House of Commons
Wednesday 27 April 2016
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—
1. What steps he is taking to increase democratic participation. (904712)
Some elements of participation, such as polling day turnout, lie far beyond the powers of mere Government and depend on the importance of the poll and the brilliance or otherwise of the campaigns. However, Governments can help things such as voter registration, where we are about to begin canvassing pilots to make the registration process quicker, cheaper, and more digital. We are also working with groups such as the British Youth Council, Operation Black Vote and Universities UK to encourage under-registered groups to sign up, and partnering with our embassies abroad and the Electoral Commission to run registration drives in the run-up to the polls on 5 May and 23 June.
I am grateful for the Minister’s answer. Nevertheless, in the week before the Scottish Parliament elections and the elections to the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly, this Government have overseen the disenfranchisement of over 770,000 people by the introduction of self-assessment in terms of the registration process. How can this Government hold their head up and say that they are increasing participation?
The registers are being reduced by the entries of people who have moved house or who have died and are not therefore likely to turn up and vote. There is, however, a parallel problem of the missing millions of people who have never been on the register and need to be found. We cannot cross them off because they are not on it, but we all collectively, on a cross-party basis, need to get out there and sign these people up. If the hon. Gentleman wants to join in a cross-party deputation to do so, I would be only too delighted to help.
Does my hon. Friend agree that equally important as ensuring that those who are entitled to vote are able to vote is making sure that genuine candidates are not disenfranchised by people who get on to the electoral register who ought not to be on there because they are there through fraud?
Absolutely. It is crucial that we have a register that is both complete and accurate. I therefore look forward with great anticipation to the report on electoral fraud by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir Eric Pickles), where I am sure he will cover this, among other things.
We are taking a number of different approaches. First, we are working with Universities UK and the Association of Colleges. A great deal of work is being done in universities themselves. We are also examining very closely the work that is being done in places such as Sheffield University to sign up students when they first arrive and enrol. We are doing a great deal, but there is probably more as well.
I congratulate the Government on driving up democratic participation in the EU referendum by publishing their leaflet, which I understand is up for the Pulitzer prize for the best work of fiction. Does the Minister agree that that is driving more people to take part in the EU referendum because they are so cross and want to leave?
I am glad that my hon. Friend enjoyed the read. I point out to him that some 85% of the population say that they want to hear more about the issues from the Government. If that serves to drive up participation among either remainers or leavers, then I am sure that both he and I will be pleased.
There is much concern about the Government’s new proposals for public appointments in that they might decrease social mobility. Sir David Normington has gone so far as to say:
“Grimstone’s proposals would enable ministers to set their own rules; override those rules whenever they want; appoint their own selection panels; get preferential treatment for favoured candidates; ignore the panel’s advice if they don’t like it; and appoint someone considered by the panel as not up to the job.”
Would the Minister like to answer that?
I appreciate the Minister’s answer to my creative question. I do not believe everything that I read in the papers, but this week it was revealed that the Culture Secretary had recommended five candidates for the position of trustee at the National Portrait Gallery. Three were Tory donors and one was a former Tory Minister. Is that a way of improving democratic participation for Tory cronies?
National Citizen Service
We have ambitious plans to make NCS a rite of passage for young people. We have committed more than £1 billion to grow the programme to reach the majority of 16-year-olds by 2021 and we would like NCS to benefit every young person, regardless of where they live in the United Kingdom. It is therefore extremely disappointing that there is currently no NCS programme in Scotland or Wales, despite the generous funding made available through the autumn spending review.
Last summer, I was invited to a highly successful lunch event for veterans and others organised by a group of young people through the NCS scheme. This year, those on that scheme are running a social action project, which involves creating a sensory garden for young adults with learning difficulties. Does the Minister agree that the skills learnt through the programme—confidence building and teamwork—are making a real difference to young people in getting them into work and closing our skills gap?
Indeed. It is absolutely true that NCS is creating a generation of more responsible and engaged young people. The skills that NCS participants in Taunton are developing are echoed widely around England and Northern Ireland. Indeed, 90% of participants say that NCS helps them develop key skills for the future. UCAS now recognises NCS, and taking part is becoming a sought-after addition to any young person’s CV.
The Minister will know that I am a great supporter of NCS, but is it not underfunded? At the moment, we must be honest and admit that it reaches mostly into more affluent communities and not those with kids from poorer backgrounds. That is the truth and the Minister should do something about it.
Two hundred thousand young people have been through the NCS programme so far and we are aiming to increase that number significantly by 2020. We have made £1 billion available to do that. We are doing extremely well on diversity: 21% of NCS participants are eligible for free school meals compared with the national average of 8%, and 27% of participants are from non-white backgrounds, compared with 19% throughout the country. We are therefore doing better than the national average.
4. I am very grateful. The Minister is right that NCS is proving invaluable for young people across the country. In Dorset, there was recently a successful scheme called “From yard to garden” about replanting trees. I would be grateful if the Minister gave advice and guidance to Members of all parties about how they can get more involved in that excellent programme. (904717)
I know that my hon. Friend is doing all he can to support the NCS in his constituency. Every Member can help by visiting a local NCS programme to raise awareness and ensuring that local schools and colleges encourage students to participate. The Secretary of State for Education and I will shortly write to all Members to highlight how everyone can make a contribution to NCS.
Last summer, I visited an NCS scheme in Dukinfield in my constituency and I was hugely impressed by the work with young people, but many of those young people raised with me the wider cuts to youth services. Has the Minister conducted an impact assessment on how those cuts have affected the aims, ambitions and objectives of the NCS programme?
That question gives me the opportunity to say how disappointed I am that local authorities choose to make cuts in their service provision. We are investing more than £1 billion in NCS in this Parliament and the overwhelming majority of that funding will flow through delivery organisations, most of which are public or VCSE—voluntary, community and social enterprise—organisations. Beyond that, we are also investing more widely in the youth sector through programmes such as Step Up To Serve and the British Youth Council, and supporting local authorities to reshape their youth provision.
10. The Minister gave a statistic in response to the question asked by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), but what steps is he taking to encourage NCS participation by young people from a black and minority ethnic background? (904723)
I thank my hon. Friend for asking about the participation targets. It is really important that every young person—every 16-year-old—gets the opportunity to take part in NCS, because the programme not only creates a more cohesive society and adds to social mobility and social engagement, but delivers value for money. The statistics that I cited earlier show that it is a programme of which we, the Government and the whole country can be very proud.
Government Grant Agreements
As set out earlier this month, we are continuing to work on this issue with charities, universities and others. The principle is clear: taxpayers’ money should not be wasted on Government lobbying Government.
Will the Minister not admit that this policy is a mess? The Government have been forced into a U-turn by research scientists, so the clause will not apply to them. Will he undertake urgently to review the operation of the entire clause and, at the very least, commit to an ongoing review so that we can be sure that the freedom of speech of charities and other organisations is not undermined?
As we have said, we are reviewing representations and we will take a decision on the form of the clause. We are pausing on implementation, but we are committed to ensuring that taxpayers’ money is used for the good causes for which it is intended and not wasted on Government lobbying Government.
Six years after the Government promised to crack down on lobbyists, the big corporate lobbyists are free to lobby, in secret and anonymously, but the worthy charities are having their lives made a misery by new bureaucracy. Why do the Government consistently dabble in the shallows, worrying the minnows, while the big, fat salmon swim by unhindered?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that when our constituents give money to charity, they expect it to be used directly to help those disadvantaged people whom the charity claims to help, and that if they wanted it to be used for political lobbying, they would have made a donation to a political party?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that when people donate money, they want that money to be spent on the services provided by the charity, and that most people in this country would be shocked at the amount of money spent on administration and lobbying?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, which is that charities play an enormous role in alleviating suffering, improving good causes and strengthening our communities. Let us make sure that when money is donated to a charity—as it is by many of us, possibly everyone, in this House and many people around the country—it is spent on the good causes for which it is intended.
The Government have succeeded in uniting the entire British voluntary sector against them, including household names such as the girl guides, Mencap and Oxfam. Indeed, their actions in trying to suppress debate and discussion are reminiscent of a totalitarian political culture. If voluntary organisations come across systemic child abuse or practices such as female genital mutilation, are you really saying that they should remain silent and not seek to influence Government, when a change in the law could outlaw such practices?
A leading board member of the Charity Commission has written an essay calling for the UK to leave the EU. That comes after the Charity Commission tried to clamp down on charities engaging in the EU debate. Is the Minister able to explain why the Charity Commission rule on campaigning appears to be, “Do as I say, not as I do”? I welcomed his clarification that charity voices should and could be heard on the issues that affect them, but it flies in the face of the Charity Commission’s recent gagging clauses. Will the Minister confirm that charities are now allowed to speak out, but only if they agree with him?
My hon. Friend will remember that in the last Parliament we held the alternative vote referendum, in which this country resoundingly rejected a proposal to abandon our tried and tested first-past-the-post system in favour of an alternative. I believe that we should respect that result and the clear democratic decision that it represents, and therefore we have no plans to change the voting system.
Given that the British people voted overwhelmingly for first past the post, does my hon. Friend agree that, as with all referendums, the vote is final and settled, and that the Government are absolutely right to push ahead with delivering their vital manifesto commitments?
Are the Government looking seriously at how the understandable security challenges of online voting might be overcome so that future generations of young people can vote online in this country safely and securely, thereby increasing voter registration and participation?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that online activity is an increasing part of our everyday lives, whether it be shopping or anything else. As technology improves and online voting becomes steadily more secure, it is something that we will need to continue to revisit. At the moment, the prospect of potentially stealing the Government of a country is too grave to allow online voting to happen.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for his work in the House on social mobility. In our mission to increase social mobility, we are working with a number of leading businesses and organisations on our plans to improve life chances across the nations. That includes the civil service pushing ahead with the delivery of more than 30,000 of the overall 3 million apprenticeship starts by 2020, introducing name-blind recruitment and leading the development of new national common measures of socioeconomic diversity for employers.
My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that we are accepting every part of the recommendations of the Bridge report. He will know that we are the party of the ladder, the party of social mobility, the party of the living wage, the party of lower taxes for low earners and the party of millions of apprenticeships and millions of jobs.
The Cabinet Office is responsible for efficiency in reforming Government, transparency, civil society, digital technology, cyber-security and delivering the Government’s agenda.
I commend my right hon. Friend for releasing vast amounts of Government data, which will improve transparency across Government. What further action can he take to ensure that performance improves, transparency is available to the general public and data are in a manageable form so that people can analyse them?
My hon. Friend is right that this is not only about releasing more information, but about releasing it in a way that is usable. I can announce to the House that since 2010 the Government have released 27,000 open datasets—a new high—which goes to show that we are the most transparent Government ever.
T3. British troops served fewer years in Iraq than during the first and second world wars, and the first and second world wars did not take as long as it has taken to publish the Chilcot report. Will the Minister make an apology to my constituent Pat Long, whose son was killed in the Iraq war, for these unforgivable delays, and also give a commitment to her and other families that they will see the embargoed report, rather than getting the news—inevitably there will be bad news—second hand? (904704)
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern and the concern of his constituents. He will know that the timing of the publication is a matter for the independent inquiry, which has set out a timetable. Checking for national security issues is very important, and will take place appropriately. Thankfully, we will get to the conclusion of this process soon.
