“supports the approach to public service pension reform”.
I do not think that is a controversial issue, but it is important that we do nothing to undermine our commitment to the belief that this is now the responsibility of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. We should not give it authority with one hand while putting constraints on it with the other. That is where the Government have got it wrong; they are seeking to interfere in the process.
Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): I see no discrepancy in the Government seeking to apply the principles of public sector reform to the decisions that IPSA will ultimately take, as is stated in the motion. That does not preclude IPSA from consulting on the finer details, as my hon. Friend said. It is important that it is explicit in the motion that the principles of the wider public sector reforms should be applicable to MPs’ pensions. It is imperative that the message goes out that that is what we are voting for.
Mr Speaker: Order. I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady. That may well be imperative, but it is also imperative that interventions from now on are brief, because a number of people wish to speak. I remind the House that a debate of exceptional importance is to take place under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee. I do not think that I am alone in hoping that that debate will not be delayed unduly.
Mr Chope: I will make a brief response to my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Margot James), Mr Speaker. What she says about perceptions is important. That is why it is essential that the Government do not bring forward motions that seem to be designed to appeal to an outside audience, while at the same time leaving things rather vague and open to the accusation that they are trying to tie the hands of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.
Mr Chope: It does not say that, actually, because if it did, it would be worded in that way. That is how it is being interpreted. If nothing else comes from this debate, something will have been achieved if that is how the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority interprets the motion. My concern and the concern of many colleagues is that it seems as though the Government have picked a few items and put them in the motion.
To take one public service scheme as an example, the Government have made it quite clear that they do not think that the principles we are talking about today should apply to the armed forces scheme. I support the Government in that, but it is a completely separate issue from trying to tie the hands of IPSA at this stage. IPSA will come forward with its proposals and they will
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go out to consultation, at which point the Government will have a chance to express a view, as will everybody else.
Mr Redwood: Am I right in remembering that the idea of the Hutton proposals was that they should be negotiated between the representatives of the employees and the employers? Does my hon. Friend think that that is the idea in this case as well?
Mr Chope: My right hon. Friend is, as almost always, absolutely right. The hon. Member for Blaydon made the point that in the public sector, proper negotiations are going on based upon information about specific schemes and about employment issues overall. It seems that for some reason, the Government are trying to pre-empt that negotiation, although we have a strong and independent group of trustees for our pension scheme.
As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, I tried to negotiate with the Government a slightly longer debate on this issue, believing that we should take it up to 7 o’clock. I lost out in that negotiation, so now I feel it is incumbent on me to reduce my remarks pro rata to give others the chance to participate. I have tabled the amendment as a probing amendment, and I have been quite interested in the reaction that it has engendered. Since I tabled it I have heard colleagues say that they think I am on to a good thing, and that they would support it if the House were to divide. However, I will wait and see the view of others before making a final decision on that.
Mr Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): As the chairman of the pension fund, I have had many meetings with the Leader of the House and with the chairman of IPSA. As a consequence of my concerns and those that other trustees had expressed, I wrote to every Member of Parliament. They should have received the letter on Thursday by e-mail and over the weekend by post. I presume that, as a consequence, much that I would have said does not need to be said, but I can assure all Members and former Members that I and the trustees will take on board any observations and questions that they may have.
I would argue that we are where we are today as a consequence of successive Governments, since time immemorial, interfering with MPs’ conditions of service. That is the whole reason for this debate today and why IPSA was introduced. On that basis, it seems strange that even at this late stage, the Government continue to think they can interfere with our conditions of service by putting motions such as this before the House. I reject their position and do not think it is right.
I believe that, having been given its new responsibility, IPSA should be fully independent. It is proving itself to be so in the discussions that I have with it. It has assured the board of trustees that it will operate free of Government interference on this subject and on conditions of service across the board.
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Mr Donohoe: I do not have time to give way again, because I am conscious of the fact that so many Members want to intervene or make speeches. Rather than reading out the minutes of meetings, if the hon. Gentleman writes to me I will furnish him with that information.
The trustees of the time had no choice about the move to IPSA, which was agreed by a motion of the House. However, they fought for and won significant concessions within the Bill that made the change. There is absolutely no doubt that the protection of Members’ pensions was at the forefront of their discussion, and I have to praise the staff and advisers of the pension unit and its previous chairman, Sir John Butterfill. They are to be congratulated on the protection that they got for the pensions of Members and retired Members.
The legislation necessary to transfer the Leader of the House’s powers to IPSA was in place before my appointment as chairman of the board of trustees, but as I continue I shall tell the House that the trustees will have important powers that they did not have previously. The transfer of powers was agreed, as all hon. Members will know, in the wake of the expenses scandal, following the recommendations of the Kelly report. One recommendation was that IPSA should have statutory responsibility for setting Members’ pay, which of course includes pensions, and other conditions of service. It is important to understand that that must be done in consultation with the House. IPSA also has the responsibility of oversight for the administration of Members’ pensions.
Therefore, amendments to schedule 6 to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 were made to give effect to the decision to transfer powers over pensions. That is what the Act was all about, and that is what it achieves. However, Members who read the Act will find that aspects of it clearly transfer more powers to the board of trustees.
Mr Redwood: Will the hon. Gentleman make that clear, because I do not quite understand him? Is he saying that the trustees have the power and the duty either to consent to IPSA proposals or to withhold their consent? If they have that power, how might they use it?
Mr Donohoe: The trustees do not have that power. Given IPSA’s independence, which is enshrined in legislation, at the end of the day, it makes the ultimate decision, but it must do so after meaningful consultation with the trustees. Any changes that IPSA wishes to make to the pension fund must be reported to the Speaker and laid before the House. That is the power within the Act.
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The trustees at the time were presented with the proposals to amend the 2010 Act. They asked for and got a number of amendments, but they had no power to overturn the Government’s proposals, which were eventually agreed. I can tell the House that the trustees made an exceptional effort and fought extremely hard in that period, and they won numerous and significant protections for Members’ pension benefits. By way of an example, accrued benefits will be fully protected after the transfer. Because the benefits have been built up, they obviously must be protected, but they are not currently protected and they could be interfered with. That is a clear indication of what the trustees were able to implement—that protection will be enshrined in legislation following the transfer. I do not have time to give more examples, but I can give them to hon. Members after the debate if they want me to.
IPSA can make changes to MPs’ future pension benefits and contributions only after formal consultation with the trustees, the majority of whom, following the transfer of the power, which will happen whenever the Leader of the House gets round to signing the order, will be Members of Parliament or former Members of Parliament. That is an enhancement of the trustees’ powers, because there is currently no such requirement.
Currently, there are 10 trustees—eight are Members of Parliament and two are former Members, but when the order is signed, one trustee will be appointed by the board of IPSA and one will come from the Government. The Ministry for the civil service, the head of which is the Prime Minister, will appoint the latter. I do not suppose the Prime Minister wants to become the trustee of the Members’ pension fund, but who knows?
Mr Donohoe: I will explain. That individual would be responsible only for representing the Ministers’ section of the pension fund. A former Minister would have a different contribution rate. I see the Leader of the House agreeing with me on this. The pension fund administers that at present and will continue to do so, but by virtue of the contribution, it will come from the Department that the person was in or from the civil service. The Government are not going to start playing a part in the Members’ pension fund. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman’s question.
There was originally a proposal in the Bill that members of the board of trustees could be removed by IPSA. That has now been forgotten, and the eight members of the board will continue to be appointed by this House and no one else. They will continue to be elected or selected from this place or from among former Members. At our trustees’ meeting on Thursday, we thought it sensible to determine that we would lose two members at this stage so that this whole process could be carried out smoothly. Otherwise, all sorts of complications could have arisen. As a consequence, I would like to put on record my appreciation—and that of the other members of the board—for my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd) and the hon. Member for Watford (Richard Harrington), both of whom have now withdrawn as trustees.
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The increase in contributions is the main point of any argument on this matter. I have already argued, and I want to reinforce the point, that IPSA must be seen in every respect as independent. I see no reason why the House should indicate that it would like our pension contributions to be treated in the same way as those of other public service workers. IPSA has a statutory duty to act independently of Parliament, and by giving such an indication, the House is putting undue pressure on IPSA. It should not be influencing IPSA in that way. IPSA must undertake its role as laid down in statute, and in no other way.
Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): Surely it is important, however, for the House to make it clear that MPs should not be treated differently from other public sector workers. In particular, we should try to avoid a repeat of the bizarre situation earlier this year in which we had to take back powers to set our own pay because the Senior Salaries Review Body had recommended a pay rise for MPs in a year when the rest of the public sector faced a pay freeze. Any such pay rise would have been entirely inappropriate.
Mr Donohoe: I have to disagree with the hon. Lady, and I will tell her why. If we put things out to independent arbiters such as the Senior Salaries Review Body, and they make recommendations after consultation with all sorts of bodies, I would argue that the Government should not intervene. In that case in particular, we should not have overturned that decision. This is where we have gone wrong so many times in the past. In the great number of years that I have been a Member of Parliament, I have seen this happen time and again, and my research leads me to believe that every Prime Minister since 1945 with the exception of John Major has interfered in the conditions of service of Members of Parliament to the detriment of those conditions.
I feel strongly about this—so strongly that, as the arch-enemy of IPSA, I argue on the basis of what I have seen that it is far better for it to have that independence, which is clearly documented in legislation, than to have this constant interference in the conditions of service of Members of Parliament. There has not been a great understanding by the Government of some of the elements of the arguments with IPSA.
Given that pay and pensions are linked, it is only sensible for IPSA to take stock not only of all elements of conditions of service, but of the whole question of pensions, which I have always believed to be deferred income for any individual in employment who has a pension fund.
Other considerations relating to IPSA in consultation with trustees include the fact that it has to wait for a valuation. Here, as I say, the Government have not fully understood the position on Members’ pensions or the calculations of where they should go in respect of any increase in contributions, any increase in the age of retirement or any other element affecting those pensions. Clearly, the results of the 2011 valuation of the scheme will shortly be finalised, which I take as a very strong argument for leaving the decision about increases in contributions, if there are to be increases, to IPSA itself. As far as we are concerned, we are in a cost-sharing scheme, as a result of which we must see what the actuary says about any changes to contribution rates
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before taking a decision that puts us in line with anybody else. As Members will know, there have been increases to pension contributions over a relatively recent period, which I do not think any other members of the public sector have had to face. I suggest that it is important to take that into account, as we are told it will be by IPSA.
I suggest that trustees would also recommend giving further thought to other cost-saving measures in the scheme to make it simpler and to make the benefits clear in a way that everybody understands. From the discussions I have had with Members of Parliament over the last few weeks, I believe that there has been a misunderstanding of many aspects of the scheme. That needs to be taken into account. We also need to consider, if possible, as a means of getting away from increases in contributions, the whole question of increasing the pension or retirement age. It could be part of the answer to some of the problems we face.
Another misunderstanding is the view that this scheme is expensively funded in itself. Schemes like this should be treated differently from unfunded or notionally funded schemes, as assessing changes to member contribution rates should take into account any excess returns generated by funded schemes from the investment strategy. I understand that the London Pension Fund Authority scheme, which is a funded scheme, might not be subject to the general contribution increase that the Government hope to implement. If there are exceptions there, they can be made anywhere else. I am convinced that an awful lot of negotiations are still to take place, and these will bring to the fore some of the elements of the pension fund that are not best understood.
