House of Lords
Tuesday, 11 December 2012.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Bristol.
My Lords, badger culling is part of a package of measures to tackle bovine TB. The policy will be piloted, initially in two areas, during the summer of 2013 to confirm our assumptions about the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of controlled shooting. An independent panel of experts will oversee and evaluate the monitoring of the pilots and report back to government; only then will Ministers decide whether the policy should be rolled out more widely.
I thank the Minister for his reply. However, scientific evidence conducted over 10 years says that the killing of badgers makes hardly any difference—indeed, no difference—and in fact eminent scientists say that it makes it worse. In view of that, will he now follow the Welsh Assembly and decide on a policy of vaccination rather than elimination?
My Lords, the noble Lord and I will disagree on the science. Ultimately, of course, we want to be able to use vaccination both for cattle and for badgers, and we are investing in this option through extensive research and development. However, there are practical difficulties with the injectable badger vaccine, which the noble Lord refers to as being used in Wales and which right now is the only available option. The difficulties involved include the need for each badger to be trapped and the fact that vaccination does not appear to cure already infected badgers, along with the cost and the fact that it has to be repeated every year.
My Lords, I have spoken in your Lordships’ House before about the scientific evidence for the efficacy of culling as a way to control TB in badgers, and I do not wish to repeat myself. However, I should like to ask the Minister two questions. First, how will the success or failure of these two pilots be judged? The independent panel will make the judgment, but what will success look like? Secondly, is it not right that the Government should take the opportunity between now and next summer, when the cull is proposed to resume, to review all the options for controlling TB in badgers, bearing in mind that not even the most optimistic proponent of culling would consider it a credible strategy for the eradication of this dreadful disease?
My Lords, as always, I respect the noble Lord’s position. An independent panel of experts will oversee the monitoring and evaluation of the two pilots for the badger control policy to test our assumptions, as I said, about the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of controlled shooting. The expert panel will play an important role in overseeing the design of the data collection and their analysis, and in providing additional advice on interpretation of the data. It will be on the basis of both the pilots and the panel’s report that Ministers will take a decision on whether the granting of culling licences should be authorised in areas besides the pilot areas, and whether the badger control policy should continue to include controlled shooting as a culling method. On the noble Lord’s second point, we are constantly reviewing the options. As I said earlier, we are working hard on a vaccination, and there are a number of other measures in progress. In a general sense, we are doing as the noble Lord suggests.
My Lords, to put things in context, we should bear in mind that in 2011-12 the total cost to the Government of controlling the disease in England will be about £90 million but that, without further action, the disease will cost the taxpayer approaching £1 billion over the next decade. In terms of the costs, a large proportion of which are borne by farmers, £750,000 was spent on surveying costs, which gave us the more accurate estimate of badger populations, £300,000 on Natural England’s costs and approximately £95,000 as part of humaneness monitoring.
The noble Lord raises an important point. I can only repeat an extract from the report following the visit to the UK in March 2012 of the EU Commission’s bovine tuberculosis sub-group of the task force for monitoring animal disease eradication:
“It is however of utmost importance that there is a political consensus and commitment to long-term strategies to combat TB in badgers as well as in cattle … There is no scientific evidence to demonstrate that badger vaccination will reduce the incidence of TB in cattle. However there is considerable evidence to support the removal of badgers in order to improve the TB status of both badgers and cattle”.
My Lords, it is for the National Farmers’ Union to decide where it wants to conduct pilots. Natural England issued west Somerset and Gloucestershire with licences for the two badger cull pilots and these licences remain valid for the duration of the cull next summer. We are working with the farming industry so that badger control in two pilot areas can be implemented effectively in 2013 in the best possible conditions and with the right resources.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a resident of the Forest of Dean, a cull area, and as a member of Gloucestershire Against Badger Shooting. My party still believes that there is no scientific, economic or moral basis for culling. What is the estimated additional cost to farmers or others of a more intensive cull, and are the Government confident of recruiting enough marksmen to do the work?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, is trying to get in.
I thank the noble Lord. My Lords, in view of the vast compensation paid for the slaughter of cattle that react to the tuberculin test, and in view of Britain’s vast experience of vaccination of wildlife—not only of badgers but all over the world—what attention is being paid to the vaccination of badgers in this situation by using techniques that are commonly used elsewhere in the world in very difficult circumstances?
My Lords, I mentioned earlier the injectable badger vaccine, with which, as I explained, there are complications. The other alternative is the oral vaccine. An oral badger vaccine is in development but is still several years away. It is therefore not possible to say with any certainty if and when such a vaccine might be available for use in the field.
My Lords, following broadly free and fair parliamentary elections on 1 October, Georgia is now negotiating a tricky period, with a difficult cohabitation between the Government and the President. It is incumbent on all sides to work together to consolidate Georgia’s democratic progress. This message was delivered by my right honourable friend the Minister for Europe, David Lidington, on his recent visit to Georgia on 21 to 22 November.
I thank the Minister for his reply, but does he agree that there are very worrying signs coming from Georgia? More than 20 members of the previous Government have been arrested, including many high-ranking officials, former Cabinet Ministers, the deputy mayor of Tbilisi and the chief of the defence staff. It may be that some of those are guilty of misconduct, but will the Government join with other members of the European Union to make it quite clear to the new Prime Minister that the due process of law must be followed in every case and that there should be no hint of what has already been termed political retribution against former members of the Government?
My Lords, we are concerned about the number of political figures who have been arrested and we are following that situation very closely. The sentiments that the noble Lord suggested have been expressed by a number of foreign ambassadors and Foreign Ministers. There have been discussions with the Georgians in Brussels. Ivanishvili, the new Prime Minister, visited Brussels in the context of the NATO-Georgia council on 5 December. An active dialogue is therefore under way.
My Lords, Georgia is a sovereign, democratic and proud country, but is it not the case that recent events are staining its reputation for democratic development? Is not the Georgian Dream becoming the Georgian nightmare? Will the Minister comment on the cancellation of Prime Minister Ivanishvili’s visit to Washington? Some reports say that while his party is busy arresting and harassing opposition parliamentarians that should remain the case. Would he be welcome in this country while this situation continues?
My Lords, it is a little too early to be quite as definite as the noble Lord has been. This is a new Government who have been in office for, in effect, less than two months, and the Georgian Dream coalition is extremely diverse. It is led by the richest man in Georgia, who has very little previous political experience. It is finding its way. Georgia is the most democratic among the former CIS states. It is not by any means a perfect democracy, but one has to recognise that the elections were seen as being broadly free and fair, and there was a democratic change of Government. We have to cling to that and bring all the pressure we can to make sure that the new Government fulfil their full democratic obligations.
My Lords, perhaps I may move the focus to Russo-Georgian relations. Prime Minister Ivanishvili made most of his millions in Russia and it is reported that he either has been, or is about to be meeting President Putin. Will the Minister comment on the Government’s informed understanding of how Russo-Georgian relations may alter or whether they will remain as they are?
My Lords, we would welcome an improvement in relations between Russia and Georgia. The new Government have indeed attempted to open a new dialogue with the Russians, but so far, as far as I am informed, the Russians have not responded very favourably. The problems of Abkhazia and South Ossetia remain; Russia still does not accept the territorial integrity of Georgia. There is a long way to go, but in the context of the multinational Geneva talks in which Britain also plays a part, we would very much like a more positive dialogue between Russia and Georgia to take place.
My Lords, there is plenty of time for both noble Lords. I think that we can hear from the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and then my noble friend.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dykes.
I should admit that I was in Georgia by chance the week before the parliamentary elections, and, perhaps to offset some of the comments this afternoon, I should say that the massive demonstrations that took place then after the revelation of terrible human rights abuses in Georgian prisons were impeccable. There was no violence on the part of protesters and there was no force used by the police. What we need to do, surely—
I thank the noble Lord for those comments. The previous Government were not perfect. There is a very large prison population in Georgia and prison conditions were clearly awful. The current Government are not perfect either; media freedom is still very limited, but we have to do what we can to encourage a process of transition to full democracy, which is still under way.
My Lords, one of the worrying concerns has been that the Government have published a proposed series of cuts in the budget that would sharply cut the budget for the presidential administration. We are doing everything that we can, as are a number of other foreign Governments, to encourage a constructive cohabitation between the president and the current Government until the presidential elections next year.
My Lords, the Government are fully committed to tackling avoidance and evasion wherever it occurs. HMRC is to receive additional investment of £77 million to expand its anti-avoidance and anti-evasion activity, including resources to identify and challenge multinationals’ transfer pricing arrangements. Following the Chancellor’s call for international co-operation to strengthen international tax standards, the UK, Germany and France have pledged resources to the OECD to speed up work to tackle profit-shifting and base erosion at the global level.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that if companies and individuals complied with the letter and spirit of the law, the Treasury would be £32 billion better off. Is he aware that the public are extremely angry about this and that the whole situation is grossly unfair to those companies that pay their taxes, such as John Lewis and Marks & Spencer? Is he further aware that the army of bankers, accountants and lawyers advising those companies on how to evade their taxes are the same people the Government employ for their own business? Will he take action in the tax havens that make all this possible?
My Lords, HMRC does indeed estimate that the tax gap in 2010-11 was £32 billion, which represents 6.7% of total tax due. The tax gap as a percentage of tax due has fallen from 8.2% since 2004. It is not good enough but it is going in the right direction. The absolute determination of the Government to bear down on this was evidenced by the decision we took last year to divert £900 million into this area, which has since been supplemented by an additional £77 million to increase the specialist abilities within HMRC to deal with some extremely clever advisers and companies that seek to minimise their tax.
Why does HMRC not take action a bit nearer home and look at the smuggling into this country of cigarettes and tobacco? The percentage for this is still 20% to 25%, denying retailers and the trade a normal profit margin and ensuring that cigarettes are cheaper and easier for young people to take up. That percentage has not changed for the past three years.
We need a greater degree of international agreement and that is why, along with France and Germany, we have just contributed an extra €150,000 to the OECD’s work to change the basis of accounting. We can do only a certain amount ourselves. It would be a counsel of despair to say that we cannot change the rules; the rules exist and can be changed.
My Lords, I am glad that the Government are ending Labour’s indulgence to business on tax issues but, like many others here, I would like to play a part with my purchasing power. Is there a way we can find out who the good guys are so that we do not have to use the likes of Amazon, Google and Starbucks and can transfer our business elsewhere?
My Lords, the worry would be that if the Government constructed a good guys’ website they would not be on it. The Minister is absolutely right: we need international action. However, the significant European countries taking action with regard to places such as Monaco point a very accusatory finger at the UK Government, with our plethora of regimes that are in fact tax havens. That is why the Government should be taking a lead, not following others.
I do not remember the noble Lord quite espousing those lines when he was in my position. The Government are working very hard with low-tax jurisdictions to make sure that we get the tax that is due. This is why the Liechtenstein disclosure facility has been so productive and why the agreement with Switzerland will yield many billions of pounds that we never got before. We also have the newly expanded exchange of information, announced with the Isle of Man, which sets an example that we hope to expand to other tax havens. We are trying to bear down slowly on them so that one after another they become less desirable as places for people to put money to evade taxes.
My Lords, on the problem of leakage of tax revenue to tax havens with lower rates, is not the answer to lower the rates of corporate taxation in this country? In answer to a previous question of a similar nature, my noble friend told me that it was an accounting problem. It is not an accounting problem that leads people to base their company headquarters in countries such as Luxembourg—it is because they pay less tax there. If we wish to maximise revenue, should we not cut corporation tax still further in the way that my right honourable friend did in the Autumn Statement?
My Lords, would the Minister join me in welcoming the fact that Her Majesty’s Government, having cut the money to HMRC for dealing with this problem, have now restored their own cut? Would he see whether it is possible to collate information about those companies with large numbers of employees that do not even pay a living wage to those employees, let alone their tax, and therefore cost the Treasury in additional income support?
My Lords, I am afraid the noble Baroness is wrong about what has been happening with the resources: we have been reallocating resources within HMRC. Bearing in mind that so many taxpayers now pay their tax online, we do not need as many people opening envelopes. However, we do need highly sophisticated people working as analysts and investigators.
Immigration: Tuberculosis Testing
My Lords, the Department of Health is evaluating the effectiveness of latent TB screening in migrant populations. NICE produces clinical guidelines on testing for diagnosing latent TB. It also advises on which is the most accurate approach in diagnosing latent TB in those who have recently arrived in the UK from high incidence countries.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that the moment you arrive here you become the responsibility of the National Health Service? Would it therefore not be much wiser to have these tests carried out in the country of origin where the visa application is made? As I understand it, something like three-quarters of the people diagnosed in the past year would have been missed with the present test. Can he assure me that, if country-of-origin testing is introduced, the Home Office will take action to ensure that the tests are up to standard and not subject to interference or even possible corruption?
My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. Overseas tests already take place, first by X-ray and then by a sputum test in the event of a positive result. This results in cost savings because we do not need to treat someone suffering from tuberculosis if they come to the UK.
My Lords, TB and HIV co-exist. The NHS is required to test all new healthcare workers for tuberculosis and blood-born viruses, including HIV. In relation to overseas recruitment, it is recommended that the tests are performed in the country of origin before applying for employment. Can the Minister confirm that compliance with this guidance is being maintained and is it possible to move towards the situation that currently pertains in Australia, New Zealand and Canada?
My Lords, eventually for all the 82 high- risk countries, you will not be able to get a visa to the UK unless you are clear of TB. To clarify further my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Morris, arrivals from the other European states are not tested for TB because of course they do not need to be tested. They can come and go as they please.
My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that the growing incidence of TB is actually a feature now in the UK, particularly in cities such as London and Birmingham? What priority are the Government giving within the National Health Service to dealing with a problem that is causing a great deal of concern?
The noble Lord is absolutely right: it is a problem in the big conurbations, due to deprivation and very dense accommodation. I can assure the noble Lord that the Government are on the case. We regard it as a serious problem. Further to the article in the Financial Times, we recognise that we must not let it get out of control. That is partially why we are insisting on testing people outside the UK so that we do not incur the costs for the NHS. It costs about £6,000 to treat someone who is very susceptible to treatment with antibiotics but if they are multiresistant it can cost £100,000 to treat them. We need to make sure that we do not import health problems and we concentrate on solving our own health problems—not just by activities in the NHS but also by improving housing, which I am sure all Governments have striven to do over the years.
My Lords, as blood tests for latent TB are already available to migrants through their GPs, is not the answer to encourage greater voluntary take-up in areas such as the noble Lord opposite mentioned—Birmingham, Hounslow and Newham—and enlist the help of diaspora organisations from the 67 countries where TB is most prevalent to increase the rates of take-up? Since the countries that undertake pre-emptive screening all depend on X-rays, as we are now doing with overseas checking of would-be migrants from those countries where active TB exists, and none is contemplating pre-emptive blood testing, should we not have discussions with those countries to concert a common approach on what should be done about pre-entry blood testing in overseas countries?
Independent Press Council Bill [HL]
A Bill to provide the framework for the appointment and functions of a Press Council to act independently and in the public interest to promote and protect freedom of expression, including freedom of the press, in communicating information and opinions to the public, to encourage and maintain professional standards and practices, and to provide redress for victims of professional misconduct; and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Lester of Herne Hill, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
That the Commons message of 4 December be considered and that a Committee of six Lords be appointed to join with the Committee appointed by the Commons to consider and report on the Green Paper on Parliamentary Privilege presented to both Houses on 26 April (Cm 8318) and that, notwithstanding the resolution of the House of 28 May, the Committee should report by 25 April 2013;
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following Members be appointed to the Committee:
L Bew, L Brabazon of Tara, L Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, L Davies of Stamford, L Peston, L Shutt of Greetland;
That the Committee have power to agree with the Committee appointed by the Commons in the appointment of a Chairman;
That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records;
That the Committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;
That the Committee have leave to report from time to time;
That the Committee have power to adjourn from place to place within the United Kingdom;
That the reports of the Committee from time to time shall be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House; and
That the evidence taken by the Committee shall, if the Committee so wishes, be published.
I have a great deal of sympathy with the implied comment that the noble Lord is making. I have to point out that the Committee of Selection made these appointments on the basis of nominations from the usual channels. If the noble Lord or other Peers wish to take this matter further, they know where the first port of call should be.
My Lords, this is a Joint Committee of the two Houses, which I welcome—generally speaking, I think they work very well. We are a bicameral Parliament. This may seem a minor point, but it is part of a pattern: that on the last day before the Recess the Commons are sitting and we are not, and on the first day after the Recess we are sitting and the Commons are not—or whichever way round it is. As the Leader is obviously master of these matters, perhaps he could give us a rational explanation because I simply cannot find one.
My Lords, in attempting to lower the temperature slightly, can my noble friend the Chairman tell us whether any member of this committee from either House sat on the previous important Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege? It would clearly be an advantage if there were somebody who had experience of that committee. As one of those people was the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, she would provide a wonderful answer to both questions.
My Lords, without referring to any of the people who have been proposed for this committee, the noble Lord mentioned that it was down to the usual channels. Can he assure the House that when a quarter of the membership of this House does not get to have a say in these important matters, that when he gets this kind of referral in future he will go back to the usual channels and propose to them that they need to incorporate perspectives from all sides of the House?
My Lords, I endorse the views of my noble friend Lord Cormack. I, too, served on that committee and I warmly endorse the suggestion that the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, should be nominated to this committee. From memory, she and I sat through many sessions when we worked very hard on this issue. Parliament as a whole does not do itself any justice when it seems to go back and reinvent the wheel every so often instead of taking advantage of the work that both Houses have done in the past.
My Lords, I will deal with the list of complaints. First, the main issue has been the gender composition of the committee. I can only say that the Committee of Selection works on the basis of accepting the nominations that come from the usual channels. If Members of your Lordships’ House have a concern that the gender balance is incorrect, they should refer in the first instance to the usual channels that represent their own particular group. It is not up to the Committee of Selection to make that challenge in the first place, but I am absolutely sure that the usual channels have heard the comments that Members have made and will take these into consideration in future. In terms of the experience of the names brought forward today, I have not got the faintest idea whether or not they served on the previous committee.
My Lords, the Chairman of Committees said that the first thing we should do is go back to the usual channels. With respect, that is not so. The first thing we have to do is not pass this Motion. If this Motion is passed, the committee is established; if it is not passed then certainly we can go back to the usual channels.
I am very proud to be part of the usual channels. I am also acutely conscious of the need for gender balance. I am rather embarrassed by the fact that there is no gender balance on this committee. We have a very democratic system in my party and we ask people to put their names forward if they wish to serve on committees and we try to ensure a gender balance across committees. If, however, it were the will of the House that this should go back in order to find a better gender balance, I would have no hesitation in supporting that. It is something that I am very conscious of.
My Lords, I wonder whether the Chairman of Committees could respond to the question raised by my noble friend Lord Grocott. If he feels that it is difficult, perhaps the Leader of the House could intervene and explain to the whole House what the position is.
I take the chance that the view of the House is that it would wish to see the composition of this committee re-examined. On that basis, therefore, I will take the nominations back. On the issue of the meetings of the two Houses, the somewhat ingenious way in which the dates of the sittings of the two Houses are arrived at is beyond my comprehension. It seems that a great deal of effort is put into ensuring that we do not sit on the same days.
Equal Marriage Consultation
My Lords, with the leave of the House I will repeat a Statement given by my right honourable friend the Minister for Women and Equalities in another place earlier today.
“With permission, I would like to make a Statement on the government proposals to enable same-sex couples to marry. Not so long ago, Mr Speaker, talk of marriage as one of the building blocks of society was dismissed by some as out of date. Of course, those of us in this House who have taken a closer interest know that marriage remains something which most people aspire to. So, far from being a peripheral issue, the future of marriage is something that should concern us all. Today we are setting out how the Government will extend marriage to same-sex couples.
This is a consultation that has been the subject of much debate within the House and outside it. I am immensely grateful to the many honourable Members who have taken the time to discuss these proposals with me, adding their voices to the 19 petitions received by the Government and the record 228,000 individuals and organisations who responded to the consultation.
For some, this is a contentious and radical reform, or, indeed, a reform too far. But the historical facts show that over the generations marriage has had a long history of evolution. In the nineteenth century, inequalities prevented Catholics, atheists, Quakers and many others from marrying except in the Anglican Church. When this was changed, was that accepted without protest? No, I am sure that it was not. In the 20th century, when the law was changed to recognise married men and married women as equal before the law, was that accepted without fierce protest? No. In each century Parliament has acted—sometimes radically —to ensure that marriage reflects our society to keep it relevant and meaningful. Marriage is not static; it has evolved, and Parliament has chosen to act over the centuries to make marriage more equal and fair. We now face another such moment and another such chance in this new century.