T2. The Government need to keep up with the digital revolution, and I applaud the Minister’s efforts to ensure that that is being done. Does he agree that as more interaction between citizens and Government takes place online, cyber-security must keep pace with that increase? (904703)
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right that cyber-security is increasingly important not just for communications between citizen and Government, but in a wide range of businesses. That is why we have laid aside £1.9 billion to improve our cyber-security during this Parliament, and why we are creating a new national cyber-security centre.
T5. We heard earlier about the anti-lobbying clause that the Minister for the Cabinet Office is determined to introduce in a drive to clean up politics. The Lobbying (Scotland) Act 2016 covers the lobbying of MSPs. Does he have any plans to expand the scope of the register of consultant lobbyists to cover the lobbying of MPs? (904706)
We brought in the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 and made progress on this issue during the last Parliament. The crucial point about tackling lobbying through grants is that taxpayers’ money should be spent on the things it is intended for, not on Government lobbying Government.
T4. The FIFA corruption scandal and other corruption scandals around the world have shown the need for a more integrated and international approach to tackling corruption. Will the Minister push for such an approach at the Government’s anti-corruption summit next month? (904705)
In short, yes. That is of course part of the global development goals, which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister led the world in establishing. One of the targets within those goals is precisely to reduce that kind of corruption, and we will emphasise that in our work to fulfil our part of those targets.
T7. What steps has the Minister taken to make Government colleagues aware of the disastrous impact that the Trade Union Bill will have on industrial relations with civil servants? (904708)
The Trade Union Bill, which is currently before Parliament, takes important steps to modernise the relationship between trade unions and their members. Although trade unions play a very important part in our national life and represent the interests of many, they do not represent the interests of all, and we must make sure that that relationship is modern and appropriate. [Interruption.]
T6. To return to individual electoral registration and the question from the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes), will the Minister give further assurances that all steps are being taken to reach harder-to-reach groups, such as private renters, of which there are very many in my constituency of Eastbourne? (904707)
Yes, indeed. We are determined to reach out to a new set of potential electors who have failed to register, as the Minister for constitutional reform, my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), made clear earlier in our proceedings. I should tell my hon. Friend that every single person whose name appeared in the old register but who has been discounted under individual electoral registration would have been approached at least nine times before their name was removed.
T9. When I used to work for a charity, I was often called by the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government to give expert advice, on one occasion to a very anxious Minister just before a sitting of the Home Affairs Committee. Under the new anti-advocacy clause, will charity specialists continue to be able to help the Government, or will the new rule apply only when it suits the Government, rather than when it suits the public? (904710)
Of course charities will be able to contribute to debate. They will be able to advise and researchers will be able to bring forward their world-beating ideas, but as for the idea, supported by the Labour party, that taxpayers’ money should be used for paid lobbyists, we are going to put a stop to that.
T8. I welcome the Government’s commitment to improving social mobility in the civil service. Will the Minister join me in encouraging more private sector employers to do the same—for example, through schemes such as Inspiring the Future? (904709)
I strongly endorse that approach, Mr Speaker. If you or any other Member have not already got involved in an Inspiring the Future event, I would encourage you to do so. Not only is it good for the country but it is an incredibly enjoyable way to spend some time.
From Cabinet Office figures, 67% of people in the senior civil service were based in London last year, the highest proportion in the past five years. Given that, and the decision to close the office of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in Sheffield, does the Minister not accept that his policy of moving civil servants out of London and into the regions is failing?
We are introducing regional hubs for the civil service. Of course, many UK civil servants work in Scotland, supporting the people in Scotland. Inevitably there are a large number of civil servants in London because this is the capital of the United Kingdom, but we have to make sure that they represent the country that they serve.
We know that special advisers are required to submit their emails and telephone texts to public view under freedom of information legislation. What is the Government’s policy on the use of WhatsApp, which special advisers are using to conceal Government business from public view?
I hesitate to admit to my hon. Friend that I have never personally used WhatsApp in my life. I am happy to reassure him that all aspects of Government business are properly recorded and minuted, and are subject to FOI requests as normal, despite the rumours that he has heard.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Yesterday marked a momentous day for the family and friends of the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster. Over the last 27 years their search for justice has been met with obfuscation and hostility instead of sympathy and answers. As I said to the House in 2012 about the Hillsborough independent panel’s report, it is wrong that the families had to wait for so long, and to fight so hard, just to get to the truth. I know that the whole House will want to join me in praising their courage, patience and resolve. They have never faltered in the pursuit of the truth and we all owe them a great debt of gratitude.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and, in addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I would very much like to associate myself with the Prime Minister’s important comments on the Hillsborough tragedy, along with Members on all sides of the House, and pay tribute to the victims and their families, and to the resilience of the campaigners who continue to strive for the truth in the pursuit of justice.
In my constituency of Eastleigh, the service that GPs provide is crucial to people’s daily lives, including at St Luke’s surgery in Botley—I have met the people at that surgery to highlight its important local value. Does the Prime Minister agree that the recent key announcement of £2.4 billion of funding for GPs is only possible because of a strong Conservative majority Government?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We made a choice to put £12 billion into the NHS in the last Parliament and £19 billion into the NHS in this Parliament. We want to see strengthened primary care. Our vision is of GPs coming together and having physiotherapists, mental health practitioners and other clinics in their surgeries, so that people can get the healthcare they need and we take the pressure off hospitals. That will only happen with a Government who keep investing in our NHS.
Yesterday, after 27 years, the 96 people who tragically lost their lives at Hillsborough, and their families, finally received the justice they were entitled to. I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister has apologised for the actions of previous Governments, and I join him in paying tribute to all those families who have campaigned with such dignity, steadfastness and determination, to get to the truth of what happened to their loved ones on that dreadful afternoon. I also pay a warm tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram), for Halton (Derek Twigg) and for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) and other MPs who have relentlessly campaigned with great difficulty over many years. I hope that the whole House will be united in demanding that all those involved in the lies, smears and cover-ups that have so bedevilled this whole inquiry will now be held to account.
Last week the Prime Minister told the House that he was going to put rocket boosters on his forced academisation proposals. This weekend, in the light of widespread unease—including among his own MPs—it seems that the wheels are falling off the rocket boosters, and that the Government are considering a U-turn. Will the Prime Minister confirm whether that U-turn is being prepared for or not?
Let me join the right hon. Gentleman in praising those who campaigned so hard and for so long to get justice for the victims of Hillsborough. This whole process took far too long, and it is right that we had the Jones report—I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham)—and responded to it. I also want to mention the former Attorney General, who took the case to the High Court for the Government himself, to argue for that vital second inquest.
On academies, I have not yet met a rocket booster with a wheel on it, but rocket science is not really my subject, and apparently it is not the right hon. Gentleman’s. I repeat: academies are raising standards in our schools, and I want a system where heads and teachers run schools, not bureaucrats.
Well, there wasn’t much of an answer there. Will the Prime Minister tell the House—[Interruption.] If Conservative Members would be patient, they might hear the simple question that I am putting to the Prime Minister. Will he tell the House whether he will bring forward legislation to force good and outstanding schools to become academies against their wishes in the upcoming Queen’s Speech? Yes or no?
We look forward to that, but there is still time for the U-turn that I am sure is at the back of the Prime Minister’s mind. It has been reported that the Government are considering allowing good local authorities to form multi-academy trusts. Ironically, that would give local authorities more responsibility for running schools than they have now, although the Prime Minister has previously suggested that local authorities are holding schools back. Why is this costly reorganisation necessary for schools that are already good or outstanding? Why is he forcing it on them?
As I said last week—this is good; I like repeats on television, and I am very happy to have them in the House as well—outstanding schools have nothing to fear from becoming academies, and indeed they have a lot to gain. Just because a school is outstanding or good does not mean that it cannot have further improvement. We want outstanding schools to help other schools in their area, often by being part of an academy trust. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned local authorities—[Interruption.] He has asked two questions so far, with two very clear answers. Third question, and third clear answer coming—[Interruption.] Simmer down. Perhaps if he could deal with the anti-Semites in his party, we would all be prepared to listen to him a bit more—perhaps we will come on to that.
Of course, there are lots of ways in which schools can become academies: they can convert and become academies; they can be sponsored by an outside organisation; they can work with other schools in the area; they can look at working with the local authority. Those schools that want to go on using local authority services are free to do so. I am very clear: academies are great and academies for all is a good policy. What we are now seeing from Labour, I sense, is that it is moving in favour of academy schools. Perhaps when the right hon. Gentleman gets to his feet, he can say: does he favour academies or not?
The Prime Minister will be aware that repeats on television sometimes get more viewers than they did the first time round.
The chief executive of the largest academy chain in London, the Harris Academy, has warned that a far more fundamental thing that the Prime Minister should be worrying about, rather than whether schools should become academies or not, is teacher shortages. The academies do not want this; parents do not want it; teachers do not want it; governors do not want it; Conservative councils and MPs do not want it. Who actually does want this top-down reorganisation that he is imposing on our education system?
Okay. Question 4, answer 4: here it comes. The right hon. Gentleman asks who wants this. Let us start with Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools. I think he is someone worth listening to. He said that
“academisation can lead to rapid improvements…I”
“believe it is right to give more autonomy to the front line”.
The OECD has been in the news today, so let us try that. This should not be too controversial. The OECD states:
“I view the trend towards academies as a very promising development in the UK, which used to have a rather prescriptive education system”.
So it supports it. What about the endless academy trusts who support it?
The right hon. Gentleman asked another question, and, very keen for full answers—[Interruption.] If you shout, you will not hear the answer. He asked about teacher shortages, but the fact is that there are more school places and more teachers under this Government than there were under Labour. Why? Because we have got a successful economy, and we are putting it into our schools and our children’s future.
There are, of course, still record numbers of children in over-sized and super-sized classes, and that is getting worse. If the Prime Minister is looking for support for his academisation proposal, he might care to phone his friends, the leaders of Hampshire, West Sussex and his own Oxfordshire county council, who are deeply concerned and opposed to it. He might care to listen to Councillor Carter, the Conservative chair of the County Councils Network, who said that
“the change will lead to a poorer education system”.
Why, then, is the Prime Minister pushing this through with so much opposition and concern, and when it is such a waste of money, when we should be investing in teachers and schools, not top-down reorganisation?
I am glad the right hon. Gentleman is quoting Conservative council leaders, and because they keep the council tax down and provide good services, I hope we will see more of them in 10 days’ time. To be clear on teacher supply, there are 13,000 more teachers than there were in 2010.
To give a wholly accurate answer to his fourth question, the right hon. Gentleman asked who else supports academies. Let me quote Helena Mills of the Burnt Mill Academy Trust. She said:
“I used to be very sceptical about, and resistant to, academy status. But during the process of developing the…Academy…I have been increasingly convinced that”
“is the way forward.”
That is what more and more people are saying. That is why 1.3 million more children are in good and outstanding schools. That is why almost nine out of 10 converter academies are good or outstanding schools. On this side of the House we are very clear: we back aspiration; we back opportunity; we back investment in our schools; we want every child to get the best. It is Labour that wants to hold back opportunity and have one-size-fits-all.
