Commons Urgent Question
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat the Answer to an Urgent Question made by my honourable friend the Sports Minister in another place earlier today:
“Mr Speaker, on 28 May, Liverpool Football Club played Real Madrid in the final of the Champions League. The fixture was held at the Stade de France in Paris and, on this occasion, Real Madrid won the match 1-0. In this case, it is not the result that makes the fixture worthy of debate but the spectator experience. The start of the fixture was delayed due to a number of crowd safety issues outside the ground. These issues prevented safe and timely access to the stadium for many thousands of Liverpool supporters. Members from across the House will, like me, have been appalled to hear of the terrifying and potentially dangerous conditions experienced by many Liverpool fans. Many of us will have seen the clips on social media. What should have been a celebration of the pinnacle of European club football will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
I am shocked and concerned by what has come to light. I welcome the fact—the Secretary of State and I requested it—that UEFA has commissioned an independent investigation and issued an apology to all fans who attended the final. The French Minister for Sport has also commissioned a review of the delivery of the event, and I will be discussing this with her later this week. The French Government will also be supporting the UEFA investigation and issuing sanctions against any police officers who misused tear gas, and they have confirmed that they will pursue compensation for fans who had a valid ticket and were unable to enter the stadium. UEFA has confirmed that it will launch a new complaints procedure for fans to present evidence, and Liverpool FC is collating fan experiences, via its website, to contribute to the UEFA investigation. I urge fans to send accounts of their experiences to the club. DCMS will continue to work closely with the relevant authorities and Liverpool FC.
The footage and accounts from Liverpool fans and the media on their entry to the Stade de France on 28 May have been deeply upsetting. Thousands of Liverpool fans travelled to Paris in good time to support their team in one of the biggest matches of the season, and we are hugely disappointed by how they were treated. Fans deserve to know what happened, so it is absolutely right that the relevant authorities are now fully investigating these events. These investigations must establish the facts so that the authorities can learn lessons from the event and ensure that we do not see scenes like this again.”
My Lords, spectator bottlenecks, closed turnstiles, riot police using tear gas on patient fans and thuggish attacks by local gangs indicate that something went seriously wrong in the planning of the Champions League Final and the police operational plan, yet the authorities immediately accused Liverpool Football Club fans.
I have three questions for the Minister. First, what liaison took place between UK and French police before the match, and were co-operation protocols properly followed? Secondly, although I welcome that assurances have been given on the genuine independence of UEFA’s inquiry or investigation, its terms of reference and likely punishments will be key to its work. The appointment of the inquiry chair and the terms of reference will determine the effectiveness of its outcome. Thirdly, what steps will be taken by the Government to help restore the reputation of Liverpool Football Club and of its fans? Many fans caught up in these events were at Hillsborough, where an early blame game saw lies established as fact. I hope that, on this occasion, the truth will quickly out.
I certainly agree with the noble Lord’s final comments: we want to see the truth out and to do so quickly. We want the facts to be established, which is why the Secretary of State and the Sports Minister urged that this independent investigation be swiftly set up and are glad that it has been. We are confident that UEFA is committed to a thorough review.
I will write to the noble Lord on the question of police liaison beforehand, having checked, but I saw that UK police officers were present there, which suggests liaison beforehand, and we will of course want their insights and evidence, as well as that of fans and others, to feed into UEFA’s review. He is absolutely right to mention the Hillsborough tragedy in this regard. Liverpool fans, above all, know all too well the importance of proper security and policing at football matches. That is important for fans across the world, whatever team they support. Something clearly went wrong on 28 May, and we are very glad that UEFA is investigating it so that the facts can be established.
My Lords, will the Minister expand on the idea of liaison between the various police forces? Not just the English and French police should be talking to each other; there should be at least a Europe-wide connection, because we do not know when we will next have British fans in a foreign country in a European competition, when something can go wrong again. The more high-pressure the situation and the bigger the competition, the more pressure we have on those structures and the more people will travel. Is Europe-wide communication going on here? How effective are we now at collecting intelligence from home to feed into the process?