For me, extending marriage to same-sex couples will strengthen, not weaken, this vital institution. The response I am publishing today makes clear that we will enable same-sex couples to get married through a civil ceremony. We will enable those religious organisations that wish to conduct same-sex marriages to be able to do so. This will be on a similar ‘opt-in’ basis as is available to them for civil partnerships. That is important for the obvious reason that it would be wrong to ban organisations that wish to conduct same-sex marriages from doing so.
I am under no illusions. I am fully aware that the proposals set out today to allow same-sex couples to marry are contentious. I am also clear that there should be complete respect for religious organisations and individual religious leaders who do not wish to marry same-sex couples. The Government have to balance the importance of treating all couples equally and fairly with respect for religious organisations’ right to their own beliefs.
We need to be fair to same-sex couples. The state should not ban them from such a great institution. Equally, we need to be fair to people of faith. Our religious protections, which I will set out, will ensure that fairness is at the heart of our proposals. Churches have a right to fight for and articulate their beliefs and to be under no compulsion to conduct same-sex marriages. As the Prime Minister has said, we are 100% clear that if there is any church, any synagogue or any mosque that does not want to conduct a gay marriage it will not—absolutely must not—be forced to hold it. That is why as part of our response we will have a quadruple lock, putting into English law clear and unambiguous protections.
I will go into the detail of those locks, but before I do that I want to reiterate my comments yesterday concerning Europe. I know that many honourable Members are worried that European courts will force religious organisations to conduct same-sex marriage. The law is complex but that complexity is absolutely no excuse for misunderstanding the facts. The case law of the European Court of Human Rights and the rights as set out in the European Convention on Human Rights put protection of religious belief in this matter beyond doubt.
The Government’s legal position confirmed that, with appropriate legislative drafting, the chance of a successful legal challenge through domestic or European courts is negligible. I have therefore asked the Government’s lawyers to ensure that this is the case here. Our response sets out clear safeguards—a quadruple lock of measures to protect religious organisations. The Government have always been absolutely clear that no religious organisation will be forced to conduct same-sex marriages. This system of locks will iron-clad the protection in law, adding to the existing protections in European legislation, so that those who do not want to conduct same-sex marriages will never have to.
First, we will write on to the face of the Bill a declaration that no religious organisation, or individual minister, can be forced to marry same-sex couples or to permit this to happen on their premises. Secondly, I will amend the Equality Act so that no discrimination claims can be brought against religious organisations, or individual ministers, for refusing to marry a same-sex couple or allowing their premises to be used for this purpose.
Thirdly, the legislation will make it unlawful for religious organisations, or their ministers, to marry same-sex couples unless the organisation has expressly opted to do so. As part of this lock, a religious organisation will have to opt in as a whole and then each individual minister will have to opt in too. Therefore, if a religious organisation has chosen not to conduct same-sex marriage, none of its ministers will be able to. However, if an organisation has chosen to do so then individual ministers are still under no compulsion to conduct a same-sex marriage, unless they wish to do so.
Finally, because the Churches of England and Wales have explicitly stated that they do not wish to conduct same-sex marriage, the legislation will explicitly state that it would be illegal for the Churches of England and Wales to marry same-sex couples. This provision recognises and protects the unique and established nature of these churches. The church’s canon law will also continue to ban the marriage of same-sex couples. Therefore, even if these institutions wanted to conduct same-sex marriage, it would require a change in primary legislation at a later date and a change in canon law—an additional protection that cannot be breached.
I feel it is important also to directly address other concerns raised by religious institutions. Other legal cases, including provision of services such as bed and breakfast or the wearing of religious symbols, have no bearing on the legal situation regarding marriage. This is because, for most religions, marriage is a commitment made before God; it is at the heart of religious belief. There is clear protection under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and there is clarity in case law that the European Court of Human Rights considers same-sex marriage a matter for each member state.
Faith has underpinned British society for centuries and it is as important to me as equality for all before the law. These proposals will allow both to co-exist without threat or challenge to the other. People of faith hold views which must be respected. That is why I have always been absolutely clear that I would never introduce a Bill which encroaches or threatens religious freedoms. It is with these strongly held views in mind that the proposals presented here today have been designed.
I believe that these proposals strike the right balance by protecting important religious freedoms while ensuring that same-sex couples have the same freedom to marry as opposite-sex couples. By making it available to everyone, we will ensure that marriage remains a vibrant institution. Our changes will allow more people to make lifelong commitments and enjoy the benefits of an institution that has for centuries lain at the heart of our society”.
That concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Statement and the Government for bringing forward these proposals, which are consistent with the progressive changes that my Government carried through over many years. The Minister can expect our support in carrying forward this enlightened legislation to make it possible for couples who love each other and want to make a long-term commitment to each other to be able to marry regardless of their gender or sexuality. Labour strongly agrees that gay and lesbian couples should have an equal right to marriage. Same-sex couples deserve the same recognition from the state and society as anyone else. I wholeheartedly agree with the Minister that extending marriage to same-sex couples strengthens, not weakens, the institution.
Labour’s introduction of civil partnerships faced some opposition at the time, but much progress has been made in fighting discrimination in the past few years. We need to continue progress on lesbian and gay equality, and same-sex marriage is an important step. Indeed, freedom of religion is also important. No one is proposing that churches should be obliged to hold same-sex marriages. Religious freedom is guaranteed in law and both the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights put the protection of religious belief beyond doubt.
Religious marriages are a matter for each church, religious organisation or denomination, not for the Government. We expect the Bill to rule out any church or individual minister being required to perform same-sex marriages and that the protection of religious freedom will be double-locked or double-double-locked, as set out in the Bill. However, freedom of religion also means that we support those churches and faiths that wish to hold same-sex marriage ceremonies in being able to do so, including the Quakers, the Unitarians, Liberal Judaism and Reform Judaism. The Government initially ruled this out in their consultation but, thanks to the campaigns that have been waged, I am happy to see that they have changed their mind and that these provisions may now be included.
Labour’s Front-Bench equalities team has been supportive of permissive legislation which would allow those religious organisations that want it the opportunity to celebrate same-sex marriage ceremonies. This has precedent in Section 6 of the Civil Partnership Act 2004, amended by Section 202 of the Equality Act 2010—now known in this House as the Waheed Alli amendment—which allows religious organisations to host civil partnerships on their premises if they wish.
Some religious leaders have expressed opposition even to proposals for same-sex civil marriage. Although we respect their right to hold such views, we do not agree with them. There was similar opposition to civil partnerships when Labour introduced them seven years ago, yet many people of all faiths now respect and support civil partnerships. I hope that, over time, the Church of England, among others, will take as enlightened a view of this matter and perhaps consider permissive legislation of its own; although I have to say that, after the vote on women bishops, I am not holding my breath.
Labour made huge progress on equality over 13 years in government. As well as introducing civil partnerships, we created an equal age of consent, ended the ban on LGBT people serving in our Armed Forces, increased sentences for hate crimes and outlawed discrimination in goods and services. Between 1997 and 2010, the Labour Government did more for the advancement of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality than any other Government in British history.
The Minister is correct: marriage is not a static institution. It has, rightly, changed many times over the years to make it relevant to the society it serves. Changes include, for example, the introduction of non-religious, civil marriages in the 1830s, allowing married women to own property in the 1880s and outlawing rape in marriage in the 1990s. Freedom of religion is extremely important. No one is proposing that religious organisations should be obliged to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.
I listened with interest, as did the Minister, to the debate on the Statement in the Commons. I offer my sympathy to the noble Baroness and some of her colleagues over some comments made by Conservative Members of the House of Commons. One of them said that 98% of his constituents were opposed to this proposed legislation. Quite how he knows that, I am unable to say. I hope that noble Lords behind the Minister will take a more enlightened view of these proposals. The Minister has, unsurprisingly, dwelt on the safeguards. I hope that the Government will not be defensive over the Bill; they should be proud of it.
How will this legislation work? Will the people who currently have civil partnerships be able to, as it were, convert to a civil or religious marriage? How will they do that and will there be any constraints or time limits? The Government have made available their response to the consultation but will they make available its results?
The second lock mentioned by the Minister concerned amending the Equality Act, but I wonder whether, and why, this is necessary. My understanding is that this matter is already covered precisely in that Act.
In conclusion, the Labour Party strongly supports same-sex marriage. People who love each other and want to make a long-term commitment to each other should be able to get married. As a society, we should support and celebrate that commitment. We are pleased and we welcome the fact that the Government have gone further than they originally intended and that they will allow religious organisations that want to celebrate same-sex marriage the chance to do so.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for her support. I recognise that her Government did much to enhance equality in this country during their time in office, and I am pleased that we are able to do more and that we have her support in doing so. However, I do not want to polarise this debate. I and the Government have absolute respect for religious freedoms and those who object to same-sex marriage on principled grounds. I want people to feel able to express any concerns that they may have or to raise questions, because I think that many people want to support same-sex marriage and will do so if they can be reassured that religious freedoms are protected. I certainly see that as my responsibility.
The noble Baroness asked a few questions, which I am happy to respond to. On her point about the conversion of civil partnerships to civil marriages, it is certainly our intention to propose in the Bill that the 50,000 or more people who have entered into a civil partnership since that was enacted will be able to convert it to a marriage. There will be a process for them to follow, and I am pleased to confirm that it will not be time-limited.
The noble Baroness also asked about the consultation responses. Today we have published the Government’s response to the consultation document, and that provides some details of those responses. Clearly, having received more than 228,000 responses, it is not our plan to publish all of them individually, but I hope that the details of the consultation document will provide the sort of information that noble Lords will be interested in.
She also asked about the Equality Act and why it was necessary for us to amend it, as we have proposed as part of the quadruple lock. This is necessary because we need to introduce a safeguard specific to the conducting of same-sex marriages so that anyone, such as a member of a religious faith, who chooses not to do so on religious grounds is not in any way at risk of any kind of legal challenge.
I think that covers all the points that the noble Baroness raised. I restate that obviously I am here to respond to questions. I hope that all noble Lords will feel free to express any views and that they will be reassured that those views will be respected today.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating this measured and very welcome Statement. I hope that she will understand that many of us in this House were brought up to believe that all people are equal in the sight of God, and that some of us are deeply saddened that some churches have given up their responsibility of being at the forefront in promoting equal opportunity.
That being so, I ask the noble Baroness—somewhat unusually for me—to convey to the Government my personal thanks for the thoughtful and sensitive way in which they are dealing with this matter, especially in providing the churches that want them with a remarkable range of safeguards, while the rest of us can go on enjoying and celebrating love and lifelong commitment among adults who love and care for each other.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord for his support and also for his comments about the way in which we are bringing forward these proposals. I hope that he will forgive me if I do not seek to respond on behalf of the right reverend Prelates in the House today and I am sure that he would not expect me to.
My Lords, those of us on these Benches entirely share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, that we are all equal in the eyes of God. That is why many of us supported civil partnerships, as we believe that the rights and obligations that flow to those who wish formally to mark and celebrate their commitment to each other should not be denied to people simply because of their sexuality.
However, civil partnerships, while conferring virtually the same legal benefits, are not the same as marriage. Marriage is not the property of the Government, nor is it the property of the church. While the forms and legalities around marriage have evolved over time, as the Minister has pointed out, one fundamental feature has remained the same throughout—that marriage is a union of one man and one woman. It is a social institution that predates both church and state and has been the glue that has bound countless successive societies together.
Does the Minister recognise that our concern here is not primarily religious conscience or the protection of the Church of England’s position but, rather, a more fundamental concern for stable communities? Can she assure us that teachers in church schools, for example, will not be disciplined for upholding traditional religious teaching? Can she assure the House that, in spite of the accelerated pace of this process, proper time, even over a Christmas holiday, will be given for adequate consultation with the Church of England’s canon lawyers on the legislative drafting? Can she assure us that the great majority of members of the Church of England and other faiths will not be labelled as prejudiced against gay people for taking a traditional stand?
Perhaps most troubling is the fact that the Government and the Opposition have together in proceeding with this measure led to division not only within the country, where polls consistently show that around half the population is against this change, but also between the political class and the vast majority of practising religious people. What plans do the Government have for working towards some greater degree of consensus on this matter?
My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for setting out his view on behalf of the church. I acknowledge that people have concerns about some of these proposals, but the safeguards that we are putting in place to protect religious freedoms are there directly to address those concerns. We are not in any way redefining how religious organisations see marriage. Nothing that we are proposing affects any religious faith or teaching in a faith. We are not changing society. We are bringing forward changes to reflect society as it is. We are seeking to do so in a way that is respectful and understanding of different views.
The right reverend Prelate asked me about teachers and faith schools. I can reassure him that nothing that we are doing in this legislation will bring about any change to the approach for teaching in schools. A faith school would be able to continue to describe its belief that marriage is between a man and a woman while recognising that same-sex couples can marry.
The right reverend Prelate asked me about allowing proper time for consultation with canon lawyers. I can absolutely give him that assurance. It is our intention to make sure that we have watertight legislation that addresses all the concerns that religious faiths may have.
Finally, I say to the right reverend Prelate and to all Members of this House that there is absolutely no way that we as a Government would seek to label anybody who did not support same-sex marriage as prejudiced. We are trying to make marriage available in civil ceremonies to same-sex couples and to protect the religious freedoms that are rightly there for all faiths to continue to act in accordance with their beliefs, and we would not seek to change that in any way.
My Lords, will the Minister accept from these Benches our wholehearted congratulations on and support for this Bill? It was, of course, we who began civil partnerships though my Private Member’s Bill, which was taken over by the Labour Government. This is a further example of progress. The Act of Uniformity in the 17th century forbade religious marriages of any kind except those in the Anglican faith. It was in the 19th century that that began to change through Lord Brougham’s Bill of 1855. This is a further step forward. Will the Minister accept from me that the safeguards that she has just mentioned will be wholly compatible with the European Convention and will pass full muster before the European Court of Human Rights if anyone was silly enough to take a case there?
I am grateful to the noble Lord for his support, and I recognise what he has done over many years to bring forward the rights of others and to ensure that we continue to progress equality in this country. I am also grateful to him for his very clear statement about the compatibility of the safeguards with the European Court of Human Rights.
My Lords, I thank the previous Government, who enabled my husband and I to have the same legal rights as married couples. I welcome this next small step towards equal marriage and full equality under the law. My husband and I have been through two civil partnerships in recent times on the path towards equal marriage, and I very much welcome the cross-party support for this move. Having gone through a GLC civil partnership and a civil partnership under the law, my husband is determined that we have a proper marriage and a full ceremony in the local town hall. Will the Minister be able to guarantee that for me and my husband?
I am very grateful to the noble Lord for setting out why he feels as strongly as he does about this. I am pleased to be able to confirm to him that if the Bill passes through Parliament and becomes an Act, not only will he be able to marry in the local town hall but he will be able to convert his civil partnership into a marriage and will legally be able to call his partner his husband.
As a practising Catholic I wholly support the church’s teaching on marriage, but I am also pleased that the Government have decided to bring in this Bill. The right reverend Prelate is right to say that marriage is not owned by either the state or the church. It is owned by humanity. Surely our understanding of sexual relationships and sexuality should lead us to understand that there is an extension of natural law from that understanding. That extension should lead us to be prepared in the state to allow people of the same sex to marry. It is wrong to suggest that there is something unnatural for them to wish to take this step. Therefore, I congratulate the Minister on repeating the Statement. I think she will have considerable support from Christians of all denominations, not least from Catholics.
I am very grateful to my noble friend for his remarks and support. He has very eloquently described why this is an important step forward and why—with the right safeguards in place to protect religious freedoms—we will be able to bring forward a right that many people should feel is theirs and which they can enjoy.
Like others in the Labour Party, I declare my support for this measure, which is liberal, humane and in accordance with the progressive consensus in our society, particularly among young people. This is not a young House and it is important that we strike a chord with younger people.
However, the Statement contained a quite absurd historical error: it referred to the established church in England and Wales. In Wales, the church has been disestablished since 1920. I declare an interest as the only living author of a book on that subject, and I hope I did not put quill to parchment in vain. I just wonder what the situation will be in Wales.
As the noble Lord was speaking, my heart started to miss a beat. I only hope that I read out a version that had not been corrected by my right honourable friend. I am absolutely clear about the noble Lord’s point that the Church in Wales is disestablished now, but the safeguards apply to the Church in Wales as they do to the Church of England because the Church in Wales has a duty to marriage in the same way that the Church of England has. Therefore, all limbs of those safeguards will apply to the Church in Wales.
Is the Minister aware that, notwithstanding the official position of the Church of England on this, a good number of its members warmly welcome the Government’s position on this? Is she aware that privately, a fair number of individual bishops in the Church of England also support it, but are not able to say so publicly at the moment because of the political situation in which the Church of England now finds itself?
May I enter a slightly dissenting note in what otherwise appears to be a consensus? I fully accept the merits of civil partnership in our society, but are the Government aware that in moving towards this legislation, they will create two distinct and potentially divisive forms of marriage—statutory marriage on the one hand, which this legislation will create, and real marriage between a man and a woman on the other, which cannot be redefined by statute any more than night can be redefined as day by statute, or fiction as fact?
There is only one form of marriage and what we are setting out here is that it will remain a matter for religious faiths as to how they define marriage within their own faith. There is only one legal type of marriage and that will apply both to couples of opposite sexes as well as to couples of the same sex.
My Lords, notwithstanding what was said by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and my noble friend Lord Deben, the fact is that for the majority of Christians in this country, at the heart of their religious belief is the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. In that context, can the Minister assure us, first, that the 500,000 people who signed the petition that was reported in today’s press will be taken into account? Secondly, will she assure us that every member of Her Majesty’s Government, as well as Back-Benchers, will have a free vote on this issue?
I have tried to make clear that in bringing forward our proposals we recognise and respect the religious freedoms of those who are committed to their faith and the position that their respective faiths take with regard to marriage. Perhaps it is worth reminding my noble friend that the consultation was about how we bring about same-sex marriage and not about whether we should. The huge response was the largest that we have ever had to a consultation. In the consultation document that has been published today, we are very clear that in addition to the 228,000 who responded many others signed their names to a petition. We are firmly of the view that we are moving forward in the right way and taking account of everyone’s position on this. On my noble friend’s final point, I can confirm again that it will be a free vote.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that a very significant element in marriage concerns children? Will she give an assurance that the position of adopted children in single-sex marriages will not be changed for either better or worse by a partnership entering into a civil marriage?
We have been clear that what we are bringing forward will focus on allowing same-sex couples to marry. That is the purpose of this legislation and where the change in legislation will occur. There will be no impact on any adoption laws whatever.
My Lords, where exactly did the pressure come from which has persuaded the Government that this proposal is a sensible, or even a desirable, thing to do? Why are they taking this further, beyond what I understand is already a very good provision that allows for civil partnerships to receive a blessing in the church? The union can therefore be blessed in the sight of God in a place of religion. Surely it is not necessary to go further than that. In proposing to do this, are the Government not requiring a complete redefinition of marriage as laid down in the Church of England?
I understand the points made by my noble friend. I can only restate what I have already said. As regards the Church of England or any religious faith, we are putting in place safeguards to prevent any change to their religious definition of marriage.
As to why we are doing this and why it is different from civil partnerships and allowing civil partnerships to take place on religious premises, while civil partnerships were a significant step forward, and were embraced and welcomed by many people, especially those who have taken advantage of a civil partnership, there is still a distinction between a civil partnership and marriage. We believe that marriage should be available and accessible to two people who love each other, and who want to spend their lives together, and that they should not be discriminated against just because they are of the same sex. That is why we believe that it is right that a same-sex couple should be able to marry and to define themselves legally as married, as do other people who have the same feelings for the one they love.
Police (Complaints and Conduct) Bill
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
It is important that we remember why we are here today: the tragic events of 15 April 1989 resulted in the deaths of 96 innocent men, women, and children— 96 lives lost, and 700 people injured, many seriously. For those who survived, and those whose family members did not come home that day, the events that unfolded at Hillsborough changed their lives for ever. We must never forget that fact. Yet we are here today, 23 years on, still seeking justice—23 years of hurt and grief for the families, of not knowing the truth; 23 years suffering lies, rumours and innuendo in the media; and 23 years of the authorities actively obstructing the truth, by lying, amending statements and shifting blame for those tragic events on to the fans themselves. That is the “double injustice” to which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister referred. That is why we have brought forward this fast-track legislation: to help to tackle this double injustice.
The truth about the terrible events of that day is now known. The independent panel, chaired by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool, published its report in September. I take this opportunity to record our thanks to the right reverend Prelate, and the rest of the panel, for their dedication and hard work. It has provided the foundation for us to move this issue on. Its work has not only exposed the truth about Hillsborough but helped to keep the needs of the families to the forefront of all our considerations.
I shall not detain the House by thanking the many individuals who could be singled out for their efforts, but I will mention the right honourable Member in another place, Mr Andy Burnham, without whose dedicated work the panel would never have been set up. Most importantly, before I move on, I put on record my thanks and deepest respect to the families and friends of the 96 victims of the disaster, and to the survivors. I was privileged to meet some of their representatives, whose dignity and dedication to the truth is truly inspirational.