A pattern seems to be developing. [Interruption.] It is quite simply this: the Prime Minister has a Health Secretary who is imposing a contract on junior doctors, against the wishes of patients, the public and the rest of the medical profession; and he has an Education Secretary who is imposing yet another Tory top-down reorganisation that nobody wants. When will his Government show some respect and listen to the public, parents and patients, and indeed to professionals who have given their lives to public service in education and health? When will he change his ways, listen to them and trust other people to run services, rather than imposing things from above?
I tell right hon. Gentleman the pattern that is developing: we can see 1.9 million more people being treated in our health service; and we can see 1.3 million more children in “good” or “outstanding” schools. That is the pattern that is developing: a strong economy, investing into our public services. The other pattern that I have noticed, standing at this Dispatch Box, is that I am on my fifth Labour leader—and if he carries on like this, I will soon be on my sixth.
Q2. The Government package to help potential buyers of the Tata Steel site in Port Talbot is substantial and befits the tremendous bipartisan endeavours this Government have undertaken to save the industry, and it stands in stark contrast with the distasteful, disrespectful comments of Labour’s policy adviser, who said that the steel crisis had been “good for Labour”. Is there any indication that the package could help expedite the sale of the site, which could provide the long-term viable future for Welsh steel, which we all hope for, and for the workers who live in my constituency of Gower?
I want to thank my hon. Friend for welcoming me to the Gower yesterday. Before coming to his constituency I visited Port Talbot, where I met the management and trade unions, and had a very constructive discussion. [Interruption.] I did actually meet the Conservative leader, Andrew R. T. Davies, who does an excellent job in the Welsh Assembly. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) wants to be Speaker, he had better stop interrupting everybody, as it is not going to get him any votes—a little tip for him there. But the serious point is about the areas where we could help. We could help on power, on procurement and on the issue of pensions. There is a very constructive conversation going on, but I say again from this Dispatch Box that although I want to do everything we can to secure the future for not only Port Talbot but for Scunthorpe and for steelmaking in Britain we are coping with a massive oversupply from China and a collapse in prices. We must therefore do all we can. There is no guarantee of success, but if we work hard and get a proper sales process and get behind it on a bipartisan basis we can see success here.
Following the Hillsborough inquiry, we join in all the comments made so far in relation to the families and in paying tribute to all the campaigners for justice.
Last night, the Government were defeated for the second time in the House of Lords on the issue of refugee children being given refuge in the United Kingdom. Many Members of that House, like many Members of this one, in all parties, including on the Prime Minister’s own side, would wish us to do much, much more in helping provide refuge for unaccompanied children in Europe. Will the Prime Minister please reconsider his opposition and stop walking by on the other side?
I do not think anyone can accuse this country of walking on by in this refugee crisis. Let us be very clear about what we have done: first, we are taking the 20,000 refugees from outside Europe, which I think has all-party support; secondly, last week we announced the further 3,000—principally unaccompanied children and children at risk from outside Europe—whom we will be taking; and, thirdly, under our normal refugee procedures, last year we took more than 3,000 unaccompanied children. But where I disagree, respectfully, with their lordships’ House is that those people who are in European countries are in safe European countries. To compare—somehow—children or adults who are in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal or Greece with children stuck in Nazi Germany is deeply wrong, and we will continue our approach, which includes being the second largest donor country anywhere in the world in those refugee camps.
Europol estimates that 10,000 unaccompanied children in Europe have disappeared. This is an existential question about the safety of vulnerable children. The Prime Minister thinks that it is not the responsibility of the United Kingdom to help unaccompanied children in Europe, so I ask him: who has the moral responsibility for feeding them, clothing them, educating them and giving them refuge, if not us, and everyone in Europe?
Let me answer that very directly. First, any unaccompanied child who has direct family in Britain, on claiming asylum under the Dublin regulations, can come to Britain—and quite right too. But the right hon. Gentleman asked who was responsible for refugees. The answer to that question is the country the refugees are in. I want Britain to play our part, but we have to ask ourselves whether we do better by taking a child from a refugee camp, or taking a child from Lebanon, or taking a child from Jordan, than by taking a child from France, Italy or Germany. As I have said, to compare this with the 1930s is, frankly, to insult those countries, which are our neighbours and partners.
Q3. ATP Industries Group, which is based in Cannock Wood, is one of Europe’s largest independent remanufacturers of automated transmission and vehicle electronics. Last week, it was given a Queen’s Award for innovation. It exports goods across the globe, and its international trade increased by more than 50% last year. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating ATP, and will he tell us what the Government are doing to help exporters to reach new markets? (904689)
I certainly join my hon. Friend in congratulating ATP. It is very difficult to win a Queen’s Award for exports, so it does deserve praise. What we want to see in our country is this. We currently have one in five small and medium-sized enterprises that export, and if we could make it one in four, we would wipe out our trade deficit. We are encouraging that through the work of UK Trade & Investment, but, as I saw yesterday in south Wales, we are also encouraging it by encouraging reshoring: by encouraging the supply and components industries—including those that supply the automotive industry—to come back onshore and invest in Britain.
Q6. In my constituency, the Zielsdorfs have lived and raised their family in the small village of Laggan for many years. Despite their full co-operation, they face an uphill and fruitless battle with the Home Office. They have had their driving licences revoked, and they are being forced out of the community that they have served, and in which they have invested, by a technicality involving their business—the local shop. Will the Prime Minister look into this grossly unfair situation, and work with me to achieve justice for the family? (904692)
Q4. As the Prime Minister will know from getting stuck on his way into Bath just before the general election last year, my constituency is plagued by high air pollution levels and by congestion. Given the Government’s commitment to investing billions of pounds in infrastructure—something that the Labour Government failed to do in 13 years—will he consider committing himself to looking at the construction of the long overdue and much-needed missing A36/A46 link road to the east of my constituency? (904690)
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Some people think that if we care about air quality there is no room for any road building, but, of course, stationary traffic pollutes much more than moving traffic. We must make sure that the arteries that serve all our constituencies are open, and I will look carefully at what my hon. Friend has said. However, we should also recognise that air quality is improving. Nitrogen oxide levels have fallen by 17% over the last four years, and we want to do more by introducing the clean air programme.
Q11. With the United Kingdom facing its most momentous decision for a generation in eight weeks’ time, does the Prime Minister think it makes more sense to listen to all our closest friends and allies around the world, or to a combination of French fascists, Nigel Farage and Vladimir Putin? (904697)
I am glad the right hon. Gentleman takes the English pronunciation of Farage, rather than the poncey, foreign-sounding one that he seems to prefer—a thoroughly good thing. I think we should listen to our friends and our allies. Looking around the world, it is hard to find the leader of a country who wishes us well who wants us to do other than stay inside a reformed European Union.
Q5. The new ISAs announced in this year’s Budget are very welcome. They will help people to save for homes and for retirement. As my right hon. Friend will have seen in this morning’s City AM, hidden fees can strip as much as a third off the gains a pension could make over a lifetime. What are the Government doing to ensure that firms investing people’s hard-earned savings reveal all the fees they charge, so that people know exactly what they will pay and can choose the investment that is best for them? (904691)
My hon. Friend has fought a long campaign on this—and rightly so. One of the things that sap people’s enthusiasm for investing in savings products is a sense that they do not understand the fees and charges, and do not know how much they will get. Since last April, we have ensured that trustees of defined contribution pension schemes report charges levied on members. The Financial Conduct Authority is committed to making regulations with us during this Parliament to require the publication of more costs and charges. We have given ourselves the legal duty to do so, but I am sure he will push us all the way to make sure it happens.
Q12. The Prime Minister and his Government did next to nothing to save the Scottish steel industry; it was left to the Scottish Government to do that. The UK Government are now breaking the promises made by Tories and Labour to protect the Scottish shipbuilding industry. Why does the Prime Minister think that Scottish jobs are so expendable? (904699)
Frankly, the Scottish Government and the UK Government should work together. One thing we should work together on is procurement. It is worth asking how much Scottish steel was in the Forth road bridge—zero! None! Absolutely nothing! Yes. What a contrast with the warships we are building, which of course we would not be building if we had an independent Scotland. We back the steel industry with actions as well as words. [Interruption.]
Q7. Hatred and ignorance lie at the heart of anti-Semitism. When those in public life express such views they denigrate not only themselves but the institutions to which they belong. Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House of his commitment to fighting this vicious form of prejudice?
It is very simple: anti-Semitism is effectively racism, and we should call it out and fight it wherever we see it. Frankly, the fact that a Labour Member of Parliament, with the Labour Whip, made remarks about the “transportation” of people from Israel to America, talked about a “solution” and is still in receipt of the Labour Whip is quite extraordinary. The shadow Chancellor said about these people:
“Out, out, out. If people express these views: full stop they’re out. People might be able to reform their views and the rest of it. On this? I can’t see it…I’m not having it. People might say ‘I’ve changed my views’ – well, do something in another organisation.”
Frankly, there will be too many hours in the day before that happens to the MP in question.
Q13. My constituent Joseph Brown-Lartey was killed at the age of 25 by an 18-year-old driving a hire car without a licence at 80 mph in a 30-mph zone. The 18-year-old was convicted of causing death by dangerous driving and received a sentence of just six years, of which he will probably serve three. Two weeks ago, I, along with Joseph’s family, delivered a 20,000 signature petition calling for tougher sentences for causing death by dangerous driving. Does the Prime Minister agree that sentences for these crimes are too lenient? When can we expect to get a response to our petition and get justice for Joseph? (904700)
I have every sympathy with the family in question. I had an almost identical case in my constituency where a young girl was killed by a dangerous driver. The maximum sentence is 14 years, so the courts do have the ability to sentence longer, but I know what this means to the families. I am making sure that the roads Minister is looking again at all these issues relating to dangerous driving, and I will ensure that the case that the hon. Lady mentions is taken into account as well.
Q8. As the birthplace of the industrial revolution, Dudley is proud of its heritage, but we need economic stability to deliver a prosperous future. Will the Prime Minister come to launch the new enterprise zone in Brierley Hill and look at how we can attract more investment, create new jobs and develop the highly skilled workforce that our community needs? (904694)
I will look very carefully at whether I am able to do that, because we support the industrial regeneration of the black country. The truth is that enterprise zones have been a success. They have created nearly 25,000 jobs, attracted over 630 companies and secured £2.4 billion of private sector investment. The delivery of enterprise zones has involved a lot of hard work by local authorities. I pay tribute to them, and I wish my hon. Friend well in the black country.
Q14. Given the strategic and economic importance of the M62 corridor to the northern powerhouse, will the Prime Minister give me and the people of Bradford his commitment to the electrification of the Calder Valley line and lend his support to the great city of Bradford being a fundamental part of the proposed northern powerhouse rail network? (904701)
Q9. In Cumbria, nuclear matters. We have the nuclear legacy at Sellafield, defence work at Barrow and the prospect of serious investment in a new nuclear plant at Moorside. Given the apparent opposition to nuclear from the Opposition, will the Prime Minister confirm that the long-term decisions for nuclear power and defence will be made in a timely manner? (904695)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that Cumbria depends to a large extent on jobs from the industries he mentions. We continue to invest in reprocessing procedures at Sellafield. As he knows, we are also looking at redeveloping our commercial nuclear industry, starting with the vital decisions at Hinkley Point, which could then have great benefits for other areas that want nuclear power stations. Barrow is home to the development of our nuclear submarines and we will hold a vote in this House to make sure that we renew Trident in full.
