Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby, Labour)
I apologise to the House for the fact that I had to leave for a meeting earlier.
I welcome this opportunity to speak from the Back Benches on an issue of great importance to my constituents, and I join colleagues from all parties in paying tribute to the Hillsborough independent panel for its work. In particular, I pay tribute to the Bishop of Liverpool for the leadership that he has shown, and I welcome the Home Secretary’s announcement that she has appointed him as her adviser on the matter.
The Home Secretary described the report as “disturbing” and “painful”, and my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary spoke about the shocking failure to keep people safe. I join colleagues in thanking my right hon. Friend Andy Burnham and my hon. Friend Ms Eagle for their work in government, which ensured that the long-overdue panel was set up and the process set in train. I thank my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend Steve Rotheram, who has shown remarkable leadership on the issue since his election to the House two and a half years ago, and my hon. Friend Derek Twigg, who, as has been said, has acted as a point of liaison between Members of Parliament and the families.
When we had our debate a year ago I said that, unlike some colleagues, I did not have a connection with Liverpool in 1989. Listening to speeches in both that debate and today’s, I have been struck by what has been said by those who were there and those who lost friends or family members. I cannot say any of those things, but I can say that I speak on behalf of my constituents in West Derby, in the great city of Liverpool, many of whom were there on that day and some of whom lost friends, family members and loved ones.
After last year’s debate and the Prime Minister’s statement to the House last month, I was struck by the response of my constituents and people in Liverpool more widely and across Merseyside. There was real appreciation of the seriousness of both occasions. All too often we hear the relevance of Parliament and politics to people’s everyday lives called into question, but what stood out in the responses that I had from my constituents was that people saw a really relevant response by Parliament, the Government and the Opposition Front Benchers on both those occasions. That is an important point—the cross-party nature of the debate, and the Government’s decision to continue the work that started under the previous Government, are commendable. Today’s debate gives us an opportunity to say so.
The Home Secretary described the report’s references to the behaviour of South Yorkshire police as “stark”, which is absolutely right. The report is stark. The truth is now clear for all of us to see, and we pay tribute to those who have spent 23 years campaigning for it. The Prime Minister spoke in his statement last month about a double injustice that now needs to be corrected. I, too, commend the IPCC and the Director of Public Prosecutions for opening fresh investigations into the appalling failings that occurred on
As colleagues have, I welcome the Attorney-General’s announcement last week that he would apply to the High Court to have the inquest into the 96 who died at Hillsborough overturned. I hope the Attorney-General will move as quickly as possible to proceed with that action and that, as my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary said, he will have all the resources of government behind him so that the matter can be moved forward as quickly as possible.
I echo what Members have said throughout the debate about the importance of the families being fully engaged at every stage. I pay tribute to all the families and the various support groups and campaigning organisations—the Hillsborough Family Support Group, the Hillsborough Justice Campaign and Hope for Hillsborough—whose combined efforts over a 23-and-a-half-year period have got us to where we are today.
One of my constituents, Steven Kelly, whose brother Michael died at Hillsborough, plays an active role in the Hillsborough Justice Campaign doing his best to offer support and advice to people affected by the disaster. I spoke to him in advance of the debate about the issues that should be raised today. Like a lot of other people in Liverpool who were affected by Hillsborough in 1989, Steven trained to become a counsellor so that he could help others who were affected as they battled through their grief. Steven and the many others who want to help need assistance in their counselling work from paid professionals, and in the current climate of austerity it is more difficult for Liverpool council and the voluntary sector to provide that support. Steven has asked me to draw to the attention of the Government and the House the vital importance of support for people for whom old wounds have been reopened by the revelations in the Hillsborough report. Let us take that work forward on a cross-party basis, in the spirit of our debates.
The Home Secretary spoke about trust and the importance of integrity in the police. This morning, another constituent not connected with today’s debate visited me. He is a serving police officer in the Merseyside police force, and he spoke passionately as a Liverpudlian about what had happened in 1989, but he also spoke passionately, as a committed police officer, about how different the police of 2012 are from the police of 1989. He expressed a concern that I have heard others express, which is that trust in the police as a whole could be undermined by what has been revealed. Nobody in the House wants that.
Delivery on justice and accountability is, first and foremost, vital for the families and the memory of the 96, and all those who have campaigned for justice in Liverpool and beyond. Building on the Home Secretary’s earlier remarks, delivering on justice and accountability will ensure greater confidence in the police, not only in South Yorkshire, but in the rest of the country. This is an opportunity, and like other hon. Members who have spoken in the debate, I know this is an incredibly powerful and emotional issue in the city of Liverpool, and beyond. We have an enormous and long overdue responsibility to build on the truth that was revealed in the panel’s report, so that out of that truth can come justice and accountability. I commend the Home Secretary and the shadow Home Secretary on the way they have conducted this debate today. It sends out a powerful
and unifying message to my constituents, and I hope we can ensure that we move forward efficiently, building on the brilliant work of the Bishop of Liverpool and the independent panel.