Mr Anderson: Is there not a big problem with this whole debate in that we talk about these things as if they are a matter of negotiation, but in fact what we are really talking about is the fact that the Government are imposing a stealth tax on all public sector workers? They are not having negotiations about that, and they are not taking actuarial advice or the effect of the schemes into account. All they are saying is, “There will be an increase on public sector workers’ pensions” as a matter of fact—without allowing negotiations about any scheme to be taken into account.
Some of the closest comparators to Members are senior civil servants. Members of the civil service pension scheme and other schemes such as the scheme for staff of the House of Commons and the House of Lords pay either 3.5% or 1.5% contributions, depending on when they joined the civil service. For that contribution, they either build up a pension at the rate of one sixtieth, or one eightieth plus tax-free cash sum—which equates to one sixty-fourth—with a retirement age of 60, or they build up a pension at the rate of one forty-third with a retirement age of 65. That must be taken into account along with everything else in which we will be involved between now and 2015. It is clear from the discussions that have taken place that consideration must be given to all elements of Members’ contributions.
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People may think that I only represent the House in this regard, but I have constituents who are aggrieved by what is happening to their pension funds, and I have every sympathy with them. However, I am here almost as a shop steward—I am not sure that that expression is much liked on the Government Benches—to represent Members in the context of their conditions of service. People describe this as a gold-plated scheme, but although it is a good scheme—indeed, I would argue that it is a brilliant scheme—what is not understood is that only a few Members of Parliament retire from this place with a full pension. Of the 650 serving Members of Parliament, only 35 would leave with one today. Another thing that is not understood is that most Members pay for the rate of one fortieth, which means paying 11.9%. So the scheme cannot really be described as gold-plated.
Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that Members may have already contributed to pension schemes before being elected to the House? They do not generally come here at the age of 21.
Mr Donohoe: The regulations restrict the level of pension that can be paid on retirement. The limit is generally two thirds of pay inclusive of pensions that people have built up before becoming Members of Parliament. I think that that answers the hon. Lady’s question. As most MPs have other pension entitlements, the restriction means that a number of them are not paid the pension of one fortieth for each year of their parliamentary service. Worse, a small number of MPs who have not transferred their pensions to the fund end up subsidising the Exchequer by continuing to make contributions for a period for which they will receive no pension. That, too, is not best understood by those who criticise us.
I understand that the legislation allows Members to opt out. If there were an increase in the level of the contribution and if I were 45, I should find things very difficult. Given domestic circumstances, not every Member of Parliament is rich, and those who are not would find it difficult to continue to make their contributions. I understand that that also applies to many members of the fire service, for instance. There will be a drift, and if that gathers pace—as it could—the pension fund will suffer and the Exchequer will eventually have to fund more than it does at present. That must be factored into the equation before any change is made.
Our discussions with IPSA suggest—and Sir Ian Kennedy himself has stated—that it has determined that MPs’ conditions of service will be dealt with fairly, that it will work closely with the trustees once the powers are transferred, and that it would welcome proposals from the trustees on how the relationship should work. I have put that on record because it was said. At the trustee meeting Sir Ian attended, he went on to say that IPSA’s statutory independent role will be maintained. Importantly, that includes independence in respect of public perception. I think the public realise that, and I know the trustees will hold them to that point.
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not perfect, it offers me the only opportunity I will have to put that perception on the record, which I can do by voting against the motion. I fear that in the fullness of time Members will rue the day they handed their pensions to IPSA.
However, if it were not for my experience of the last 18 months, which the vast majority of Members share, I would be voting for the motion, as I recognise the importance of our pension scheme and salaries being independent. My reason for not voting for the motion is purely lack of faith in the competence of IPSA. I want to stress, however, that I am not talking about its hard-working staff. They are up the same creek as us; they are in a different canoe, as it were, but, in common with us, they have no paddle.
My criticism is entirely of the IPSA board. One only has to read the minutes of its meetings to realise that it has in mind not user-friendliness in respect of Members of Parliament but, rather, hostility. I serve on the Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and, interestingly, in the 18 months since it was established we have yet to meet the full IPSA board. That is astonishing.
I have concerns about the part of the motion that the amendment would delete. The motion says that following on from the work of the Independent Public Service Pensions Commission, IPSA will draw up a new scheme
“which is informed by the Commission’s findings and their subsequent application to other public service pension schemes”.
I appreciate that many other Members wish to speak. I have put my concerns on the record and stressed that I am not criticising IPSA staff. My criticisms are purely of the policies of the IPSA board. I conclude by noting that the National Audit Office has issued a report that is not exactly flattering to IPSA. It says it does not represent value for money and that it has brought in a scheme in which 38% of all claims cost more to administer than the claim itself. It has also found that 91% of Members of this House are now subsidising their work and that a large part of the reason for that is the systems introduced by IPSA.
Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): It would be hard to argue with what the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) has just said if we had not already agreed to do this. We are halfway down the line, and we have been since before the last general election when we said we would give IPSA this responsibility. The debate should have stopped then. We should have said, “Right, we agree today that we’re going to do something we should have been doing over the last 16 months. We’re going to tell IPSA to get on with it by sitting down with our trustees and negotiating a settlement based on the way pension schemes across the world operate.”
Why are we having this debate tonight on a lengthy motion that pulls in public sector pensions? I take the Leader of the House at his word of course, but I am convinced that other people will use this debate as a stick to beat public sector workers over the head with. They will say, “MPs have agreed to have their pensions changed, so why don’t you?” That is the wrong way to deal with something as integral to someone’s terms and
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conditions as their pension. The terms and conditions of public sector workers, or of any other worker in this country, should be based on a genuine debate between the employer representative for the pension scheme—IPSA in our case—and the trustees. They should come together to weigh up the evidence about what the scheme does, what it is there for, whether it is sustainable and whether there is evidence to back changes.
This country faces a situation in which the Treasury is telling us that a levy must be imposed on those in the public sector, which in some cases will be 3% and for us could well be 5%, without any account having been taken of whether it is legitimate, whether it makes schemes affordable or whether, as has been said, it makes them less sustainable. A survey carried out by YouGov for the Fire Brigades Union suggested that 27% of its members could opt out and 12% would be very likely to opt out of their scheme if these changes go through. Unison has suggested that 350,000 people could opt out of these schemes. These schemes are good for the people in them. They are not gold-plated, but they are probably as good as most people in work can get. If people opt out, that will affect not just those individuals but will have a huge effect on the investment potential of this country, because those pension schemes invest heavily in the stock market.
Mr Bone: The hon. Gentleman is putting his point fairly. I might well agree with the Government’s approach to pension reforms, but I am surprised that the motion states that “this House” supports it. This is the wrong debate in which to make that statement.
Mr Anderson: I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman. This debate should be about the processes of this House—House business is about that, not the politics of this House. It should be about whether we agree that this is the right way for Members of this House, and whoever comes after us, to be treated. This should not be about whether this suits someone’s political agenda and allows them to go outside and say, “Look, MPs think it’s legitimate to have a 5% or 3% levy. Why won’t you do the same?”, but my worry is that that is what this is about.
Let us not forget that we had a debate that concluded three years ago about public sector pensions, including our own. That resulted in big changes to public sector pensions. As has been suggested by our trustee colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr Donohoe), a cut-off was introduced: people would retain the benefits if they joined before a certain date, but for those who joined after and for new members the pension contributions would be more and their benefits would be less. Public sector workers agreed to that three years ago on the basis that it would make their pensions sustainable for the future. Nothing has changed since then, except for the fact that the Government want to impose a levy on public sector workers to try to dig themselves out of the hole created by the collapse of the global financial system. That approach is clearly wrong. Public sector workers should not have to carry the can for the failure of the banks, and that is clearly the message being given throughout the world.
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shift payments, potential redundancies and so on, they will walk away from these pension schemes, as I said earlier. That will be to the detriment of the schemes, investment and the welfare system, because as people reach retirement age there will be a bigger drain on the welfare state than there would have been had they been able to provide for themselves.
This approach is a con trick. It is not about pensions’ stabilisation; it is about taking money out of the pockets of nurses, firefighters, street cleaners, social workers and home care workers to pay for the failures of capitalism. The truth is that we should stand together with those workers, as public sector workers, in a debate that is about our terms and conditions. They have a similar debate about their terms and conditions and we should say, “We stand in solidarity with you. It’s wrong that the Government are robbing you for your pension and taking money out of your pockets.”
Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and I should declare an interest as the chairman of the all-party group on occupational pensions. I am puzzled by where the hon. Gentleman is going on this, because the motion is surely all about the parliamentary pension fund rather than about those of trade union members in general.
Mr Anderson: If the hon. Gentleman had been here from the start of the debate, he would realise that it has expanded into a discussion about public sector pensions because they are included in the motion, in which the Leader of the House has clearly linked this scheme with other applicable schemes. Some of us who signed the amendment want to remove that link so that we can have a debate about when and whether we will give IPSA the right that it should have had since last May. If we had had that debate, we would not be sitting here now and we could have talked about the issue that most people in the House today want to talk about.
Ultimately, we are showing support for other public sector workers and we are not saying that we are a special case. We are saying that the Government should not make any public sector worker a special case by making them pay a levy to subsidise the failure of the banking system.
Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): I rise to support the motion, and although I appreciate the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope), I think his amendment is unnecessary.
I must admit that I never thought I would be talking about my pension. Perhaps because I do not have dependants, I did not immediately rush to the pension scheme booklet to have a look at what I should or should not do, but just went for the default—as most new Members probably did—of 11.9% of my pay. However, I want to ask a few questions that I would like IPSA to bear in mind, and perhaps the Government might respond to them later.
Will the scheme to which we contribute be wound up or frozen? There is a difference, in that the Government might be expected to continue with contributions for the closed scheme in the future depending on its status.
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As regards any deficit or surplus—I do not know the latest on that—will the Government confirm that any future contributions will not be used to top up any deficit, but that the Treasury will make good the scheme as and when it is closed to new members and fresh contributions from members?
I encourage IPSA to consider schemes that are permanently funded, not unfunded, as it were; what other quasi-public organisations have done; and whether they have used salary sacrifice or similar schemes to ensure—how can I put this?—that the scheme still represents good value for us all. I hope that IPSA will also consider how Members can vary their contribution. I was interested to hear what the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr Donohoe), the chairman of the trustees, said about how people might unwittingly end up subsidising other Members or, indeed, the Treasury. Some education on that would be helpful. Will the Government also make a statement about bringing forward proposals on the ministerial pension fund and whether any changes will be made to that on the basis of career average earnings or salary at the time of being a Minister? Some parity would be helpful.
I would say to the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) that I do not see the motion as one that beats up public sector workers. I understand his honourable perspective, which leads him to say that we should not accept this if we are not prepared to accept it for the people we represent. I, like other Members on both sides of the House, believe that we cannot make proposals, which were suggested by Lord Hutton, if we are not prepared to follow them ourselves. If we are asking other people to make a sacrifice—I recognise that the hon. Gentleman is not, but those on the Front Benches agree in this instance—it is paramount that we should be prepared to, too.
I appreciate that other Members wish to speak and that there is a very important debate to come, so my final point is that nobody should be surprised by this, either on the Government Benches or elsewhere. If I heard correctly, the Treasury is contributing 28% and our contributions are roughly 12%, and a 40% contribution towards a pension scheme is not sustainable for any organisation. My former employer used to offer contributions into the high 30s and took the decision to close the scheme. We need to ensure that what we do acts as a role model for companies and for the public sector.
Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) who, as usual, made a number of good points. I think it would be wrong if I did not mention the speech of the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr Donohoe), which I thought was the most reasoned and sensible speech of the whole debate. Uncharacteristically, the Leader of the House was not on his best form and did not show his usual charitable nature. I think that when he reads Hansard tomorrow, he will regret the remarks he made about the implied position of Members who signed the amendment, which was quite wrong. I really think that, on reflection, he will regret saying that.
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The emoluments of Members should be a matter for the House and Members should have a free vote and be allowed to make their own minds up—this should not be party whipped. That is where a lot of the problems with our pensions and salaries have occurred in the past, with every party leader trying to bid lower to attract what they thought was the best press coverage on the issue. I do not think that a single Member has said that our pension scheme should not go to IPSA. What I am concerned about is our sending it to IPSA, and then the Executive—the very Government who say they want there to be an independent look at how our pensions are run—telling that independent scheme what to do. That is the whole problem.
The amendment is very simple. It simply takes out all the garbage, goes to the heart of the matter and transfers our pension scheme to IPSA for IPSA to make up its own mind. I am quite sure that Sir Ian Kennedy will ignore the rest of the motion anyway, saying that it is just a representation and that IPSA will make its own mind up. It seems to me that the Government can quite properly make their own submission but that they cannot tie it to the House. Members should be able to make their own submissions and it is wrong to try to force this through. This is what every single Executive have done since I have been here. I say to the Government, “You really have to butt out; you have to leave the pay, conditions and expenses to IPSA.” With all due respect to the Leader of the House, I will have a 10p bet with him that we will be back here again voting on our salaries, because the Government at some stage will not like something that IPSA has recommended.
“supports the approach to public service pension reform set out in the Final Report of the Independent Public Service Pensions Commission chaired by Lord Hutton of Furness”.
I might think that is a good idea, but I did not think that was the Opposition’s view. If they vote for this motion, they are voting for that. They cannot argue about it because it is on the Order Paper.
Ms Angela Eagle: I spent a little time talking about some aspects of the Hutton report that we did support, and I also made observations on some aspects of the Hutton report to which I thought the Government should pay more attention. I think my speech was entirely in keeping with our response to the Hutton report to date—as the hon. Gentleman will see if he reads it in Hansard tomorrow.
Mr Bone: I listened very carefully to the hon. Lady. If this motion goes through, the Government will quite rightly be able to say that the official Opposition support the wording because they voted for it in the House of Commons. That may well be her position—I am happy to accept that—but this is not the right place to be debating this issue.
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Mr Bone: That is tempting, but I do not think it is that. I think that the Opposition are between a rock and a hard place. They do not want to support that particular point, but, equally, they do not want to be spun against by the Government who will say, “There we are, the official Opposition didn’t want to restrict our pensions.” That is what they are really scared of. They have decided that they would rather put the perception in the papers above taking a principled stand. Time and again we do that in the House, and I think it is a huge mistake.
Richard Graham: How would my hon. Friend answer his constituents in the public services whose pensions are about to be significantly downgraded when they ask him why the parliamentary pension scheme remains the most generous of all and whether he missed the opportunity to amend it?
Mr Bone: That is simple to answer in the way that I hope that my hon. Friend would answer it: the House believes that our pensions, expenses and salaries must be determined independently, so they should be determined by the independent body, not by him or me. That is how we got into this mess in the first place. I hope that he and all other Members would make that point.
I came to the House expecting the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) to be a probing amendment, because we thought that the Government would say that this was up to IPSA, that this was just their view and that it was an independent matter. Unfortunately, the remarks of the Leader of the House have so incensed me that, if my hon. Friend wishes to put the amendment to the vote, I shall support him.
Mr Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): Although I do not agree with the final few words of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), I agree with much of the rest of what he said. If this was genuinely the last time that the House would ever consider these issues, I would be rejoicing and might even be entirely persuaded by what the Leader of the House said. He knows as well as I do that, if IPSA recommends a significant salary increase in advance of April 2013, the Government—perhaps even a Government with him still as Leader of the House—will introduce a two-line Bill to ensure that we do not vote on the proposal.
This is a crying shame: we got into this mess, going back 25 or 30 years, because Executives repeatedly interfered with salaries, general remuneration, pensions and expenses, and there seems to be no end in sight. I have not been reassured by what has been said. I have quite a lot of sympathy with what the Government are trying to achieve, but I would have even more sympathy if they had said, “This is IPSA’s responsibility. Let IPSA get on with it.” That was the position as we understood it when the bomb went off less than three years ago over the expenses row.
At the beginning of 2009—a somewhat different time—I wrote an article for the Daily Mail arguing that the disparity between public sector and private sector funded pensions had the makings of an enormous political controversy. I recognised that MPs would have to take a lead and that the public sector, which
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includes us, had to wake up to the reality of higher life expectancy and the unchallenged cost of unfunded pensions.
We must place on record some commonly misunderstood facts about our so-called brilliant pension scheme. We have quite a generous pension scheme, about which the hon. Members for Central Ayrshire (Mr Donohoe) and for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) made important contributions. Compared with many other pension schemes, ours is well funded, but those who are on the one fortieth scheme already pay a 11.9% contribution, which is considerably higher than the norm for other public sector pensions. Those facts never seem to be mentioned by hon. Members or the press when the issues are discussed.
I very much agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough about the lesson to be learned from recent months: we might have hoped that the Executive would stop trying to pander to every whim of the press. Unfortunately, the motion seems to be a little more governed by tomorrow’s headlines than by the justice of the case. I say that with some regret, because I broadly agree that Members of Parliament should take a lead on the issue but should not pre-empt other discussions—that would be wrong, too, given the great difficulties the country will face.
I regret that, once again, the Government, like so many before them, have failed to grasp the nettle on MPs’ remuneration and to consider our salaries, expenses and pensions in the round, rather than disjointedly holding a debate every six or nine months and reducing our total remuneration at the margins.
Above all, the lesson that we ought to have learned from recent times is that we should leave this to an independent body. IPSA now, rightly, sets our rules. I understand some of the concerns about IPSA’s operation expressed by the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell). I have had some of my own concerns about it, as I am sure many hon. Members have, but it would be far better to leave IPSA to recommend an appropriate contribution, rather than have the sense of interference.
I go along with the motion. I understand from my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) that the amendment will not necessarily be pressed to a vote. We have a very important debate to follow, so I am glad to hear that, and I praise the Leader of the House for ensuring that we have a fairly full debate on Hillsborough. That debate is not just for Members of Parliament from Merseyside or south Yorkshire, where the terrible events took place; as a keen football fan, and the vice-chairman of the all-party football group, I think it very important that we hold that debate, and I sincerely hope that, after quick winding-up speeches, we can move on to it and put the issue we are discussing to one side. I hope—I speak more in hope than in expectation—that I shall never again have to speak in the House on any matters to do with MPs’ pensions, pay or expenses.
Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): I will be brief because, as the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr Field) pointed out, we are due to start a debate that is 22 years overdue, and many family members of those who died are here to listen to it.
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Three basic principles underlie the topic under discussion. The first and most important is that Members should never again vote on pay and pensions issues. Independent determination of our remuneration and expenses is critical to the integrity of the House. I have always believed that it is invidious that Members are asked to determine their pay and pensions. The same rules should apply to local government and the devolved Assemblies. I absolutely, wholeheartedly agree with the motion, in the sense that it should stop, once and for all, any votes on such issues, although I understand that on at least three occasions we determined never again to vote on them yet have always ended up coming back to them. Let us hope that this is the last time.
The second principle is related and is very much about public confidence in Parliament and its Members. Labour Front Benchers believe that taking the matters we are discussing out of the hands of Members will do a great deal to help restore that confidence, as outlined in the 2009 report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. We voted on that principle in the previous Parliament, and it would be absolutely consistent with that vote to support the motion on passing responsibility for our pension scheme to IPSA.
The third principle is that of parity. It is absolutely critical that Members understand that we are no different from other public sector workers and that we should be no better or worse off than public sector workers when it comes to our pension scheme. The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) referred to that point.
We will support the motion and oppose the amendment, because we believe that the principle of parity with public sector workers is of the utmost importance, but it must be understood that we may not entirely support the Government’s approach to implementation of the Hutton report. We believe that some of the statements made in the Hutton report are absolutely right, but we do not necessarily support everything the Government are doing to implement it. That is an important distinction to make.
It is also important to re-emphasise the point made by my hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House: there has already been a 1.9% increase in Members’ contributions, which was agreed in 2009 as a cost-saving measure. IPSA should also take account of the fact that a Member serves for an average of just 15 years.
The shadow Leader of the House successfully deconstructed the myth of public sector gold-plated pensions. She restated the often overlooked fact that the average public sector pension is less than £5,600 a year and reminded us of the importance of the Government committing to meaningful negotiations with public sector unions, not going to the negotiating table with predetermined outcomes. I re-emphasise my hon. Friend’s point about the Government’s use of language, which sometimes seems designed to inflame the situation rather than to resolve the outstanding issues.
Our support for the motion does not in any way stand as an endorsement of the Government’s approach to public sector pensions, but because of the principles it outlines we believe that it deserves the support of the House.
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The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath): I thank the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) for what she said in support of the motion. She set out the Opposition’s position clearly and we are grateful for her comments.
The hon. Lady is right. We ought to emphasise very clearly, first, that MPs’ pay, remuneration and pensions should be determined independently—we should not vote on the money we get. I agree with her and with the principles of the legislation, the final part of which we are putting in place today. Secondly, we should say explicitly—this is the crux of the debate—that on pensions MPs should not be in a different position from others in the public sector. We should be treated no better or worse than those whose interests we will be considering and have considered in the past. The public will take a very dim view indeed if, as a parting shot, we try to claim that we are a special case, although there have been some indications, however well wrapped up, that some feel we are a special case.
Intrinsic to that is something that we need to understand across the public sector, which is that these prospective changes do not change accrued benefits: they are not retrospective. In the case of the Members’ pension scheme, they cannot be retrospective by statute.
I must pick up one point made by the hon. Lady, which was echoed elsewhere in the Chamber. She said that Members have a relatively limited period of employment in the House, about 15 years, which is reflected in pension contributions. We should recognise that that is slightly longer than the average length of service in the civil service, which is 13.5 years, so our tenure is not below average across the working population. However precarious we might think our position is, there are precarious positions out there as well.
The main argument that we have had this evening is on the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) and supported by the hon. Members for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) and for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) and partially by the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr Field), who expressed some sympathy but felt he would support the motion.
The key point is that they do not wish us to express an opinion on the form in which the independent scheme will be worked out. They feel that that should be left alone entirely and that for the House to express an opinion on the matter pre-empts the decision. I do not think that it pre-empts the decision. I think that it is perfectly proper for the House to take a view. We are statutory consultees on the final schemes that will be independently worked out by IPSA if the motion is passed. Although I think that it is important that we have an opinion, that opinion, which must have some value, will not dictate the final result. I repeat that I do not believe that we should be in a different position from other people in the public sector. [ Interruption. ] The hon. Member for Blaydon nods in support of that contention.
“We’re not all in this together… While they bay for cuts to public sector pensions, they act to feather their own nests. This will appal ordinary people”.
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I do not propose to base everything I say on the opinions of Len McCluskey, but I think that many people who do not take an extreme view would nevertheless be very concerned if it appeared that MPs, of their own volition, are to be treated differently from those in other public sector schemes. That is why I am particularly grateful for the support of the shadow Leader of the House for the basic contention.
Mr Heath: I trust IPSA to carry out its statutory functions and give an independent assessment, but I think that there is no harm whatsoever in inviting the House to agree that we should not claim an exception for MPs. We claim no such thing and therefore expect IPSA to have regard to Lord Hutton’s review and the policy consequences that flow from it.