The truth exposed in the panel’s report is both shocking and disturbing. The safety of the crowd was “compromised at every level”, the ground was inadequate, and earlier warnings of the potential for disaster had not been acted on. Once the disaster started to unfold, the correct action was not taken, and the emergency response was poor. Then, in the aftermath, the authorities responsible for protecting the public and exposing the truth made a concerted effort to conceal the truth. Statements and evidence were altered. The original inquests were flawed. Attempts were made to shift blame on to the fans themselves, implying that drunken behaviour was at the root of the tragedy.
To understand the extent of the attempted cover-up is a chilling experience, but it is vital that this truth is known so that, after 23 years, we can be sure that it is not the end. For the families who have suffered years of injustice, simply knowing the truth is not enough; we now need to move from the truth to justice. It is for this reason that we have brought this Bill before the House today.
Following the publication of the panel’s report, the Independent Police Complaints Commission announced that it had launched an investigation into the panel’s findings. That is a vital step in the transition from truth to justice and accountability. The IPCC investigation will look into the conduct of all officers at Hillsborough on 15 April 1989 and all those involved in subsequent investigations. It is important to note here that the investigation will look at matters of both misconduct and possible criminality. It will consider the actions of officers currently serving with the police and those who have subsequently retired. The investigation into the Hillsborough disaster will be on an unprecedented scale for the IPCC, which estimates that 2,400 officers could be within its scope. We recognise the additional burden that an investigation of this scale places on the commission and we have made a clear undertaking to provide it with both the resources and the powers needed to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the panel’s findings.
Since the independent panel published its report in September, the Home Secretary, my fellow Ministers and officials have been in close contact with the IPCC. The IPCC has made clear that, in order to fulfil its obligations in the Hillsborough investigation, it needs two additional powers and it needs them urgently. Those are the two powers contained in the Bill. There have, of course, been ongoing discussions between the Home Office and the IPCC for some time regarding the powers that the commission has and whether they are sufficient. I should be very clear on this matter: those discussions are still continuing. Should it become apparent that the IPCC needs reform or further additional powers in relation to its regular, day-to-day functions, then the Government will act. If legislation is required, we will bring it forward. The fact that we have introduced this fast-track Bill is testament to our dedication to ensuring that the IPCC has the powers that it needs to function effectively.
However, those questions of wider reform are not for today. The IPCC has been very clear; it needs the two additional powers contained in the Bill in order to conduct as thorough and comprehensive an investigation into Hillsborough as possible. In order to fully investigate the tragic events of the disaster, the IPCC is clear that it will need to hear from those officers involved on the day and in subsequent investigations. The commission already has the power to call serving or retired officers to give evidence where the officer is a subject of the investigation. Officers suspected of misconduct or criminality are already required to attend an interview when they are called. However, the IPCC needs to hear from a wider range of officers; perhaps those who were simply at Hillsborough on the day and who may have witnessed conduct that the commission needs to be aware of, such as colleagues altering statements. The testimony of such witnesses will be vital to the IPCC investigations into Hillsborough.
Clause 1 extends the existing power, which compels officers who are themselves the subject of an investigation to attend the interview. The clause will provide that serving officers and police staff can be compelled to attend as witnesses. This can bite when the interview arises as part of any investigation managed by, or independently undertaken by, the IPCC. This power will apply to officers in Home Office forces and other policing bodies, such as the British Transport Police and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary. Of course, in the vast majority of cases, I expect that both serving and retired officers will attend an interview willingly, recognising the importance of assisting the IPCC to investigate as serious a tragedy as Hillsborough. Any decent human being would.
The power in 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. I am aware that some noble Lords may believe that, given the significance of this investigation, this power should extend to retired officers as well as those still serving. However, we must recognise the status of retired officers. Once officers retire, they are in the same position as any other member of the public. They are no longer bound by the same responsibilities and obligations as serving officers, and are not subject to the same penalties that can be imposed through police conduct regulations. The police themselves do not have the power to compel an ordinary member of the public to attend an interview as a witness. If the police want to compel an individual to attend an interview, they must arrest them as a suspect.
To give the IPCC powers of compulsion over retired officers would be to extend the commission’s powers beyond those held by the police. I do not think that any Member of this House would be comfortable with that, and such a matter would require careful and detailed consideration. Let us remember that the IPCC can, and will, investigate retired officers for misconduct and criminal behaviour, and it has the powers to compel such individuals to attend interview. The power contained in Clause 1 will be used in relation to witnesses, and it is proportionate that this applies to serving officers only. However, as I said before, I expect that many retired officers will attend voluntarily. The IPCC is currently scoping its investigation, and intends to start calling witnesses early in the new year. Noble Lords can be in no doubt, therefore, of the urgency behind this short Bill.
I turn my attention to Clause 2. This allows the IPCC to investigate matters that were previously subject to an investigation by its predecessor, the Police Complaints Authority. The power will be exercised by the IPCC only when it is satisfied that there are “exceptional circumstances” that justify its use. This is a high threshold. The need for this power is clear, because the PCA investigated certain aspects relating to the Hillsborough disaster. In particular, it considered the decision to open exit gate C at the Leppings Lane end of the ground and not to close the tunnel. Those decisions had a huge impact on the events of the day and, without the power in Clause 2, they could not be considered by the IPCC. We must ensure that no aspect of the events of that day is out of scope of the investigation. This power is therefore central to the eventual success of the investigation and, in turn, central to maintaining the trust of the families and the people of Liverpool. Although the power is essential, it must be tightly drawn if we are to avoid the prospect of reopening every old PCA investigation and turning the IPCC into a cold-case review body.
There must also be a sense of finality to the investigations concluded by the PCA or the IPCC. That is why the power in Clause 2 provides the IPCC with the discretion to reopen cases where the matter meets the high threshold of “exceptional circumstances”. This test will allow matters relating to Hillsborough to be considered, but the IPCC itself has stated in the briefing on the Bill that it has given to noble Lords:
“Unless there are powerful public interest reasons, as well as exceptional circumstances, it must be right that scarce resources are not diverted from addressing our extremely important current work”.
The commission goes on to say that,
“the IPCC must be in a position to resist becoming an historic cases body, which it is not designed nor resourced to be … The Commission will therefore want to take a rigorous approach to the application of this clause in other cases, and it would be helpful if it was clear during the Parliamentary debate that this was Parliament’s intention”.
I can confirm that the IPCC has precisely set out the Government’s intention. We do not want the IPCC to spend its time reinvestigating cases that have already been closed, and we see this power being used only in truly exceptional cases. Hillsborough is truly exceptional and it is right that these matters are reinvestigated. It will be for the IPCC as the independent body overseeing the police complaints system to determine whether a case meets this exceptional circumstances threshold, and it is appropriate for it, as an investigatory body, to hold that decision-making power.
The Bill before the House today is essential finally to achieve justice for the 96 innocent men, women and children who died as a result of the Hillsborough disaster. The Bill is narrow in scope, focusing on two powers that the IPCC needs to fulfil its obligations relating to Hillsborough. Rightly, it does not stray into the territory of wider reform of the IPCC. That would not be appropriate for a fast-track Bill. This short Bill provides the IPCC with the tools that it needs and marks one step further along the road to justice for the victims of Hillsborough. All who support this aim should support this Bill, and I commend it to the House.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his comments and for his explanation of the detail in the Bill before us.
On 15 April 1989, across the nation people watched with increasing incredulity and horror the unfolding tragedy of events at Hillsborough. It was hard to comprehend that people were dying in front of our eyes on what should have been an exciting day for the FA Cup semi-final. The loss of life was staggering: 96 innocent men, women and children were killed; 700 people suffered injuries, some serious; and thousands more were traumatised by the events of that day. It remains one of the biggest losses of British life in a single day since the end of the Second World War.
While many of us shared in the shock and horror on the day, those directly affected have been living with the aftermath ever since. That is not just because of the loss of loved ones or the injuries and trauma they suffered, but because, although at the time it seemed that we had witnessed the full extent of the horror, it has become clear that the tragedy of that day has been compounded and magnified by the 23 years of lies and obstructions put in the way of those trying to get to the truth of why and how something so terrible and dreadful could happen.
As we heard from the Minister, totally untrue but appalling and hurtful accusations and allegations were made about Liverpool fans and then reported by some as facts. That such lies were told and took so long to be corrected has created enormous anger and great sadness. Those lies and that lack of justice have made the search for the truth too long and unnecessarily hard and traumatic. Yet, that fight has made those affected only more determined to get to the truth. We in your Lordships’ House agree that they should not have had to have that fight.
The Bill and the welcome announcement by the Attorney-General yesterday that he is seeking to quash the original Hillsborough inquest verdict of accidental death is part of the way forward. As the Minister also said, it is appropriate. I am sure that your Lordships’ House would welcome the opportunity to pay tribute to the families and organisations that have fought for justice, to their supporters and to their legal advisers, including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, who will be speaking in this debate today, as well as those politicians and community leaders who have fought for truth and justice and who have taken courageous, sometimes unpopular decisions.
We must also pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool and I look forward to his contribution to this debate. I have no doubt that the report of the independent panel which he chaired, while deeply distressing, is finally helping the people of Liverpool to move beyond that search for the truth and focus on their quest for justice. It is the shocking findings of that report that have led the Attorney- General to take his decision and also to the IPCC reopening the investigation. This Bill will assist in that quest for justice. There are a number of aspects to that quest and a hugely significant part is the investigation by the IPCC; the Bill seeks to ensure that it has greater powers to conduct that investigation.
There is genuine cross-party support for this Bill and it is cross-party, united action that has brought us to this point. We raised with the Government the issues in this Bill and we put on record our appreciation for the willingness and readiness of Ministers to engage in and listen to the concerns raised by my right honourable friend in the other place, Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, regarding the powers that were available to the IPCC. Without reservation, I thank the Government and the noble Lord for bringing this Bill forward largely to address those concerns.
We agree with the Government that is not the end of the debate or the end of the changes that need to be made. We also agree that what we have before us today is appropriate for fast-track legislation and note unanimous support for the Home Affairs Select Committee in the other place for the content of the Bill and its approach to it, while raising issues that are not covered by the Bill.
If the IPCC is fully to investigate the potential criminal and misconduct issues raised by the independent panel, it needs these greater powers in order to examine the conduct of the police on 15 April 1989 in addressing the culpability of the individuals and organisations involved and the safety standards, planning and operational decisions that led to the disaster. These greater powers are also needed to examine the evidence that suggests a massive cover-up following the disaster that has continued for years. The Minister gave some examples of that cover-up, but to those I can add that 164 statements were taken by the police and it is incredible that the panel found that 116 were altered in some way. This is how the tragedy was compounded and magnified and why my right honourable friend Yvette Cooper called for the inquiry to have greater powers.
Now I turn to the specific clauses of the Bill and look at Clause 1. At present, the IPCC can require police officers to give evidence if it believes they have committed a crime. However, the IPCC has been clear that in order to gain the fullest picture of events it also needs to be able to obtain evidence from police officers and police staff not themselves suspected of any criminal activity or misconduct but who are witnesses. The IPCC has expressed its concerns about the convoluted current process if an officer chooses not to attend an interview as a witness, which it considers can seriously undermine public confidence in its work. The IPCC, in a report to Peers, has informed us that it does not keep specific records of non-co-operation by the police and police staff but that, in what I assume was a quick exercise, it readily identified at least 25 cases involving over 100 police officers where they have refused to attend for interview as witnesses. Those involved cases such as death, serious injury, police shootings, road traffic incidents and the use of excessive force. Clearly that is a serious problem and one that the Bill seeks to address.
I also want to say something about what the Bill does not do, and invite the Minister to comment. As he explained, the Bill does not compel police officers or staff to answer questions. Although the IPCC is not asking for this power, in the debate in the other place it seemed to me to be clearly the intention of Parliament that, if called for interview, police officers and staff would be expected to co-operate fully with the IPCC. Indeed, we would argue that there is a moral duty to do so. Will the Minister confirm that refusal to co-operate, after being called by the IPCC to give evidence as a witness, would be a misconduct matter? Can that be clarified in regulations? Can he give further information to your Lordships’ House about the sanctions that would be available in these circumstances? It would be helpful if he could inform your Lordships’ House whether any disciplinary action following non-co-operation with the IPCC would be at the discretion of the chief constable of that police force, or if this will be specified in guidelines or in secondary legislation. There needs to be a national standard that provides clarity to police officers and staff about the need to co-operate and the consequences of not doing so. It is unfair on police officers, when called to give evidence, that different police forces have different standards.
I would hope that the majority of police officers will recognise their duty to co-operate—although that does not appear to be the experience of the IPCC to date—and that sanctions will rarely be required. However, clarity is needed for cases of the kind already mentioned where co-operation is not forthcoming.
I also recognise that, as the Minister said, the Bill cannot force retired police officers or staff to attend interviews as witnesses. I understand why that is—a retired person is a private citizen—and why the Government consider that it is not appropriate to deal with the issue in fast-track legislation. However, it is a serious issue and I hope that the Government will consider and seek to remedy it.
I trust that provision can be made to ensure that early retirement cannot be used as a way of avoiding giving evidence to the IPCC. Will an officer or staff member be able to have a retirement application considered after they have been asked to give evidence to the IPCC? I know that Ministers have discussed this issue. The shadow Home Secretary, the shadow Police Minister, the right honourable David Hanson, and other Ministers are aware that this issue needs to be addressed and I would be grateful for any indication that the Minister can give of the action the Government intend to take.
It would also be helpful to have clarification of an answer given by the right honourable Damian Green in the Commons to the right honourable David Hanson, the shadow Police Minister. Damian Green said that even if an officer had retired, the investigation will continue into criminal or misconduct matters. Can the Minister confirm whether that means that a retired officer will still be required to give evidence if he or she is the subject of an investigation; or can he or she only be compelled to do so prior to the date of his or her retirement? I am also unclear about whether the authority of the IPCC to compel witnesses who are police officers or police staff extends to civilian staff and private contractors working for the police.
On Clause 2, as the Minister said, currently the IPCC cannot investigate any matters previously considered by the Police Complaints Authority. If that situation were to continue, it would seriously hamper the work of the IPCC in investigating matters relating to Hillsborough.
The Bill will allow the IPCC to make investigations if it is considered that there are exceptional circumstances. The Minister discussed this in his comments. The IPCC is understandably concerned that, within its resources and other work, it will be unable to take on all cases where it might be considered that the circumstances are exceptional. It wants to be sure that it is able to confine itself to those cases that are exceptional and involve powerful public interest reasons. I know, understand and agree that the Government do not want the IPCC to become a bureau reinvestigating historical cold cases and the Minister’s comments on that were helpful. However, I am concerned that qualifying “exceptional circumstances” by ensuring that powerful public interest reasons are also involved could mean that without a powerful public campaign exceptional reasons would not be considered.
I do not think that is what either the IPCC or the Minister means to happen—there needs to be a balance. The exceptional circumstances have to be about the merits of the case and not the public interest—using the meaning of public interest as public enthusiasm or publicity about a case. The point I am trying to make is that this should not be about those who shout the loudest because there may be exceptional circumstances that the IPCC should look at but that are not the subject of a massive public campaign.
In the other place, David Hanson asked about the concerns raised by the Police Federation and the Police Superintendents’ Association about the lack of consultation. They had issues regarding the Bill that they wished to discuss with Ministers. The Minister said that he had a meeting scheduled with the Police Federation and was happy to meet the Superintendents’ Association. Have those meetings now taken place and is there any information from them that the Minister can share with your Lordships’ House?
We have this Bill before us today—and yesterday we had the welcome announcement from the Attorney-General on the inquest verdicts—because of the tenacity, dedication and faith of the families and the faith of those who supported them that truth will out. That quest for the truth and justice has been hard fought—it is of deep regret that it has been so hard fought. Too many barriers, lies and obstructions have been placed in the way of the truth. We support and welcome the Bill. It is not the end of the process but part of it. As indicated, there are other issues that we will return to. Through the independent panel and the work of families, their lawyers and supporters, we are now at the point where truth is emerging and justice can prevail.
My Lords, I am not from Liverpool but I am acutely aware of how central football can be to the DNA of the citizens of a city, and I mean more than loyalty to a particular club. In my home city, if you support Manchester City you celebrate when Manchester United loses, but tragedy brings people together. I have a vivid early memory of the air crash at Munich when Manchester United was returning from Belgrade. The shockwaves were felt throughout Manchester, among firm City supporters no less than others. Looking the other day at some information about that crash, I realised that of those who died there were as many reporters as players. That prompted me to reflect that, had that crash occurred in 2008 not 50 years earlier, the press would have behaved differently—and probably much more intrusively.
I mention the Manchester United air crash because I think I have some understanding of how the whole of Liverpool felt and still feels affected personally by the tragedy of Hillsborough—qualitatively quite differently from the public more widely. I say “feels” in the present tense because the tragedy is not just a past event. Of course, it never could be for the families of those killed or injured, or for those who were there, but the current sense of insult and outrage for the whole city and all right-thinking citizens who care about the reputation of their public services is something that is not in the past.
Tribute has rightly been paid to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool—I am embarrassed to be speaking before him—not just for the report but for the whole process. That the panel made contact with at least one member of each bereaved family says so much about how it approached its task. Again, tribute is rightly paid to the families and survivors whose grit, determination and dignity were recognised by the panel and the public. The panel’s report is powerful, telling and very shocking. I was pulled up short by its reference to,
“a narrative of hooliganism … against a background of times when football was perceived as a national disease”,
and shocked by the,
“confluence of establishment interests”.
I do not need to recite the shocking events related by the report and their quite extraordinary scale.
My other general point is that as a society we seem too often to shy away from saying “sorry”, perhaps because we focus too much on the implications for liability. That seems to have spilled over. We use weasel words like, “apologise if any inconvenience has been caused”. I want to emphasise the importance of apology. From time to time, things will go wrong—maybe badly wrong. Detail is important for those affected and those against whom allegations are made, but as well as investigating what happened, a simple apology can make clear that it is understood that there are real people with real feelings involved.
Like others, I am cautious about fast-track legislation but to delay the Hillsborough investigation even further or not to give the investigators the tools that they identified are required would not be right. I am prepared to trade extended parliamentary scrutiny of the Bill for scrutiny of the event. But having fast-tracked it, there is no excuse for not moving forward with the investigation with speed and determination. I hope that the IPCC will emulate the panel and work across agencies, individuals and issues in a co-ordinated fashion.
I will not ask the Government today when we might see legislation to address the issues that they themselves have identified as outstanding—or, on the other hand, an announcement that they have determined that legislation is not necessary. I refer here to things such as sanctions for serving officers refusing or failing to attend an interview, and the wider issues around sanctions and their application to former officers, including those who are now employed by companies providing contracted-out services, which is a growing issue. These issues are relevant to more than Hillsborough. I understand that 31 officers refused to be interviewed after the death of Mark Duggan. Conversely, there is the issue of the application of a caution before questioning. But as I say, I do not expect the Government to pursue those matters today.
There has been discussion of the term “exceptional circumstances”. It seems appropriate that the IPCC itself should assess exceptionality. The ability to make that assessment goes towards the very independence of the IPCC. It is worth reminding ourselves that the commission has the function—not just an aspiration—enshrined in statute of securing the establishment and maintenance of public confidence in dealing with complaints and possible criminal offences or behaviour.
I support the Bill, as the Home Affairs Select Committee put it,
“for the pursuit of justice for the Hillsborough families and for the future effectiveness of the IPCC”.
My Lords, the report published on 12 September by the Hillsborough Independent Panel, chaired by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool, meticulously examined every aspect of the disaster at the Hillsborough Stadium on 15 April 1989, in which 90 men, women and children lost their lives.
The right reverend Prelate, from whom we will hear shortly, and those who worked with him deserve our gratitude and wholehearted appreciation. Their report exposed a number of significant failures and associated shortcomings in the investigation that followed the disaster. The welcome Bill before us today emerged from their findings. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, for the way in which he introduced the debate on what, as he said, is an exceptional Bill.
The Independent Panel’s report concluded that police and emergency services had made “strenuous attempts” to deflect the blame for the disaster on to fans. One hundred and sixty-four police statements had been altered, 116 of them to remove or change negative comments about the policing of the match. The report also said that 41 of the 96 who had died had had the “potential to survive”—grounds, certainly, for ordering new inquests.
Lives that were lost can never be brought back but it has given significant comfort to those personally affected by Hillsborough that Parliament has at last recognised that a terrible tragedy was compounded by injustice and falsification, as the noble Lord said. Flawed and delayed investigations do significant damage to delicate and crucial finely balanced police-public relationships, and this Bill is a recognition of that. The Bill—and the new inquests—will allow the Independent Police Complaints Commission to bring some solace to the families and their supporters, whose signal resolution and dignity have been exemplary.
