The Bill, as we have heard, contains two main clauses and performs two main functions. I will look at it backwards and consider clause 2 first. Clause 2 allows the IPCC to launch investigations into incidents that occurred before the commission was established in 2004 and incidents previously investigated by its predecessor, the Police Complaints Authority. The Bill will essentially make it possible for the IPCC to investigate police actions at Hillsborough 23 years ago, which I totally support.
The Bill will also compel serving police officers to attend hearings as witnesses, a power that has not previously been available to the IPCC. It is important to note that, although the Bill has been brought forward specifically because of Hillsborough, most of us would agree that the power to call police officers as witnesses should be a tool that is regularly at the IPCC’s disposal. I am therefore pleased that the Bill is not set to expire and that the powers conferred on the commission will be retained for future IPCC investigations.
I note, as did the shadow Policing Minister, that the Police Federation has expressed some concerns, especially about the clause that will require police officers to attend an interview. Steve Evans, who leads for the Police Federation on professional standards, has raised a valid concern:
“Police officers are going to be treated differently from any other section of society. I am not quite sure what”
the Home Secretary
“is hoping to achieve.”
In response to that point, I think that police officers should indeed be treated differently from other sections of society, by virtue of the fact that they are entrusted to administer the law, must be accountable for their actions and must not be able to shy away from any form of investigation. Mr Evans went on to say:
“I would like to know what the problem is that needs fixing—as well as the evidence which suggests that officers do not comply with the current system.”
The IPCC briefing paper that we received helps us in responding to Mr Evans’ concerns. It says:
“Though we do not keep specific records of instances of non-cooperation, we have readily been able to identify at least 25 cases, involving over 100 police officers, where there has been a refusal to attend for interview. These cases cover such serious matters as death or serious injury, police shootings, road traffic incidents and the use of excessive force.”
Indeed, a recent case in point is that of the shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham last year that contributed to the escalation of violence in the area and led eventually to riots across the country. The police marksman who shot Mr Duggan refused to be interviewed by the IPCC as part of its investigation into the incident, as did 30 other officers. Because of the legislation that is currently in place, the commission was unable to insist on attendance. Regardless of the specific need to expedite investigations into Hillsborough, Mr Duggan’s case alone highlights a need for wider change in the legislation.
While I am totally supportive of the Bill and wish it all speed and every success in its passage through Parliament today, there are a couple of areas where questions need to be answered. First, the Bill does not compel ex-police officers or ex-police staff to attend interviews as witnesses. Hillsborough was 23 years ago, and many of the officers involved will no longer be serving. I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is aware of this problem and has considered it. On 22 October, during the debate on the Hillsborough independent panel’s report, she said:
“The Government are already looking at what additional powers the IPCC will need, which includes proposals to require current and ex-police officers who may be witness to a crime to attend an interview”.—[Official Report, 22 October 2012; Vol. 551, c. 721.]
I, too, would like the IPCC to be given the power to call former officers to give evidence. I appreciate, however, that that may be a difficult provision to enact and that this emergency Bill is probably not the right place in which to include such a power. I note that the IPCC has discussed this and decided that the requirement relating to former officers would be unenforceable and that there would be little value in adding it to the Bill.
However, I would like one aspect to be tightened, and, with other Members on both sides of the House, I have submitted a probing amendment to be discussed in Committee to explore it further. In essence, it is about sanctions for non-attendance at interviews. As the Bill stands, sanctions for non-compliance will be dealt with by the relevant authority tasked with dealing with misconduct against the officer in question. However, the question of whether the non-attendance of the officer is to be determined as misconduct is also left at the discretion of the relevant authority. The IPCC has stated that a refusal to attend an interview should be immediately categorised as misconduct and that appropriate disciplinary action should instantly be triggered. I have a large degree of sympathy with that proposal. I implore the Policing Minister to consider adopting the amendment, which would allow the Home Secretary to ensure that clear, unambiguous and consistent sanctions can be implemented across the country.
This debate is set in the context of an extremely tragic matter, but in my two and a half years as a Member of Parliament the issue of Hillsborough has consistently brought out the very best in this House. For as long as that is necessary, I hope that it continues.