Mr Anderson: Will the Minister make it very clear for the House, the public and, in particular, Len McCluskey that no Member has argued that MPs should be a special case? Everyone has argued that all public sector workers should be treated equally—that they should also be treated properly.
Mr Heath: I hope that no hon. Member believes that they are a special case and that, if the House divides this evening, they will bear that in mind when casting their votes. I am simply talking about the perceptions that those outside the Chamber might have. I am very clear about what the perceptions would be if Members supported the amendment, which is why I hope it will not be pressed to a Division. That would only divide the House on something on which we ought to be united.
Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): The House seems pretty much united behind the principle of the motion, but a little concerned about the wording. That leads to the following question: if IPSA were significantly to improve the benefits to Members, would the Government step in to prevent that?
Mr Heath: We would have no power to do so. It is an independent process. If there was any notion that should be done, it would require changes to primary legislation, which would be a matter for the House, not the Government. We can be assured that that is the case.
I wish to put on the record my appreciation of the work that the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr Donohoe), who chairs the trustees of the parliamentary pension scheme, and his colleagues have done. We are particularly grateful to the hon. Members for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd) and for Watford (Richard Harrington) for stepping down in order to facilitate the transfer. I know that the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire takes an active interest and has been engaged in discussions throughout the process. I am particularly grateful for his letter, rather than his comments today, in which he stated: “Overall the trustees are of the view that the transfer of powers to IPSA will give the trustees the opportunity to contribute to the review of your pension scheme that we all know is inevitable in a constructive way.” Hear, hear to that. Everyone needs to take account of the caveats he offered, but I do not
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think that that obstructs the thrust of the motion. My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) will not agree with that point, because he does not like IPSA, he does not like all its works and he does not believe that he can trust it. I understand his position, but I invite him to look back at the legislation, which we passed, and accept it.
Mr Heath: First, we have to accept the result of any vote this evening, but if the motion goes through the order will be made shortly, and the hon. Gentleman should know that that really does mean shortly; it will be not one of those that lasts several months.
I reconfirm for the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) that the Government propose to increase contributions to the ministerial scheme, with staged increases being applied from 1 April 2012, and that we will consult on the proposal, as required by the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act. For the avoidance of doubt, I should point out that I do not receive a ministerial salary or pension, so I will not be affected—[ Interruption. ] As the hon. Member for Wallasey says, I do the job for nothing—for my love of the job. I am glad that that is appreciated—[ Interruption. ] She does, too.
On that note of happy consensus, I hope the House will agree the motion and pass the matter to the independent body with the very clear indication that, no, we do not expect to be treated differently simply because we are Members of this House and have the opportunity to express our opinions here in the Chamber.
Mr Chope: With the leave of the House, I will not seek to move my amendment, because the Government have said that they agree with everything that I and the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) have said, so it seems sensible to move on to the next business as soon as possible.
That this House reasserts its view that the salaries, pensions and expenses scheme for hon. Members ought to be determined independently of this House; accordingly invites the Leader of the House to make an order commencing those provisions of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 which transfer responsibility for the 5 pensions of hon. Members to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA); supports the approach to public service pension reform set out in the Final Report of the Independent Public Service Pensions Commission chaired by Lord Hutton of Furness; believes that IPSA should introduce, by 2015, a new pension scheme for hon. Members which is informed by the Commission’s findings and their 10 subsequent application
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to other public service pension schemes; recognises the case for an increase in pension contributions made in Lord Hutton’s interim report; and accordingly invites IPSA to increase contribution rates for hon. Members from 1 April 2012 in line with changes in pension contribution rates for other public service schemes.
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That this House calls for the full disclosure of all Government-related documents, including Cabinet minutes, relating to the 1989 Hillsborough disaster; requires that such documentation be uncensored and without redaction; and further calls for the families of the 96 and the Hillsborough Independent Panel to have unrestricted access to that information.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting today’s debate, following the incredible response to the Government online petition, which attracted 140,000 signatures in just a couple of weeks. It is because those people took the time to push the Government for the release of the Hillsborough documents that today we have the first ever parliamentary debate resulting from an e-petition—although, after a fight for justice which has lasted 22 years, even that minor concession was called into question following last week’s shenanigans in the Chamber.
I also thank colleagues for their fantastic support and response: almost 100 MPs from nine separate political parties supported our application to the Backbench Business Committee. This is a victory for democracy and a victory for people power, but it remains to be seen whether it will be a victory for the families. They have been let down so many times that they will not be surprised if there are those who would prefer for this simply to go away. For those who foolishly believe that that might be the outcome of today’s debate, let me make it absolutely clear: this issue will never just go away—not until there is justice for the 96.
During this debate, I will set out why I believe it is an important issue for this House to consider, albeit a bit late in the day, and outline why it is essential to press the Government on their commitment to release all papers relating to the Hillsborough disaster. All parts of the House should agree to the terms of the motion, but if they do not I intend to press the House to a vote. My hope is that common sense, and ultimately justice, will prevail.
I want to begin by setting out the context to the disaster, as there is a fundamental misunderstanding of what happened on 15 April 1989 and in the dark days, weeks, years and, ashamedly, decades that followed. There have been only a few occasions in my life when I have been completely overwhelmed by the emotion of the event that I was witnessing—the birth of my three wonderful children, the death of my beloved mum, and the loss of close friends and relatives. However, there is one other event that will live with me for the rest of my life, and that is the tragedy at Sheffield on that beautiful spring day 22 years, six months and two days ago.
Before 1989, Hillsborough was just the name of one of England’s famous old football grounds, but for the past two decades the word “Hillsborough” has evoked memories of Britain’s worst ever sporting disaster. It was a day when I helplessly watched frantic scenes as people who had travelled to see a football match, some mere children, lay injured and dying as they were pulled from the terraces. I was one of the lucky ones that day,
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and all my close friends and members of my family returned home, although for one—our Lisa—it was touch and go whether she would survive. Thankfully, she did. This, unfortunately, was not the case for 96 men, women and children who were killed, and for hundreds of others injured and left permanently traumatised. The loss of 96 innocent lives was bad enough, but the tragic nature of their deaths was exacerbated by what happened next. Instead of those at fault taking responsibility for their actions, a co-ordinated campaign began to shift the blame and look for scapegoats. To this day, nobody has been held to account for Hillsborough.
A half-day debate, though welcomed, is not long enough to go into all the details of this gross 22-year injustice, so I will concentrate on the three main pillars of the accusations against Liverpool fans—namely, that thousands turned up late and ticketless, were drunk and aggressive, and broke down a gate, causing a catastrophic crush. Is it any wonder that some people have doubtful and distorted views as to the exact cause of the disaster when misinformation began almost immediately after the players were led off the pitch at 3.6 pm? The BBC and ITV news, that very afternoon, misreported what had occurred, and it is important to understand the effect that this had, as it formed the immediate public perception of Hillsborough. To understand fully what I mean, people will need to suspend their predisposition to believe the Hillsborough myths and listen to tonight’s debate with an open mind before jumping to conclusions. However, the faux pas committed in the immediate aftermath, when there was much uncertainty and a degree of confusion, pales into insignificance when one considers the malicious manner in which some sections of the press reported things, which still clouds thinking today.
At 3.15 pm, Graham Kelly, the then chief executive of the Football Association, went to the police control box, where he was told by the now-discredited match commander that Liverpool fans had rushed the gate into the ground, creating the fatal crush in the central pens. This was cowardice and deceit of the highest order, as the fact was that no gate had been rushed and that Duckenfield, the match commander, himself had personally ordered the gate to be opened. That disgraceful lie set the tone for all that came later. At 4.15 pm, Kelly was interviewed by the BBC, and he told them that the police had implied to him that the gate had been broken down by fans to gain access. Notwithstanding the fact that there was absolutely no basis to these lies, Kelly allowed himself to be embroiled in this treachery, although he may simply have wished this version of events to be true, as by then he probably realised that the dysfunctional organisation that he headed up would, quite rightly, be criticised for its part in the unfolding disaster. Why did the FA not listen? I suppose we will never know. Without any evidence to back them up, those lies were reported by some news organisations and the story was flashed across the world as fact, repeating the line that drunken Liverpool fans had forced the gate open.
Just a few days later, before people had even had time to arrange funerals for their loved ones, The Sun newspaper infamously printed the banner headline, “The Truth”, on the personal instruction of its editor, Kelvin MacKenzie. It claimed that drunken fans had forced the gates open because they did not have match tickets, stolen from the
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corpses lying around the pitch, assaulted police officers and the emergency services, robbed cameras and other equipment from press photographers, and urinated on police officers who were helping the victims. That was one of the cruellest blows.
It beggars belief that certain sections of the media still give air time to this most despicable man to vent his bile and mendacity. Given what he said about the Prime Minister the other day, even some Tories may now agree that this man is a pariah, as we on Merseyside know him to be. This is a man who preaches about free speech, but who dehumanised the deaths of 96 people for a cheap headline—what an absolute hypocrite!
Months later, the rag that that man edited admitted that the allegations it had made were totally false, but the damage had been done. To this day, the people of Merseyside do not buy that paper. It has taken the hackgate allegations about Murdoch’s News International for people at long last to sit up and take notice of the claims that we made 22 years ago and to think that there may be some truth to our allegations of collusion between the press, certain politicians and the police.
The actual loss of life from Hillsborough will never be known. Yes, we know that 96 people died as a direct result of the injuries that they sustained at the stadium, but many have died subsequently. Some have died, tragically, by committing suicide and others have simply died of a broken heart at the loss of their loved ones. However, I have been careful not to base my account of events on emotion. I have ensured that I have clear and referenced evidence to support all my contentions.
It is claimed that truth is the first casualty of war; the same can be said of Hillsborough. Misdirection, obfuscation and damned lies were all used as smokescreens to deflect attention away from the guilty. Institutional complacency and gross negligence, coupled with an establishment cover-up, have added to the sense that there was an orchestrated campaign to shift blame from those who were really responsible on to the shoulders of Liverpool fans. Many myths have been perpetrated about the events of 15 April 1989. Perhaps those will be addressed only when the Hillsborough independent panel, set up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), concludes its deliberations and reports back next year. It is important to give the panel all the pieces of the jigsaw so that it can complete a full and accurate picture of events.
So what are the facts about the Hillsborough disaster? I say to those who believe that it was simply caused by fans turning up late, you are wrong. You are wrong. In spite of a misprint on tickets requesting that fans turn up at 2.45 and despite the fact that Liverpool fans had only 23 dilapidated turnstiles through which to enter the ground, while Forest fans had access through 60, half of the 10,100 supporters were already in the ground before 2.30. There was congestion outside and with 5,000 supporters still to enter the ground at 2.30, it was obvious that the kick-off needed to be delayed. Anyone who has ever been to a match knows that there is always a higher entry rate as kick-off time approaches. Two years previously, there had been a delayed kick-off to allow fans to get into the ground, but not this time.
Instead, the response to the build-up in congestion outside was to open a gate and allow fans on to the concourse. That had disastrous consequences as there were no stewards or police officers inside to direct
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supporters into the half-empty pens and away from the packed central pens. Signage was poor and the design of the Leppings Lane end meant that about 2,000 of that group made their way into the ground and headed straight for a tunnel marked “Standing”, which led directly to pens 3 and 4. That influx caused severe crushing and some fans began climbing over the lateral fences into the half-empty pens on either side to escape. It was later estimated that more than 3,000 supporters were admitted to the central pens—almost double the safe capacity. At five minutes past 3, a crash barrier gave way in pen 3, causing people to fall on top of each other. Cries to the police for help were audible, but they went unheard.