Twenty-three years ago, one of my saddest duties as a Liverpool Member of Parliament was visiting families of those bereaved at Hillsborough. Several of my constituents had died, including a child. Another, Andrew Devine, then aged 22, was left in a persistent vegetative state. Andrew was caught in the crush, deprived of oxygen, and following the resultant brain damage his parents were told that he would die within months. Ever since, his extraordinary parents, Hilary and Stanley, have lovingly cared for Andrew, who emerged from his coma in 1994.
The deaths of 96 people and the long-term trauma were compounded by the infamous aftermath, which combined vilification and procrastination. Agony was piled upon agony with the insulting and wholly fallacious attempts to smear and blame the victims. They had, it was suggested, brought the calamity of Hillsborough on themselves. Thanks to the Independent Panel’s report, 23 years later that calumny has finally been laid to rest.
For me, however, the most shocking aspect of the tragedy has always been that it could have been averted and that it had been predicted. In the month before the match, a Liverpool fan who had witnessed an earlier game at Hillsborough told me that staging the semi-final at Hillsborough would be unsafe. Following that conversation, I wrote to the then Sports Minister, Colin—now the noble Lord—Moynihan, to express my concern. This correspondence is referred to in a parliamentary reply which appears in Hansard. In 1989, the Minister said:
“The hon. Member wrote to me on 22 March about the arrangements at the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough on 15 April. No other representation was received. The arrangements for the match will be among the matters to be considered by Lord Justice Taylor’s inquiry”.—[Official Report, Commons, 24/4/89; col. 414.]
So ground safety and ticket allocation at Hillsborough had been an issue before the game. Many of us were reassured that Lord Justice Taylor’s inquiry would examine why sufficient weight was not attached to those concerns, as well as examining the events of the day.
Although much-needed changes would subsequently be made to ground safety, Liverpool fans found themselves branded by Kelvin MacKenzie as liars—for which he has now unreservedly apologised. Acting, he said, on information given to him by the police, his newspaper alleged that drunkenness was to blame. At the time, I questioned Ministers in Parliament about the fans’ behaviour, asking the then Minister at the Home Office, Douglas Hogg,
“at what level the publication of statements on 18 April by South Yorkshire police concerning the conduct of Liverpool fans at the Hillsborough semi-cup final was authorised; if he will publish a copy of that statement and the name of the officer who made it; and if he will make a statement”.
“Statements made by officers of the South Yorkshire police are a matter for the chief constable. It would not be helpful for me to publish statements or counter-statements which have been made about the circumstances leading to the tragedy, or to name those who made them. It is for Lord Justice Taylor’s inquiry to establish the facts”.—[Official Report, Commons, 24/4/89; col. 404.]
The names of the officers who gave the authorisation were not subsequently made known and the falsehoods were allowed to stand. Taylor did not establish the facts; nor did he discover the truth. It was left to the grieving families to demand answers and to insist that justice should be done.
As the years went by I made repeated requests for the legal cases to be reopened. In the House of Commons in June 1992, the Solicitor-General at the time, Sir Derek Spencer, responded that he would,
“take a decision on an outstanding formal application for consent under section 13 of the Coroners Act 1988 as soon as possible”.
“As soon as possible” is a phrase which has been used again and again since 1989.
In 1992 I asked the Minister if he had any understanding of,
“the sense of grief felt by many people, including my constituent Philip Hammond whose boy was tragically killed at Hillsborough, and their sense that no line can be drawn on the issue until every legal remedy has been exhausted?”.
I urged him to,
“assure the House that that announcement will not be long in coming and that he will try to understand the feelings of the relatives involved, who do not feel that the inquest process has been exhaustive”.
Twenty years ago, the then Solicitor-General replied that he was,
“conscious of the continuing grief and anxiety of the many individuals affected by that tragedy. For that reason, the decision must be carefully considered—and it will be. We shall make a decision as soon as possible”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/6/92; col. 644-45.]
Three years had then elapsed since the tragedy—and a further 20 now. If we had acted in 1992, telling the coroner to reopen the cases, it would not now be possible to cite “the passage of time” as the reason why details of what occurred will not and cannot be accurately recalled. It is not just the passage of time that is shocking: it is our lamentable failure to provide justice— as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said in his remarks earlier—in a country which prides itself on the rule of law.
In 1998, in your Lordships’ House, I once again challenged the failure to re-examine the Hillsborough deaths and asked:
“What account the Home Secretary and Lord Justice Stuart-Smith”,
“in deciding against a fresh inquiry into the Hillsborough tragedy, of missing video tapes, changed statements by police officers, conflicting medical evidence and complaints of lack of impartiality in the original coroner’s process and in the granting of immunity from prosecution to police officers upon taking early retirement”.
That was a point alluded to earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith.
The then Minister, the late Lord Williams of Mostyn, replied:
“Lord Justice Stuart-Smith considered all the material evidence submitted to his scrutiny about the Hillsborough disaster. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary”—
“accepted his conclusion that there were no grounds for a fresh inquiry”.
The Minister told the House that,
“there was no new video evidence”,
“the only missing video tapes were two tapes stolen on the day of the disaster, which remain missing. They were not police tapes and the judge was satisfied that they would not have shown anything significant”.
He added that the Director of Public Prosecutions had considered whether police officers should be prosecuted,
“but concluded that no officer should face prosecution”,
and that because one officer had retired on ill health, it would,
“have been unfair to pursue what was, in essence, a joint charge against one officer only”.
Imagine if any of us here were involved in a bank robbery, a fraud, manslaughter or a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Would the police decide that because one of us had retired they would take no action against the other? That is simply implausible. It also raises a worrying question about the ability of the IPCC to question retired officers. Ministers, of course, have got it wrong before. In 1998, the Minister was clear that,
“allegations of irregularity and malpractice are not substantiated”,
and that it had been found that there were,
“no grounds to suggest that the original inquests were flawed or that complaints of bias against the Coroner were justified”.—[Official Report, 23/3/98; cols. WA 232-33.]
As the Prime Minister made clear in his Statement on 12 September, we now know otherwise and that allegations of irregularity and malpractice were indeed substantiated. Mr Cameron told Parliament that the Liverpool fans had “suffered a double injustice”, both in the,
“failure of the state to protect their loved ones and the indefensible wait to get to the truth”.
In offering a full apology, he also admonished those who had denigrated the deceased and suggested,
“that they were somehow at fault for their own deaths”.—[Official Report, Commons, 12/9/12; cols. 285-86.]
In October, the IPCC published its Decision in Response to the Report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, which makes it clear that despite the fact that it does,
“not have investigative powers over all of the parties referred to in the report”,
its desire is,
“to go forward in the spirit of the Panel’s work, to seek to ensure that there is a coordinated approach”—
a point which the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to—
“that can encompass all the issues, agencies and individuals involved, and which liaises closely with the families”.
We can all welcome that.
It would, however, be helpful if, arising out of the exchange of letters on 10 December and 4 December between the right honourable Damian Green MP and the All-Party Group on the Hillsborough Disaster and the chair of the IPCC, Dame Anne Owers—concerning the decision not to specify effective sanctions in this Bill—the Minister will clarify precisely what action will be taken if serving officers refuse to attend an interview with the IPCC if required to do so. Will he also list the documents which the IPCC says were not given to the right reverend Prelate’s panel and say who is now looking at them, why they were not given to the panel in the first place and whether they are going to be made public?
Last week, the Home Affairs Select Committee said that there should be safeguards for police officers interviewed by the IPCC. This would surely point to the use of interviewing under caution. Perhaps the Minister will say whether that procedure will indeed be invoked. The Home Secretary, the right honourable Theresa May, gave a commitment in the House of Commons that the IPCC would be given the powers and resources it needs to carry out its investigation “thoroughly, transparently and exhaustively”. Perhaps the Minister will tell us more about resources and how that work is to be expedited.
When the Prime Minister made his Statement in September the Attorney-General, the right honourable Dominic Grieve MP, said he would make a decision in the forthcoming two months about whether to apply to the High Court for the original verdict of accidental death to be quashed. Yesterday the Attorney-General said:
“My application has now been lodged with the court. It is my intention to appear to argue the case at the hearing that will take place in the High Court. I believe that the case for the High Court to quash the original inquests is a good one”.
What is envisaged as the timetable for those new inquests? In particular, on 27 November I asked the Government,
“what consideration they have given to the petition by Anne Williams”—
supported by 100,000 people—to accelerate the new inquest into the death of her 15 year-old son Kevin at Hillsborough,
“and what consideration they have given to fast-tracking the request on compassionate grounds”.
The Advocate-General for Scotland, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, replied:
“The Attorney-General is in the process of preparing an application to the High Court to quash the original inquests and order new inquests into the deaths of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster. The evidence which supports an application in respect of Kevin Williams is essentially the same as that which supports an application into the other deaths and the Attorney-General expects to be in a position to lodge the application in December”.—[Official Report, 27/11/12; WA 38.]
Sadly, what is not the same as in other cases is that Anne Williams has terminal cancer. I hope that the Attorney-General, whom the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester—who is in his place and was himself present at the Hillsborough game—and I will see tomorrow, will ensure that Kevin’s new inquest will be given the highest priority so that it does not come too late for his grieving mother, Anne. Otherwise, one tragedy will be compounded by another. When he comes to reply, I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us the precise timetable which will be followed so that these new inquests will be held without delay, and whether the Lord Chief Justice is likely to make an announcement before Christmas.
Having taken 23 years to uncover the truth, the bereaved families and survivors have a right to expect that the investigations by the IPCC and the inquests are taken forward as expeditiously as possible. I am grateful to the Government for bringing forward the Bill, to the Prime Minister for acting so decisively and to the right reverend Prelate and his independent panel. This time, the words need to mean more than the ones previously uttered and, in seeking justice, our institutions need to examine how and why these tragic events were allowed to fester and to be covered up for so long.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for the clarity of his exposition of the reasons why we need the two clauses in the Bill. It is a great privilege to be able to speak in today’s debate. With your Lordships’ agreement, I would like to take the opportunity to speak more generally about the Hillsborough tragedy and, in particular, about the work carried out by the Hillsborough Independent Panel. It was a humbling honour to be entrusted with the task of chairing the panel.
I also declare an interest. As the Home Secretary announced in another place on 22 October, she has asked me to act as her adviser on Hillsborough-related matters and I was happy to accept that invitation. She was particularly keen that the principles that the panel had established in terms of engagement and consultation with the families should not be lost. In this role, I am very aware of how the families of the 96 and the survivors are following closely the different judicial processes and are understandably anxious that the momentum established by the panel’s report is not lost.
The 1989 Hillsborough disaster was Britain’s worst sporting tragedy. Ninety-six men, women and children lost their lives, many were injured, and the effects of the tragedy have been felt by many more: the relatives of those who died; the survivors who experienced the horror in pens 3 and 4, or who were elsewhere in the ground on that day; and those members of the emergency services who helped the dying and the injured. There have been, over the years, a judicial inquiry, an inquest—at the time the longest-running inquest in English legal history—scrutiny of evidence carried out by a senior judge and a private prosecution. However, despite all these inquiries and investigations, the families have always felt that the truth about Hillsborough had never been told. Instead, they felt and believed that the truth had been obscured.
As Bishop of Liverpool, it became apparent to me that a deep wound continued to exist within the community and it was on the occasion of the 20th anniversary in 2009 that the anger and frustration that had built up over the years was vented at the then Secretary of State, Andy Burnham. I was present and presided over the act of remembrance, which was attended by more than 30,000 people. Mr Burnham was visibly moved by this outpouring of anger, and it was a great credit to him—for this, along with other noble Lords, I pay him huge tribute—that he went back to the Government and the idea of a full-document disclosure process was developed.
Discussions took place over the next few months within the Government involving a number of prominent MPs, including Maria Eagle and Derek Twigg. Representatives from the Hillsborough Family Support Group, the group that represents the largest number of bereaved families, were also involved in these discussions. I pay particular tribute today to the bereaved families for their strength, dignity and fortitude, and their persistence in pursuing the truth. Without that persistence, it is unlikely that the work of the panel would ever have taken place.
The Hillsborough Independent Panel was established in January 2010. I place on record my thanks to my fellow panel members for their dedication. Each of them brought to bear their unique knowledge and expertise in a quite remarkable and exemplary manner. I also put on record the debt of gratitude that I and all those associated with the panel owe to Ken Sutton and his team of civil servants who formed the secretariat. They are the finest example of the British Civil Service.
At the outset, we had defined terms of reference, and these established three broad objectives: to oversee the disclosure of the documents to the maximum possible degree, initially to the families; to report on our work, outlining the ways in which the information disclosed adds to the public understanding of the tragedy; and to make recommendations about a permanent Hillsborough archive.
The panel met for the first time on 4 February 2010. That meeting was significant. Rightly, it took place in Liverpool, and it was at the very start of the meeting that for the first time the panel met representatives of the three family groups: the Hillsborough Family Support Group, the Hillsborough Justice Campaign and Hope for Hillsborough. Meeting the family groups for the first time in this way and listening to their views provided the panel with a sense of unity and common purpose that endured throughout our work.
Enshrined in the panel’s terms of reference and central to its work was the need to consult the bereaved families. This we did. We also met with those families that were not part of one of the three representative groups. Perhaps I could add here that, during the panel’s work, the families said to me on more than one occasion that this was the first time in 20 years that they were being listened to and taken seriously. That sentiment has given me much cause for reflection on some of our judicial processes that, by contrast, seem to distance the very people whom they are intended to assist.
The scope of the disclosure process was significant and complex. It covered documentation held by central government, local government, other public agencies and some private bodies relating to the events of the Hillsborough tragedy and its aftermath. Spanning two decades, this necessarily included material that was produced before the tragedy occurred in 1989 and extended to 2000 and the private prosecution of former Chief Superintendent Duckenfield and Superintendent Murray.
The panel developed a system for cataloguing and archiving relevant material, based on the principle of maximum possible disclosure with minimal redaction. We identified a wide range of relevant organisations, and the process involved us reviewing more than 450,000 pages of material from 85 separate organisations and individuals. The material was subject to analysis and research so that it could be considered in the context of the panel’s report. Throughout, the panel has been guided by the fundamental principle of “families first”—in other words, the bereaved families would be first to see the report and the disclosed material. As chair of the panel, I am grateful to all who accepted that principle.
The panel’s report and the disclosed material were made available to the families on 12 September in Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral. This was a very moving occasion. Those of us on the panel and from the secretariat who were present felt privileged to be with the families on that day. The cathedral protected the dignity of the families, which had so often been at risk over the previous 20 years. It provided a safe place for them to hear and absorb what we knew would be for them traumatic information. It allowed them to regain their composure before being exposed to the world’s media, and above all, it did this within the sanctity of a sacred place where they could remember and honour the 96.
The disclosed documents show that multiple factors were responsible for the deaths of the 96 victims and that the fans were not the cause of the disaster. It is also clear from the documents that the seeds of the disaster were sown as early as 1981, when warnings went unheeded.
The disaster should never have happened. The deficiencies at the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough, the end occupied by the Liverpool supporters, were well known. Overcrowding had occurred at the turnstiles in 1987 and on the terrace of the equivalent FA Cup semi-final match in 1988. The risks were known and the crush in 1989 was foreseeable.
The scope of responsibility for the tragedy extends well beyond the role of the South Yorkshire Police. From the documents provided to the panel, it is clear that the crush at the Leppings Lane turnstiles outside the stadium was not caused by fans arriving late for the kick-off. The turnstiles were inadequate to process the crowd safely and the rate of entry was insufficient to prevent a dangerous build-up outside the ground. The documents do not detract from the conclusion of the judicial inquiry at the time that there were police failures, but for the first time the documents reveal the extent of the shortcomings in the emergency response. The ambulance service’s failure fully to implement the emergency incident plan is thrown into sharp relief by the disclosed documents.
The panel’s report reveals that the medical evidence from pathologists, who had conducted post-mortem examinations on the deceased, was central in establishing a picture of a single, unvarying pattern of death within a few minutes of crushing. This evidence was the basis for the assertion by the coroner and others that the outcome was predetermined from an early stage for all who died. This in turn underpinned the imposition of the 3.15 pm cut-off on the generic inquest and the repeated assumption that the emergency services’ response could not have helped. The panel’s access to all the relevant documents has confirmed that the notion of a single, unvarying and rapid pattern of death in all cases is unsustainable. Lives could have been saved.
It is evident from the disclosed documents of the multiple investigations that, from the outset, South Yorkshire Police sought to establish a case emphasising exceptional levels of drunkenness and aggression among Liverpool fans, alleging that many arrived late at the stadium without tickets and determined to force entry. In seeking to make this case, South Yorkshire Police went as far as to vet the written statements made by its officers. Once vetted, changes were made. As we have already heard, the panel found that 164 statements were altered significantly. Of those, 116 were amended to remove content that was unfavourable to the police, including on its lack of leadership.
The final chapter of the panel’s report looks behind the media headlines to the origins, promotion and reproduction of unsubstantiated allegations. Drawing on papers provided to the panel by the Sun newspaper, the panel is able to explain the background to the stories that appeared in a number of papers at the time. The documents show the role played by a local news agency in Sheffield, but also the part played by a local MP and a number of police officers. I hope that whatever emerges as the result of Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry will be tested against the experience of the Hillsborough families and survivors. Misrepresentation and distortion by the press can endure for a generation or more. The press should be accountable not just to its readers but to an independent body that inspires confidence that truth and justice will be the benchmarks of a free press.
The Government’s response to the panel’s report has been unequivocal. We have already heard from the Minister, and the Prime Minister spoke very powerfully and clearly for us all in the Statement in another place on 12 September when he acknowledged that the families had suffered what he described as “a double injustice”. He went on,
“the injustice of the appalling events—the failure of the state to protect their loved ones and the indefensible wait to get to the truth; and then the injustice of the denigration of the deceased—that they were somehow at fault for their own deaths”.—[Official Report, Commons, 12/9/12; cols. 285-86.]
The panel has been enormously encouraged by the cross-party consensus and by the overwhelming reaction of support to its report and publication of the disclosed material. It is right that the publication of the panel’s report and the disclosure of the material should now allow us to move from truth to justice, a phrase which was coined by the Prime Minister in his Statement and echoed in this House today, but justice, for me, is making sure that the various investigations that are now taking place—and they are to be welcomed—allow the law to take its proper course. The panel interrogated documents, not people. Organisations and people who may be the subject of allegations need now to be give the opportunity to respond in a proper manner, for justice is about process as well as outcomes.
There have already been speeches from the Government and Opposition Benches in support of the principles of this short Bill. I will therefore not add to them, other than to say that I welcome any proposal which takes forward the panel’s work in a correct and proper manner.
I think back to the day when it was announced that I would be chairing the Hillsborough Independent Panel. I was asked what I thought would be achieved by the disclosure of the documents. I replied, not knowing fully the impact of my words, “Truth has its own pressure”. That is an article of faith that I believe generally. In the context of Hillsborough, it is something that I now believe specifically, not least in the week that the Attorney-General has been persuaded by the disclosed documents to make application to the High Court to quash the inquests of the 96.
In conclusion, I am grateful to your Lordships’ House for allowing me the opportunity to speak more generally about Hillsborough and, in particular, about the work of the panel, its context, the content of its report and the consequences. Hillsborough was a national tragedy, and it is right that the events there and in the aftermath should never be forgotten. The names of the 96 victims of the tragedy are publicly remembered each year at the annual memorial service at Anfield but, as we have already heard, the families, friends and survivors have to live with what happened every day of their lives. The sad fact is that it has taken 23 years to get to the point we have reached today.
In the preface to the report, I quoted a 4th century north African Christian philosopher called Lactantius on his definition of justice. He wrote:
“The whole point of justice consists precisely in our providing for others through humanity what we provide for our own family through affection”.
If members of our family had died on 15 April 1989, we would not have wanted to wait 23 years until truth could call out for justice. If we can put ourselves into the shoes of the Hillsborough families, then the journey of justice must not now be a long and winding road. The families know that justice delayed is justice denied. The panel’s work is now complete; we owe it to the memory of the 96 to ensure that the next stage is done in a just and timely manner. In short, the journey from truth to justice must itself be just in order to deliver true justice for the 96.
My Lords, had I known a few days ago that I would be speaking directly after the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool, I might not have spent any time writing a speech of my own. I probably would simply have congratulated him on the magnificent way in which he led his team in a very difficult and painful task and suggested that we all remain silent for a few moments and think about what he said in his illuminating, thoughtful and very moving speech. However, I did not know until noon today that I would be speaking directly after him, and because I feel very strongly about these issues, I prepared some remarks of my own. I beg the indulgence of your Lordships’ House if I deliver them now.