The Prime Minister has just suggested that child refugees who are alone in Europe are safe. Children’s homes are full in Italy and Greece, and more than 1,000 children will sleep rough alone tonight in Greece. How are they safe? Ten thousand children have disappeared in Europe. How are they safe? The agencies say that children are committing survival sex and that they are being abused and subjected to prostitution and rape. It is not insulting to other European countries to offer to help: they want us to help. So will he reconsider his position on Alf Dubs’s amendment before it comes back for a vote, and will he stop, through his attitude to lone child refugees, putting this House and this country to shame?
The right hon. Lady asks whether we are helping other European countries, and we are, not least with the £10 million we recently announced. The crucial point is this: how do we in Britain best help child refugees? We think that we help them by taking them from the refugee camps, taking them from Lebanon, taking them from Jordan and taking them when they come to this country. That is what we are doing. We have a proud record and nothing to be ashamed of.
Q10. Several small businesses that I met in Tadcaster last week are being treated appallingly by insurance companies. Four months after the floods, claims have not been settled and renewal premiums are being hiked to astronomical levels. The Government have rightly helped to introduce the Flood Re scheme to help homeowners after flooding, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the same protection should be given to small business owners too? (904696)
I recognise the problem that my hon. Friend lays out. When my constituency was badly flooded, some insurance companies paid out quickly, but others were not so fast. When we look at what happened during the winter, we see that 82% of claims have been paid out, but if colleagues have specific examples the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be interested to see them so that we can get on top of the insurance industry. We are looking specifically at whether we need a Flood Re-style approach for small businesses to ensure that they can get the insurance they need.
Three years ago, my mother fell seriously ill while on holiday in France. Thanks to the French health service, she received excellent treatment and was unfortunately diagnosed with cancer, but she is doing well today thanks to our NHS. Millions of Brits travel to other EU countries every year and benefit, like my mum, from the European health insurance card. What would happen to the card should we vote to leave on 23 June?
May I, on behalf of the whole House, wish the hon. Lady’s mother well in her treatment from the NHS? The hon. Lady raises the important point that this is one of the benefits we now have. Many of us will have used it ourselves or with our own children, and think we can make the system even better as we are. It is for those who want to leave the European Union to explain whether, if we were to leave, we would still be able to access this and other such systems, which are very handy for people when going about their holidays.
Whatever the outcome of the EU referendum, does the Prime Minister agree that one thing that will never diminish is the mutual affection and admiration between Britain and our great ally, France? Given that connection, will he pay tribute to the people who fought and won the Normandy campaign, such as the late Captain Paul Cash, the father of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), who was killed fighting in Normandy at the age of 26 having won the Military Cross, and Sergeant Peter Carne, who, at 93, is at Westminster today, and who built the Bailey bridges that enabled the breakout from the Normandy beachhead and will receive the Légion d’honneur in a typically generous gesture from our French allies?
I certainly join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to all those who served, particularly those who fell in that heroic campaign. One of the things I have been able to do as Prime Minister of which I am proudest was to go to the vigil on the 70th anniversary of our gliders preparing for the landings and to go to Gold beach to see the incredible work that was done. We should remember what they did and what it was that they gave their lives for, which was to achieve peace on our continent.
My constituent Debra has HIV, which she contracted via a partner who had received a contaminated blood transfusion. My constituent Neil has hepatitis, again from a contaminated transfusion, and he now needs a second liver transplant. Neither of them can hold down a full- time job because of their conditions’ catastrophic effects on their health, so they both absolutely rely on the support from the state that the Government now plan to slash in half. I simply ask the Prime Minister why the Government are so willing to attack people whose only mistake was to be unlucky.
What we said before the election was that we had set aside £25 million to help those who were infected with HIV because of contaminated blood. We have actually raised that since the election to over £100 million, and we are currently consulting all the groups about how best to use that money. We will actually be doing more than we said at the time of the election, which is necessary because these people have suffered through no fault of their own.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the Hillsborough stadium disaster, the determinations and findings of the fresh inquests presided over by Sir John Goldring, and the steps that will now take place.
Twenty-seven years ago, the terrible events of Saturday 15 April 1989 shocked this country and devastated a community. That afternoon, as thousands of fans were preparing to watch the FA cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, a crush developed in the central pens of the Leppings Lane terrace. Ninety-six men, women and children lost their lives as a result. Hundreds more were injured, and many were left traumatised.
It was this country’s worst disaster at a sporting event. For the families and survivors, the search to get to the truth of what happened on that day has been long and arduous. They observed the judicial inquiry led by Lord Justice Taylor. They gave evidence to the original inquests, which recorded a verdict of accidental death. They have seen further scrutiny, reviews and a private prosecution. They suffered the injustice of hearing the victims—their loved ones and fellow supporters—being blamed. They have heard the shocking conclusions of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, and they have now once again given evidence to the fresh inquests presided over by Sir John Goldring.
I have met members of the Hillsborough families on a number of occasions and, in their search for truth and justice, I have never failed to be struck by their extraordinary dignity and determination. I do not think it is possible for any of us truly to understand what they have been through—not only in losing their loved ones in such horrific circumstances that day, but in hearing finding after finding over 27 years telling them something that they believed to be fundamentally untrue. Quite simply, they have never given up.
I also take this opportunity to pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), who has campaigned so tirelessly over the years on the families’ behalf, and also to the hon. Members for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram), for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), for Halton (Derek Twigg), for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) and for Wirral South (Alison McGovern).
Yesterday, the fresh inquest into the deaths at Hillsborough gave its determinations and findings. Its establishment followed the report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, chaired by Bishop James Jones. The contents of that report were so significant that it led to the new inquests and to two major new criminal investigations: one by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which examined the actions of the police in the aftermath of Hillsborough, and a second criminal investigation, Operation Resolve, led by Jon Stoddart, the former chief constable of Durham.
Since the fresh inquests opened in Warrington on 31 March 2014, the jury has heard 296 days of evidence. They ran for more than two years and were part of the longest running inquest process in British legal history. I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in thanking the jury for the important task it has undertaken and the significant civic duty the jurors have performed.
I will turn now to the jury’s determinations and findings. In its deliberations, the jury was asked to answer 14 general questions covering the role of South Yorkshire police, the South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service, Sheffield Wednesday football club and Hillsborough stadium’s engineers, Eastwood and Partners. In addition, the jury was also required to answer two questions specific to each of the individual deceased relating to the time and medical cause of their death. I would like to put on the record the jury’s determinations in full. They are as follows.
Question 1: do you agree with the following statement, which is intended to summarise the basic facts of the disaster?
“Ninety-six people died as a result of the Disaster at Hillsborough Stadium on 15 April 1989 due to crushing in the central pens of the Leppings Lane Terrace, following the admission of a large number of supporters to the Stadium through exit gates.”
Question 2: was there any error or omission in police planning and preparation for the semi-final match on 15 April 1989 which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation that developed on the day of the match?
Question 3: was there any error or omission in policing on the day of the match which caused or contributed to a dangerous situation developing at the Leppings Lane turnstiles?
Question 4: was there any error or omission by commanding officers which caused or contributed to the crush on the terrace?
Question 5: when the order was given to open the exit gates at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium, was there any error or omission by the commanding officers in the control box which caused or contributed to the crush on the terrace?
Question 6: are you satisfied, so that you are sure, that those who died in the disaster were unlawfully killed?
Question 7: was there any behaviour on the part of football supporters which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation at the Leppings Lane turnstiles?
Further to question 7: was there any behaviour on the part of football supporters which may have caused or contributed to the dangerous situation at the Leppings Lane turnstiles?
Question 8: were there any features of the design, construction and layout of the stadium which you consider were dangerous or defective and which caused or contributed to the disaster?
Question 9: was there any error or omission in the safety certification and oversight of Hillsborough stadium that caused or contributed to the disaster?
Question 10: was there any error or omission by Sheffield Wednesday Football Club and its staff in the management of the stadium and/or preparation for the semi-final match on 15 April 1989 which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation that developed on the day of the match?
Question 11: was there any error or omission by Sheffield Wednesday Football Club and its staff on 15 April 1989 which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation that developed at the Leppings Lane turnstiles and in the west terrace?
Further to question 11: was there any error or omission by Sheffield Wednesday Football Club and its staff on 15 April 1989 which may have caused or contributed to the dangerous situation that developed at the Leppings Lane turnstiles and in the west terrace?
Question 12: should Eastwood and Partners have done more to detect and advise on any unsafe or unsatisfactory features of Hillsborough stadium which caused or contributed to the disaster?
Question 13: after the crush in the west terrace had begun to develop, was there any error or omission by the police which caused or contributed to the loss of lives in the disaster?
Question 14: after the crush in the west terrace had begun to develop, was there any error or omission by the ambulance service, SYMAS, which caused or contributed to the loss of lives in the disaster?
Finally, the jury also recorded the cause and time of death for each of the 96 men, women and children who died at Hillsborough. In all but one case, the jury recorded a time bracket running beyond the 3.15 pm cut-off point adopted by the coroner at the original inquests. These determinations were published yesterday by the coroner, and I would urge the reading of each and every part in order to understand fully the outcome of the inquests.
The jury also heard evidence about the valiant efforts made by many of the fans to rescue those caught up in the crush. Their public spiritedness is to be commended and I am sure that the House will want to take this opportunity to recognise what they did in those terrible circumstances. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]
Clearly, the jury’s determination that those who died were unlawfully killed is of great public importance. It overturns in the starkest way possible the verdict of accidental death returned at the original inquests. However, the jury’s findings do not, of course, amount to a finding of criminal liability, and no one should impute criminal liability to anyone while the ongoing investigations are still pending.
Elsewhere, the jury noted that commanding officers should have ordered the closure of the central tunnel before the opening of gate C was requested, as pens 3 and 4 were full. They should have established the number of fans still to enter the stadium after 2.30 pm, and they failed to recognise that pens 3 and 4 were at capacity before gate C was opened.
Although the inquests have concluded, this is not the end of the process. The decision about whether any criminal prosecution or prosecutions can be brought forward will be made by the Crown Prosecution Service on the basis of evidence gathered as part of the two ongoing investigations. That decision is not constrained in any way by the jury’s conclusions.
The House will understand that I cannot comment in detail on matters that may lead to a criminal investigation. I can, however, say that the offences under investigation include gross negligence manslaughter, misconduct in public office, perverting the course of justice and perjury, as well as offences under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 and the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.
I know that those responsible for the police and Independent Police Complaints Commission investigations anticipate that they will conclude the criminal investigations by the turn of the year. We must allow them to complete their work in a timely and thorough manner, and we must be mindful not to prejudice the outcome in any way.
I have always been clear that the Government will support the families in their quest for justice, so throughout the ongoing investigations we will ensure that support remains in place in three ways.
First, the family forums, which have provided the families with a regular and structured means of engaging with the investigative teams and the CPS, will continue. They will remain under Bishop James Jones’s chairmanship, in a similar format, but will reflect the fact that they will be operating after the inquests. The CPS, the IPCC and Operation Resolve will remain part of the forums.
Secondly, now that the inquests have concluded, it is the intention to reconstitute the Hillsborough article 2 reference group, whose work has been in abeyance during the course of the inquests, under revised terms of reference. The group has two members: Sir Stephen Sedley, a retired lord justice of appeal, and Dr Silvia Casale, an independent criminologist.