Another falsehood is the claim that these were ticketless fans. Even officers at the turnstiles rejected that. The Health and Safety Executive, which later analysed the evidence of everyone who entered at that end, concluded that the total number was between 9,373 and 10,124. The capacity was 10,100. The myth of ticketless fans can therefore also be dispelled. To confirm that and to leave no doubt, the Taylor report stated that there was no substance to the allegation that ticketless fans caused the disaster. Unfortunately, that smear still impairs and prejudices the thinking of some, because they have heard the apocryphal tale of ticketless fans so many times that they believe it to be true. Not only is it untrue; it is total rubbish. It is the sort of nonsense bandied around by those who are desperate to protect their own skins.
And how about the outrageous claims by Bernard Ingham, Mrs Thatcher’s press secretary? While the death toll was still rising, he stated that the cause was drunken fans and that Hillsborough would not have happened
“if a mob, clearly tanked up, had not tried to force their way in”.
I know that there are people, perhaps even some on the Government Benches, who actually believe that drivel because they have been fed it for two decades. I simply ask people to read the Taylor report. Alcohol was absolutely rejected as the cause of the disaster. Once again, it was a convenient excuse—an expedient opportunity to smear the fans and abrogate responsibility. The Liverpool supporters were no better or worse than any other football fans of the day. The fans of other teams should be saying, “There but for the grace of God go we,” because a similar tragedy could have befallen anyone at that time, particularly at that stadium, which did not even have a valid safety certificate. The Taylor report concluded that the great majority of fans
“were not drunk or even the worse for drink”.
However, Ingham’s view obviously influenced the Sheffield coroner, who inexplicably took blood alcohol levels from every victim, including Jon-Paul Gilhooley. Jon-Paul was 10 years of age—just a child. Drink was not the cause, but it was used to accuse and condemn, to impugn and reproach. It was, quite frankly, a con.
The cause of the Hillsborough disaster is there for all to see in the Taylor report, which concluded that the police fundamentally lost control of the situation and did not demonstrate the leadership expected of senior officers; that the failure to cut off access to pens 3 and 4 was a blunder of the first order; that safety procedures were inadequate and the ground was badly maintained
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and dangerous; that the fans were routinely treated with contempt by football; and that Liverpool fans had been the victims rather than the guilty party.
Lord Taylor’s reports, published in August 1989 and January 1990, dismissed the allegations against Liverpool supporters in relation to the disaster. Twenty-two years on, it is difficult to comprehend the enormity of the complete and utter breakdown of communication, or the inaction, by those charged with our safety. It is impossible to understand at a human level why those in authority simply stood idly by while ordinary football fans, without any emergency or medical training, organised themselves into stretcher-bearing squads to ferry stricken fans on advertising hoardings ripped from around the pitch and tried to give CPR to the stricken.
This was not a war zone. No battle had been fought, but we would not have guessed it from the scenes on the pitch. It was due to the Herculean efforts of ordinary fans—these same fans later besmirched by scandalous tabloid headlines—that the death toll was not even higher.
On the 20th anniversary of the disaster, I put on record my thanks to the ordinary people of Sheffield who opened their doors, in the days before mobile phones, to let fans call home to tell loved ones that they were safe. Tonight, both the leader and chief executive of Liverpool city council send messages of support from the people of Liverpool to those in Sheffield who helped on that dreadful day.
I am proud to be a Liverpudlian. In the 22 years for which the families have fought their dignified campaign, I and the rest of Britain have watched as my great city has come together on this issue. Out of the darkness of the Hillsborough tragedy, an eternal flame of unity has emerged and means that Liverpool is now synonymous with a unique kind of solidarity. Whether red or blue, we are Scousers all. To those who attempt to perpetrate the myth that it was the fault of the fans, I say that I will never tire of reminding them that the ordinary fans were the real heroes on the day, not the villains. They reacted while those in authority froze.
My granddad used to regale me with vivid accounts of the two world wars that he fought in, and while he never glorified in war itself he would explain to us children his sense of loss for fallen comrades, nearly half a century later. I did not really understand that when I was growing up, but I do now. It does not matter how long it takes, we will never stop fighting for justice for the 96.
A botched inquest, a flawed inquiry, a farcical review of evidence and a system that worked against, instead of for, the families, have left a bitter taste. An unsympathetic Government, an unsatisfactory judicial process and an unforgiving press have led observers to believe that an organised conspiracy was acting against the best interests of natural justice. We need the Government to act, and we need this House to support the motion, to ensure that there is no further backsliding on this issue.
The Prime Minister quite rightly apologised for a previous Government’s mishandling of events when he responded to the findings of the Saville report. Today, I call on the Prime Minister to make a statement in this House and apologise for the mistakes that were made and the mishandling of this whole tragedy on behalf of a previous Government. I also ask him to join me in pushing for the full disclosure of the senior police officer and the Conservative MP who allegedly leaked
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the story to the press, and in pressing for a front-page banner headline in
newspaper admitting that it lied in April 1989, just as Kenny Dalglish demanded two decades ago.
We in Liverpool refer collectively to those lost at Hillsborough simply as “the 96”, but each of the 96 was an individual—a father, sister, brother, daughter, son; an irreplaceable person loved by others and with their own unique life story. “The 96” trips off the tongue far too easily. It is not until we read out each individual name on the Hillsborough memorial at Anfield that we realise just how long the list is. Parliament has never recorded their names in Hansard for posterity. Well, tonight, I can at least put one wrong right.
John Alfred Anderson, 62. Colin Mark Ashcroft, 19. James Gary Aspinall, 18. Kester Roger Marcus Ball, 16. Gerard Bernard Patrick Baron, 67. Simon Bell, 17. Barry Sidney Bennett, 26. David John Benson, 22. David William Birtle, 22. Tony Bland, 22. Paul David Brady, 21. Andrew Mark Brookes, 26. Carl Brown, 18. David Steven Brown, 25. Henry Thomas Burke, 47. Peter Andrew Burkett, 24. Paul William Carlile, 19. Raymond Thomas Chapman, 50. Gary Christopher Church, 19. Joseph Clark, 29. Paul Clark, 18. Gary Collins, 22. Stephen Paul Copoc, 20. Tracey Elizabeth Cox, 23. James Philip Delaney, 19. Christopher Barry Devonside, 18. Christopher Edwards, 29. Vincent Michael Fitzsimmons, 34. Thomas Steven Fox, 21. Jon-Paul Gilhooley, 10. Barry Glover, 27. Ian Thomas Glover, 20. Derrick George Godwin, 24. Roy Harry Hamilton, 34. Philip Hammond, 14. Eric Hankin, 33. Gary Harrison, 27. Stephen Francis Harrison, 31. Peter Andrew Harrison, 15. David Hawley, 39. James Robert Hennessy, 29. Paul Anthony Hewitson, 26. Carl Darren Hewitt, 17. Nicholas Michael Hewitt, 16. Sarah Louise Hicks, 19. Victoria Jane Hicks, 15. Gordon Rodney Horn, 20. Arthur Horrocks, 41. Thomas Howard, 39. Thomas Anthony Howard, 14. Eric George Hughes, 42. Alan Johnston, 29. Christine Anne Jones, 27. Gary Philip Jones, 18. Richard Jones, 25. Nicholas Peter Joynes, 27. Anthony Peter Kelly, 29. Michael David Kelly, 38. Carl David Lewis, 18. David William Mather, 19. Brian Christopher Mathews, 38. Francis Joseph McAllister, 27. John McBrien, 18. Marion Hazel McCabe, 21. Joseph Daniel McCarthy, 21. Peter McDonnell, 21. Alan McGlone, 28. Keith McGrath, 17. Paul Brian Murray, 14. Lee Nicol, 14. Stephen Francis O’Neill, 17. Jonathon Owens, 18. William Roy Pemberton, 23. Carl William Rimmer, 21. David George Rimmer, 38. Graham John Roberts, 24. Steven Joseph Robinson, 17. Henry Charles Rogers, 17. Colin Andrew Hugh William Sefton, 23. Inger Shah, 38. Paula Ann Smith, 26. Adam Edward Spearritt, 14. Philip John Steele, 15. David Leonard Thomas, 23. Patrik John Thompson, 35. Peter Reuben Thompson, 30. Stuart Paul William Thompson, 17. Peter Francis Tootle, 21. Christopher James Traynor, 26. Martin Kevin Traynor, 16. Kevin Tyrrell, 15. Colin Wafer, 19. Ian David Whelan, 19. Martin Kenneth Wild, 29. Kevin Daniel Williams, 15. Graham John Wright, 17.
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. May we have brevity from those on the Front Benches? A lot of Back Benchers want to contribute. This is a very important debate and we have a lot of people in the Gallery who wish to hear it.
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The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): May I first commend the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram), who movingly marked the memory of the 96 who lost their lives in the Hillsborough disaster? He has brought to this House not just the voice of the families of those who were lost on that fateful day, but his personal experience, which I am sure will have an impact on the whole House.
Going to watch a football match is something that brings great joy to hundreds of thousands of British people every weekend, but on that fateful April day in 1989, it brought not joy, but tragedy. Parents and children and brothers and sisters who left their homes that day to watch a football match were never to return.
I also want to pay tribute to the support that the whole of the Merseyside community has given in the campaign for the truth. No words from the Government can ever even begin to make up for the loss of 96 cherished lives, but I want to send my deepest condolences to all those affected by the national tragedy of Hillsborough.
Let me say here and now, in this House and on the record, that as Home Secretary, I will do everything in my power to ensure that the families and the public get the truth. As a Government, we fully support the Hillsborough independent panel and the process that the panel is leading to disclose the documents telling the whole story. No Government papers will be withheld from the panel. No attempts to suppress publication will be made. No stone will be left unturned.
The previous Government were right to establish a disclosure process overseen and driven not by the Government, but by an independent panel chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool. I pay tribute to the work of the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton for the work they did to secure the establishment of that panel.
Following my appointment as Home Secretary, I announced the coalition Government’s full support for the process. I met the Bishop of Liverpool soon after coming to office so that he could give me an update on progress and so that I could give him my assurance of our support. I have also met the bishop subsequently so that he could keep me informed about the panel’s work.
The Hillsborough independent panel has three principal tasks: to oversee the disclosure of the documents to the maximum possible degree, which will initially be to the families; to report on its work, outlining the ways in which the information disclosed adds to the public understanding of the tragedy; and to make recommendations as to a permanent Hillsborough archive.
The principle underlying the process is that of maximum possible disclosure, and of disclosure to the families first and then to the wider public. This is difficult, sensitive and lengthy work, and it cannot be rushed. However, the aims of the process are, I believe, aims we can all agree on, and we should continue to uphold them.
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and respect in the way they receive the information, which brings me on to the reason for this debate.
The reason for this debate and for the motion behind it concerns the Cabinet Office’s decision not to disclose papers relating to the disaster in response to a freedom of information request from a BBC reporter. I want to state very clearly that the Government’s position has absolutely nothing to do with attempting to suppress the release of those papers or somehow to hide the truth. I am sorry that the way the Government responded to the FOI request caused anxiety among the families and concern on Merseyside and beyond.