A distinguished Member of your Lordships’ House—alas, no longer with us—is reported to have said, “A week is a long time in politics”. I was reminded of that comment when, over the weekend, I read the Hansard report of the consideration of this short Bill in another place last Wednesday afternoon. Reading those proceedings, I was struck not by the discussion of those horrendous events of 15 April 1989; these are seared in the memories of all of us old enough to have been around at that time. I was not even shocked by the references to how police officers on duty at the ground that day had mismanaged the tragedy once it had begun to unfold and thus unwittingly contributed to the toll of deaths and injuries. The pressure on those officers at that time is impossible for us, sitting in this place at this time, to comprehend fully. I, for one, am not prepared to pass judgment on their actions on this basis.
No, what shocked me about the debate in another place last Wednesday was the way in which one speaker after another, on both sides of the House, referred to how police officers had behaved in the subsequent investigation of the tragedy. There were endless references to officers as having lied, covered up the truth and obstructed the course of justice. Several Members referred—as did several noble Lords today—to the fact that 164 witness statements had been amended, 116 of which were changed in some way as to remove or lessen the culpability of police officers and others. As one Member described it, this was,
“deceit on a huge scale”.—[Official Report, Commons, 5/12/12; col. 935.]
It was this which shocked me. Here were Members of another place describing ordinary, English police officers as guilty of lying, obstructing justice and covering up the truth, and doing so without interruption, without apology and without shame.
Contrast that debate with the debate in your Lordships’ House on the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill on 27 April 2011. In our debate, less than 20 months ago, noble Lords were falling over each other to extol the international reputation of the British police service, particularly its reputation for integrity and professionalism. We were told that our police leaders are the envy of the world and the introduction of police and crime commissioners would put that reputation at risk, precisely because PCCs, directly elected by the people, were unlikely to adhere to the same high standards of personal and professional integrity that were the hallmarks of the British police officer. Indeed, we were warned that PCCs would facilitate, if not encourage, the growth of the culture of cover-up and corruption that would undermine the cherished integrity of our police service.
I have to admit that I, too, enthusiastically participated in that chorus of praise for the British chief officer of police. I went so far as to say that I believed that it was their,
“outstanding ability, unquestioned integrity, a high level of professionalism and a deep commitment to public service”,
which would keep us,
“safe from the sort of corruption dangers which other countries have faced and which some noble Lords have mentioned as one of the problems inherent in the Bill”.—[Official Report, 27/4/11; col. 209.]
How sentiments have changed since those words were spoken. I am not sure about a week being a long time in politics but to judge from this context 19 months certainly is long enough to effect a fundamental change in public opinion and, hence, in the political narrative.
Why has that happened? Why has the reputation of the British police service for integrity and professionalism taken such a knock in the past year or so? Why has our policing brand—undoubtedly the most respected in the world until so recently—become so tarnished so quickly, not only in this country but, thanks to the internet, all over the world? I fear that the explanation lies, sadly, with the behaviour of some of our police leaders themselves. No one who has ever even had the slightest interest in the work of the independent panel on the Hillsborough tragedy, which the right reverend Prelate led, can fail to be shocked by the behaviour of our police leaders in the aftermath of that event. One hundred and sixty-four witness statements were altered, 116 of them significantly, as part of a massive cover-up. What does that say about integrity and professional standards?
But the Hillsborough report, as shocking as it is, would not have produced the kind of reaction we heard in another place last week if it had been a one-off, isolated event, describing something that had occurred more than 20 years ago. No, I fear the truth is that the right reverend Prelate’s report triggered the kind of debate that took place last week in another place because it was not an isolated event. It triggered that reaction because it was simply the latest, if the most shocking, in a series of reports to have emerged in the past two years about corruption, cover-ups and collusion in our police service.
For most members of the public, the biggest shock came some 18 months earlier on Sunday 17 July 2011 when the media reported in screaming headlines that Britain’s top police officer, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, had accepted a free five-week stay at a top health spa and that this had been justified by a Metropolitan Police spokesman by the fact that the managing director of the spa had been a friend of the commissioner. The very next day, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, in an Oral Statement related only tangentially to the health spa story, added to the sense of public shock about police leadership by saying that allegations about phone hacking were,
“not, unfortunately, the only recent example of alleged corruption … in the police”.—[Official Report, 18/7/2011; col. 623.]
A few days later, the public learnt that both the Chief Constable and Deputy Chief Constable of Cleveland had been arrested in a dawn raid on suspicion of corruption. Four months later, on 13 December 2011, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary published a report following up the Home Secretary’s comments on phone hacking. Entitled Without Fear or Favour, the inspectorate’s own press notice described its findings as follows:
“Corruption not endemic in the police service—but police need more robust systems”.
If noble Lords can think of a better example of damning with faint praise, I would love to hear it.
And it does not end there. A story in the Guardian on 14 September 2012 began as follows:
“A crisis is brewing at the top of English policing after another chief constable was suspended on suspicion of serious misconduct”.
The report went on to say that this brought,
“the number of the country’s most senior officers who have faced or are facing disciplinary action or investigation by the police watchdog to nine. It is unprecedented for so many senior serving officers to be the focus of investigations at the same time”.
A month later, in October, we learnt that the chief constable who had been arrested in that dawn raid had been sacked for gross misconduct after a disciplinary panel found that he had lied to the IPCC and ordered a member of his own staff to lie to the IPCC. The IPCC described his actions as “shameful.”
Is it any wonder that Members of another place reacted so strongly when discussing this Bill and were so anxious to give the IPCC the powers that it needs to get to the truth about the Hillsborough tragedy? I am inclined to think that their reaction would have been very different two years ago. They probably would simply have suggested that this matter be followed up by ACPO. We must take the same robust stance. We owe it to the police service to save it from itself by helping it to restore its reputation for integrity and professionalism. We can help the police service best by sending it a clear message that we are prepared to provide the IPCC with whatever support it needs to do its work effectively. More importantly, we can help the police service best by sending a clear and unequivocal message to police officers at all levels that we expect them to put their own house in order as a matter of the greatest urgency and, to this end, we expect every serving police officer and other police staff to co-operate fully with the IPCC’s investigation. This does not mean simply showing up when summoned to do so; it means answering all questions put to them fully and truthfully.
As for retired police officers and staff who know something which could help the IPCC’s investigation, we should send a clear and simple message to them as well. Although the IPCC itself has not asked for legislation to compel you to attend interviews as witnesses, the reputation of the police service in which you served so proudly, and which served you so well, has been badly damaged. You can help to repair that damage and restore the reputation of the uniform you wore by coming forward voluntarily with any information which might help the IPCC to get to the truth.
The last thing the police service of this country needs at this time are headlines announcing that retired officers and staff have declined to help to get at the truth of the Hillsborough tragedy. This must not happen. I very much hope it will not.
My Lords, I declare an interest: I am acting, pro bono, for the Hillsborough Family Support Group, which includes members of over two-thirds of the families of the 96 people who died in the Hillsborough disaster. I apologise to the House that I am not able to attend the winding-up speech. I have apologised personally to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, who has kindly urged me nevertheless to intervene in the debate.
I greatly appreciate the House having the opportunity to reflect on Hillsborough and to think about the way forward. The tragedy on 15 April 1989 was entirely foreseeable. The tragedy which befell the Liverpool supporters who came from all over the country that day was unspeakable and unimaginable for them and for the families of those who were injured or died. They could have expected the state, the organisations involved and the media to support them, and some did. However, elements in the state, in the organisations involved and in the media did not support them; instead, they vilified them without justification. They blamed Liverpool fans—both those who died and those who lived—for what happened in order to deflect blame from their own responsibility.
The inquiry by Sir Peter Taylor—later, Lord Taylor of Gosforth—rejected the police’s attempts to blame the fans and put the blame four-square on the police. However, as the right reverend Prelate has indicated, the inquiry gave no consideration to the role of the emergency services because it accepted the theory of a uniform and quick mode in relation to each of those who died, and, as a result of the right reverend Prelate’s commission, we now know that to be wrong. The inquests which followed saw the police seek to put the blame back on the fans in a way that Lord Taylor had rejected. The 3.15 pm cut-off meant that the truth was never investigated, let alone revealed. The courts and the judges subsequently did nothing to redress the balance in the years to come.
The families of those who died never gave up. Andy Burnham said in a debate in the other place in October:
“Those truths have been told only because of the sheer love of mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters … a love that provided strength when hope was lost and provided dignity in the face of provocation”.—[Official Report, Commons, 22/10/12; col. 795]
I thoroughly endorse those words. The resilience and courage of the Hillsborough families has led to the truth coming out and the cover-up being revealed. Their role and their achievement dwarfs all other contributions to the revelations that have come out in the past few weeks. They were supported by the people of Merseyside, who stuck with them through thick and thin when almost the rest of the country had abandoned them. The Merseyside MPs, whom it is invidious to name but I name five of them—Andy Burnham, Derek Twigg, Maria Eagle, Alison McGovern and Steve Rotherham—stuck with them throughout; the Liverpool Echo stuck with them throughout; David Conn of the Guardian stuck with them throughout; and Jimmy McGovern, who wrote and produced a drama-documentary which made a real difference, and Phil Scraton, who was on the bishop’s panel, stuck with them.
The role of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool has been stunning and fundamentally transforming of what has happened to the position of the families. He did not say it about himself but he should have: he listened when the state, the establishment and the other organisations involved stopped listening pretty soon after the Taylor inquiry. The bishop’s panel revealed that the families were right and the establishment was completely wrong in the way it had been addressing the matter.
The Prime Minister’s response on 12 September 2012 was conspicuous in its decency and leadership. It has been quoted on a number of occasions, but he unequivocally accepted the injustice that the families had suffered and he unequivocally apologised to the families for what the state had done. His attitude was incredibly important in making it absolutely clear that the families had been right.
What of the future? The Bill is helpful and we support it. I do not want to go into the detail of these issues but, in relation to what happens now as regards the investigations following Hillsborough, perhaps I may make the following points. First, the families have waited 23 years for justice. Many of the families did not discover how their loved ones had died until the bishop’s panel produced its report 23 years after the event, which is an appalling indictment on the institutions that should have been looking after those families. The consequence of that 23-year wait is that the state should do everything that it reasonably can to ensure that the criminal investigation, any prosecutions that follow and the process of any inquest—if the High Court agrees to it—take place as quickly as reasonably possible.
Secondly, it would appear that more than one body will be involved in the criminal investigations. By that, I mean the IPCC and the police. It is imperative that those investigations should be properly integrated. It would be intolerable if any sort of disagreement between the bodies involved led to anything short of complete integration or any repetition and unnecessary duplication in the investigations that take place.
Thirdly, the work of the panel provides an incredibly good route map for the investigation. There is no doubt, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool acknowledged, that there is a need for further investigation, but the investigation now knows so much more about what happened than any other normal police investigation. Build on it, do not reinvent the wheel and use it as a route map.
Fourthly, it is important to make sure that all the investigations that take place and any subsequent prosecutions are properly resourced. I know from my own experience within government that properly resourced investigations are incredibly effective and focused. In the past 15 years, we have seen investigations take place in relation to particularly heinous crimes. This can happen in this case. Resources are important.
Fifthly—again, I pick up a point made by the right reverend Prelate—it is important to consult the families throughout the investigation and the processes. The families have said directly to the Home Secretary, who was sympathetic and incredibly decent in her response—and they said it in my presence—that trust has to be earned back in the light of what has happened. Regaining that trust will be greatly assisted by consulting the families and discovering what their wishes are—not to compromise independence but to ensure that their views are taken into account.
Sixthly, it is necessary to build into the process something that does not deprive the investigation and the prosecution of their independence but makes sure that the process has drive and momentum, even when the searchlight of publicity has moved on.
Finally, from beginning to end, until 12 September, this has been a series of processes whereby the state and other bodies have failed—and have failed the families and the people they were supposed to serve—including the football authorities, the football grounds involved, the media, the police, the emergency services, the prosecution authorities, the judges and the coroner’s court. They have all been found wanting, as the panel’s report strongly indicates. What happens now is an opportunity for those bodies to prove that they have learnt the lessons of Hillsborough. In a sense, for the past 23 years it is the people who were at the game who have been on trial. Now it is the bodies that let them down that are on trial. I hope they can prove that they are worthy of the trust that the country should be able to have in them.
In this excellent and emotive debate, I wish to speak briefly as someone who is very proud to have been born and brought up in the city of Liverpool. My church was Holy Trinity, Wavertree, and I remember being confirmed there by the then Bishop of Warrington who used three words as the theme of his sermon that day: love, faith and courage. He was a clever bishop because he knew that many of us would remember “love”, “faith” and “courage”, spelt out by the initials LFC, our football team. It is love, faith and courage that the families and friends of the victims in 1989 have shown these twenty-three and a half years.
Liverpool people are generally proud of our city, but they are aware, too, of prejudices held against it by some who know little about it, its people and its culture. I am sure that I am not alone in fearing that elements of prejudice against the city contributed to the terrible events at Hillsborough—the false allegations that were made in some newspapers and the cover up of responsibility for 96 deaths that persisted for 23 years. Questions are still being asked. How can it have taken 23 years to get to this point? Why have police officers in the past not been compelled to give evidence in such cases until now? Is it right that evidence about the death of 96 people cannot necessarily be taken, even with these proposals, from people who have retired or resigned from the police?
People in Liverpool and across the country are right to ask why previous Governments did not act more decisively to ensure that the truth that was well known in Liverpool was made more widely known nationally? This Bill is necessary. It will help to bring about the justice sought by the families and friends of the victims over almost a quarter of a century. The families of the victims have shown great resolve and determination in the face of much opposition to exposing the truth. They lost loved ones, and saw those whom they lost blamed unfairly for what went wrong. But because of their dignified, brave and consistent commitment to the cause of justice for the 96, they are finally beginning to get answers. They are all grateful, I know, to all those who helped to establish the truth by serving on the panel led so effectively by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool.
The report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel has been universally accepted, although some of those responsible for the defamation of those who died have yet to accept any proper responsibility for what they said and did at the time. Some of those who colluded in decisions not to let the truth emerge have yet to explain themselves. There is now widespread agreement in all the major parties that confidence and trust in the police needs to be restored by looking carefully at all the issues surrounding how we police the police. This Bill goes some way towards addressing that question and from these Benches I am very pleased to support it.
My Lords, it is my privilege to try to record some new facts in this debate and perhaps to balance some of the comments that have been made today—indeed, some of the rhetoric that has been employed—and particularly to answer, if I can, some of the questions posed by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool.
As we have heard, the disaster at the Hillsborough Stadium occurred on Saturday 15 April 1989. The following day, I was asked to support Lord Taylor in the investigation of the causes of that terrible event. I was then chief constable of the West Midlands Police, which, I might add, is the largest police force in England and Wales, outside London. I met Lord Taylor in Sheffield on Tuesday 18 April and he expressed his wish to begin to take evidence in public within three weeks of the disaster. We discussed what would be involved to meet that three-week timescale; a timescale that had never before been attempted in circumstances of that magnitude and, I believe, has never been attempted since. Even with the 440 police officers that I was able to deploy to that inquiry, it was obvious to both of us that some extraordinary measures would have to be taken if we were going to work to that timescale. To speed the process, he directed that we should request South Yorkshire Police to arrange for police officers who were witnesses to the disaster to write their own statements and that their force would produce them for the inquiry. On that point, more later. I should also say that the procedure did not relate to the half dozen or so officers who would later be interviewed by my team to explore whether criminal charges should be brought against them personally.
To make the position clear, those decisions regarding the process concerning South Yorkshire officers and those timescales were his. I agreed with them and since his death in 1996, in post as Lord Chief Justice, I am happy to assume full responsibility for that decision. He was required to report, if possible, before the start of the next football season; speed therefore was of the essence. We concluded together this unusual approach hardly mattered. What did matter was that witnesses should be examined in a public inquiry as soon as possible, while memories were still fresh, and it was what they said in that inquiry that mattered, not what was or was not included in their witness statements.
Working to that timescale the West Midlands team, as you might conclude, faced a mammoth task. That investigation commenced six days after the disaster on 24 April. Special police offices were established in Sheffield, Liverpool and Birmingham. A free-phone telephone number was advertised and operated on no fewer than 28 different lines, all of them manned around the clock. They received 2,666 calls. Witnesses who were interviewed and had statements taken totalled 3,777. Many of my officers who were involved in those interviews were deeply emotionally affected. We have heard of the anguish, shock and horror of those in Liverpool who were caught up in this tragedy and this affected those officers as well. Some 3,777 statements were taken and 71 hours of CCTV footage were examined in detail. An inquiry into possible criminal charges was commenced. Most of that took place in only three weeks.
Lord Taylor began to take evidence in public exactly four weeks after the disaster occurred. He sat for 31 long days and examined 174 witnesses. Only three and a half months after the disaster, he published his report on 1 August. He had many conclusions but his major ones fell into three categories. First, he found there were a number of causes for the disaster. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool has already referred to the fact that there were serious misgivings from as early as 1981 and Lord Taylor reported on that and what had been done—and indeed not done—in the interim period. He was adamant, however, that the final and most serious cause of the disaster was the failure of South Yorkshire Police to control the crowd and to ensure its safety. Secondly, he looked at the conduct of the crowd and found there were a few very isolated examples of drunkenness, but there was absolutely no evidence that Liverpool fans had contributed in any way to what had occurred on the terraces. Thirdly, bearing in mind what we are debating today, he found that the oral evidence given by 65 South Yorkshire police officers impressed for the most part in inverse proportion to their rank. As he said, with some notable exceptions the senior officers were defensive and evasive witnesses, and did not, as he put it, show the qualities of leadership to be expected of their rank.
In particular, in his report at paragraph 285, he said:
“It is a matter of regret that at the hearing, and in their submissions, the South Yorkshire Police were not prepared to concede they were in any respect at fault in what happened”.
“The police case was to blame the fans for being late and drunk, and to blame the Club for failing to monitor the pens”.
“Such an unrealistic approach gives cause for anxiety as to whether lessons have been learnt. It would have been more seemly and encouraging for the future if responsibility had been faced”.
Finally, both he and the Football Supporters’ Association warmly praised West Midlands Police for the way in which the evidence had been gathered and presented at the inquiry.
So it seems a little strange, and not a little disappointing, that the hugely excellent report recently published by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool has been hailed as the report that finally exposed the truth when it roundly endorsed and mirrored the findings of the Taylor inquiry. It perhaps begs the question that some of the language used by the Prime Minister and others that this has finally produced justice ought to reflect the fact that Lord Taylor got to the truth 23 years earlier.
It might also reflect on the fact that Lord Taylor informally expressed serious doubts to the coroner about the coroner’s plans to limit his inquest by employing the 3.15 pm cut-off; and also that he did not agree with the coroner’s intention to have witness statements read in the inquest which effectively denied opportunity for cross-examination. He was unable to influence the course of that subsequent process, which was out of his hands, and it did not begin until several months later.
The truth was first made public by the Taylor report in 1986. As we have heard, the waters were muddied considerably, more and more with the passage of time. Immediately the Taylor report was published, the South Yorkshire Police went public—on to the attack, if you like—with a condemnation of the conclusions and stoutly maintained that the police were in the right and the Liverpool fans were in the wrong. The inquiry that will be eventually mounted by the IPCC will of course examine this aspect in detail, and especially whether attempts were made by South Yorkshire Police wrongly to attribute blame. The Bill seeks to facilitate that inquiry. I hope that we shall not have to wait too long for the results.
By common consent, Peter Taylor was a man of rare talent. Noble Lords will understand already that I held him in high regard and respect. He was prepared to move fast to expose the truth. His report employed elegant and economical prose and it managed to cover the ground in only 71 pages. It was published a mere three and a half months after the disaster with firm, clear, unequivocal conclusions. That is exactly the same passage of time that has elapsed since the publication of the report of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool, and the IPCC is still scoping its inquiry and deciding on how it might begin to progress. I do not want to appear unduly critical, but I hope that we shall not have to wait too much longer for action.
On the Bill, perhaps the question at the forefront of the minds of many of us is: do hard cases make bad law? Nothing could be a harder case than the tragedy of Hillsborough. Is the Bill bad law? In some ways I think it is. The loophole that the Bill seeks to block by requiring serving police officers to attend for interview has been a small but recurring problem for investigators, on and off, for years, so why use emergency procedures to rush it through now? After all, that power will not much assist the Hillsborough inquiry by the IPCC because most of those it may wish to interview, as we have heard already, will no longer be serving. Mostly they are retired; in some cases, they are dead.
The power to require retired officers to attend interview is not sought, although one hopes that those who are approached will co-operate—and I fully concur with what has been said. Certainly I shall, if evidence is ever sought from me.
I am not sure whether Clause 2—the application of Part 2 of the Police Reform Act 2002 to old cases—breaches rules of double jeopardy. In particular, at this stage or shortly after, there have to be safeguards in place for police officers interviewed by the IPCC. The practice of sometimes interviewing an officer as a witness without first cautioning him, then using that witness statement against him in later criminal proceedings, has to change. Interviewing under caution is standard procedure for non-police officers and should be a protection afforded to the police as well. I endorse the recommendation of the Home Office Select Committee and believe that the IPCC should employ a more rigorous interpretation of the threshold set out in the Police Reform Act to ensure that it becomes the norm that officers are interviewed under caution in the most serious cases.