Thirdly, we want to ensure that the legal representation scheme for the bereaved families continues. This was put in place, with funding from the Government, following the original inquests’ verdicts being quashed. Discussions are currently taking place with the families’ legal representatives to see how best the scheme can be continued.
In addition, I am keen that we understand and learn from the families’ experiences. I have therefore asked Bishop James, who is my adviser on Hillsborough, to write a report which draws on these experiences. This report will be published in due course to ensure that the full perspective of those most affected by the Hillsborough disaster is not lost.
I would like to express my thanks to Bishop James again for his invaluable advice over the years. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] There is further work to be done, so I have asked Bishop James to remain as my adviser, and I am pleased to say that he has agreed to do so.
The conclusion of the inquests brings to an end an important step since the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report. Thanks to that report and now the determinations of the inquests, we know the truth of what happened on that day at Hillsborough. Naturally, the families will want to reflect on yesterday’s historic outcome, which is of national significance.
I am clear that this raises significant issues for the way that the state and its agencies deal with disasters. Once the formal investigations are concluded, we should step back, reflect and act, if necessary, so that we can better respond to disasters and ensure that the suffering of families is taken into account.
But I want to end by saying this. For 27 years, the families and survivors of Hillsborough have fought for justice. They have faced hostility, opposition and obfuscation, and the authorities, which should have been trusted, have laid blame and tried to protect themselves, instead of acting in the public interest.
But the families have never faltered in their pursuit of the truth. Thanks to their actions, they have brought about a proper reinvestigation and a thorough re-evaluation of what happened at Hillsborough. That they have done so is extraordinary. I am sure the whole House will want to join me in paying tribute to their courage, determination and resolve. We should also remember those who have, sadly, passed away while still waiting for justice. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]
No one should have to endure what the families and survivors have been through. No one should have to suffer the loss of their loved ones through such appalling circumstances, and no one should have to fight year after year, decade after decade, in search of the truth.
I hope that, for the families and survivors, who have been through such difficult times, yesterday’s determinations will bring them closer towards the peace they have been so long denied. I commend this statement to the House. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]
I thank the Home Secretary for her powerful statement and her kind words. At long last, justice—for the 96, for their families, for all Liverpool supporters, for an entire city. But it took too long in coming, and the struggle for it took too great a toll on too many. Now, those responsible must be held to account for 96 unlawful deaths and a 27-year cover-up.
Thankfully, the jury saw through the lies. I am sure—to repeat what the Home Secretary said—that the House will join me in thanking the jury for their devotion to this task and for giving two years of their lives to this important public duty.
When it came, their verdict was simple, clear, powerful and emphatic, but it begged the question: how could something so obvious have taken so long? There are three reasons: first, a police force that has consistently put protecting itself over and above protecting people harmed by Hillsborough; secondly, collusion between that force and a complicit print media; and thirdly, a flawed judicial system that gives the upper hand to those in authority, over and above ordinary people. Let me take each of those issues in turn, starting with South Yorkshire police.
Can the Home Secretary assure me that there will be no holding back in pursuing prosecutions? The CPS has said that files will be submitted by December. While we understand the complexity, can she urge it to do whatever it can to bring that date forward?
Of course, the behaviour of some officers, while reprehensible, was not necessarily chargeable, but, through retirement, police officers can still escape misconduct proceedings. In her Policing and Crime Bill, the Home Secretary proposes a 12-month period after retirement where proceedings can be initiated, but one of the lessons of Hillsborough is that there can be no arbitrary time limits on justice and accountability. Will the Home Secretary work with me to insert a Hillsborough clause into her Bill, ending the scandal of retirement as an escape route and of wrongdoers claiming full pensions? Will she join me in making sure that that applies retrospectively?
The much bigger question for South Yorkshire police to answer today is this: why, at this inquest, did they go back on their 2012 public apology? When the Lord Chief Justice quashed the original inquest, he requested that the new one not degenerate into an “adversarial battle”. Sadly, that is exactly what happened. Shamefully, the cover-up continued in that Warrington courtroom. Millions of pounds of public money was spent retelling discredited lies against Liverpool supporters. Lawyers for retired officers threw disgusting slurs around; those for today’s force tried to establish that others were responsible for the opening of the gate. If the police had chosen to maintain their apology, this inquest would have been much shorter. But they did not, and they put the families through hell once again. It pains me to say it, but the NHS, through the Yorkshire ambulance service, was guilty of the same.
Does the Home Secretary agree that, because of his handling of this inquest, the position of the South Yorkshire chief constable is now untenable? Does she further agree that the problems go deeper? I promised the families the full truth about Hillsborough. I do not believe they will have it until we know the truth about Orgreave. This force used the same underhand tactics against its own people in the aftermath of the miners’ strike that it would later use to more deadly effect against the people of Liverpool. There has been an IPCC report on Orgreave, but parts of it are redacted. It has been put to me that those parts contain evidence of direct links between Orgreave and Hillsborough.
This is a time for transparency, not secrecy—time for the people of South Yorkshire to know the full truth about their police force. So will the Home Secretary accept the legal submission from the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign and set up a disclosure process? This force has not learned and has not changed. Let me be clear. I do not blame the ordinary police officers—the men and women who did their very best on that day and who today are out there keeping our streets safe—but I do blame their leadership and culture, which seems rotten to the core. Orgreave, Hillsborough, Rotherham: how much more evidence do we need before we act? So will the Home Secretary now order the fundamental reform of this force and consider all potential options?
Let me turn to collusion between police and the media. The malicious briefings given in the aftermath were devastatingly efficient. They created a false version of events which lingered until yesterday. No one in the police or media has ever been held to account for the incalculable harm they caused in smearing a whole city in its moment of greatest grief. Imagine how it felt to be my constituent Lee Walls, who came through gate C just before 3 pm with his friend Carl Brown. Carl died but Lee survived, but days later he had to read that he was to blame. Given the weakness of the press regulatory system back then, the survivors of this tragedy had no ability to correct the lies. But is it any different today? If a tragedy like Hillsborough were to happen now, victims would not be able quickly to undo the damage of a misleading front page. Leveson recommended a second-stage inquiry to look at the sometimes unhealthy relationship between police and press. I know the Hillsborough families feel strongly that this should be taken forward. So will the Government end the delay and honour the Prime Minister’s promises to the victims of press intrusion?
I turn to the judicial system. I attended this inquest on many occasions. I saw how hard it was on the families: trapped for two years in a temporary courtroom; told to show no emotion as police lawyers smeared the dead and those who survived—beyond cruel. I welcome Bishop James’s new role in explaining just how cruel this was to the House and to the country. The original inquest was similarly brutal, but that did not even get to the truth. Just as the first inquest muddied the waters after the clarity of the Taylor report, so this inquest, at moments, lost sight of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report. One of the reasons why it produced a different outcome, though, is that this time the families had the best lawyers in the land. If they could have afforded them back in 1990, history might have been very different. At many inquests today there is often a mismatch between the legal representation of public bodies and those of the bereaved. Why should the authorities be able to spend public money like water to protect themselves when families have no such help? So will the Government consider further reforms to the coronial system, including giving the bereaved at least equal legal funding as public bodies? This, the longest case in English legal history, must mark a watershed in how victims are treated.
The last question is for us in this House. What kind of country leaves people who did no more than wave off their loved ones to a football match still sitting in a courtroom 27 years later begging for the reputations of their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and fathers? The answer is one that needs now to do some deep soul-searching. This cover-up went right to the top. It was advanced in the Committee Rooms of this House and in the press rooms of 10 Downing Street. It persisted because of collusion between elites in politics—on both sides—police and the media. But this Home Secretary stood outside of that. Today I express my sincere admiration and gratitude to her for the stance she has consistently taken in righting this wrong.
But my final words go to the Hillsborough families. I think of those who did not live to see this day: of the courageous Anne Williams; of my constituent Stephen Whittle, the “97th victim”, who gave his own ticket to a friend on the morning of the match and later took his own life. I think of people like Phil Hammond, who sacrificed his own health to this struggle. I think of the many people who died from outside Merseyside, recognising that this was not just Liverpool’s but the country’s tragedy. I think of Leigh lad Carl Brown and his devoted mum Delia who still visits his grave most days. I think of Trevor and Jenni Hicks and their heart-breaking testimony to the new inquest. But I think most of my friend Margaret Aspinall. She did not just sacrifice everything for her own son James: she took on the heavy burden of fighting for everyone else’s loved ones—and, by God, didn’t she do them proud? It has been the privilege of my life to work with them all. They have prevailed against all the odds. They have kept their dignity in the face of terrible adversity. They could not have shown a more profound love for those they lost on that day. They truly represent the best of what our country is all about. Now it must reflect on how it came to let them down for so long. [Applause.]
May I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his words, and particularly for his kind words about myself? May I, as I said in my opening statement, once again commend him for the way in which he has stood by the families for so long and carried their cause in this House, and indeed in government when he was in government?
I will respond to some of the right hon. Gentleman’s specific points, but first to the final point that he made. It is absolutely right, as was reflected in the statement that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made after the independent panel’s report came out, that what the families faced was a combination of the state in all its various forms not believing them, all the various attempts, as the right hon. Gentleman said, to cover up what had really happened, together with other agencies—the media and others—and indeed, dare I say it, most of the general public believing the stories that they read about the fans. To have stood against that for so long shows steel and determination but also an affection for their lost loved ones and a passionate desire for justice for those who died that is, as I said, extraordinary. I think we will rarely see the like again.
On the right hon. Gentleman’s individual questions, he asked me about the time for the files to be prepared by the two investigations. Both Operation Resolve and the IPCC say that they expect to have those case files prepared by the end of the year—I recognise that for the families this is a further wait—and there will be then be a period of time for the Crown Prosecution Service to consider them. I think everybody recognises—including those bodies, because they do of course interact with the families through the family forums—the importance of doing this in a timely fashion, but it is also important that it is done properly and thoroughly. I do not want to see anything in the way of this being done in the right way.
On the retirement of police officers, I have always felt that it is wrong that police officers should be able to avoid misconduct or gross misconduct proceedings by being able to retire or resign. That is why we have already changed the disciplinary arrangements; and, as the right hon. Gentleman said, we have a clause in the Policing and Crime Bill. I, or the Policing Minister, will be very happy to meet him or the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) to discuss the various issues in relation to that matter.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Orgreave. Together with the hon. Members for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) and for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), I met representatives from Orgreave last year. I then received a submission from Michael Mansfield QC on behalf of the relevant group, and that is being considered.
We have always said that a decision on Leveson 2 will be made when all the investigations have been completed. Some cases are still being considered, so that point has not arrived.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about the availability of funding for families at inquests. That is precisely the sort of issue that can be encompassed in the work that Bishop James Jones will do in hearing from the families about their direct experience and reflecting that to Government. As I said, it is right and appropriate that we then take a clear look at what further action we need to take.
Nobody should be in any doubt about the experience that the families had to go through at the inquests in not being able to show any emotion. The right hon. Gentleman referred to that. Also, for 27 years, many people did not know what had actually happened to their loved ones. They did not know how or at what time they died. Those details have come out only through the inquest. It must have been particularly difficult to sit through that, but I hope that the families have now found some peace through the truth coming out.
I am very pleased that the efforts of the families and of the independent review panel, which did such outstanding work, have contributed to the outcome that entirely vindicates the position that they both adopted. I am also pleased if the small Department that I led at the time played a role in bringing that about.