The Government firmly believe that the right way to release the papers is through the Hillsborough independent panel—to the families first and then to the public. The families should have the papers, and they should not have them filtered through politicians or the media. We therefore support the Hillsborough independent panel and today’s motion. We want full disclosure to the panel of all documents relating to Hillsborough, including Cabinet minutes. Those documents should be uncensored and unredacted. Indeed, the full unredacted Cabinet Office papers on Hillsborough have already been made available to the panel. That includes minutes of the meetings of the Cabinet immediately following the disaster.
“Please let me reassure you that the Government is wholly committed to full disclosure of the Hillsborough information that it holds…As you will be aware, Cabinet papers, along with other relevant government papers, have been released to the Hillsborough independent panel. I am keen to ensure that the panel and indeed the families were treated with the utmost respect in this process. We have therefore proposed that the panel will ensure that disclosure takes place initially to the Hillsborough families, prior to wider publication.”
The Government are not seeking to avoid the publication of Cabinet minutes or any other Hillsborough papers. The Cabinet papers on Hillsborough can be published, and the Government will do nothing to prevent the panel from publishing them or indeed whatever it so decides. The panel will release the full picture of what happened at Hillsborough, but in a way that is respectful of the families.
The panel’s terms of reference envisage minimal redaction to avoid junior officials’ names and addresses being published; to avoid signatures being available for copying; and to ensure that the Data Protection Act is not breached. It might also be necessary to redact sensitive private and personal information specific to the victims. However, it will be the role of the panel to ensure that any redactions are kept to a minimum.
The principle is clear: full publication and minimal redaction, and the panel seeing all of the papers, uncensored and unredacted—as the families have rightly demanded: the whole loaf, not snippets. I stand ready to do anything I can to aid the independent panel in completing its task.
Hillsborough was a terrible tragedy—a tragedy that must never be repeated. As the Bishop of Liverpool has said, the disaster and its aftermath inflicted a deep wound in the body of the Merseyside community which remains to this day. The families of the 96 deserve the truth. That is why we fully support the Hillsborough
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independent panel; why all Government papers, including Cabinet minutes, have been made available to the panel with no restrictions on access; and why the Government support this motion.
Andy Burnham (Leigh) (Lab): We are here tonight because 139,815 people have asked this House to revisit events 22 years old. They are right, because those events concern one of the biggest injustices of the 20th century. For 22 years, the Hillsborough families faced insults and had obstacles placed in their way at every step as they pursued their dignified campaign for truth and justice.
Recognising that, a call for full disclosure was made on the 20th anniversary. That has gathered momentum ever since, and this summer it was supported by people from all over the country and supporters of all football clubs. That was an incredible statement of solidarity with those families, who have faced a hard and, at times, lonely struggle. However, it did something else: it sent the clearest of messages to everyone in a position of authority that the families have suffered far too much, and that the whole truth about Hillsborough must finally be told.
Tonight, the Home Secretary has made an unequivocal commitment to full disclosure, echoing the words of the Prime Minister in his letter to me. We thank her for that. The fact that there is now agreement between all parties across the House shows the watching world that this is not about party politics but about the fundamental rights of victims and their families.I should also like to thank the Home Secretary for leading the Government’s response to the debate tonight. That sends an important signal to the families who have travelled to be here, and to the thousands of others watching closely at home who have been deeply affected by the tragedy. The right hon. Lady might have expected to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) opposite her tonight, but my right hon. Friend has graciously allowed me to respond for the Opposition, given my personal involvement in these matters. I thank her for that.
I want to begin by addressing this simple question: why are almost 140,000 people asking us to do more? There have certainly been other disasters in which concerns have remained long after the event. As with other disasters, there are things about Hillsborough that people will find shocking, such as the fact that the ground did not have a valid safety certificate, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) mentioned. But something else makes Hillsborough stand apart. Has there ever been, and will there ever be, another tragedy at which, within minutes, an orchestrated campaign began to blame the victims, their families, friends and fellow supporters? That is precisely what happened there. It is unprecedented in the recent history of our country, and an unbelievable act of brutality against 96 families already suffering unbearable grief. As one bereaved mother said:
“We soon realised that we weren’t only in a fight for justice for those who died but also to clear their names and the names of the fans who lived”.
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The first damaging lie about Hillsborough came even as people lay dying, not long after 3.15, from a senior public servant, the officer in charge on that day. Chief Superintendent Duckenfield told the then chief executive of the Football Association that Liverpool fans had forced gate C, as my hon. Friend said. That was not true; he had given permission for the gate to be opened. Professor Phil Scraton wrote in his brilliant book, “Hillsborough—the Truth”:
“Graham Kelly unwittingly…repeated Duckenfield’s lie to the waiting media. Within minutes, it was broadcast to the world: an appalling disaster was happening, and Liverpool fans were to blame.”
Sadly for the families, that set the level for what was to follow. Blood alcohol levels were taken from the victims, including children, as they lay dead in the gymnasium at Hillsborough. By today’s standards, that is an unthinkable intrusion into the private grief of the families. As the families arrived at Hillsborough later that day to identify loved ones, they were subjected to police questioning as though they, and the deceased, were suspects. In the ’80s, the authorities could get away with that type of behaviour—people just had to put up with it—but by today’s standards, it is truly shocking.
There was much worse to come, however. Days later, the most sickening lies imaginable were briefed by public servants to newspapers throughout the land. It was a brutal campaign to set public opinion against the supporters and to pre-empt the public inquiry that was to be carried out by Lord Justice Taylor. Let me remind the House that Taylor found that hooliganism played no part in the Hillsborough disaster, and that the main reason for it was the “failure of police control”. Yet even today, people talk about Hillsborough in the context of hooliganism. Casual allegations are still made about drunkenness and disorder. The fact that this still happens, 22 years on, is testimony to the power of the poison in those police briefings to the media. It is also clear that efforts were made not only to shape public opinion but to shape the way in which evidence was presented to the inquiries that would follow.
We hope that the House will tonight give the Hillsborough independent panel the full power and authority to tell the whole truth about Hillsborough, but there are already documents in the public domain that provide clear evidence of the efforts that went on to present events in a certain way. I want to share some of them with the House tonight, as they will help to explain to people who perhaps have not followed every detail down the years why so many people still feel so strongly about this, as we do.
In the House of Lords, there are files containing the original personal statements of police officers who witnessed these terrible events at first hand. They are hard to read, so distressing are the scenes they describe. One in particular stands out, and I have it with me this evening. It is the handwritten statement of police constable No. 227 from Woodseats police station. These are his recollections of the crucial moments just after 3 pm on 15 April 15 1989:
“I realised at that time that a great tragedy had occurred. I began to feel myself being overcome with emotion, but soon realised that I would be of no use to anyone if I felt sorry for myself. I was assisted out of the terracing and onto the pitch. I saw several officers wandering about in a dazed and confused state. Some were crying and some simply sat on the grass. Members of the public were running about with boarding ferrying people from the pitch to the far end of the ground.”
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PC 227’s words evoke the haunting TV images that people were later to see replayed time and again. There can be little doubt of their sincerity, but they are not the only words on the page. Attached to the top right corner of the statement is a note from a senior officer. It reads:
“Last 2 pages require amending. These are his own feelings. He also states that PCs were sat down crying when the fans were carrying the dead and injured. This shows they were organised and we were not. Have the PC re-write the last 2 pages excluding the points mentioned.”
“they were organised and we were not”
transport us straight back to a very different time: an era of “them and us”, when football supporters were considered to be the “enemy within”. It is as though the officer was describing a battle for supremacy between two sides rather than the immediate aftermath of a terrible tragedy.
I do not think that it is widely understood that the personal statements of police officers were collected and amended in that way, outside the normal procedures. That is why the panel’s work and its report are so important. They will mean that the rest of the country will finally see what the Hillsborough families were up against, and what they have known for years. PC 227’s statement was not the only one that was amended. Many more were, in order to portray events in a certain way, removing references to police failure on the day such as the lack of proper radio communications.
Hillsborough belonged to an entirely different era, predating the Freedom of Information Act, when public bodies held all the power. As a result, it is still not known who was responsible for the efforts to amend statements, the level at which that was endorsed in the South Yorkshire police, and the extent to which the then Government supported the police strategy of blaming the supporters. I say this not to make a political point. This is crucial to understanding how and why the police case against the supporters came to gather such potency, pre-empting the public inquiry.
Another area that I hope will be illuminated by the disclosure process is the 3.15 cut-off imposed by the coroner, and the way in which the inquests were subsequently organised. It is impossible to overstate the significance of this to the families, as the effect of it was to compound earlier injustices that they had faced. It means that they have never had the opportunity properly to test all the evidence and information about their loved ones, or to find out if any more could have been done for them. One of the individuals admitted to hospital recovered, challenging the theory that irreparable damage was done in all cases by 3.15. Indeed, there is medical evidence from one of the doctors who treated victims on that day which was never properly heard. The 3.15 cut-off was cruel. It was also crucial, because it denied the families the right properly to challenge the inaccurate claims that had been put around about their loved ones.
I am setting out these issues this evening because many of them will not be widely known around the country. They explain why the sense of injustice about Hillsborough and its aftermath on Merseyside has never diminished. They were the reason that, together with
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my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) I made the first call for full public disclosure in April 2009, days before the memorial service on the 20th anniversary.
As the Home Secretary said, this led to the establishment of the Hillsborough independent panel, and I appreciate the continued support that she and her Government have provided to that panel’s work. At the time it was established there was an unresolved debate within government about whether or not Cabinet minutes and other documents should be published. I have always been of the firm opinion that they should, but because there was no agreement, the terms of reference allow the panel only to view rather than publish the material.
I knew we would have to come back to this issue; that duly happened in the summer when the Information Commissioner ruled on the BBC’s freedom of information request. I said then that I believed the commissioner’s ruling should have been immediately accepted by the Government and proposals developed to fulfil it, working through the panel with disclosure to families first. I have no doubt that the Government were acting to protect the integrity of the panel and the interests of the families and not—the Home Secretary made this point—to prevent disclosure. As I said in my letter to the Prime Minister, however, the Government’s handling of their response to the commissioner risked undermining public trust in the panel and the disclosure process.
The Home Secretary has this evening removed any lingering doubt and put the Government’s commitment to full disclosure firmly on the record. We thank her for the clarity of her words, but for the avoidance of doubt, does she agree that there might be a case for issuing the Hillsborough independent panel with updated terms of reference, reflecting the clear will of this House tonight? That might also present an opportunity to set out the Government’s position on any redactions to disclosed material. I believe that there should be a clear presumption of no redactions to any material. I am told, and the Home Secretary repeated it, that there might be highly personal medical information that it would be illegal to put in the public domain under the Data Protection Act. If that is the case, may I ask her to ensure that any redactions have the full support of the panel and may I suggest that they be made to any documents only with the agreement and support of the Hillsborough families?
I would like to assure the Home Secretary that the Opposition fully support the Government’s policy of handling all disclosures through the panel and making them available to the families first. The Opposition urge both the Information Commissioner and the BBC to accept that as fulfilment of the ruling. Disclosure is important, but it is only part of the panel’s crucial work. It has also been asked to make sense of it all, producing a report on how what is disclosed adds to public understanding of the tragedy and its aftermath. That is hugely important. It means that the whole story and its full impact will finally be told. That is why I support the Government’s position to release documents not now in a haphazard and unco-ordinated way, but when the whole picture is put together and all the pieces are in place.
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there are documents and material held by private organisations that will be highly relevant to the work of the Hillsborough independent panel. I understand that Sheffield Wednesday football club and the Football Association have both co-operated with the panel, and I thank them for that.