This is certainly a Bill in a hurry. Usually I would resist it on that ground alone, seeking more time and due process to consider the issues in depth. But having stood here and praised the approach of Lord Taylor, who identified the truth in double-quick time, I can hardly complain at another attempt to speed up the investigative process, when so much time has been wasted over the last 20 years or so chasing irrelevancies or trying to find a way through a fog of half truths and worse. So great is the public interest in Hillsborough for understandable reasons, and so important is it that this issue should be dealt with once and for all that, with some jurisprudential reservations, I support the Bill.
My Lords, I need to start by saying that I fully support the Bill. However, I have two caveats that I have already outlined to the Minister and to which I hope he will respond in a while. In asking the Minister about these two matters, I am not trying to weaken the Bill but to strengthen it. Put simply, it would be helpful if this House was to demonstrate that it understands that police officers themselves need to believe in the provisions of the Bill. They will best do that if they believe that the provisions are fair.
I was not at Hillsborough; I was not involved in Hillsborough; but I have no illusions about it. I am on record recently as describing in the Times what happened at Hillsborough as appearing,
“to be the most egregious example of deliberate dissimulation in the history of the British police”.
When I read the right reverend Prelate’s report, I felt thoroughly ashamed of my profession. So, like all noble Lords, I wish the IPCC and the future coroner well with all their efforts. I have no illusions about Hillsborough.
However, it is vital to remember that although the Bill is occasioned by Hillsborough and the tragedy and failures there, it is not only about Hillsborough. Until and unless these provisions are repealed, they will provide powers to the IPCC and other organisations working under IPCC supervision that will cover all their investigations now and in future. I need to declare a rather unusual interest: I think I am safe to believe that I am the only Member of your Lordships’ House who has been interviewed by the IPCC as a witness. I have a personal duty to try to help get this matter right for the future. I shall say something briefly about both clauses.
I do not think that there are any noble Lords with a military background currently in the Chamber but if there were, they would recognise something that I am about to say. Servicemen and women are always uneasy at being interviewed by military police. It is the same for serving police officers when faced with people investigating complaints against the police. The powers in Clause 1 compel serving officers to attend as witnesses. We seriously need to distinguish between witnesses and suspects. I am not sure that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dear, about strengthening the idea of cautioning all police witnesses. Remember that all police witnesses if cautioned will be told, “You are not obliged to say anything”. We want them to feel obliged to say something, so we have to distinguish between witnesses and suspects.
I am grateful to the noble Lord. What I took him to be saying was that all police witnesses in serious cases should be interviewed under caution. Perhaps we can agree to get the definition of that right.
If we are talking about witnesses, it would be extremely unlikely that the Police Federation or any other representative body would be able to provide detailed legal advice to those officers, let alone a lawyer, so they will be going into the interview room accompanied only by a friend. We need to dispel the kind of uneasiness that they will be feeling. My suggestion to the Minister is that, when closing the debate, he makes clear his expectation that police officers being interviewed as witnesses by the IPCC investigators should be given the maximum disclosure of information—that is what proposed new Section 19F(3)(c) should mean.
In no way should a compelled witness have any cause to fear, as he or she enters the interview room, that he or she will be tricked. These are witnesses, not suspects. If they are suspects, they have to be treated differently. If they are witnesses, they must be treated with obvious and visible fairness. Whatever happened at Hillsborough, the men and women now serving in the police service deserve no less than that.
I entirely agree with the purpose of Clause 2. However, some IPCC investigations and those by its predecessor body can be—and have been—very long. Careers are put on hold and the pressure of such an investigation can sit at the back of the mind month after month, year after year. When, after such a long time, the investigation is finished and an officer is exonerated—if he or she is—they are largely entitled to expect that that is and will remain the end of the matter.
I therefore ask the Minister to make clear his expectations of the IPCC that the words “exceptional circumstances” in proposed new Section 28A(1), in relation to opening a closed inquiry, not only mean what they say but refer only to circumstances in which new evidence appears to have arisen or the level of public concern makes it imperative for the case to be reopened. Cases should not be reopened capriciously nor for political advantage. It is not enough for the Minister to emphasise that it is important that IPCC resources are not to be misused in this way. The majority of officers in England and Wales deserve no less than a statement today that fairness to officers is also a consideration.
Putting it bluntly, a police officer—like any other free citizen—has the right to refuse to assist the police in an investigation, but I also believe that any police officer who does so should forfeit the right to be a police officer. I want all police officers to believe that full compliance with the inquiry is their professional duty and I want their predecessors, now retired, to believe that their pride in their previous profession should also make them want to assist the inquiry. To do that, we should try to ensure that the working practices of the IPCC, outlined in this Bill, make fairness clear and obvious. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
My Lords, we are privileged to sit in this House and have been privileged today to have had the opportunity to participate in this debate. We have heard some impassioned and authoritative speeches, which have helped this House to consider this Bill, as it should do, in the proper context in which the Government have brought it forward.
I think that all noble Lords will have been emotionally touched by the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool. The work that he has done in trying to build a bridge between the authorities and the families has been remarkable. In a way, this is a story of the failure of the establishment to properly engage with the families, to understand the distress of those who suffered loss or were injured or, indeed, those who were just at the match on the day. I hope that we can all help remedy that by our contributions here today.
I think that I can reassure noble Lords that this Bill has been brought to the House with the purpose of expediting truth and justice on this issue. I do not pretend that it can be easy; we have seen from the history of this matter that it is easy for people to make mistakes. Clearly, however, the investigatory role of the IPCC and of the police will be essential in clearing up the fog and mystery of misinformation and in providing clarity for the future.
There have been a number of speeches. I will start with the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon. Indeed, many of her remarks were echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in his contribution. I readily understand the concern about what happens if officers attend but do not co-operate. There is a power to compel officers to attend if it is a matter of criminal investigation. If it is a question of witness, however, there are limits to the way in which legislation can achieve this objective, as I think the Government have acknowledged. But we are seeking to do that. Compelling witnesses to speak would be an unusual power to bring into a Bill of this nature. I hope that noble Lords will accept that we do not consider it to be appropriate.
However, I said in my opening address that people who volunteer to appear would want to help this process. There is a responsibility on all of us. When he gave evidence at the Home Affairs Select Committee on November 27, Chief Constable Mike Cunningham said that where a police officer attended but refused to answer questions, he would have to consider whether the officer’s employment should continue. This sent a strong signal of how seriously non-co-operation would be taken by the chief constable. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Blair, said that he agreed that that was the right approach.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, also asked whether we would be issuing guidelines to chief officers to ensure that all forces treated refusal to attend interview in the same way. We have already committed to considering whether the existing conduct regulations should be amended or made clearer in this area, and whether misconduct sanctions should apply where an officer refuses to attend an interview as a witness. If we were to make such changes, we would also amend the relevant guidelines relating to the regulations to effect these changes.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, also asked about where retired officers may be suspects. I can confirm that any officer, whether serving or retired—or, indeed, an officer who retires part-way through an investigation —can continue to be investigated for criminal or misconduct matters. Officers can be compelled to attend an interview if they are a suspect. The noble Baroness asked also whether, when officers seek early retirement, their application will be considered if this prevents them from appearing as a witness before the IPCC.
It would not be appropriate to stop an officer from retiring who had been called as a witness, not as a suspect. However, the IPCC can investigate retired or resigned officers for criminal and misconduct matters, as it can with serving officers. Therefore, the IPCC will no doubt call retired officers to provide evidence during its investigation into Hillsborough, and I believe that in the vast majority of cases these retired officers will understand the importance of this investigation and attend willingly. If the police had reason to suppose that someone was retiring in order to avoid appearing, they may well consider that as suspect behaviour. However, that would be for the police to decide, not for us or the Bill.
The noble Baroness also asked, with regard to Clause 2, about the IPCC reopening cases where there is a powerful public interest. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Blair, is also concerned about what is meant by “public interest”. If I may disentangle the semantics, public interest in terms of popular interest is of course different from public interest as seen by the Government or by the IPCC itself. It is the IPCC that will determine where the public interest lies, and that is not measured by populist interest. I hope that I have made that clear; I think that I have a clear understanding of the interest.
The “exceptional circumstances” bar means what it says. They will be only cases where exceptional circumstances are involved; indeed, one of those exceptional circumstances is where the discovery of new evidence of high significance could then lead to a case being legitimately reopened. However, the purpose of this legislation is to deal with the particular instance which we have been debating today.
It was interesting to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who was a Liverpool Member of Parliament and able to talk about the incident as it appeared to someone representing the people of Liverpool. On the discovery of documents, I can confirm that the documents which will be available to the IPCC as part of its investigation will include some which were not available to the panel, because they were discovered after the panel had reported. It is clearly essential that every document is available to those taking forward the investigation. I assure noble Lords that that will happen, so fresh discovery will reinforce the IPCC investigations.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked whether witness interviews will be given to the IPCC under caution. That question was repeated by the noble Lord, Lord Blair. I should make it plain that the police issue a caution to those whom they wish to interview because they are suspected of having committed a criminal offence and therefore may be charged. However, we would not therefore expect anybody providing evidence as a witness to be so cautioned. I think that that is the only way in which I can answer that question.
As many noble Lords have pointed out, the Attorney-General has secured a hearing on the question of reopening the inquests. That was applied for yesterday but it is up to the courts to consider that application. We must not prejudge the outcome of this legal process and even if the Attorney-General’s application were successful, it would be for the coroner to decide how to conduct the inquest. Again, this is an independent, statutory role which the Government cannot interfere in. I am sure that all those involved will recognise the need to expedite this process. Public opinion, the pressure for the truth, will drive this through.
I appreciate that it was not possible for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, to stay until this point, but I shall answer his question about integration. Clearly, we are dealing with different authorities with different responsibilities, but they have a shared responsibility for providing reconciliation and truth in this matter, and, indeed, justice. The IPCC, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Attorney-General and the coroner will all work together and the Government will work with them to ensure that they work effectively to provide an outcome. The imperative for this is understood by the Government.
The noble Lord, Lord Blair, asked about disclosure. I can be clear that disclosure of information in relation to an interview by the IPCC, or, indeed, decisions as to how to conduct that investigation, are solely a matter for the IPCC, as the independent body with oversight over the police complaints system. Given that it has that independence, it would be inappropriate for Ministers or the Government to interfere or direct the commission on any aspect of the interview process or the investigation. I hope that that helps the noble Lord, although it does not provide him with an answer. I think that we have dealt with the question of the reopening of the inquiry.
I hope that I have answered most questions; it is quite probable, given the contributions that have been made, that I have not answered them all. I will be happy to write to noble Lords on the detail but our task today is to consider the Bill. We have had an excellent Second Reading; it is an important Bill to take forward reconsideration of the way the establishment dealt with the Hillsborough disaster in the first instance and an opportunity for Parliament, at least, to play its part in addressing this issue.
Bill read a second time.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, as noble Lords will see from the Order Paper, provision has been made for a short delay between Second Reading and the remaining stages of the Police (Complaints and Conduct) Bill. The Public Bill Office has not yet received any amendments for the Bill’s Committee stage but will accept any amendment tabled within the next 30 minutes—that is, until 6.38 pm. The House will return to the Bill when the Statement and the QSD have concluded—I suggest that that will be not before 7.38 pm—either to go into Committee if amendments have been tabled or to take the remaining stages formally if not.
Northern Ireland: Recent Events
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat the Statement made earlier today in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on events in Northern Ireland.
“I would like to make a Statement about events in Northern Ireland over recent days. Over the past week, a series of protests has taken place relating to the decision taken by Belfast City Council on the flying of the union flag. A number of these have witnessed violence, rioting and attacks on police officers. Yesterday evening a masked gang threw a petrol bomb inside an unmarked police car; a young policewoman narrowly escaped very serious injury. This is now being treated by police as attempted murder.
As I made clear in the House last Wednesday, there can be absolutely no excuse or justification for this kind of thuggish and lawless behaviour. It is despicable. We condemn it unreservedly and it must stop immediately.
I welcome the Motion passed unanimously yesterday in the Northern Ireland Assembly, which unequivocally condemned,
‘rioting and the campaign of intimidation, harassment and violent attacks on elected representatives’,
‘the absolute and unconditional commitment of all its Members to respecting and upholding the rule of law and the pursuit of their political objectives by purely legal and political means’.
Let us be very clear. No one can be in any doubt about the Government’s support for the Union and its flag, but the people engaged in the kind of violence that we have seen in the past few days are not defending the Union flag. There is nothing remotely British about what they are doing; they are dishonouring and shaming the flag of our country with this lawless and violent activity. They discredit the cause that they claim to support. They are also doing untold damage to hard-pressed traders in the run-up to Christmas, and they undermine those who are working tirelessly, day in and day out, to promote Northern Ireland to bring about investment, jobs and prosperity.
In addition to outbreaks of violence, appalling threats have been made against elected politicians, including a death threat to the honourable Member for East Belfast. I know that the whole House will join me in expressing our complete solidarity with the honourable lady, her colleagues in the Alliance Party and all the people who have been threatened and intimidated over the past week by this disgraceful conduct. The right of elected representatives to go about their daily business without the threat or fear of intimidation is one of the hallmarks of our democracy, and these threats are nothing less than an attack on democracy in this country.
Throughout this crisis I have stayed in close contact with the chief constable of Northern Ireland. Thirty-two police officers have been injured in the line of duty during the past week, and I take this opportunity to pay the warmest tribute to the brave men and women of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, who once again find themselves in the front line encountering and tackling violence. They have shown themselves again to be fearless guardians of the rule of law, whenever and from wherever it comes under attack.
I received another update from the chief constable this morning. He informed me that around 38 people have now been charged in relation to this disorder. Those who are engaged in violence should be in no doubt of the determination of the chief constable and the PSNI to apply the full force of the law. Those engaged in violence should be well aware of that fact.
I have also discussed with the chief constable the threats to elected politicians. Again, I am in no doubt as to the extreme seriousness that Matt Baggott, like the rest of us, attaches to those unacceptable threats. I assure the House that the PSNI is doing all that it can to enable elected politicians to carry out their duties and serve their constituents.
For our part, the UK Government will continue to give our fullest backing to the PSNI. That is why, in the face of the deteriorating security situation that we inherited, the Government secured an exceptional additional £200 million from the Treasury reserve. We will continue to do all that we can to assist the chief constable in keeping the people of Northern Ireland safe and secure, whether from so-called dissidents or from those responsible for this week’s events.
Yet responsibility for solving the underlying issues that have led to the violence does not rest solely with the police or the UK Government. It is right that local politicians in Northern Ireland take the lead in trying to reach agreement on a way forward. In tackling these issues, I believe that everybody has a responsibility to consider very carefully the impact of their words and deeds on wider community relations.
Once again, the trouble that we have seen in Belfast and elsewhere underlines the urgent necessity of working towards a genuinely shared future for all the people of Northern Ireland. We have made it clear that, where the Executive take the difficult decisions needed to deliver that, they will have the Government’s full backing. It would be a huge lost opportunity if Northern Ireland politics were to continue to be defined by questions of identity. There is a pressing need to focus on the wider issues of the economy, jobs and delivery. The scenes of the past few days have been deplorable, but we should not let them detract from the positive progress that Northern Ireland has made in recent years.
That was highlighted last Friday by the visit to Belfast of the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. She rightly pointed to the many difficult decisions taken by local politicians and the leadership that they have shown in bringing us to where we are today. I am sure that those politicians will not allow the achievements that have been made to be undermined by lawless violence of the kind that we have seen over the past week. I am also sure that this House will remain united in support of their efforts to move the peace process further forward towards a genuinely shared future for all in Northern Ireland”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Secretary of State’s Statement in the House of Commons and I also thank my honourable friend Vernon Coaker for initiating this Statement. I shall now repeat the response made by Vernon Coaker in the other place.
“Mr Speaker, can I thank the Secretary of State for coming to the House to make this Statement and for advance sight of it? Let me say why I and the Opposition called on her to do so. There have been eight consecutive nights of violence in Northern Ireland. A Member of this House has had her life threatened and her Alliance Party has seen its representatives intimidated and subjected to violence, and its property attacked.
Violence against the police has escalated, to the extent that an attempt was made to murder a female officer last night by breaking the window of a police car and throwing a petrol bomb inside while she was still in the vehicle. Dozens of officers have been injured after coming under sustained attack over the course of the week. Another murderous attack on the police was only narrowly avoided when a vehicle carrying a rocket was apprehended outside Derry. It cannot go on and Westminster’s voice must be heard. This violence would not be tolerated in London, Cardiff or Edinburgh, and it should not be tolerated in Belfast. A clear and strong message must be sent from this place today that says that this violence is wrong, unacceptable and without justification.
Once again I pay tribute to the Police Service of Northern Ireland for its dedication and bravery. I spoke earlier to the Justice Minister, whom I also met a few days ago in Belfast. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with him and the chief constable about resources and the police’s capacity to deal with this disorder and the continuing national security threat? What is the latest security assessment?
The homes of public representatives have been vandalised and attacked. Local councillors, who are doing their best on behalf of the communities that they serve, and their families have seen their homes targeted and vandalised. I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I say that whether we are talking about a DUP councillor in Dungannon, two Alliance councillors and their families in Bangor, or the husband of a Sinn Fein councillor in Armagh, such violence is wrong and must stop. I stand shoulder to shoulder with public representatives in Northern Ireland for democracy and against violence. When a Member of Parliament is threatened and attacked, I view it as a threat and an attack on all of us and everything we stand for.
Will the Secretary of State tell me what assessment she has made of the involvement of loyalist paramilitaries in the rioting? Does she view their actions as a threat to national security? What discussions has she had with the Prime Minister about this? Has he discussed the ongoing violence with the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister or the Justice Minister?
I know that there are underlying issues, and I am realistic about the challenges we face. I have been with unionist and loyalist political representatives to visit areas in Belfast and other parts of Northern Ireland, and I want to say this: honourable Members and others from Northern Ireland are doing a really difficult job in these communities, and I do not doubt their sincerity, integrity or hard work. They are dealing with frustration and anger, and they need support in helping to channel that away from violence and towards politics. I will do what I can to help, and I make that offer in republican and nationalist communities, too, but violence is never justified and it is wrong. It is damaging those communities and, until the violence stops, we cannot even begin to discuss or do anything about the longer-term issues that need to be resolved. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with political representatives about supporting work in these communities? Will she bring political leaders together to see what can be done together?
I care deeply about Northern Ireland and its people, and I know the Secretary of State and all other honourable Members do too. I think it was important today that we came together as the United Kingdom House of Commons and said that. Northern Ireland matters; it is important. I hope that we see this awful violence ended and that we can look forward to a 2013 in which Northern Ireland is showcased on the world stage as the great place it is”.
I thank the noble Lord for his response. The key point he made, which was also made in the other place, was that we would not tolerate this kind of behaviour and violence in Cardiff, London or Edinburgh and therefore we must not tolerate it in Belfast. We must condemn it strongly and insist that any issues of frustration or differences of opinion have to be dealt with and aired through freedom of expression and opinion, not through violence. There is no place for violence in a modern democracy. Northern Ireland has travelled a very long way in the past 10 to 15 years. When one looks back at the issues that the country faced 15 years ago, the progress that has been made is astonishing. It is important that we do not allow it to slip back, particularly, as the noble Lord pointed out, when 2013 offers the opportunity to bring the world spotlight on to Northern Ireland and to give it a real opportunity for economic progress.
The noble Lord referred to a number of issues. The first was the resources that have been provided. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has had discussions with the chief constable, who regards himself as having sufficient resources. In the Statement, I referred to the extra £200 million that was given to take the PSNI through to 2015. However, there are now further discussions about any need for additional resources after that. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is very willing to consider additional resources if it is felt that they are needed.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has kept the Prime Minister closely informed. The Prime Minister is extremely concerned and is in close touch on what is happening in Northern Ireland at this moment. She has also had a number of meetings and telephone discussions. She has spoken with David Ford, the Justice Minister in Northern Ireland, three times over the past week. She has spoken with the chief constable three times and has spoken to the MP for East Belfast, Naomi Long. I know that she—and, indeed, I—would be happy to do more if it were needed in order to ensure that people are brought together and that we bring an end to the appalling violence that we have seen in recent days.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for repeating the Statement made in another place. I would like to add our appreciation on these Benches for the dangerous and courageous work of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. We add our support for Naomi Long, whose life has been threatened as an elected representative, and for other elected representatives whose homes and offices have been attacked and whose families have been terrified and frightened by mobs that have been roaming about. Not only have elected representatives suffered, but many other people have been discomfited as well. A doctor told me today that cancer patients were not able to get to hospital because of what was going on.