A number of hon. Members have already pointed out that it is highly unusual to fast-track an important Bill, but we are dealing with an unusual circumstance and it is essential that this Bill goes through. We are dealing with the aftermath of a terrible tragedy that happened 23 years ago: 96 people died, thousands more were injured or traumatised, there was a cover-up, nobody was brought to book for what happened and, indeed, the victims were blamed for the culpability of others. That cover-up is now unravelling and there is a desire for urgent justice and accountability. That is why we are considering this Bill, but this is only one part of a whole range of actions now being taken speedily and correctly.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission has published its 10-point terms of reference, a number of which demonstrate the relevance of this Bill. The IPCC wants to find out what happened and how 116 witness statements came to be altered in order to remove or lessen the culpability of police and, indeed, others. It wants to consider the validity of the police evidence to the all-important Taylor inquiry. It wants to consider the conduct of the West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire police in relation not just to what happened at the time but to subsequent investigations. It wants to investigate the authorisation given to test the alcohol levels of the victims and to allow access to the police national computer in an attempt to denigrate the victims. The vital issue of what happened on the day and of who took the decision to open the Leppings Lane gate is critical. The culmination of all that was the attempted cover-up—indeed, it was successful—to blame the victims for what happened.
Those are just some of the items specified in the IPCC’s terms of reference. In order for them to be investigated properly, it is essential that the IPCC has adequate powers. It is critical that we discuss the issue and make a decision today so that the new investigation can start quickly. I understand that if we reach an agreement today, the IPCC investigation will be able to start in early 2013.
The Bill addresses two key areas. First, it will enable the IPCC to compel serving officers and their staff to answer its questions as witnesses. The IPCC will be able to consider whether they are guilty of misconduct or, indeed, criminality, but it is also essential that they come forward as witnesses. Secondly—this is also essential—it will allow the IPCC to investigate issues previously investigated by its predecessor, the Police Complaints Authority. Both measures are important.
This debate has already shown that there are question marks over the Bill’s adequacy in respect of those measures. What would happen, for example, if serving officers or their staff did not agree to come forward when requested? Would the disciplinary measures, which have been spelt out this afternoon, be adequate? I do not think that we will know the answer until such an event happens. The issue of calling retired officers or staff is not covered by the Bill, either. There may be other means of doing that, but the situation is extremely unclear. Those are two areas of the Bill that stand out at this stage as either not covered adequately or, in the case of retired officers, not covered at all.
Some of the issues will be addressed when we discuss the amendment in Committee following this Second Reading debate, but it is essential that there is continuing dialogue and that the House is made aware of any progress. We need to know whether the proposals for addressing these matters are valid, and we need an ongoing discussion and up-to-date information, so that if any further steps are required they can be enacted without undue delay.
There is cross-party agreement on what is happening. The Hillsborough independent panel was set up in the last Parliament and its work has been taken forward in this one. There is cross-party agreement on that.
Twenty-three years is a long time to wait for justice. The families deserve no less than truth, justice and accountability. That requires speedy action, but that action must be backed up by sufficient powers to enable the proper information to be considered in a judicial process, if that is what is required. I hope that the Bill will help to achieve that.
It is extremely important that the House is kept informed of progress, including the consequences of this Bill being passed and the question of reopening the inquest—something that will be considered in this place at another time.
It will not be news to anybody in this House how serious the Hillsborough disaster was. It is still the worst tragedy in British sporting history. The shocking revelations of deception, blame and injustice have resonated with football fans and many others around the world. The 96 people paid an awful price and we are still learning from it today. I hope that Parliament will at last ensure that we learn the harsh lessons of the last 23 years through this vital legislation.
I will not go through the details of what happened because they have been eloquently expressed by many right hon. and hon. Members who have much closer links to these events, and the unacceptable acts of manipulation and self-interest by the police forces involved in the disaster have been covered extensively in the media. It is clear from the Hillsborough independent panel report that the extent of the loss of life can be attributed to multiple failures in the emergency services and other public bodies that were charged with the safety of the public on that occasion.
We have to accept the reality that South Yorkshire and West Midlands police, as well as other emergency services, made “strenuous attempts” to deflect the blame for the crush on to the victims. The report stated clearly that 116 of 164 police statements were
“amended to remove or alter comments unfavourable to”
South Yorkshire police. I know that the whole House would agree that that is clearly unacceptable.