The key issue is not that people make mistakes, because in human society mistakes will always be made, sometimes with catastrophic consequences. The real issue that should concern the House is that, in a society that counts itself as civilised and subject to the rule of law, it appears that for such a long time it was impossible to get redress and a proper examination of the issues. I regret to say that this is not a unique event, as there have been other occasions in the House when we have had to consider the implications of similar events in other circumstances. Bloody Sunday springs to mind.
The lesson that the House needs to take away is that we must subject ourselves and our institutions to quite a lot of self-examination and maintain that if we are to ensure that we do not have a repetition of this deplorable episode. I am not sure about the best way to do that. I simply say to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—she has done everything right in respect of this, and I commend her approach—that it is a question not just of the systems that we have in place but of some of the underlying attitudes. When uncomfortable truths float across the horizon, there is a temptation to try to brush them away because they confront us with difficulties that make us uncomfortable. If we tackle that, we can ensure not only that we do justice to the families in this matter, but that, in so far as is humanly possible, we do not repeat this.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his remarks and for the role that he played in ensuring that fresh inquests could take place. He is right: it is a question not just of systems but of attitudes. I have seen that in other areas, for example, in the work that we are doing on deaths in custody and in hearing from families in those cases. As I said, often, the institutions that should be the ones that people can trust to get to the truth combine to protect themselves. They have a natural instinct to look inwards and protect themselves rather than doing what is right in the public interest. My right hon. and learned Friend is also right that we can change the systems all we like, but it is really about changing attitudes and saying that those institutions are there to serve the public and that they should always put the public interest first.
I thank the Home Secretary for her immensely dignified and thorough statement. I also welcome the jury’s determination and findings.
On behalf of the Scottish National party, I would like to acknowledge the heroic struggle for justice of the friends and relatives of the 96 dead. I also acknowledge the heroic struggle for justice of the shadow Home Secretary and others on the official Opposition Benches.
Today, we must also remember the 96 dead: decent people from all walks of life who were failed by the police and the emergency services—the very ones who should have been there to help them in their hour of need. Yesterday’s verdict follows 27 years of concealment of the truth and mudslinging at dead innocents. I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) that Hillsborough must rank alongside Bloody Sunday as one of the most disgraceful establishment cover-ups of our time.
The ruling confirms that some police officers behaved abominably and I note the shadow Home Secretary’s words about their being from the same force that so brutally repressed the miners’ strike. I was very pleased to hear what the Home Secretary said about that. Will she acknowledge the impact that the behaviour of some police officers has had on public confidence in the police and assure us that such actions can never happen again?
I am sure that elements of the media will also have learned a lesson, but, as the shadow Home Secretary said, will they ever be held to account? I think that the Conservative party has learned a lesson from this because, as has been said, the Home Secretary’s actions have been exemplary when compared with the attitude of the Cabinet at the time. Will she assure us that such a miscarriage of justice will never be allowed to happen again?
Justice delayed is justice denied. Now we have the truth, but accountability must follow, so what happens next is crucial. Does the Home Secretary agree that, where there are strongly founded allegations that police officers may have perverted the course of justice, or given misleading information to the media, MPs and this Parliament, or perjured themselves, appropriate action and prosecutions must be seen to follow swiftly?
I also echo the shadow Home Secretary’s comments about concerns that 30 police officers avoided disciplinary action by retiring to enjoy a full pension. Will the Home Secretary take steps to ensure that that cannot happen again?
I welcome the Home Secretary’s intention to reconstitute the Hillsborough article 2 reference group—article 2 of the European convention on human rights. Without the Human Rights Act and the procedural obligation on the state to investigate deaths properly under article 2 of the ECHR, the second inquest would never have happened, and the families might never have got justice. Will she and the Government please bear that in mind when they consider their attitude towards human rights and the ECHR in this Union of nations?
The hon and learned Lady mentioned public confidence in the police and it is correct to say that this shattered some people’s confidence in the police. The representative from the IPPC made the point to the media yesterday that for some people in Liverpool, their trust in the police was severely damaged, if not destroyed, as a result of what they had seen. However, in talking about the actions of police officers at Hillsborough that day, we should recognise that some officers actively tried to help the fans and do the right thing.
On police responsibilities and attitudes, the College of Policing has introduced a code of ethics for police. We need to ensure that that is embedded throughout police forces, but it is an important step forward.
The hon. and learned Lady asked about ensuring that prosecutions take place where there is evidence of criminal activity. Of course, that is entirely a decision for the CPS. We must leave it to make that decision independently, as we must leave the police investigation and the IPPC investigation to prepare their cases independently.
On the hon. and learned Lady’s final point, I simply observe that we have had the coronial process in the UK for a considerable time, and the right to request an inquest and to request fresh inquests long before the ECHR was put in place.
May I, too, pay tribute to all those who worked so hard to see that justice was done in this case, and to the Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary for their very balanced approach?
Does the Home Secretary agree that it is important that we learn lessons? For example, although the court process is inevitably stressful for victims and witnesses, as I know, none the less in this case the coroner and the jury did their duty and have proved that the jury system can be capable of grappling with the most complex and distressing of cases. That is to the system’s credit.
Will the Home Secretary also look at ensuring that there is proper equality of arms with regard to access to justice on such matters? That is fundamental to our rule of law? The Crown Prosecution Service must now consider and deal with a considerable volume of work and material. I note, for example, that some 238 police statements are said to have been altered in one way or another. Will the Home Secretary therefore discuss with the Treasury and my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General whether some blockbuster funding could be made available to deal with the pressures of resourcing the Crown Prosecution Service in this case, and whether the approach could be similar to that taken towards the Serious Fraud Office when it has to undertake major and unexpected inquiries?
My hon. Friend will have noted that the Attorney General is sitting on the Treasury Bench and has therefore heard what he said about funding this sort of case. On my hon. Friend’s first point, he is absolutely right about the importance of the jury system. This shows the value of our jury system, and I repeat what I said in my statement: for people on the jury to have been prepared to take two years to ensure that justice was done in this case is absolutely commendable. They have shown considerable civic duty and our thanks go to them.
May I say first of all that the response by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) to the statement will reverberate throughout Merseyside and all around the country? I also praise the Home Secretary for all she has done to bring about yesterday’s momentous decision: thank you from the families.
On 15 April 1989, as fans walked away from an FA cup semi-final in Sheffield, we knew then that the disaster was not our fault. Almost immediately, however, lies and smears were being peddled, and within hours an orchestrated cover-up was in full swing. It took political intervention to force the judicial process of this country to take 27 years to recognise what we knew from day one—that Hillsborough was not an accident; that fans did not open a gate; that drunken and ticketless fans did not turn up late, hellbent on getting in; and that it was not caused by a drunken, “tanked-up mob”. Instead, 96 people were unlawfully killed.
Those who doubted must now recognise the true story of the efforts of my fellow supporters and their acts of self-sacrifice and heroism as they battled to save the lives of their fellow fans, and consign to the dustbin of history the lurid tabloid headlines that vilified them.
Despite the inquest being adversarial, not inquisitorial, yesterday’s verdict was unequivocal: Liverpool supporters were totally absolved of any blame and did not contribute to the disaster in any way. As someone once said:
“I cherish the hope that as time goes on you will recognise the truth of what I say.”
Will the Home Secretary join me in paying tribute to the families, survivors, campaigners and supporters who fought for truth and justice; to the solidarity of those who stood shoulder to shoulder, whether red or blue, for nearly three decades; and to the men and women of a proud city who never gave up until they got justice for the 96?
I am very happy to join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute not only to the families and the way in which they kept the flame of hope for truth and justice alive over 27 years, but to the city and people of Liverpool, who have shown solidarity and will continue to do so over the coming days. As the hon. Gentleman has said, regardless of their footballing affiliations they recognised the injustice that had been done. They came together, they supported the families, and truth has now been found.
What we can learn from the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) who raised the question of the Stephen Lawrence investigation is that people can come to Members of Parliament—either as families or as members of the professional services, including the ambulance service and the police—and if there is some kind of cover-up going on, we can hope that the leaders of any professions involved, including the police and the NHS, will pay attention when an MP comes along with them to say that action needs to be taken.
There was a series of three mistakes at Hillsborough. The first was allowing the game to take place in a stadium when people knew it was not right. The second was the actions that happened then, which may have been mistakes, and worst of all was the cover-up. How can more than 230 statements by the police be changed, presumably in the police service, without people being able to say to Members of Parliament, “This is wrong: there is a cover-up and it needs turning over and investigating”? Such things need to be brought out into what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health calls intelligent transparency. I think that that is the lesson from now on.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Of course, as a Member of this House he has taken forward causes that others have stood against and tried to resist, and he has been successful in that work. He is absolutely right. What came out of the independent panel report was astonishing. People were truly shocked by the fact that they had heard that statements had been altered in order to show a different picture from what had actually happened. That is appalling and it should never happen again.
May I put on the record my thanks to the Home Secretary for her statement, and praise the magnificent courage and steadfastness of the families of the 96 in their campaign?
After the publication of the 2012 independent panel report, I reread my match-day programme from 15 April 1989 and was struck by this comment by the chairman of Sheffield Wednesday football club:
“As you look around Hillsborough you will appreciate why it has been regarded for so long as the perfect venue for all kinds of important matches.”
Such statements underline the complacency and total disregard for the safety of football supporters.
I have two brief questions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) mentioned the current chief constable of South Yorkshire police. Is the Home Secretary aware that the statement he made in 2012 apologising to fans is still on the website? He said:
“I am profoundly sorry for the way the force failed…and I am doubly sorry for the injustice that followed”,
and yet the fools representing the police at the inquest went over the same argument again, putting the families through torture.
Finally, of course we should focus on South Yorkshire police, but what about West Midlands police? It was responsible for the investigation and, as we have seen from yesterday’s result, it was a sham, complacent and a complete waste of time. What is the Home Secretary doing to make sure that it is held accountable for what it did?
As the hon. Gentleman says, the comment from the match-day programme shows the extraordinary complacency. As I indicated in my statement, there were several questions that related not just to Sheffield Wednesday football club, but to the engineers who designed the stadium. The jury was very clear that there were problems with the design of the stadium and with the certification process. There are some very real questions for those in authority of various sorts who allowed a game to take place in a ground with those particular problems.
Obviously, the IPCC is looking at the aftermath of the event. Operation Resolve is looking at the lead-up to the deaths of the 96 men, women and children. In doing so, it will, of course, look across the board at the work of police officers. I assure the hon. Gentleman that my understanding is that the evidence taken will cover things done by West Midlands police as well as South Yorkshire police.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend and to the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), but particularly to the families of the 96 victims, for their herculean efforts to bring about the result that we saw yesterday. Does my right hon. Friend agree that slurs were made against the families; that those were an injustice; and that it is right that they are now recognised as smears?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, those slurs were not just made at the time; they continued for far too long. The families and supporters had to endure not just the terrible tragedy itself, but the further injustice that, consistently, the Liverpool fans were blamed for something that was not their fault. The verdict that came out yesterday was absolutely clear: the fans did not contribute to this disaster.