The noble Lord makes an important point. In international fixtures, it is important that lessons are learned across jurisdictions so that scenes such as this cannot be repeated. The French Government, who are hosting the Rugby World Cup and the 2024 Olympics in Paris, will want to make sure that they have learned the lessons for those important sporting events. The Home Office will be working with its counterparts, in line with existing protocols of co-operation, to ensure that any appropriate evidence is gathered to contribute to the review, and has undertaken to look at many aspects of the event beyond the policing response.
My Lords, I am a Liverpool supporter and I attended this shamefully managed event. The inquiry announced by UEFA needs to explore quite a number of things: first, the manifest limitations of the design and management of the Stade de France; secondly, the prior planning and operational response of the French police; and, thirdly, the quality of oversight of UEFA itself. Will the Minister endeavour to ensure that the inquiry has the power, capability and capacity to do all those things?
The inquiry is for UEFA, and I am confident that UEFA is committed to a thorough review. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his first-hand observations, which I am sure will have been heard, but I shall gladly pick that up with him after this to ensure that they can be fed to UEFA so that the lessons can be properly learned.
Yes, my honourable friend the Sports Minister has that match very much in mind. We of course hope that the emerging lessons can be learned very swiftly, as well as the detailed lessons which will be learned once the full facts are established and publicised following UEFA’s review.
My Lords, undoubtedly the saddest time of my life as a Member of Parliament in Liverpool was visiting the homes of constituents who had loved ones who had died or been injured at Hillsborough, including the family of a child. That was compounded by the collective character assassination which immediately occurred in the media, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, and also by the lies that were told by people in authority. Given that French Ministers immediately tried to put blame on the Liverpool fans, I wonder whether the inquiry by UEFA will look into how the authorities responded in the immediate aftermath of these events, when spectators had tear gas and pepper sprayed into their faces.
The noble Lord speaks very powerfully about the lessons of the Hillsborough tragedy, which we were still learning during my time as an adviser at the Home Office many years later—so I am very aware of the long-standing impact that such events have on the families and friends of those caught up in them. It is important that the facts are established before any blame is apportioned. That is why we are glad to see this investigation being set up and hope that it will be able to do that swiftly.
My Lords, there have been a number of references to Hillsborough in the Chamber this evening. I think that I am the only Member of your Lordships’ House who was present at Hillsborough in 1989 and, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, the most shameful aspect of it was the cover-up and the lying that took place after it. Can the Government look again at the report by our former colleague James Jones, the retired Bishop of Liverpool, who addressed many of these issues and came forward with some solutions, a number of which have not been adopted?
My Lords, as an avid football fan and the only woman who has asked a question about football—although I am a Manchester United supporter rather than a Liverpool supporter; do not kill me now—and as somebody who lives in the Liverpool area and knows a lot of family members of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster, I am a little concerned about the rhetoric of “lessons learned”. If you have not learned anything about Hillsborough now, from what we saw on the television, I am very concerned. I have spoken to a victim’s family and friends, who are very traumatised and will not discuss what happened at that event. Is this just a tick box for everybody else but not actually for the fans who have suffered?
Also, the French police allowed local people to go into the fan zone and blocked a lot of fans who had tickets and were there to enjoy a family scene with their young people and to watch the football that they are so passionate about. Can the Minister please stop saying “lessons learned”? It is an insult to the families who have had to fight for over 25 years to get a result which was not the result we thought that we would get in the first place.
As ever, my noble friend, as a former Victims’ Commissioner, speaks powerfully on behalf of victims and survivors. Whatever phrases are used, it is important that they are translated into action so that people can see meaningful change and can see that lessons are being learned, even if that phrase understandably rankles with some people. It is also important that lessons are learned and shared across the world, which is why we are glad that UEFA is doing this investigation. We hope that it establishes the facts swiftly and thoroughly.