For the victims of the catastrophe who have seen decades pass without justice, it is essential that we act to ensure that the systems put in place to protect the public can no longer place themselves above that duty. It is therefore critical that we reform the IPCC. There are two issues. First, the changes proposed in this Bill, which I support, will, we hope, help the Hillsborough investigation, although I have a couple of concerns that I will raise in a moment.
Secondly, there is a need for broader reform of the IPCC. There is much concern among the public that it does not always act sufficiently independently, that it does not take up enough cases and that it is not able to investigate cases as well as it needs to. I am pleased that the Minister has made it clear that he will consider carefully the work that the Home Affairs Committee is doing to look more broadly at the IPCC. There are a number of points that I hope he will look at. I have already raised the issue of those who operate in quasi-policing roles. The former chair of the IPCC, Nick Hardwick, has said that
“if it looks like a police officer, talks like a police officer, walks like a police officer, the IPCC should investigate it.”
The Minister has said that he will have an open mind in looking at those issues. I hope that he will take action on quasi-policing roles.
The Liberal Democrats support the Bill entirely. We are delighted that it also has the support of organisations such as Liberty, which rightly states that there should be due process for police officers. However, there are a number of issues that are not quite clear and I would be grateful if the Minister could reiterate his position on them. The first is what will happen to police officers who are required to attend an interview but who refuse to answer questions at it. Everybody has the right not to answer questions and not to self-incriminate, but there is a question about whether there is a duty on somebody who is still an employee to answer questions. The Home Affairs Committee report, which we concluded yesterday in time for this debate, states at recommendation 10:
“We note that refusal to attend an interview may result in misconduct or gross misconduct proceedings, but that there is no sanction for refusal to answer questions. We expect that chief constables will indicate to their forces that such uncooperative behaviour would be considered to be at odds with the spirit of professional duty.”
I hope that the Minister will confirm that that is his interpretation, too, and that he will encourage chief constables to make that clear more broadly.
There is still the issue, which I raised with the Minister earlier, of former police officers. He pointed out, and others confirmed it, that they would have a moral obligation to co-operate. That is definitely right—we would like former police officers to take part—but I am not clear what would happen if the unfortunate occurred, and some police officers did not agree to co-operate and that caused a fundamental problem with the investigation. I hope that the Minister will consider what happens if that becomes a problem.
I am sorry; I meant former police officers who do not have to attend an interview and decide not to do so, and that becomes a problem. I hope that the Minister will consider, obviously with much reluctance, whether we need to do anything else to ensure justice. I thank him for correcting me if I misspoke.
I hope that the Bill will be passed quickly, and I look forward to hearing other hon. Members’ comments today.
I am pleased to be able take part in this debate, albeit briefly, because the events of that awful day took place in the city that I represent, and I was the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough before the election.
I welcome the Bill, and not just because it makes the IPCC’s work so much easier—the investigation into what really happened at Hillsborough, and, in the course of establishing the truth, holding to account those who were responsible. I heard what the Minister said about the bar for the use of the powers in the IPCC’s future investigations, but I believe that incidents such as Orgreave will reach the standards that that bar requires, and that the Bill will be applied to them.
I pay tribute to the shadow Home Secretary and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) for their work, and to the Minister. The non-partisan manner in which the matter has been handled is a tribute to the House’s response to Hillsborough and to the Hillsborough independent panel’s report. It has been to Parliament’s credit. We need to continue in that spirit.
I sympathise with the shadow Minister’s views on the need to consider how we can enable the IPCC to require retired police officers to co-operate with the investigation. That is a critical point. If we are trying to make it possible for the IPCC to conduct a thorough and definitive investigation into what happened at Hillsborough, it is vital that no stone is left unturned, to use a cliché. Not to be able to interview retired members of the force would leave a massive hole in the IPCC’s investigations. Somehow, that loophole—that weakness—in the IPCC’s powers needs to be resolved before it completes its investigations.