Clearly, however, there are other private organisations that will have material that might help the panel’s work. The first is Hammond Suddards, the solicitors for the South Yorkshire police. It was involved in the preparation of police officers’ statements, and, indeed, the amendment of them, and the handling of the inquest. The second is News International. In The Guardiantoday, Margaret Aspinall, chair of the Hillsborough family support group, has called on the company to reveal the sources of the deeply hurtful front page of Wednesday 19 April. It was claimed that Liverpool supporters—my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton mentioned this—pick-pocketed victims, urinated on police officers and attacked an officer giving the kiss of life.
It is important to say that The Sun was not the only newspaper to carry inaccurate and deeply hurtful lies. Allegations on the same theme were reported by the Daily Star, Daily Express, Daily Mail and Yorkshire Post , all using unattributed quotes from police and Police Federation sources. Lord Justice Taylor commented in his report on how they were not substantiated by a single witness. For people in public positions to disseminate such offensive untruths certainly breaks professional ethics and is possibly a criminal act. It might have happened 22 years ago, but the pain caused by those lies is still felt today.
Does the Home Secretary share my view that Margaret Aspinall is right to assert the families’ right to know who gave those briefings and with what authorisation? I hope she will agree with me that media organisations, and particularly News International, should be approached by the panel and encouraged to hand over any material that might reveal who made these claims. It is my belief that the British public, following the revelations about phone hacking, will see Hillsborough in a new light. That, too, is a story of unacceptable collusion between police and the press, working against the wider public interest, and it, too, must be fully exposed, with those responsible held to account.
In conclusion, 140,000 voices have swept Hillsborough back to the Floor of this House tonight, but we would not be here if it were not for the courage and determination of the families. Soon, they will be able to rest, knowing that they could not possibly have done more for their loved ones. I pay tribute to the Hillsborough family support group—to Trevor Hicks, Phil Hammond and Margaret Aspinall; to Hope for Hillsborough, and to the Hillsborough justice campaign for keeping the flame alive for the 96.
I have not seen the files. I do not know what they will reveal, but I am already clear about one thing—that, after a tragedy on this scale, the denial of families’ rights and the denigration of their friends and fellow supporters is a national scandal. When the panel reports, it will require an appropriate national response.
I can remember 15 April 1989 as if it were yesterday. I was at Villa Park for the other FA cup semi-final. Many of my friends were at Hillsborough. Twenty years later, I agonised about whether to attend the memorial service as a Government representative. No issue matters more
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to me, and I was worried that I would not be able to keep my composure before the Kop, but I also had my own private disappointments that my own Government had not done enough to help those families. I look back on my decision to go as the best decision I have made in my life because the reaction of people on the Kop that day told the rest of the country that there was a deep and unresolved injustice.
That night, I met the families at Liverpool town hall. I promised them full disclosure, that the whole truth would be told. Tonight, to have the entire House united behind them in that call and behind those families is a huge moment. Part of the painful truth of Hillsborough is that none of us, no political party, did enough to help. This time, we must not let them down.
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I remind the House that we have an eight-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches. I want to ensure that everyone who wants to participate gets in, so any additional brevity during speeches will be welcome.
Esther McVey (Wirral West) (Con): This debate has been a long time coming. The journey to get here has been a long, painful fight led by the families of the 96 victims, the people of Liverpool, the local papers—the Liverpool Daily Post and the Liverpool Echo —and football supporters. The support and the quest for answers have not diminished. Instead, they have gathered momentum over time. The family voices have stayed firm; the commitment to loved ones has been unshakeable. Finally, the families are here today to see this debate, so let us make sure that every politician of every party does right by them, allowing them complete access to all material—unedited and unredacted—so that they can understand what happened, and have answers and closure, perhaps a little peace, but most of all so that they can have some truth about what happened on 15 April 1989.
People say Liverpool is a close-knit community, but it is so much more than that. It is an extended family, and it is the compassion and the passion of the people of Liverpool that have supported the families in striving for the truth. When people talk of Hillsborough, they speak as though everyone from the city knew somebody there that day, and in a way they did. My cousins were there—safe, yes, but when a call came to the crowd, asking whether any police, medical staff or officers could come and help, my cousin stepped forward. He was one of those people, one of the fans asked to help the injured and to identify people. It was that help that was so cruelly and inaccurately misrepresented in the tabloids.
The Prime Minister accepted that the Hillsborough tragedy and its aftermath has left a deep wound on Merseyside. He has given an unqualified commitment to full disclosure of files relating to what happened. He agreed to this before today’s debate, but I still believe it is important that we are all here today, that this tragedy is given the importance it deserves and that voice is given to the 145,000 e-petitioners who voted in favour of today’s debate in the House. They want full disclosure, and they want all the families to have the final, ultimate say in what happens to the information.
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An independent panel of experts, academics and archivists, headed by the Right Rev. James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool, has been appointed to oversee and make sense of the volume of documents. The families—those who have suffered most—must now be supported by the panel and by Government.
The political journey has come full circle. In too many instances, questions have been ducked. It has taken 22 years, and I want to be part of a Parliament and a Government who do right by the families who have carried so much pain for so long.
Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): Let me first say a big thank you to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham). I was at the 20th anniversary commemoration service at Anfield, and I know that that was a very emotional occasion for my right hon. Friend. I think that he felt the rawness tenfold—knowing how the families, Liverpool fans and others felt about an injustice that has continued for over 22 years—and I think that he did well to get through his speech and deliver his message on that day. I want to record my thanks for what he did, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle). As I have said, it was an emotional occasion. There were 30,000 people in the stadium that day. I have been going to such commemoration services for many years, but that occasion demonstrated the depth of support for the families, and for the securing of the truth and justice that we all seek.
I was present at the Hillsborough disaster. I drove to the ground that day with three friends. As was recalled by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram), it was a beautiful sunny day, and we were looking forward to a good match—one of many good matches that we had seen as Liverpool supporters. One could never have imagined how the event would end. As we approached the stadium we sensed that something was wrong, and indeed the chaos had already started outside the Leppings Lane end. We witnessed mounting chaos around the turnstiles. When we eventually managed to pass through them, our tickets were not checked. There was no organisation and no policing. As I have said, it was complete chaos.
I watched the disaster. I was in the north stand, and my three friends were at the Leppings Lane end. I felt somewhat let down because I did not have a ticket for Leppings Lane. I would normally stand up in the Liverpool Kop, but for some reason I had ended up with a stand ticket, which meant sitting down, and I felt that I had lost out. Of course I did not know what was about to happen, and I did not know what had happened to my three friends in Leppings Lane until some time later.
As I have said, I watched the whole horror of the disaster unfold in front of me. It was obvious well before 3 pm that pens 3 and 4, the middle pens, were full, but on either side of them the stand was empty. I will not go into the details, because we have been through them back in 1998 and since, but it beggars belief that the police and those responsible could not see what was happening. It had to be seen to be believed. Then, of course, we saw the disaster unfold.
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The horror of that day will always live with me, but I did not lose my life, and nor did anyone personally known to me. The families, however, are in a completely different position. I recognise the dignified and determined way in which they have pursued their fight for justice, in spite of the terrible slur perpetrated by the police, with the help of certain sections of the press, in blaming Liverpool supporters for the disaster. Those families have my deepest respect. It is their love for their loved ones, and their burning desire to put a wrong right, that have kept them going for 22 years. Imagine 22 years of fighting this! It is quite unbelievable—but they still have the energy and drive to see this through. One person could not be here tonight. He said that he was tired and would not be here: he wanted to save his energy, so that he could see the conclusion of the campaign and see that justice was done.
Imagine finding out that your loved one had died in that terrible disaster, or been badly injured, and reading or hearing shortly afterwards that that person and his fellow supporters were being blamed for it. It is almost unimaginable that, notwithstanding the grief and trauma that those families were going through, those reports should unfold in the next few days. As has been said, several newspapers were involved, but I think that a headline in The Sun caused the most distress and upset. It is difficult for those who were not personally affected to appreciate the impact of that headline. The fact that police officers were involved as well was disgraceful. The distress caused by all that cannot be overstated.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh said, the 3.15 pm cut-off point is crucial, because nothing that happened after that time was taken into consideration. We know that people were alive then, and, as my right hon. Friend made clear, that is an issue for some of the families. It was an unbelievable decision. Dozens of ambulances were not allowed into the stadium, and it was also unbelievable that that was allowed to happen. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton pointed out, it was Liverpool supporters who led the rescue mission, if I can call it that, carrying bodies and injured people away from Leppings Lane outside the ground.
I welcomed the Home Secretary’s statement about the independent panel. There was some discussion about the establishment of the panel, and there was a good deal of mistrust among the families because of all that had happened previously, but they went along with the process and became involved in detailed negotiations with the Government. I was asked by Liverpool and Merseyside Members of Parliament to represent them in those negotiations, which required considerable hard work. The panel’s primary aim is to ensure the recording and orderly release of the documents, which—this is crucial—must be shown to the families first. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh knows, we managed to ensure that the production of a report was included in the agreement. That report will be crucial to the process of putting the truth in the public domain, and enhancing our understanding of the events and information relating to the disaster.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s unequivocal commitment to full disclosure, but will the Minister confirm that it will include the advice on which the Director of Public Prosecutions based his decision not to prosecute any senior police officers? Will it also include the reasons
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for moving an experienced match commander, Chief Superintendent Mole, a few weeks before the semi-final and replacing him with Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, who was relatively inexperienced in the policing of football matches?
I think it important for Ministers, and the Government generally, to tread carefully, because there have been some problems. I know that what the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport said about hooliganism was taken out of context, but the fact remains that it caused a great deal of distress to the families. Moreover, last week’s debacle involving the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) almost scuppered tonight’s debate. We need careful planning and thinking about how this matter should be dealt with from now on.
The Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Jeremy Hunt): As the hon. Gentleman has referred to comments that I made, may I take this opportunity to apologise to the House—as I have to the families—for those comments? What I said was sloppily worded, it caused great offence, and I hugely regret it. The families were incredibly generous in accepting the apology that I made to them.
Derek Twigg: I know that the Secretary of State did not mean his remarks in the sense in which they were portrayed. I gave that example, along with last week’s, to emphasise that all this must be dealt with sensitively. The families have been through so much, and sometimes things have been wrongly said, have not been done or have been glibly avoided.
I want to put on record my thanks to the people of Sheffield. What lives with me is the memory of queues of supporters outside residents’ houses—and I mean queues: not two or three people, but 10, 20 or 30—who were allowed to use those residents’ telephones to let their families know that they were OK, and were given cups of tea. That was tremendous. The contribution and support of the people of Sheffield should be on record, and is one of the images that live with me to this day as I recall walking back from the ground. We want justice for the 96, and we want to make sure that all this information is released and that the families can see it first; that is crucial. We also want the Government to consider very carefully the report that will be produced, and to respond in a positive way that ensures that the families know both that everything possible has been done to get the information out and that their fight has not been in vain.
John Pugh (Southport) (LD): I begin by congratulating, on behalf of, I think, all of us here today, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram). None of us can hope to match his eloquence, passion, persistence and, frankly, the raw emotion he has displayed today. I first knew him as a very effective mayor of Liverpool city council, and he has today proved to be a very effective champion of his area and of Merseyside as a whole. I want to thank him for associating me with his efforts in making the all-party applications; this has been an all-party endeavour. I also want to mention the hon. Gentleman’s predecessor, Peter Kilfoyle. Even though he was a lifelong Evertonian, he did a lot of work for this cause in the House.