There is the question of the violence, but it did not come about just with this issue of flags. It has been developing over the last number of months, with issues about Catholic churches and parades. This is clearly a mounting process with paramilitary organisations. What is most concerning is that instead of some political leaders trying not just to condemn but to contain this, it is actually being spread out to other circumstances. While the Assembly in Stormont has flown the flag only on designated days, now the whole question of the flag being flown on all sorts of other days is being raised and creating difficulties which were never there before in more than a decade of the Assembly functioning.
I am disappointed that it has taken some time for any clear guidance to come out of 10 Downing Street and the Prime Minister. I ask my noble friend why that is so. There have been no clear statements saying not just how wrong this is but how important it is for politicians not to spread the problem but to seize the problem and control it. I ask my noble friend if she could give me some reassurance that the Prime Minister and his colleagues will not merely sit at Number 10 Downing Street and be concerned, but that they will start putting pressure on political colleagues in Belfast, who are picking up on this and spreading the problem rather than containing it and closing it down. Of course, there are other issues that need to be dealt with, including difficulties for Protestant young men and their educational status in some loyalist areas. But this is not the way to deal with them. I plead with my noble friend to make a case to the Prime Minister to be more engaged.
There have recently been complaints by the Deputy First Minister that he can see the President of the United States more easily than he can see the Prime Minister of our United Kingdom. This is not a help in a situation which is beginning to spin out of control.
I thank my noble friend for that powerful response. He speaks with a great deal of experience of the situation. He was a prime force in the early days of the Northern Ireland Assembly. He knows only too well how difficult it is on occasion to make progress. I also thank him for his tribute to the bravery of the PSNI and to the elected representatives. I have always thought that politics in general is not for the faint-hearted, but in Northern Ireland it is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Given the progress that has been made in Northern Ireland, we almost began to take for granted that progress would carry on there. The past few days have shocked us in relation to the threats to elected representatives. The blocking of the road to the hospital was totally inexcusable.
My noble friend referred to the gradual increasing violence, which has been a general trend in recent years. As he knows so well, the flying of the flag is an issue of great sensitivity. However, the flag has been flown over Stormont on designated days, which has been accepted up to now. Indeed, the union flag has been flown over a number of council buildings throughout Northern Ireland on designated days. I have to emphasise to the House that the decision on flying the flag is a local, democratic decision. It is a matter for the councillors in Belfast and for the MLAs.
My noble friend referred to a possible delay in response from the UK Government to this situation. It is important to bear in mind that so many of these things, including the PSNI, are devolved issues. It is also important that we allow the devolved Government in Northern Ireland to make decisions and to take leadership when it is needed. Finally, it is truly important that leadership is exercised strongly and responsibly by politicians in Northern Ireland.
My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. Has she noticed that the Ulster Unionist Party has condemned in the strongest possible terms the harassment of and violence towards police officers and elected representatives? Anyone who engages in this illegal activity on our streets fails to understand the values that are encapsulated in the union flag. In doing what they did, they lose the very argument that they want to promote.
Does the Minister agree that it is not sufficient to condemn the violence? One must look at the underlying causes which triggered this violence. It is not just the removal of the union flag from Belfast City Hall where it had flown continuously since 1906. It is about a people who feel that bit by bit they are having their Britishness stripped away from them. It is also about a people who perceive themselves as becoming second-class citizens in their country. These are deeply held beliefs, whether they are real or imaginary. The Government must recognise them and begin to address them.
Police officers who were simply doing their duty of protecting the community under extremely difficult conditions have been subjected to outrageous attacks. Rather than being attacked, these officers deserve our thanks and support for standing between us and anarchy.
I thank the noble Lord for his comments. He refers to the underlying causes. I would point out that culture changes and identity develops over a period of time. Indeed, the people of Northern Ireland have seen considerable development in their political culture in the past few years. I would also like to point out the association between the violence and the areas where there is social deprivation in Belfast in particular. That is why it is so tragic. Every time a picture on television of rioting in Northern Ireland crosses the world it does economic harm to Northern Ireland and hits its opportunity to develop a better world, particularly for its young people.
My Lords, does my noble friend recognise that she was right to point out that that what is happening is an attack on democracy? I am sure she carries the whole House with her when she says that. Although we are all shocked, we ought to be mildly encouraged that there have been previous attacks on democracy in Northern Ireland, and the people stood firm and good people prevailed—and, if I may say so, Ministers stood firm, and progress was made. We need to remember that in these difficult days. Does my noble friend also recognise the truth of part of what the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, said? Those who participate in this violence, or at least some of them, think that by doing that they can force their political agenda. Will the Government make it clear that violence will never force a political agenda and that the political agendas that have already been discussed and need to be addressed, including questions of ongoing identity, cannot be addressed in the context of a response to, or as a consequence of, the threat to democracy that this violence constitutes?
My noble friend makes some important points. It is important that we make it absolutely clear that the leadership in Northern Ireland and the Government in the UK will stand firm and show the appropriate leadership. Of course, there are always issues to be addressed, and the way in which the Northern Ireland Executive have attempted very successfully to work together to overcome huge divides on occasions has always been a great example to us. It is important that political leadership at every level in Northern Ireland shows that.
My Lords, those of us who had some involvement with Northern Ireland over the years must feel particularly dismayed and disappointed by the events of the past little while. By chance, on the day when the troubles began in Belfast City Hall, I was attending a small meeting with Naomi Long when she predicted what was going to happen—and it was a very depressing occasion. She is a remarkably brave woman, given all the threats to her. It is particularly disappointing that it is a month ago that the Irish Prime Minister went to Enniskillen on Remembrance Day and the Deputy Prime Minister went to a similar ceremony in Belfast. These were very important and positive gestures, which did not get much publicity at all in Britain—but they were very significant in terms of the Irish Government trying to play their part. That is a long way away from these very disappointing events.
I do not want to excuse violence, and it is not excused under any circumstances. If it was direct rule, I would ask the Minister this very positively. I am a member of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, and some years ago we produced a report on the life chances for young people in some of the most disadvantaged parts of Belfast. One could see something of this sort coming, with young people, particularly from the Protestant areas, being prey to loyalist paramilitaries because they had no other future in life at all. I am afraid that that report was ignored. I urge the Government to talk to Northern Ireland Ministers and say that they must not neglect things like poor life chances for young people. In those poor life chances, we see the seeds of some of the events that have happened. It does not excuse them for one second—it does not excuse them at all. But we have to understand that and see what can be done in the longer term.
The noble Lord makes some important points and draws our attention to what are sometimes stunning symbolic examples and positive gestures by political leaders in the island of Ireland as a whole. When I was in Belfast last week, I was very impressed by the determination of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to develop the economy of Northern Ireland. I also had a meeting with Invest NI, which is doing excellent work on inward investment. It is key that that investment trickles down to those socially deprived areas where problems such as we have seen in the past week particularly occur.
My Lords, I declare an interest arising from two appointments connected with security in Northern Ireland. Will my noble friend join me in respecting the dignified way in which David Ford has conducted a very difficult job—as difficult as any ministerial appointment on this side of the water—as Minister of Justice in Northern Ireland? Secondly, does she agree that the evidence is that what has happened is a threat to public order but not a threat to national security? The vast majority of the public in Northern Ireland, whichever religion or part of the community they come from, are absolutely hostile to the sort of public disorder that has occurred in recent days and wish strongly that the hooligans who have been committing the acts that have been described would simply go home and stop.
My noble friend has introduced two important new topics. One is the excellent way in which the Justice Minister, David Ford, has gone about his work. I met him as well last week and, having met him several times in the past, I was yet again tremendously impressed by his determination and the clear and even-handed way in which he approached his task. On the issue of whether it is a threat to public order or a threat to national security, I would agree with my noble friend that the latter definition has not yet been reached. The important thing is that, however you define it, it is wrong and it must be condemned on all sides.
My Lords, may I also express, from these Benches, our abhorrence at the violence that has been experienced in Northern Ireland, pay tribute to the PSNI for the work that it is doing and encourage the bravery of its officers? I have been involved in Northern Ireland for many years: I have been married to an Irish woman for 45 years and have been engaged in various different aspects of the progress towards peace during those years. One thing that has impressed me, and continues so to do, is the work being done by grass-roots groups in communities. These are very often people who have been involved in acts of violence themselves and have come to a new place in their experience. As we look at this particular situation and circumstance, I encourage the Minister to nurture those grass-roots groups that are endeavouring to form and make peace within the communities and which are, very often, aware of the various participants in these situations and can themselves be the means by which some of the violence is reduced.
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate makes a very important point about the voluntary sector. We all know that the voluntary sector is important to our society throughout the United Kingdom, but nowhere more so than in Northern Ireland. The work of some of the community groups to improve a sense of security and belonging is absolutely astonishing. It is of particular interest how many community leaders have had an association with violence in the past in Northern Ireland and have seen that it is the wrong way to go.
My Lords, I think it is the turn of the Cross-Benchers, and I am a member of the Cross-Bench group. As one who suffered intimidation and was shot 10 times through my body by the IRA, I totally deplore—and have every reason to deplore—attacks on politicians of any party in Northern Ireland. Secondly, the Minister may have given a wrong impression about what is happening in Northern Ireland. We have had more than 50 demonstrations in the last week in Northern Ireland and many of them have been totally peaceful and well organised. That was not said. The impression given was that there were riots at all these demonstrations. We had five demonstrations in my home city of Armagh last night. They were well organised and very civilised.
It was mentioned that the honourable Member for Belfast East foresaw the violence. The reaction was caused when Sinn Fein and the SDLP, joined by their colleagues in the Alliance Party, decided to lower the union jack for 350 out of the 365 days of the year. One of that team said, “We have done a good day’s work”. That really inflamed opinion among the majority community in Northern Ireland and a vast minority within the City of Belfast. Would that group who decided to lower the union jack in Belfast have been better to delay their decision until January and not damage the retail shops in Belfast in the run-up to Christmas?
Finally, I bring the Minister good news. We had our census figures in Northern Ireland today. First, some 45% of the population are Roman Catholic, but now only 25% say they are Irish only—proof that sectarianism is fading. Secondly, 59% now hold a United Kingdom passport, while only 21% hold an Irish passport. In the United Kingdom, the union flag is the flag of Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland; but Scotland, Wales and England also have their own local flags. Would it not be a good idea, given that flags are a divisive issue in Northern Ireland, to put our minds together to get a flag—as well as the union jack—to which Roman Catholics and Protestants, unionists and nationalists, and anyone can give joint loyalty? So far, we have no Northern Ireland flag. Is it not time we started to design a flag that would appeal to everyone?
I thank the noble Lord very much for his comments. I freely and fully acknowledge that there have been a significant number of totally peaceful demonstrations in the past week. Unfortunately those people are overshadowed by those who decided that they wanted to provoke violence. The right to demonstrate peacefully is the core right of our democracy. That is absolutely accepted on all sides.
The timing of the decision on the flag on Belfast City Hall was a matter entirely for Belfast City Council. As for the noble Lord’s point on sectarianism, I join him in the hope that Northern Ireland politics will be less marked by sectarian differences in the future. He makes an interesting point about a new flag for Northern Ireland—one that I am sure will be well aired, now that he has raised the matter here. It is bound to be discussed with interest. I come from Wales and we talk a lot about the Welsh flag and the place of Wales in terms of the union jack. I can therefore understand the significance of a new flag, which could be an interesting option for the future.
My Lords, before we start the Question for Short Debate, I remind noble Lords of the speaking times. Except for the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, who has 10 minutes, and the Minister, who has 12 minutes, all speeches are limited to four minutes. I will be able to help noble Lords.
Developing Countries: Impact of Multinational Companies’ Financial Practices and UK Tax Policies
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I am very glad to have secured this debate on what has come to be known as tax justice. The point is to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they are making of the impact of the policies of multinational companies in terms of taxation, the effect that that has on developing countries, and the impact of our own tax policies on developing countries. They are the issues that I am inviting your Lordships to discuss.
I declare an interest. I am a trustee of Christian Aid, which does a lot of work in this area. I put down for this debate a long time ago and suddenly it has become very topical, with Starbucks, Amazon and others bringing it to the fore. That should remind us that we are talking about citizenship—corporate citizenship, in this case. People recognise that as individuals and companies create wealth and income, it is only right that a proportion of that should be invested in the country in which it is created for the well-being of its resources and development.
We know that in our own country the cost of health, education and infrastructure is high and very difficult to maintain so everybody should make a contribution. That is why there is such an outcry about Starbucks and other companies. In developing countries, the need for those basic things is much greater. As rich countries are getting richer, poor countries are getting poorer. Therefore, the need for health, education and very basic infrastructure is enormous. It is estimated by Christian Aid and others that developing countries, through not collecting tax revenue that they might be expected to collect, are losing something like £160 billion a year. That is more than the whole flow of international aid into developing countries. The figures can be debated and disputed, but the point is that the scale of the loss of revenue through taxes not being paid in developing countries is massive at a time when there is enormous social need.
We should not be surprised that the Chancellor himself says that tax justice is a moral issue. We should not be surprised that concern comes from these Benches because, in the Christian tradition, Jesus and Paul make it very clear that there is a duty to pay taxes to contribute to what we would call the common good and the common life. Each country needs the resourcing to provide a common good and a common life. What happens is that multinational companies are able to create wealth in developing countries, but then shift the wealth often to secret tax havens and other locations, making very little contribution to the needs and resourcing of the country where the wealth is created.
There are a number of key issues that I want to offer to frame this debate. The first is about corporate citizenship. What is the moral duty on organisations and companies that gain wealth from being in a particular country if they shift it away to other places to minimise their tax payments and the wealth that was created does not contribute to the society that created it? Secondly, surely it is in the interests of multinational companies in developing countries to have more stable structures and a better health and education provision for the workforce, so that the businesses they are trying to run are better resourced. It would seem to be sensible for multinational companies to contribute more to the better infrastructure and resources of developing countries.
Thirdly, it must be in the interests of companies working in developing countries, and of our Government, that these countries are resourced well enough to be stable politically, economically and socially, because poverty creates instability. For companies operating in a country, and for Governments like ours, we want to encourage a resource base that allows stability and security. An increasing number of people in our society think that tax justice is a very high priority as a moral issue. In a recent poll, 58% of people in this country want tax justice to be recognised as a moral issue. The Prime Minister himself has said that as we go into the G8 next year he wants tax justice to be an important issue. People are recognising it as an issue. The question is: what are we going to do about it?
Within Parliament, the International Development Select Committee, which is a cross-party grouping, has recently produced a report about tax resources needing to be paid in developing countries to combat poverty, promote stability and create better conditions for business. The committee makes a number of specific recommendations which highlight what we could be doing and what we could be contributing towards. The first recommendation is that we should support country-by-country accounting for greater corporate transparency. In each country, we should try to gain information about profits, the payment of tax and where money is coming from. The second recommendation is that there should be an improved exchange of tax information. Many developing countries do not currently have the civil service infrastructure to gain this information or even to ask the questions that might help them discover what is going on. As we can develop information from companies that have their headquarters here then we might have information that can help other Governments. Many developing countries have multinational companies within them that are subsidiaries of major companies based in this country and in the City of London. We would therefore be in a position, as we gain more information and transparency about the movement of money and where tax is paid, to share it with other Governments. Thirdly, besides a new country-by-country accountancy for greater corporate transparency, besides improved exchange of tax information, the committee recommends that in our own tax practices we assess as we make policy the impact they will have on developing countries.
The Government have accepted the recommendations about capacity building in developing countries to handle matters of tax better but they have yet to give a clear steer on their response to the recommendation about the exchange of information that would help developing countries better perceive the wealth that is being created and ask for a proper share of it. I have a major concern that we are developing bilateral conversations with countries such as Switzerland about exchange of tax information. That may be helpful in the short term on some fronts for us domestically but it is creating agreements from which developing countries are excluded. It therefore makes it more difficult rather than easier for developing countries to know about the wealth that is being created within them and any tax revenues they may be able to claim a share of.
I welcome the fact that in 2013, through the G8, our Government are going to take a lead in this area. I welcome the Government’s commitment to reaching the 0.7% aid target. However, I want to offer two perspectives to frame this short debate. The first is the point I made about corporate citizenship. Many subsidiaries of companies that operate and extract wealth and resources from developing countries have a base in the UK. If we develop a sense of transparency here then our corporate citizenship that these companies must be challenged to step up to must include a governmental approach to citizenship that shares that information.
My second strand comes in the form of questions to the Minister. Will the Government consider provision in UK tax policy to assist developing countries to collect the taxes that they might be due? Would a Treasury Minister be willing to meet a delegation of interested people from this House and other agencies so that we can look at the impact of our tax policies on developing countries? What concrete steps will the UK Government take to tackle secrecy and the lack of transparency which allows this huge outflow of wealth and stops countries getting the deserts that they might claim? Finally, what steps will the Government take to consult global civil society, including the churches, to gather intelligence, recognise needs and see how they can be put together?
I look forward to contributions to the debate.
My Lords, the whole of your Lordships’ House is in debt to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby for securing and launching this debate. If I follow him in telegraphic mode it is because four minutes is a tiny span given the complexity of the debate’s subject. I also welcome my noble friend the Minister to these matters, which respond well to his past experience.
The coalition Government have fundamentally changed the basis of UK tax in this area. Previously we used at least to seek to tax UK-based companies on their world-wide profits, if sometimes with variable success. Now we have moved to a territorial tax system so that only profits arising in the UK are HMRC’s target. The logic of this is not the subject of this debate but it is a salient background point. If profits arising in Africa, Latin America or elsewhere are no longer in our purview and we make no claim on them, it will cost us little to help such countries to collect the taxes owed to them and we potentially make our own aid giving more effective in the process. In this regard, justice marches hand in hand with national and international interest.
The right reverend Prelate alluded to building a tax capacity in the third world, and both DfID and HMRC do valuable work in this area. I hope we can extend this to enlarge DfID’s own tax capability. This would promote DfID reinforcing the Prime Minister’s clear intention that tax should be at the centre of his agenda for the G8 next year. In the mean time, I hope that the Minister in his wind up will give examples of current tax help that we are bestowing on developing countries.
For this intention to work, we need to ensure that we go beyond finding solutions that work for ourselves and more widely for the G8 and find solutions that work for all countries. If due and proper revenues are effectively raised by developing countries, then present desperate poverty can, in part, be assuaged to the mutual benefit of all. The G8 conference can be an opportunity for the rest of the G8 and ourselves to make a pellucid commitment to developing countries that we shall put our own houses in order to prevent our structures being used to evade tax in developing countries, and that the G8 will use its power and influence to persuade others to change as well. It is a good and honourable cause and we should be grateful to the right reverend Prelate for having raised it.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, whom I have admired for almost two decades. I am impressed by his ability to use only two of the four minutes that he was allocated and yet to have made such piercing points. I join him and others in the debate in congratulating the right reverend Prelate on securing the debate, identifying exactly the right theme in his introduction and short contribution and on asking some very pertinent questions. The timeliness of this debate is set by the discussion which is taking place loudly outside about corporate citizenship in this country and the avoidance of taxation by a number of well identified companies. Disturbingly, it would appear to be a growing list as this debate ensues.
The debate is timely also because our Government have a conjunction of opportunities in 2013 to address these and related issues. In 2013 we take the chairmanship of the G8; we are the co-chair of the Open Government Partnership; and we are, as we have debated previously, the chair of the high-level panel on post-millennium development goals. So the conjunction of these, plus G20 opportunities, creates an opportunity for multinational action that has not previously been there.
We are encouraged by the Prime Minister’s approach to this. In the Wall Street Journal on 1 November, David Cameron published an article in which he identified combating corruption—which is the overarching issue here—as part of the golden thread of conditions that enable open economies and open societies to thrive. He has in the past repeatedly emphasised the role of transparency, while he aims to lead a Government that is the most transparent and open in the world. So we have a Prime Minister and a Government who ought to be focused on these issues.
I agree entirely with all the points that the right reverend Prelate has made and have been made before, and I am sure that I will agree with many of the points that are focused on tax transparency and accountability. In the next two minutes, I will give an expansive interpretation of the Motion before us to draw the House’s attention to opportunities that lie in improving corporate social responsibility by multinational companies in the areas both of the extractive industries and in relation to corruption to expand upon these challenges.
Some 3.5 billion people live in countries rich in minerals. Very few of them are enriched by the extraction of those minerals from their countries. In the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-Corruption only last week, we were treated to an explanation of what has happened to the mineral wealth of the DRC. It has been traded for a fraction of its value to companies in our overseas territories, the beneficial ownership of which appears to be not very far away from senior politicians in those countries. There is a need for transparency in this direction and I congratulate the Government and the European Union on engaging in this and trying to bring our laws up to speed with the United States’ laws on transparency of payments to governments. I ask them to ensure that the return that we get for that investment is a proper directive which is influential all across Europe.