In the debate in response to the Hillsborough panel’s report, I spoke about the need for the House to recognise that policing in South Yorkshire has changed since 1989. I reiterate that today. Policing has clearly moved on from where it was 23 years ago, not only in South Yorkshire but throughout the country. Nevertheless, that does not mean that things are perfect. The provisions in the Bill are part of the evidence that policing in this country is moving forward. The fact that we are at the point where we are saying that serving police officers and, we hope, retired officers can be required to give evidence to the IPCC is a clear tribute to the progress that we are slowly making towards a position in which policing is as transparent as possible. Only when we get to that position can we truly say that people will once again trust policing in this country.
Perhaps the Minister can respond in his winding-up speech to one point I should have made in my contribution but did not. What happens if an officer is under investigation under the powers in the Bill, and subsequently, during the course of the investigation, determines to retire? Perhaps the Minister could clarify on the record what happens in those circumstances.
I concur with my right hon. Friend that that is one of the key questions we need to discuss in Committee. This is not only about retired officers and serving officers, but about those who do not want, through misguided loyalty, to incriminate people with whom they have worked over the years, and who might be tempted to retire, because they are on the point of retirement, to avoid having to give evidence.
The numbers who will try to do that will be relatively small. I am absolutely confident that the vast majority of South Yorkshire officers, both retired and serving, will be keen for the truth on Hillsborough to be established. Most will be keen to co-operate with the IPCC inquiry. Some of those who were there on the day have been to see me about Hillsborough. It is clear that they want to put on the record their role on the day and the fact that they did nothing wrong. It is in the interests of all those who were serving in the force at that time and who were involved in the events of that day that they are are given the opportunity to put on the record their memories of what happened. That is why the vast majority of officers will be keen to co-operate. The establishment of the whole truth is the only way in which this issue will be resolved once and for all. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) said, truth, justice and accountability are the only way forward.
The hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) mentioned the possibility of witnesses refusing to co-operate. I know the South Yorkshire force and its leadership reasonably well. Hon. Members can only place our trust in the ability of that leadership to ensure that the clear message goes out to serving and retired officers that full co-operation with the work of the IPCC is required. We have a golden opportunity to lay this issue to rest once and for all. Achieving that goal—once and for all resolving the disaster of April 1989—is primarily in the interests of the families of the bereaved, but it is also in the interests of South Yorkshire police and the people of Sheffield, who have lived with the disaster daily.
It is incumbent on all of us to remember that the provisions in the Bill apply not only to the actions of South Yorkshire police on the day and West Midlands police. We know from the IPCC that other police forces are almost certainly involved. If Orgreave is investigated using the powers in the Bill, the provisions will apply to a number of police forces. In the interests of accountability, transparency and the future of policing in this country, but more than anything in the interests of the families of the 96, the Bill should be given a clear passage through the Commons and speedily taken through the Lords, so that we can get it on to the statute book and the IPCC can get on with its work.
I have been sitting here waiting to be called trying to think of some words with which to introduce my comments. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman),who I thought was about to leave just as I was going to compliment her, expressed well the strong feelings her constituents and mine have about the independent panel report chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool. I do not seek to add to that, other than to say that she demonstrated that we are almost at the point of exhausting the lexicon of infamy in describing what came out in it.
I want to make only two points, and I will try to be brief. First, with a little indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to say that I know the Attorney-General is close to the end of his deliberations on whether an application should be made to the court on the inquest that took place. As I have said previously, I attended one day of the inquest with some of my constituents and have never witnessed proceedings so designed to offend. I do not want to add to that, but I do not use that description lightly. I hope the Attorney-General will reach a speedy conclusion to his deliberations, that the application will be made to the court quickly and that notice is taken of the online petition referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), which was set up by Anne Williams. I hesitate to go much further than that because I am well aware of how the Lord Chief Justice might respond to the interference of politicians in the conduct of the courts, but I hope it will be given prominence in the discussions between the Attorney-General and the Lord Chief Justice. We have the opportunity to talk about serving officers when we discuss the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley), myself and others, so I will reserve my comments on that issue until then.