The inquest verdict proclaimed the truth and exposed the deceit, including the wicked lie that the fans were responsible for their own deaths. We should never, ever forget that the truth has been finally exposed only because of the commitment of the bereaved families, who were supported by the city of Liverpool—whatever the rest of the country might have thought—in their determined campaign for truth. I, too thank the Home Secretary and the former Attorney General for the decisive steps that they have taken to make sure that justice has now come out. Following the Home Secretary’s very supportive comments about the action she intends to take to support the bereaved families as we move from exposure of the truth to accountability, will the Home Secretary do all in her power to ensure that now that we have the truth, real accountability will follow?
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments, and she is absolutely right. The city of Liverpool stood by the families when the rest of the country took a different view about what had happened in that terrible tragedy. I am very clear that we need to ensure that the proper processes are followed for the investigations and for the Crown Prosecution Service decisions about whether criminal charges should be brought. The truth was there with the independent panel’s report, and I hope that people feel that justice has been seen with the verdicts that came out, but accountability is the next step, and that rests with the independent investigations and the Crown Prosecution Service.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement, and I think that she and the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) have been beacons of hope during this tragic period. The strength of the families makes me proud to be a Scouser. There is a lot of talk about justice, but I do not think it is justice that it has taken 27 years for the fans to be found not guilty of something that was not their fault. It is not justice that the city, the fans and families were kicked when they were on their knees and at their lowest point. It is not justice that there was an establishment cover-up. Does the Home Secretary agree that real justice starts when the individuals responsible are personally prosecuted?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments, and he is right. It must be very difficult for the families, who have suffered over those 27 years but have kept true to their cause and their belief in the reality of what happened at the Hillsborough stadium in 1989. They must have felt terrible when they were, as my hon. Friend said, kicked constantly over those 27 years. This is not just about finding the truth; it is about accountability. As I just indicated in response to the previous question, that process of accountability is now in the hands of the two criminal investigations and the Crown Prosecution Service.
The inquest findings were very clear that on the day of the disaster, South Yorkshire police failed completely in a number of respects. Even more alarming, in some respects, were the attempts to cover up those failings afterwards. May I reflect on the comment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) that this is no reflection on the important work done by the ordinary community officers of South Yorkshire police on a day-to-day basis for the safety and security of my constituents and the residents of South Yorkshire? Will the Home Secretary therefore offer complete support to the PCC in South Yorkshire to take the force through a very difficult time, recognising that the complete command structure of the force will change, in one way or another, during the next year, and that it will need every bit of outside support it can get from the Home Secretary and others?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. He is absolutely right to say that we should recognise the work that is done daily by South Yorkshire police officers to keep their communities safe and to cut crime. May I also take this opportunity to recognise the support that was given by people living in Sheffield to the fans and others who suffered from this tragedy on the day?
The hon. Gentleman is right that the South Yorkshire police force will not only have to deal with the outcome of the Hillsborough findings; the report on Rotherham raised a number of issues around the South Yorkshire force. The hon. Gentleman asks me to provide support to the police and crime commissioner. Next week, the people in the South Yorkshire force area will go to the polls to elect the police and crime commissioner for the next four years. We will talk thereafter to the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable about the future of the force, but it is for those two individuals, primarily, to look at the structures that they need and to ensure that the force is doing the job that it needs to do on a daily basis.
I commend the Home Secretary and the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) for what they have done on the matter. I also commend all the Members from Liverpool who have taken part in debates. Everyone knows my connection with football and with what happened on that day, which I have spoken about in the House. Football suffered massively on that horrible day. The family of football looked on that tragedy and changed many things, from stadium safety to how things are placed around football games.
Following on from the point made by the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), I am concerned about the culture that still exists in South Yorkshire police. From statements on its website and statements that it has made, I fear that it still has not learned all the lessons of that tragedy all that time ago. Will the Home Secretary comment on what is going on in South Yorkshire police force?
I think everybody will be disappointed and, indeed, concerned by some of the remarks that have been made by South Yorkshire police today. There was a very clear verdict yesterday in relation to the decisions that were taken by police officers and the action of police officers on 15 April 1989, and I urge South Yorkshire police force to recognise the verdict of the jury. Yes, it must get on with the day-to-day job of policing in its force area, but it needs to look at what happened—at what the verdicts have shown—recognise the truth and be willing to accept that.
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement and, in particular, for her decision when she came into office in 2010 to allow the work of the Hillsborough Independent Panel to continue. That has been absolutely crucial to this outcome. When I was first elected in 1997, my constituents Phil Hammond, Doreen Jones and Jenni Hicks were some of the first people to come to see me. They were then part of the executive of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, and between them, they lost five family members. They came to see me about the disaster, and I have campaigned with them ever since to have the truth acknowledged and to have justice done.
We all knew the truth; it just seems to be the legal system in this country—I speak as a lawyer—that has been unable to get to the truth and accept the truth. For 27 years, it failed the victims at every turn. Almost everything that could go wrong in a legal case went wrong in those 27 years. Yesterday, the legal system finally did its job, but it has more to do to hold to account those who we now know for absolute certain are responsible. The Home Secretary has more to do to deal with the appalling culture and behaviour of South Yorkshire police, which persists to this day.
This disaster was filmed live and shown on television, and within months the interim report of the Taylor inquiry put the blame squarely where it actually lay—it did not get everything right, but it was substantially correct—yet for 27 years the families of those who died have had to defend every day the reputations of their lost loved ones and of their friends and other people living in Liverpool who have been blamed for what happened.
It was only the panel taking this out of the legal system that has led to the truth being acknowledged more widely than it was, and to its then being fed back into the legal system. There is a deep issue about our legal system, so will the Home Secretary now commit to supporting Lord Michael Wills’s Public Advocate Bill to ensure that the victims of public disasters—there will be more in future—are never again forced to spend decades of their lives fighting smears, lies, official denials, indifference and cover-ups from public authorities? We have to make sure this can never ever happen again.
The hon. Lady is right that we need to stand back and ask what it is about our system that actually enabled this to happen and enabled people to suffer in this way over those 27 years. One of the reasons why I have asked Bishop James Jones to work with the families, to hear from them their experiences, is obviously to try to learn from that and to see what steps we need to take in response.
One of the things that has come of this is that the panel model is one that can be used elsewhere. I have indeed used that model, with fewer members, in relation to the necessity of looking into the killing of Daniel Morgan, where again the legal system, through a number of cases, has failed to get to the truth. I think it is a method that we could use on other occasions.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the statement she has made today. It is painfully clear that, for over 20 years, hon. Members in this place did not take the opportunities available to them to bring the matter to this Chamber and therefore to spread the light of transparency on something terrible that had happened. I just want to put on the record the role played by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram), who is far too humble to talk about his role. When we were first elected in 2010, he very quickly took a group of us in front of the Backbench Business Committee in a Committee Room and secured a debate that made sure light was shone on what was a terrible incident, and we have arrived where we are today. I thank him for that.
My hon. Friend has recognised the particular role played by a single Member of this House. I might say that, over the years, a number of Members of this House have raised this issue. The fact that authority did not listen to the issue being raised is entirely separate.
May I, too, add my thanks to the Home Secretary for the crucial role she has played in bringing this matter to a reasonable conclusion at this point? May I ask her, alongside others, to consider the extent to which the lazy, dishonest, inaccurate stereotyping of football fans, in collusion with some sections of the media, gave some credibility—wrongly—to the original failed inquest? I attended one day of the inquest. It was agony for the families to sit there and listen day after day to their loved ones who had died being denigrated in the way that the questions were put. Does she agree with me that many other failures result from the lazy assumption that football fans in general and the people of Liverpool in particular were in some way culpable in a matter that was completely beyond their control? When she asks the bishop and others to look at the implications of all this, will she ask him to look at this question: why is it that some sections of the media and some sections of the public services, including the police and the ambulance service, still feel that they can casually disregard the truth by accepting lazy stereotypes?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. He is absolutely right. There was an image of football fans that people held to regardless of what they saw going on in front of their very eyes. I was struck when I heard the commentary—I think on Radio 2 —that was taking place at the time, as the tragedy unfolded. Even at that time, some of the commentating and some of the assumptions being made were about unruly fans, rather than about people who were crying out for help as they were dying. To see the police actually being lined up to form a line against public order problems when there were people whose lives were being lost at the time shocks and appals us all now. He is right that we should never allow casual stereotypes to get in the way of the truth.
I obviously do not represent Liverpool, but I was so fortunate to live there for the best part of the 1990s. It is a wonderful city, with decent people—thoroughly decent people—and I believe that the way in which the families have conducted themselves over nearly 30 years has demonstrated that to those of us who knew it and to everybody else. I was very fortunate to take over one of the student unions in Liverpool in the ’90s, and I was told in no uncertain scouse terms why we did not stock all newspapers in the student union shop. I have never forgotten that, and many shops and stores in Liverpool still do not stock the full complement of newspapers, as Liverpool Members will know.
What does the Home Secretary think is the main lesson that we should learn from the state’s failure to do justice for the 96? Does she think that some elements of the British press—they have apologised several times since, although I think that that means little to many, or probably all, of the families in Liverpool—should take a long, hard look at themselves?
I think that that is important. It is important when information is spread to the public through the media that the veracity of that information is an issue that must be considered. My hon. Friend asks me what the overall, abiding lesson that we need to take from this is. I think it is about the whole issue that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) referred to, which is the culture and the attitude that is taken. It is about public institutions whose job is to work in the public interest, who should be institutions that can be trusted by the public and whose job is often to protect the public not, when something happens, instinctively wanting to protect themselves instead, but always having the view that whatever has happened and whatever the answer, they must actually find the truth for the public.
Order. I hope the House will forgive me, but at the risk of stating the obvious, if colleagues are concerned about being able to make their own contribution, let me say that I will of course call every colleague. This is a little different from other days, and there is therefore some latitude: Members must say what they want to say. I am sorry if people have other commitments, but if Members stay in the Chamber, they will be heard.
May I put on the record my thanks to you, Mr Speaker? You have been incredibly supportive. May I, especially as chair of the all-party group on the Hillsborough disaster, thank the Home Secretary and her staff, and all those—officials, and the staff of Members of Parliament as well—who have worked to help our group function over the past four years?
Finally to know the true verdict—that these killings were unlawful—is just a huge weight lifted, but there is one more issue. The campaign for justice has never been for Liverpool fans alone. Shirts of all different teams were worn at the memorial service. For the 25th anniversary, Members of this House from all parts of the country sent with me to Anfield the scarf of their local team. That is why, at the recent memorial service, Trevor Hicks was absolutely right to ask football fans to be “united in grief”, though rivals in the game.
I have one last thing to say: the “Murderers, murderers” chant has got to stop now. Does the Home Secretary agree that there are no excuses—we have the truth—and that those who have suffered because of the Hillsborough disaster have, frankly, now suffered enough?
I agree with the hon. Lady. For those who have been through everything that they have for 27 years we now have the truth. They have suffered enough. Although part of the process still remains, to ensure accountability, I hope, as I said in my statement, that the peace that they have been so long denied will now come to them. I hope that they will be able to take from the verdicts some comfort that at last what they knew on that day has been shown to be true.