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I should declare an interest. I am a Liverpool FC supporter. My entire family came from Liverpool, and I grew up there, although I had the misfortune originally, as a child in a city that was oozing football success, to be taken every Saturday to Knotty Ash to watch our one and only rugby league team get beaten repeatedly week after week—thereby amply preparing me for life as a Liberal.
I think I understand the Liverpool character as well as most. A history that has often been quite brutal has endowed that character with two marked traits. The first is a profound emphasis on social solidarity. People have learned to depend on each other—on family and neighbourhood. That was beautifully summed up by Bill Shankly in the following quote, of which I have a copy in my office:
“the only way to live and to be truly successful is by collective effort, with everyone working for each other, everyone helping each other, and everyone having a share of the rewards at the end of the day.”
The second major trait has also been forged by a hard history. It is a lack of reverence—a suspicion and questioning of authority and all the pomposity and cant that often underpins it. That is the reason why Liverpool produces so many comedians. It is a feeling that the world is not necessarily on our side—and, indeed, often it is not, especially for those who spend their time questioning authority, and the pomposity and the cant underpinning it.
Hillsborough was a terrible tragedy for Liverpool. At the time I was a councillor in Sefton, and we outside the immediate Liverpool area lost many people. Afterwards, there was an opportunity to show that things could be different, but what happened? As expected, there was a massive, deeply impressive show of solidarity, and it continues, confirming that this is the city where the way forward is not “walking alone” and where social solidarity is important. The people were, however, let down by the powers that be: the national media, including The Sun, about which much has been said today; those in the legal system, about which we have not said as much as we ought to have done; and the police—we have mentioned Duckenfield—who tried to shift blame. Some—but not all—of them perpetuated, relied on or were diverted by prejudices, not just about football supporters but specifically about Liverpool football supporters. That was the case both knowingly and, sometimes, unknowingly, and explicitly and implicitly. Unsurprisingly therefore, there has been no closure. Not only the narrative of what happened but of how different people told—or tried to tell in order to fix—that narrative has never been fully before us.
I genuinely believe that we get better inquiries and inquests if the people running them are prepared to look at their limitations and flaws. We get better reporting if the media at least acknowledge their failings. We also get better policing if the police openly account for their wrongdoing and the error in their own ranks. Truthfulness at all levels is the path to improvement.
Mr Dave Watts (St Helens North) (Lab):
The hon. Gentleman may be aware that I lost a close friend, David Hawley, in the Hillsborough tragedy. I have something to say about the fact that someone in the media, Kelvin MacKenzie, said what he said and then repeated it. The general public have severe doubts about whether the
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press should allow such people to continue to follow their profession. Does the hon. Gentleman feel that special attention should be given to dealing with journalists who do these sorts of things?
Liverpool people are not stupid; they know there are good and, sometimes, not so good men in all uniforms. They know that judges are likely to spend more time at Twickenham than on the football terraces so do not necessarily have adequate knowledge of the latter. They know that lawyers can be, and have been, both cynical and noble in addressing this issue. They know that football supporters also come in all shapes and sizes, and that everyone has their prejudices. The antidote to all that, however, is not reports and procedures; rather, it is a single-minded pursuit of the truth. The antidote is not a narrative that suits one or another group or institution, or even one that allows all interests to make peace.
“I’m sick and tired of hearing things
From uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocrites
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth”.
The full truth will not necessarily make everything right again. The horror that was Hillsborough will recede in time, even though for some it is, of course, relived every day. However, we owe it to them and the victims to ensure that what passes into history is not a myth or a convenient narrative, but is, so far as is humanly possible, the true and full account of the events.
Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) on securing, along with others, this debate and on the manner in which he opened it. It is an important part of the long and determined campaign to secure truth and justice for the 96, and it is a crucial step in the effort to secure the release of further important information. From the beginning, when this horrendous tragedy occurred, truth has been withheld. Tonight, we have heard that there was a police briefing to mislead the public by deliberately distorting the facts, and to do so by promulgating the grotesque untruth that Liverpool fans were responsible for the tragedy on that dreadful day.
Lord Taylor’s report was a full judicial inquiry into what happened and it made it clear that the major cause was police failure on the day and that that should be considered against the backdrop of the failure to deal with public safety—there was the astonishing discovery that no safety certificate had been issued at Hillsborough—and the failure to have and implement an emergency plan to deal with any public disaster. As we have heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), evidence has also come to light—from documents revealed as a consequence of the scrutiny undertaken by Lord Justice Stuart-Smith—that the original police eyewitness statements describing what they saw at the time were later changed by their seniors.
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There have been further disclosures showing further withholding of essential information. The coroner’s decision to have a 3.15 pm cut-off on the assumption that all deaths would have occurred by then resulted in vital information being withheld, and major concerns were raised about the conduct of the inquest and mini-inquests.
When discussing this issue, it should always be remembered that nobody has been brought to account. The Director of Public Prosecutions in 1990 decided that the tragedies arose from “accidental” deaths and he stated that there was no evidence to prosecute any corporate body and insufficient evidence to prosecute individuals. Two police officers were named as culpable, but they both retired before any disciplinary action could be taken.
Recognition of the need for urgent disclosure lay behind the important decision of December 2009 to set up the independent panel chaired by the highly respected and trusted Bishop of Liverpool, the Right Rev. James Jones. The fundamental principle of that panel was the
“full disclosure of documentation and no redaction of content, except in the limited legal and other circumstances outlined in”
Today’s debate goes a little further than that. It seeks full disclosure, including of what specific briefing might have been given to the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, when she visited Hillsborough the day after the disaster. The motion also calls for the release of Cabinet papers that discussed the tragedy. I fully support the primacy of the panel and the families, which has been mentioned by the Home Secretary tonight. However, I would like to know how she views the importance of that primacy in relation to the terms of reference already stated and to her commitment that there would be full disclosure and that the Government would not attempt to prevent the publication of anything that the panel and the families wanted to be disclosed.
The Hillsborough tragedy killed 96 people and has had a profound effect on families and on the community. Lost lives cannot be regained, but the bereaved families have waited too long for the full truth. They deserve no less than the truth, and the correct decision today, together with the Home Secretary’s statement, can take us all a lot nearer to achieving that.
Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): For the families of all those who tragically lost their lives on 15 April 1989 and all those still traumatised by the events that unfolded before them that day, today is another milestone in their arduous pursuit of justice. I commend the solidarity shown by all who have enabled this debate to take place. Their quest for truth must not be hindered any longer.
As the Member of Parliament for the City of Chester, a city with close ties to our neighbours on Merseyside, I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak on behalf of the residents of my constituency whose lives were irreversibly changed by the tragic events in Sheffield 22 years ago. Many people from Chester were at Hillsborough that day and there are many heartbreaking stories and memories. One of the stories is that of the Rogers family. Seventeen-year-old Henry Rogers and
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his 19-year-old brother Adam were both at Hillsborough. Henry died in the disaster and Adam, who survived the crush, died just six months later after falling into a hyperglycaemic coma as a result of diabetes. Their parents, Steve and Ronnie, whom I have known for about 10 years due to their tireless involvement in the local community in Chester, recall how Adam was unable to talk about what happened in the months following his brother’s death. Although it was diabetes that took their eldest son from them, Steve and Ronnie maintain that Adam died of a broken heart. For the Rogers family, who are members of the Hillsborough family support group, and the hundreds more affected by Hillsborough, questions surrounding the deaths of their loved ones have remained unanswered for 22 years.
A second constituent, Mrs Ann Williams, who is watching this debate from the Gallery, lost her 15-year-old son, Kevin. Mrs Williams has campaigned tirelessly to discover the truth surrounding her son’s death and is patron of the Hope For Hillsborough charity and campaign group. Like those of many others, Mrs Williams’ campaigns have centred on the decision taken by the coroner, Dr Stefan Popper, to pronounce that all the victims of the disaster had died by 3.15 pm from compressive asphyxia. However, witness statements at the time highlighted the fact that Kevin was still showing signs of life at 3.55 pm, calling out for his mother. Many families of the victims are still angry at the 3.15 pm cut-off point, which meant that the inquest was unable to consider the response of the police and the other emergency services after that time. Having had three requests to the Attorney-General for a new inquest into Kevin’s death refused, Mrs Williams submitted her case to the European Court of Human Rights, but in 2009 that attempt was scuppered by the Court, which declared that her application should have been lodged within six months of Lord Justice Stuart-Smith’s scrutiny in 1997. Like so many others, Mrs Williams hopes that the release of the papers will cast new light on the events that truly occurred before, during, and after Kevin’s death.
This is not the first time Kevin Williams has been mentioned in the House; an Adjournment debate entitled simply “Kevin Williams” was held on 26 October 1994, in which the former Member for Crosby, Sir Malcolm Thornton, said:
“It was inevitable that judgments would be made on the spot which perhaps, with the benefit of hindsight and of considering the matter after some years had passed, should not and certainly would not have been made. But what is there to hide?”—[Official Report, 26 October 1994; Vol. 248, c. 978.]
We are united in this House in recognising that all the papers must be released, but the manner in which they are released is of equal importance. A drip-drip release of information is dreaded by many of the victims’ families, who fear that snippets of selected information will hit the headlines, creating a feeding frenzy in the press and potentially distorting the overall picture that the release of papers is intended to piece together. The Hillsborough independent panel, chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, is the only legitimate vehicle through which this information should be initially released.
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A large quantity of the information will be extremely sensitive, as it details the deaths of many families’ loved ones, so the families must be allowed to make sense of the information before it is released to the general public. Furthermore, a conscious effort must be made by the independent panel to include all the families in the process. With a number of different groups supporting the families of those affected, including the Hillsborough family support group, the Hillsborough justice campaign, and Hope for Hillsborough, I would like to stress the importance of ensuring that all the families are kept informed of the progress of the independent panel and of the disclosure of the panel’s findings. We must not allow the families to experience any more unnecessary anguish, and we must grant them the dignity that they so rightly deserve.
To that end, I support the Government’s position on the BBC’s freedom of information request, which could lead to the Cabinet papers bypassing the independent panel and being released immediately. The BBC submitted the FOI request with the best of intentions, but now that the Cabinet Office has recognised the overriding public interest in releasing all the papers to the panel, the BBC should recognise that its FOI request has achieved its objective and that the documents should be released only through the independent panel.
As I have said, the events of that fateful day in the spring of 1989 have lived long in the memories of those who so sadly lost their loved ones—they will never be forgotten. Although the release of the information contained among the mountain of unpublished papers is undoubtedly in the public interest, the interests of the families and survivors of Hillsborough are now the most pressing concern. For their sake alone, clarity is of the utmost importance. I believe that that can be achieved only by allowing the Hillsborough independent panel to conduct its investigation. Once the families have been given the opportunity to digest the panel’s final report, and only then, the documents must be widely and publicly disclosed.
Maria Eagle (Garston and Halewood) (Lab): I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) on his superb effort in securing this debate and on his incredibly powerful opening speech. I also wish to thank the 140,000 people who signed the e-petition, which so strengthened my hon. Friend’s hand when he attended the Backbench Business Committee to argue for time to have this debate on the Floor of the House.
This subject is of massive importance to my constituents, to Liverpool football fans, to football fans generally, to the city of Liverpool and to Merseyside as a whole, as shown by the fact that all the Merseyside MPs supported my hon. Friend’s proposal that time be found, on a votable motion on the Floor of the House, to consider the full disclosure to Hillsborough families, unredacted and uncensored, of all Government-related documents, including Cabinet minutes. The release is a matter of enormous importance to the bereaved families of the 96 people whose deaths were caused on that day and to the survivors of the disaster.