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Public Bodies: Legal Duty of Candour

Volume 745: debated on Tuesday 20 February 2024

3. With reference to his oral statement of 6 December 2023 on Hillsborough: Bishop James Jones Report, Official Report, column 341, if he will bring forward legislative proposals to introduce a legal duty of candour on public bodies. (901577)

In his excellent report, “The patronising disposition of unaccountable power”, Bishop James Jones called for the creation of the Hillsborough charter for bereaved families, as well as for the imposition of a duty of candour on police officers. We agree wholeheartedly, which is why the Government have signed the charter alongside the Crown Prosecution Service, the National Police Chiefs’ Council and others, and imposed a duty of candour on the police. We are also legislating to create a strong, permanent and independent public advocate to speak up for victims and their families, and to rigorously hold signatories to the charter to account. We stand ready to discuss what further steps may be necessary.

The parents of Zane Gbangbola are in the Public Gallery today. Zane was just seven when he died, following floods 10 years ago this month. The fire brigade detected hydrogen cyanide multiple times. His parents, Kye and Nicole, have been fighting for the truth about their son’s death ever since, and a duty of candour would have helped them to get it. In lieu of that, will the Government establish an independent panel inquiry with full disclosure, so that all the evidence can be reviewed by experts, we can finally get the truth about what happened to an innocent seven-year-old boy, and justice can be done?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this deeply upsetting case, and I know the whole House will be thinking of Kye and Nicole as they continue to mourn the loss of Zane. The hon. Gentleman raises a critically important case. May I suggest that he and I discuss it and see what further steps can properly be taken in this difficult case?

I welcome the meeting that the Secretary of State has just offered.

The problem with the Government’s response is that it ought to be centred on the experiences of families, not on the convenience of state bureaucracy, in order to ensure that they are never repeated. There is nothing in what we have seen so far from the Government that goes as far as we and, more importantly, the families believe is necessary to require public authorities to act with candour and transparency. Why is the Secretary of State persisting with a piecemeal approach, instead of committing to a clear, compelling and comprehensive duty of candour, as proposed in the Hillsborough law?

As I say, the recommendations of Bishop James Jones’s report, which we have considered extremely carefully, contained the charter for bereaved families, and it is worth reflecting on what paragraph 3 of the report says. It requires the public body to

“approach forms of public scrutiny—including public inquiries and inquests—with candour, in an open, honest and transparent way, making full disclosure of relevant documents, material and facts.”

Taken together with the powers that exist under the Inquiries Act 2005, there is potentially criminal culpability, misconduct in a public office and perverting the course of justice, but of course we will keep this under review. We want to make sure that public bodies do what they should—that is, act transparently—and we will always consider what further steps can be taken.