Weaver Vale is part of Merseyside, and I have many Liverpudlians in my constituency who have welcomed the jury’s determinations. For me, it is a case of there but for the grace of God go I. Those of us who went to football matches in the ’70s and ’80s know that the facilities were terrible and crushes were regular. I remind the House that at the Hillsborough 1981 FA Cup semi-final—the Tottenham Hotspur-Wolverhampton game—there was a very similar crush. The police allowed the fans on to the pitch. It looked very similar to the scene years later in 1989. That tells us that lessons clearly were not learned. The hon. Member for Halton (Derek Twigg) was at the 1989 game; as he said, that facility was never fit for purpose.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches, in particular the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), who made the speech of his parliamentary career, and the hon. Members for Halton, for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram), for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) and others, who have consistently campaigned on behalf of their constituents for justice. Will my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary assure the House that the lessons will be learned? I welcome Bishop James Jones’s report, but no family should ever have to go through this kind of tragedy again.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Sadly, the example he gave us of the game in 1981 shows that at that time lessons were not learned. Whatever comes out of the work with the families, and from the panel’s report and all that we are now seeing, we need to make sure that we learn the lessons, and that we do not just say that we are doing that but put what is necessary into practice.
The jury has determined that what happened on the day was negligent, unlawful and criminal. It was also tragic and unintended. The 27 years since have not been unintended; there have been deliberate lies and deception. When the Home Secretary is researching the variety of criminal charges that may be brought, will she ensure that appropriate emphasis is placed on perversion of the course of justice, conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and perjury, because that is where the real evil lies?
I start by paying my tribute to the families who, since before some people now in this House were even born, have had to fight the state, quite frankly. That is appalling. I thank my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for everything she has done, and all of the Members locally who have worked for so many years. I pay particular tribute to the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) and the hon. Members for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) and for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), who have been in communication with me about the support I could offer, even as a west Yorkshire MP.
To those who wonder why MPs not related to the area have found this so hard and so difficult, I say that it is because we all have families. We all have parents, uncles and aunts, and some of us have children. We all go to events to which hundreds of thousands of people go every year. If someone goes to an event, perfectly legally, we have the right to expect that the authorities will look after them. The people who died at Hillsborough on that tragic day got there early, by definition, because they were at the front of those pens. They were ticketed. It will be a stain on this society for ever more that the state said it was their fault. It was obvious from day one—from the very moment—that it could not be their fault.
I have a huge amount of respect for the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), who is no longer in his place—indeed, we have debated this. He is absolutely right to say that police officers on the frontline for South Yorkshire police do an outstanding job every day and deserve our respect. But the behaviour of South Yorkshire police during this inquiry, and the subsequent comments since the verdict—a verdict that can leave no doubt in the mind of anyone in this country that those people were unlawfully killed—have been a disgrace. There is a stain on the name of South Yorkshire police that I am not sure can ever be erased.
Therefore, as controversial as this is, may I ask my right hon. Friend, working with other Members on a cross-party basis, to go away and consider—I do not expect an answer today—very seriously whether the only way of bringing back faith in policing in south Yorkshire, and of making sure that the officers in south Yorkshire who dedicate themselves to protecting the public can really move forward, is perhaps to merge all four Yorkshire police forces and to get rid of the name “South Yorkshire police”?
My hon. Friend has asked me a question that I suggest goes slightly wider than simply the issue of South Yorkshire police, as he talked about merging all four Yorkshire forces. He is absolutely right to identify that at a football match or any other public event where arrangements have been put in place by organisers to ensure people’s safety and where there is policing, fans who have gone along expect those arrangements to keep them safe and secure. They expect arrangements to have been thought through and made properly and carefully, and the right decisions to have been taken. As he and others have said, many people who are not Liverpool fans recognise what those families went through on that day, as they themselves go to similar events, week in, week out, hoping to enjoy themselves and not expecting the sort of terrible tragedy that befell families and supporters on that terrible day.
My hon. Friend has asked me to reflect on an issue. I think he knows the Government’s position on merger of forces. As I have said, South Yorkshire police will need to look very carefully at the verdict and accept it.
I commend the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) on all the work they have done, along with all hon. Members of this House. It is often the role of a Member of Parliament to give a strong voice to the weak, and this has been an example of that. May I also say a word of gratitude for the kind words of the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) about some of the work I have done in the past? There are comparisons between what happened to the family and friends of Stephen Lawrence and what happened to the Hillsborough families. They have certainly been strong voices and advocates for themselves, and an example to us all. They were signatories to the letter sent to the Prime Minister earlier this month asking him not to renege on his promise to implement Leveson 2. Given that it relates to the relationship between the police and the press, it would seem even more imperative that we go ahead with that part of the Leveson report. Will the Home Secretary perhaps have a word with the Prime Minister to ask him to expedite that as quickly as possible?
Some of the issues about the relationship between the media and the police were identified in Leveson 1, and the police have taken some actions to change some of their approaches to the media as a result. As I said earlier, we have always been very clear that any investigations taking place needed to be completed before a decision was taken about Leveson 2. Some investigations are still being undertaken, which is why at this point of time it is not appropriate to take a decision about Leveson 2.
Days like this really make us think in this place. Will my right hon. Friend commit to making sure that all the resources required to bring the criminal investigations to a speedy and thorough conclusion are brought to bear, because these families have suffered for far too long already?
I assure my hon. Friend that the Home Office has made funding available for Operation Resolve, and it is ensuring that the IPCC has what it needs to conduct these investigations, which will then go to the Crown Prosecution Service. Families deserve a proper, thorough process that is undertaken in a timely manner and provides them with the accountability they want.
May I add my thanks to the Home Secretary for her statement and commitment, and thank all my colleagues for their work over so many decades on this terrible atrocity? After 27 years of pain, torment and suffering, both for the families of the 96 people who tragically lost their lives and for the survivors, at last a dark cloud is lifting. After this statement, Merseyside MPs will travel back to Liverpool to commemorate what has happened on St George’s Hall plateau, and I have no doubt that the solidarity that prevailed in Liverpool will shine bright this evening.
I pay tribute to the campaigners who have fought tirelessly and never given up. They have endured the unendurable, and they should not have to wait any more. A moment ago the Home Secretary spoke about the work of the IPCC and the police, and the investigations that are being completed, and I echo the call from my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) that the handover of files should happen as quickly as possible. Will the Home Secretary also commit to ensuring that the CPS has whatever resources it takes to expedite its work? We have the truth and we have justice; now we need accountability.
The Attorney General is present and has heard the hon. Lady’s comments regarding his responsibility in relation to the CPS. We want this to be done in a timely fashion, and to ensure that it is done thoroughly and properly. Having visited the work of Operation Resolve and the IPCC, I know the significant amount of material that it has had to go through. Until now, it has been supporting the coroner in the inquests, and now its focus will be on preparing those files to give to the CPS.
Although I have always lived at the other end of the country, I have been a passionate Liverpool fan all my life. I remember vividly watching the start of that game and feeling gutted that I was not able to be there—a feeling that quickly turned to relief. Although nothing can compare with the grief, pain and sense of injustice suffered by families who lost their loved ones, it is also true that on that day Liverpool fans across the country—indeed, all football fans—were smeared by what was said in its aftermath. On behalf of all football fans, I hugely welcome the fact that at last the truth is known: football fans were not responsible for what happened that day. It is, however, an absolute scandal that it has taken 27 years to get to the truth. Does the Home Secretary agree that not only must we never forget the 96 who died that day, but we must never be allowed to forget that those in authority chose to cover up their responsibility for this tragedy, and to smear the name of a great football club, a great city, and football fans everywhere?
My hon. Friend is right, and as he recognised, in the rest of the country and around the globe there are not just football fans, but there are also Liverpool supporters. I cannot reiterate enough how appalling it was that it was not just organs of the state and other agencies that were involved in this. There was a general public feeling that somehow the fans must have been responsible. Question 7 of the verdict yesterday and its supplementary question were clear. The jury was asked whether there was any behaviour on the part of the football supporters which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation at the Leppings Lane turnstiles, or which may have caused or contributed to that situation. The answer was clear: no.
The verdicts yesterday are momentous and long overdue, and I join other Members in paying tribute to the campaigners, families, friends and survivors of what happened in Hillsborough. I warmly welcome the Home Secretary’s statement and the incredibly powerful response from my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham). I join him and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) in urging the Government and the Home Secretary to do everything possible to press the CPS to make its decisions as quickly as possible. That is certainly what the families and survivors want.
What hits home about this tragedy is that anyone who has been an away fan or stood on a terrace can picture themselves in that tunnel, on the way to the pen, looking forward to the match, hoping to see their team win, but it ending up in tragedy. Therefore, when those fans were smeared, all of us were smeared. It could have been our club, town or city—only the finger of fate meant that it was Liverpool. Does the Home Secretary agree that looking back, steps could have been taken to avoid this tragedy? When I spoke to Coventry City fans who attended matches at Hillsborough in 1987, they recounted some of the issues that they experienced during those games but that were not addressed, with tragic consequences. After 27 years it is time for some of the organisations involved to stop the denials, accept the verdict and the truth, and move on to ensure that those responsible are finally held to account.
My hon. Friend is right to refer to the issues relating to the stadium, and many people will think it not just surprising but incredible that a game of that size took place in a stadium which, as I understand, did not have the proper safety certification. People will question forever how the relevant authorities can have allowed that to happen, and there are issues not just about the police and ambulance service, but about the football club and the design of the stadium.
As a Merseyside MP and a Liverpool supporter, I thank the Home Secretary for what is almost the last chapter of an unbearably sad book. She must recognise that in this world, justice does not compensate for loss and grief. Apart from the judicial process, what more needs to be done to support the families and for closure?
Obviously, the next stage of the investigation and the CPS is important for the families, and I hope that they will continue to work with Bishop James Jones through the family forums, and on his work to hear about their experiences. That process is important for the families, and also for us, so that we ensure that we have heard their experiences and can take away from that any lessons that need to be learned and any action that the Government need to take.
May I add my thanks to the Home Secretary for her excellent statement, and for her work on the Orgreave truth and justice campaign? I look forward to her response on that. Having served as a special constable in the Metropolitan Police Service, I recognise the institutional defensiveness that was mentioned yesterday by the families, and I fear that that problem is not unique to South Yorkshire. As part of her review of lessons learned, will the Home Secretary consider ending the practice of officers conferring together when recording statements?
I thank the Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) and other Merseyside colleagues for their determination in pursuing this matter over many years. The Merseyside victims came from Bootle, Birkenhead, Crosby, Liverpool, Runcorn, Knowsley and other Merseyside communities, but as my right hon. Friend said, supporters also came from all over the country—Cheshire, Essex, Leigh, Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Gloucestershire, Middlesex, Wrexham and London among other places. Will the Home Secretary join me, Merseyside MPs, and the people of Merseyside in remembering those supporters and their brave families, wherever they came from on that dreadful day, because they are now part of the Merseyside family?
Does the Home Secretary accept that, although she gave us a long, miserable litany of organisations that failed—organisations whose very essence is supposed to be about securing our safety—one institution shines through gloriously? That is the family, and particularly the families of those who were killed at Hillsborough. Does she accept that whatever we try to say in this House, we say it inadequately, but that we share in the sympathy and admiration of the whole country for those families who had to fight throughout this case? I would like to thank her, the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) and the then Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, for making the triumph of these families possible.
Concluding her statement, the Home Secretary read out the list of possible charges that might now follow. Although this will be a chilling task in itself, it will be an even greater chill for us if—as I hope, please God—we see through the necessary reform programme for great institutions that we thought were unquestionably on our side, but which were on somebody else’s side on that fateful day.