The second issue is whether retired police officers can be compelled to give evidence to the IPCC’s investigation. My hon. Friends the Members for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) and for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) and the hon. Member for City of Chester have rightly called on the good name of the police and said that they hope everyone will do the honourable and honest thing. I echo those calls, but I throw in a note of caution. Some people who are now retired—I will not get into the realms of talking about who they may be or what they may have done—may be culpable of offences. Appeals to their honour, when by giving evidence they risk being put in a position where they are either telling lies or incriminating themselves, will in some cases fall on fairly stony ground.
In the years I have been a Member of this House, and even before that, I have always been a strong supporter of the police. I believe they perform an incredibly important role on behalf of all of us in society. But the truth is—my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside mentioned this difference—we know that serving police officers, either under pressure or voluntarily, altered important statements, and many of them will now be retired. I realise the Minister’s problem, and I am not criticising him for not finding a way of covering those people in the Bill, but the IPCC will have to think about how it can, if not compel, at least make it difficult for those retired officers not to give evidence. Quite how it can do that, at this juncture, is beyond me. I do not offer any suggestions, but it is something that the IPCC needs to give careful thought to.
I wish to bring to the IPCC’s attention one other point that has been referred to already. Often, it is all too easy to find a friendly doctor to say, “This person is not in a fit state to give evidence in such a forum.” Let us be brutally honest. If someone searches for long enough, they will find a doctor who will do that. If what I shall call the Pinochet defence is used in these cases, I hope that the IPCC will not accept it at face value and that, if somebody claims to be unable to give evidence on the grounds of ill health, further inquiries will be made to test the validity of the claim.
Finally, it was remiss of me not to welcome the Bill and the work that the Home Secretary, the Minister and my right hon. and hon. Friends have done to bring us to this pass. With the reservations I have outlined, I am happy to give my strong support to the Bill.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) mentioned the experience of some of his constituents at the inquests. That is something that has been said to me as well. Family members have told me they felt that they were the criminals, so bad was the atmosphere and the way they were treated by those carrying out the inquest and some of those giving evidence, including police officers, some of whom might be among those who need to be dealt with by the Bill. I welcome the provisions and the attempt to do just that.
The independent panel report, among other things, found evidence of extensive alteration of police records and attempts to impugn the reputations of the deceased. In its response to the report, the IPCC noted that it could not investigate all aspects of the police’s conduct, because when the IPCC took over from the Police Complaints Authority, a transitional provisions order set out that certain old cases could not be investigated under the new framework. The Minister has adequately covered that point.
The Bill will provide two key new powers. The first will require a serving police officer to attend an interview as a witness. This new power will be increased by regulations. The second new power will be to set aside the relevant articles of the transitional provisions order in exceptional circumstances, so that the IPCC can investigate certain old cases, where the PCA had already been involved. I will speak briefly to both points.
In its response to the panel’s report, the IPCC set out the potential misconduct that had been disclosed. The potential criminal and misconduct issues fall into two broad categories: allegations—which go to the heart of what happened at Hillsborough on 15 April 1989—that individuals or institutions may be culpable for the deaths; and allegations about what happened after the disaster, including allegations that evidence was fabricated and misinformation spread in an attempt to avoid blame. The IPCC decision document set out a large number of matters that it proposed to investigate, but noted that it was legally prevented from looking at some matters that had previously been investigated. That is why we are here today.
I will give one example of what is set out in the report: the early lie, by Chief Superintendent Duckenfield, about the gates being forced open, which was corrected by the chief constable that evening. This was investigated by West Midlands police under the supervision of the Police Complaints Authority. As such, although the IPCC deplores such dishonesty, it is legally prevented from investigating the issue further; it will therefore not be investigated. There are many examples of police actions that the PCA had already investigated. That is why this Bill is so important and why it is so important that the IPCC should be given the powers to investigate what happened at Hillsborough.
It is right that action can be taken against retired officers. A number of right hon. and hon. Members have expressed their concerns about exactly how retired officers will be dealt with. The Policing Minister has acknowledged that point, but not yet to the satisfaction of all of us in the Chamber. We all understand the difficulties, which is why they are not addressed by the Bill at this point. However, I repeat that there are dangers, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley gave the Pinochet example as one potential difficulty.