Again on transparency and enforcement, the Bribery Act 2010 offers an opportunity to try to interdict this sort of behaviour. If we are to do that, first, we need it to be applied to all legal persons incorporated in all of our overseas territories and crown independencies; I have already identified some of the reasons for that. The OEDC has asked us to do that; perhaps the Minister is able to indicate when we are able to do it. Secondly, we need adequate resources to enforce the Act. Thirdly, the Ministry of Justice guidance needs to be more focused on these issues. Fourthly, we need to appoint some champion in government for anti-corruption. All these things are necessary.
I want in one sentence to make one other point. None of this behaviour in the United Kingdom would be possible if it were not for the behaviour of people called “enablers”. Embarrassingly, as a lawyer in the United Kingdom, most of these people are professionals. They are lawyers, accountants, bankers and finance people. Our regulators in this area must be made accountable. When was the last time that a member of one of these professions was struck off for behaving in this way?
My Lords, I, too, thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby for initiating a very timely debate. The current debate on the payment or non-payment of corporation tax in the UK shows that it is a tax that does not work well for the UK, so it is unsurprising that it is not working well for developing countries either. We know that developing countries lose significantly more from lost tax revenue than they receive in international development aid.
In a debate on 22 October in your Lordships’ House on the Economic Affairs Committee’s report on the economic impact of development aid, I raised the claim of ActionAid that British multinationals were directing profits into tax havens from developing countries to the value of around £4 billion—or one-third of the UK’s total planned development aid budget. The Government have subsequently challenged that number. While there may be disagreement on a precise figure, there is common acceptance that the money leaving developing countries owing to tax evasion and avoidance far exceeds the amounts received in aid. In fact, the OECD has estimated that it may be up to three times higher. Christian Aid has estimated that developing countries as a whole lose some $160 billion a year in lost revenues from multinational companies.
We have a clear responsibility to help developing countries. It is not just a question of increasing our spending to 0.7% of our national income. The UN, the IMF, the World Bank and OECD all emphasise that developed countries have a responsibility to undertake spill-over analysis where changes in domestic policy may impact on developing countries. We should welcome the fact that DfID is investing in helping developing countries collect more tax revenues. I have been wondering which Whitehall department is responsible for this matter. Should DfID or the Treasury address where tax is taken? I would be very grateful for the Government’s view on where the responsibility lies between DfID and the Treasury.
I know that the Government are active internationally in promoting tax transparency and the exchange of information between jurisdictions, but I wonder if they are doing all they could in this area. For example, recent reforms to UK-controlled foreign companies rules mean that we need to assess urgently how we can better support developing countries’ tax systems. It would be helpful if the Minister could confirm what action is planned by the Government to address this.
If we want to help ourselves and developing countries alike, we should now be demanding real reform of corporation tax so that profits are paid where they are really earned, including mines and wells in the case of many developing countries. If we could find a way to allocate the profits of international companies on this basis, the money could be so much better invested.
The recent outrage in the UK will, I hope, prompt decisive action, but this action cannot be simply for rich countries. We need reform that works for all countries. If we want our aid to be effective, we cannot undermine it by allowing tax revenues to be transferred out of developing countries.
My Lords, I, too, begin by congratulating my friend and colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby on securing this debate at such a timely moment.
The 19th report of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, published only a few days ago, began:
“Transparent, predictable and fair taxation is at the core of our public finances. The Government has a responsibility to assess and collect tax due from all taxpayers, without fear or favour, and taxpayers should pay all that tax which is due”.
“The hearings we held showed that international companies are able to exploit national and international tax structures to minimise corporation tax on the economic activity they conduct in the UK. The outcome is that they do not pay their fair share”.
This is all familiar to us, but if that is true for the United Kingdom, it is even more so for developing countries.
The key issue with regard to collecting any tax—unless it is from the extraction companies, to which reference has already been made, where it may be the outcomes that we need to be looking at—is finding the profits on which it is due. You can have the best tax law in the world, but if you cannot find the profits, it is all a waste of time. That means that the first and most important job for developing countries is to identify profits that should be declared in their countries but are not.
There are three ways in which we can do this. We can call for the introduction of country-by-country reporting that requires a multinational corporation to publish a profit and loss account for each and every country in which it trades. We can also voluntarily supply to developing countries information, obtained here in the United Kingdom, on the tax affairs of multinational corporations based in this country, where that information suggests that developing countries have tax issues that they might want to raise with those companies.
Changing our disclosure of tax avoidance schemes rules to include developing countries, not just the UK, as well as potentially high-risk transactions, could greatly assist. It would enable the UK to provide valuable, targeted information to developing countries to help them to both enforce their existing laws and identify and improve their legislation, just as DOTAS has here in the UK.
Lastly, we can ensure that if in future we collect information from tax havens—as it seems that we are likely to do with the Isle of Man and, I hope, others—on who beneficially owns companies in places such as the Crown dependencies that would be of benefit to developing countries, we should send that on as well, although this should be only a stepping stone to ensuring that all countries have access to information, not just the United Kingdom and other richer countries. The United Kingdom should work proactively to ensure that jurisdictions offer developing countries the same access that they grant to the United Kingdom itself. All of this needs not only action here but, ideally, international agreement to act in this way, especially from the G8. The relationship between multinationals and developing countries is skewed by the wealth, influence and power of the former, which makes it extremely difficult for the developing countries themselves to challenge them legally or financially. We need to act to redress this balance, and improving the information is a vital step in that direction.
My Lords, I also congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby on this debate. He really has caught the spirit of the times; the spirit that, nowadays, business plans have to stand up to scrutiny socially and ethically as well as commercially and financially. Be good corporate citizens, as he put it. Not only is it reasonable to pay tax where people work, where the infrastructure and facilities are provided and the business is done; but also, avoiding the tax puts the local firms who pay their fair share of tax at a disadvantage.
It is fair to ask, “What is it to do with us?” All this happens an awfully long way away, over the water somewhere. However, it does concern us because London is the place where a lot of these tax-avoidance schemes are thought out and prepared. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford just reminded us that there is often no relationship between the consolidated accounts and the tax accounts prepared by firms here in London. Committees in both your Lordships’ House and another place have drawn this to our attention, and so did my noble friend Lord Browne. In addition, some firms that use these procedures are controlled here in London. Your Lordships’ Select Committee has also told us that many of these tax schemes are prepared and sold by the big four accountancy firms based in London—the very firms employed by the Government as consultants. Will this form part of the Chancellor’s consultation about honest tax payment being a condition of getting a government contract? For overseas companies, London is quite often a tax haven, alongside the better known ones in Alpine meadows or on islands tropical or not so tropical.
Incidentally, many of these islands are controlled by the UK. Why can we not close down these activities, which deny the Chancellor legitimate tax? Today we are getting the draft Finance Bill. I am sure that the Minister is familiar with its hundreds of pages. Can he tell us, therefore, whether the promised general anti-avoidance rule will draw a line under this activity? Will the Finance Bill have an effect, or are more up-to-date international rules needed to put a stop to this, such as the unitary tax system described by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke?
It would be a big step to get the G8 to agree to this. Meanwhile, as the right reverend Prelate said, we have to rely on morals and society; on good corporate citizenship. However, there are glad tidings. The good news is that the right reverend Prelate has an important ally, perhaps even better placed than the Prime Minister, who has referred to these activities as immoral. I speak of the Mayor of the City of London. What caught my attention when Roger Gifford became the 685th Lord Mayor of the City of London was that he went to my old school—no, Minister, it was not Eton. So I was interested to hear that he has chosen “the City in society” as the theme for his year in office. I quote him:
“Unbridled capitalism is something none of us believe in but it’s how to bridle it and yet leave room for growth, entrepreneurship and job creation”,
was how he described his task, and that is what he set out to do. I found that pretty inspiring and brave so, when he was interviewed on the “Today” programme on the day of the Lord Mayor’s show, I listened with interest. He spoke about how his efforts are to be directed towards the City reaching a newer and healthier capitalism. Truly, I wish him every success, and may part of that success be shared with the right reverend Prelate, working on his important campaign. As I have tried to point out, the Government can do a lot to help, and I hope that they will.
My Lords, like others, I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby on introducing this debate and I welcome the manner in which he did so.
I was not going to speak in this debate but I was prompted to do so because I was recalling a largely happy time in the mid to late 1990s when for a couple of years I had responsibility for leading a practice of a major accounting firm in Vietnam. We had offices in Ho Chi Min and Hanoi, and we lived in Ho Chi Min. My observations today are not meant in any way to be a criticism of those incredibly resourceful people but are an anecdotal recollection of the tax challenges of a country at an early stage of the opening of its economy to international investment.
In common with a number of countries at that stage in their development, it had no embedded concept of international accounting standards and, at best, a rudimentary set of tax rules applicable to foreign investors. Not surprisingly, there was no broad understanding of the international tax environment, or indeed of international auditing standards, and the issue of corruption, to which my noble friend and others have referred, was a challenge. In these circumstances, the need for capacity-building was paramount and continual. We certainly saw it as part of our obligation to engage in training sessions for the Ministry of Finance, but there should be a continuing government programme of secondment into the local revenue authorities and transfers and secondments out to more sophisticated regimes.
Experience on some major auditing assignments, which were funded by money from the World Bank or, in another case, the Asian Development Bank, would have been easier had the requirements to have training been more tightly prescribed. Having to have uncomfortable negotiations with a few people who wanted an international study tour, rather than several hundred of their middle-ranking people having good-quality training, was a disappointment at best.
In Vietnam, foreign investors had to be licensed. You could do business either by way of a wholly foreign-owned enterprise or a joint venture with a local partner, depending on the sector and technology transfers. Some sought an in-country presence by way of a representative office, which should have precluded them doing business there although often, sadly, it did not. The concept of aiding transparency by having separate local accounts is to be supported, although there are issues where the business is a joint venture and a local partner, possibly an arm of government, that may be less welcoming of the concept. Having a requirement to identify related party transactions in accounts is also to be strongly supported, but it is not a panacea.
Transfer pricing, or the inflated pricing of goods or services from connected companies, is a challenge the world over, and the opportunities for companies to unbundle their products, sometimes stripping out a royalty flow, is a challenge as well. The IMF points out that developing countries signing up to sophisticated OECD-type tax treaties that generally seek to lessen the tax costs on interest, royalty and dividend flows may not be in those countries’ best interests when there is a large imbalance of such flows between two territories.
Vietnam, like a number of other developing economies, has gone down the path of adopting a VAT system. It was in the process of doing this at the end of the 1990s. As a source of tax, of course, it is not reliant upon the computation of profit and the vagaries of that process. A VAT system can be supportive of exports, although it may not always be progressive. Notwithstanding that, developing countries need a profit or corporation tax also, but one which is based on clear rules and where the fuzziness of the law does not lead to tax liabilities being negotiated. The risks are obvious even for a Starbucks. Also, taxation of individuals should not be overlooked. There can be a huge differential between local wages and expat salaries. The latter are often bolstered by accommodation and tax protection packages. For some, the temptation to split contracts and park some remuneration offshore may be too great. Requiring more vigorous reporting on such arrangements opens the way for local officials to challenge this.
These are a few anecdotal comments from the coal face of a developing economy and the challenges that it faced.
My Lords, I, too, offer my congratulations to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby on the superb timing of this important debate and on his excellent introduction, with which I agreed.
In recent weeks, high-profile cases of multinationals avoiding taxes have attracted real anger, both from the public and politicians. When families and businesses are squeezed and living standards are falling, it is right that we expect everyone to pay their fair share. Corporate citizenship is a good concept. While we should not taint all businesses with the same brush—most of our businesses make a significant contribution to the UK economy—this phenomenon is not restricted to a few multinationals. According to ActionAid, of the 100 biggest FTSE companies, 98 use tax havens. This suggests that tax avoidance is a systematic feature of the way in which many large companies operate, rather than an occasional one-off.
Tax avoidance has a devastating effect on developing countries. As noble Lords have said, the OECD estimates that developing countries lose three times more to tax havens than they receive in aid. This has the effect of depriving developing countries of a much-needed, sustainable source of revenue, taking money away from essential services, restricting growth and preventing Governments investing in crucial infrastructure. Tax avoidance must be at the centre of future aid policy. Indeed, in its report published in August, the International Development Select Committee stated:
“Tax is an issue of fundamental importance for development. If developing countries are to escape from aid dependency, and from poverty more broadly, it is imperative that their revenue authorities are able to collect taxes effectively”.
An expanded tax-revenue base is one of the only ways for developing country Governments to develop a sustainable source of revenue to deliver social programmes and target poverty and inequality. Of course, as has been said, poverty and instability go hand in hand too often.
The successor to MDGs, and to the future of development must be values-led, with the goal of tackling inequality at its heart, and this must include tax avoidance. Labour in Government made progress on this issue but not enough. For example, in 2002 we launched the extractives industries transparency initiative, which has been mentioned and which promotes revenue transparency at a local level, but much more needs to be done. We pledged in our 2010 manifesto to take further action and we are now launching an anticorruption review with the Mo Ibrahim Foundation to build a strategy that will aim to deliver a strong, global anticorruption coalition.
The Finance Bill 2012 introduced a relaxation of the Government’s anti tax haven laws; the so-called controlled foreign companies rules. Under the current rules, if a UK company reports profits in countries with lower corporate tax rates than the UK, the UK Government can impose an extra tax charge on the company to make up the difference. Under the revised rules, however, the UK will only be able to impose this extra charge if the profits have been moved out of the UK. Profits moved out of a developing country and into tax havens will no longer incur the charge, providing a greater incentive for companies to shift profits into tax havens. This move was strongly criticised by a number of NGOs, as allowing multinationals to avoid paying taxes in developing countries.
In its recent report, Tax in Developing Countries: Increasing Resources for Development, the International Development Select Committee stated that the revised rules,
“will incentivise multinational corporations to shift profits into tax havens. This is likely to have a significant detrimental impact on the tax revenues of developing countries”.
The committee recommended that,
“the Government should conduct … an analysis of the likely financial impact”,
of the CFC rules on developing countries and, depending on the outcome, should consider dropping its proposals. However, the Government rejected this recommendation on the grounds that the measures were intended to benefit the UK economy and that such an assessment would not be feasible.
During the passage of the Finance Bill, Labour urged the Government to reconsider changes to the CFC rules and tabled an amendment but the Government pushed ahead—despite advice to the contrary from NGOs, the IMF, the OECD and the World Bank. Will the Government urgently review the CFC rules? Could the Minister also tell the House what the Government are doing now, following the lost opportunity of the Finance Bill, to promote responsible capitalism?
Tax avoidance is a moral and an economic issue. With the G8 and the discussion about the new MDGs, there is an excellent opportunity to bring this issue to the fore and find a global solution. I would strongly urge the Government to take heed of the wise advice given this evening and stand up for social justice and responsible capitalism, at home and abroad.
My Lords, I, too, extend my thanks to the right reverend Prelate for initiating this debate. As all noble Lords have said, the debate is at a very timely moment where this is very much in public debate. It is important that this whole debate started from the moral standpoint, because that is the key to where we can go. With moral leadership, we can make great progress.
I would just take issue on a couple of points that the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, raised. We do not recognise the figure of $160 billion; in fact, we are thinking that if it was a man called James Henry who produced that figure, perhaps he should come and help us out in the Treasury. The right reverend Prelate also made the point that some rich and some poor countries are getting poorer, but in fact a lot of poor countries are getting richer. I have seen that first-hand in Mozambique and in Angola—and in Vietnam, which has been getting much richer even if it is getting a bit poorer at the moment. It is not just the picture as he painted it.
We must not forget that multinational companies are nation builders. I look at places such as the Middle East, where great British oil companies have established themselves and helped to create a country—as they have in Nigeria—and helped to create the wealth of that country in an incredibly responsible way. I do not particularly want to be quoted on the statistics, but look at the work of Shell in Nigeria and how few people it employs there from the UK in that entire company, and how it has developed skills in the country. This must not just be a debate where we attack the multinational companies, a great many of which act morally and properly and contribute greatly to the future of a country. Yet I completely recognise, as do this Government, that tax justice is an important issue.
A number of noble Lords raised the IDC report, which was extremely measured and well thought-out. The right reverend Prelate asked about country-by-country transparency and the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange is one of the vehicles that can be used for that. The improved exchange of tax information across countries would obviously help and will be key to the co-operation required in tackling this substantial issue, which quite rightly takes favour with noble Lords. I shall pick up on a number of his points later. However, on the subject of a Treasury Minister meeting with Members of your Lordships’ House, I am not a Treasury Minister myself so I am delighted to volunteer a Treasury Minister to do that immediately, and I think that it should happen many more times than once. The right reverend Prelate’s final point about global civil society gathering together information is key. It is about corporate citizenship. I am delighted to hear the church speak in that area.
As has already been referenced, my noble friend Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville said in two minutes what most of us would take two hours to say. He asked what support DfID has given. DfID has given £20 million a year to support tax regimes throughout the world. The total is about £100 million over a five-year period. For example, it is £11 million in Sierra Leone, £8 million in Tanzania and £8 million in Rwanda. In Rwanda, because of that intervention tax take has gone up by six times, which is a significant issue. Some £21 million has gone into Afghanistan. In 2004 the tax take there was 4% and now it has gone up to 11%. It is working, it is direct action. The report by the IDC said that DfID does not have the capability within its department to understand the tax issues that are going on—many of us do not have the capability for understanding them—but with the support of the Revenue DfID has acknowledged that and is building up its capacity.
The noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, talks about the G8 and the leadership through that, and he talks about a champion. I think that there is no greater champion than our own Prime Minister, who is championing this cause and profiling it highly, and has made it a major point as the G8 chair. I am grateful that he mentioned the Bribery Act. It is one of the great selling tools for British businesses in the work that I do abroad as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy. British companies are transparent and have to be by law. This is admired by countries across the world as they seek to become transparent. In January I will go to Libya, where transparency is the main focus of everything that they do now. With that law we have shown great international leadership. I give credit to the previous Governments, which I do quite often, for bringing in that law. It has been a bedrock for the way forward for British companies.
The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, knows as much as anyone about this. He was at Procter & Gamble and part of an international business. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford echoes many of the words that are spoken by his right reverend colleague. I am delighted to see that they are in unison in showing this moral leadership.
The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, identifies a number of points. He was educated not at Eton but at a northern fee-paying school, Sedbergh, which I thought gave a decent education. Certainly my school did. I was at Shrewsbury. Like most of the country, we did not go to Eton but we could add up. A lot of my schoolmates and no doubt his went into the big four companies. In the days when we were growing up, they were where the money was to be made if you became an accountant. It is important that accountants act within the law, and I am sure that the big four do. There are penalties if they do not. They provide an incredibly important global service and are in an unrivalled position to have a perspective on that and advise government.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, for his anecdotal comments about Vietnam. These points bring everything into focus and to hear them at first hand is always interesting. What a great pleasure it is to sit opposite the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. Along with the couple of points that she made, we all look with interest to the anti-corruption review that her party is carrying out. I shall make a small political point, as she did, which is that a lot of this stuff went on under the previous Government and that, “We’re all in this together”—this is a nice opportunity to say that. Indeed, this debate shows that. It is a massive global issue.
From the UK’s point of view, we have a lot of things in place. We have the disclosure of tax avoidance schemes and the anti-abuse rules, in relation to which Mr Aaronson QC has come up with a lot of advice. We have taken a very proactive stance against Switzerland, and not before time, as many would say. We announced in the Autumn Statement that we are going very hard for British citizens who have deliberately avoided paying tax in this country. Indeed, our country is leading the way on how the tax take should be made. It is through leadership that Britain has always been so strong. From the global point of view, we announced on 4 November that we are going to co-operate with the Germans, the French and all other G20 members. We are contributing financially to support this global endeavour. The controlled foreign companies reform prevents companies unreasonably moving into lower tax regimes, which should help in this country. As I said earlier, we have the global forum on transparency and exchange of information for tax purposes, and we are very much part of the G8 financial action task force. As chair of that, we will be showing significant leadership.
I want to go back to the fundamental point that the Government are showing leadership. I congratulate my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Chancellor for taking up this issue. I am sure we would all do it. This is not a political point because everyone is behind this issue, and I thank noble Lords for their kind remarks about what we are doing. The Government are showing leadership, as they must, but I do not believe it is for the Government to talk about morals. It is for the church and Christian bodies to talk about morals, and I am therefore delighted that this debate was initiated by the bastion of moral guidance in my religion. I congratulate the right reverend Prelate on taking such a lead on this issue and on an excellent and purposeful debate.
Police (Complaints and Conduct) Bill
Committee (and remaining stages)
My Lords, I thank all those who have been engaged in putting this Bill on the fast track through your Lordships’ House and another place. It is not easy to get legislation organised in such a way. I pay tribute to those involved, and I am sure I do so on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and other noble Lords.
Committee negatived. Standing Order 46 having been dispensed with, the Bill was read a third time and passed.
Financial Services Bill
Returned from the Commons
The Bill was returned from the Commons with the Lords amendments agreed to.
House adjourned at 7.43 pm.