There were serious failings on the day and an immediate and longer-term cover-up by police officers, yet no one has been convicted for their role in either the deaths of the 96 or the systematic cover-up and the vilification of the dead, their families and the injured. It is to be hoped that the process this Bill is part of will enable that injustice to be rectified. Officers were pressurised to change their statements. This Bill, along with the interest that Members in this House have demonstrated over the last few years, will not only show the strength of our feeling, but reflect the strength of public opinion, which is also represented by the number of people who have signed the latest petition and previous ones. It is now right that officers and former officers come forward to give evidence and tell their story—it certainly should have happened before—knowing that they have public support and that they are not driven by some misguided view that they should protect colleagues or former colleagues, as my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) said. Officers certainly should be coming forward to tell their story. This Bill will ensure that serving officers do that, but it will hopefully encourage former officers to do so as well.
The Minister rightly spoke of the “industrial scale” of the alteration of statements. That is an apt description. He was right, and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) was right to say that nothing must stand in the way of the application for a new inquest, given that Anne Williams is so seriously ill. Indeed, she spends much of her time in a hospice. Justice for Anne and the other families is the absolute priority. They have campaigned hard for recognition of what happened; they have campaigned for far too long. That has been acknowledged in the independent panel’s report. From what the Attorney-General has said, the application for new inquests is imminent—I am sure that is the case. This Bill provides an opportunity for one of the big injustices—the action of those police officers who broke the law—to be addressed. The Bill should be allowed to proceed as quickly as possible.
With the leave of the House, I should like to respond to the debate. I am grateful to all those who have contributed and helped us to make progress towards ensuring that justice will follow truth. It is important for the House to consider all the issues and questions that the introduction of this Bill has raised. Members of this House have shown great commitment in driving us closer to getting the IPCC investigation under way. The point has been well made by the shadow Policing Minister, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), and others that people do not want more talk. They simply want to see the changes that will unlock justice.
We have twin responsibilities in this House: we have to ensure that progress is made after such a long wait for the truth, but we also have a parliamentary responsibility to ensure that the Bill that passes through the House is appropriate and fit for purpose. I think that today we will meet both those responsibilities. I am grateful for the support from hon. Members on both sides in getting through all the business in a short time. The Bill will enable the IPCC to conduct a comprehensive, painstaking and, above all, transparent investigation. Transparency has perhaps not been mentioned enough, but it is important that what the IPCC uncovers should be transparent.
Let me address the individual points that have been made today. I shall start with those of the right hon. Member for Delyn. He asked about consultation with the families. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary met representatives of the Hillsborough family groups on 18 October and, as the right hon. Gentleman would expect, Home Office officials continue to be in regular contact with the groups and will write to them again following today’s debate. The Home Secretary has also asked the Bishop of Liverpool to continue to act as the Government’s adviser on Hillsborough. His close relationship with the families will obviously be very beneficial.
Several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram), asked about a single lead investigator, as did the shadow Minister. There are legal and constitutional constraints that would prevent the appointment of a single investigator to investigate Hillsborough. Each of the bodies involved, and the processes relating to them, are independent under laws passed by this House. However, I am conscious of the need for the various investigatory bodies, independent though they might be, to work closely together. The IPCC and the Director of Public Prosecutions are working closely together, and with others who have responsibility for investigating those who cannot be the subject of IPCC investigations. Discussions are continuing on how to approach any aspects of the investigation that cannot be covered by the IPCC. I was also asked about the time scale. A decision on that will be made very early next year. We are moving ahead with that as fast as possible.
The Minister has mentioned our questions about a lead investigator. According to paragraph 9 on page 3 of the Home Affairs Select Committee report that was published today, the Committee is recommending
“that a single, lead investigator should be identified”.
How much consideration will he give to that report?
As I have said, I can see where the demand is coming from, and I have read the Home Affairs Select Committee report. There are, however, very good reasons for what I have said about this, which I am sure hon. Members will understand. Given the constitutional independence of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the IPCC, there could not be any attempt to direct them, especially the DPP. It would be improper in all senses for a chief investigator, let alone a Home Office Minister, to direct him and tell him what to do. It would certainly be constitutionally improper as well, so there are genuine difficulties involved in going down that route. I assume that the underlying drive behind the request for such an investigator is the need to ensure that people do not go off in different directions or fail to talk to each other, thereby causing unnecessary delay through a lack of coherence among the various strands that hon. Members have talked about. Everyone involved is aware of that; I know they are doing their best to make sure that they proceed as much as possible in parallel.
The right hon. Member for Delyn asked me about engagement with the Police Superintendents Association and the Police Federation. As I said in response to an earlier intervention, I have already had an exchange of correspondence with both bodies; indeed, my officials spoke to them before the Bill was published. I believe the right hon. Gentleman said at one stage that we should have consulted formally, but that would have taken 10 or 12 weeks, so it would clearly have been impossible. Inevitably, there has not been a lot of time between getting the Bill right and publishing it. Of necessity, then, the consultation with the bodies was done relatively shortly before we proceeded. I sensed the House’s pressure to get on with this, and that is what we are doing.
I already have in my diary a meeting with the Police Federation next week, and I would be happy to meet the Police Superintendents Association at any time.
There has been a lot of discussion about retired officers—not least by the shadow policing Minister, but also by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), the hon. Members for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) and for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), the right hon. Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) and the hon. Member for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson). As I have said, former officers are civilians—not police officers—and they are no longer bound by the duties and regulations that governed their lives as serving officers. The police themselves do not have powers to compel witnesses to attend interviews, so I can only repeat that to grant this power to the IPCC would be unusual in the extreme. However, given the seriousness of the allegations being considered by the IPCC in the Hillsborough case, I repeat that the IPCC has made it clear that it will fully conclude investigations for both criminality and misconduct even when officers have left the service.
This is an unusual step. The IPCC does not normally investigate retired officers for misconduct, but it is clear in this case that there is an enormous and legitimate public demand, reflected by Members of all parties, for that to happen. That is what the IPCC was going to do. During its investigation, the IPPC will no doubt call retired officers to provide evidence. As we all agree, the retired officers will understand the importance of this investigation, and I am sure that the vast majority, if not all of them, will attend willingly.
Finally, the IPCC has been clear that it needs these powers only in respect of serving officers. That is what the Bill provides for. I understand the calls to grant a power to compel retired officers to give evidence, but because it is so unusual and because it would be such a powerful tool, I think it would be inappropriate to do this through fast-track legislation. That should be considered when it comes to the possibility of future legislation.
I understand the Minister’s point that making a change such as this in fast-track legislation might not be appropriate, but can he give a commitment that, should it become apparent later that there is a reluctance on the part of retired officers to come forward, some further action could be taken by this House to bring in an element of compulsion?
What I will say is that we are debating this Bill here today because the IPPC came to the Government and said, “We need extra powers.” We have responded as quickly as possible so as not to delay the move from truth to justice. We are always willing to accept representations from the IPCC and to consider what is the most practical way of allowing it to do its job as efficiently as possible.
The right hon. Member for Delyn asked me about a related subject, namely the retirement of officers during an investigation. The IPCC can continue an investigation into either criminal or misconduct matters even when an officer has chosen to retire in the middle of it. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is reassured by that. He also asked about private contractors. Contractors working as detention and escort officers already fall under the IPCC’s oversight, and are therefore covered by the Bill. We are considering the need to extend the provision to other kinds of contractor. That is not relevant to events that took place in 1989, because there were no private contractors then, but we will consider the issue in the longer term, along with the IPCC.
I was asked when the IPCC investigation would conclude. I think that everyone recognises that it is a huge, complex, far-reaching investigation, and that it will take time for it to conclude thoroughly. The last thing we want is an investigation that is not carried out thoroughly. The IPCC will set out the scope and projected timings in the new year. As well as meeting my officials, it has been meeting the families and their representatives, and will continue to do so in order to ensure that they are in the loop at all times.
My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) asked about sanctions. As we are about to debate that subject, I shall not intrude on your patience, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I will say that we have not expressly provided for a sanction for failing to comply with a witness attendance requirement because effective sanctions are already available under the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2012. I shall doubtless say more about that shortly, when we discuss amendment 1.
Let me again thank the Opposition, and Members in all parts of the House, who have spoken today and expressed their support for the Bill. I hope that the constructive manner and tone that have characterised the debate will serve as a reassurance, not least to the families of the victims, that the House is working well to try to help them as much as possible. I look forward to the Bill’s remaining stages.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.