Frank Field (Birkenhead, Labour)
I am pleased, Madam Deputy Speaker, to have eight minutes.
I brought together the families in Birkenhead most affected by Hillsborough, and they asked me to relay certain messages. This I willingly do. They will have been following this debate and, therefore, will know that many of their questions have already been put, and they will be anxiously awaiting the Health Secretary’s reply. My guess is that they will also have noticed how generous we have been in throwing a spotlight on other organisations and their responsibilities for the horrors that we have described and which were described in the independent report. First of all, then, those families wish me to record their thanks for the work that the bishop and the panel did in breaking this open.
As we have shone the searchlight on other organisations, heroes have emerged. Those organisations are not totally without something to be said for them. We should also shine a light on Parliament. I am surrounded by a number of heroes who, during those long 23 years, did not lose faith but continued to raise the issue. When we are liberally condemning other public and private organisations, however, I must add that we do not come out smelling of roses ourselves. Some of those in Birkenhead most affected by Hillsborough are dead. They did not
live to see the results of the independent inquiry. All of them are 23 years older and many are now quite elderly. So time is of the essence for them.
Before I pursue that last point, I wish to put three questions not so far raised specifically in this debate. First, in a previous debate, my hon. Friend Angela Smith said that Sheffield was not a suitable place to hold the inquest. The families might well say the same. They are mindful, however, that although two thirds of the families affected are in Merseyside, there are many in Scotland and the south, and, in an extraordinary act of generosity, they have asked me to say that Liverpool might not be the most ideal place to hold the inquest, because a minority of other families will wish to come from other parts of the country. They ask that their needs are also borne in mind.
Secondly, given the tale of horrors we have heard from the independent inquiry and in our debates, the families want to know who will run the inquest. A large number of people set in authority over us have not done terribly well, so why should the families trust the next person? The Home Secretary partly answered my third question when she said that she would give us some idea of the scope of the next stage of the inquiry. As their Member of Parliament, I have listened to this debate and have the advantage of representing what I guess is their opinion so far. We have heard many phrases. As one family member said, truth has at last come home, but, as the Home Secretary said, that must be followed by justice and accountability. To be honest, though, I do not know what the next steps will be. We know that there has been an application to set the inquests apart, but I do not know how we will ensure that truth is followed by justice, and I am not sure what steps will be taken to ensure that those people who should be held accountable are held accountable.
I make this plea: it is a question of urgency. People have waited 23 years. People have died waiting for this report and debate, and time is of the essence for many family members still alive. Although they are still alive, part of them died with those events 23 years ago, and they wish to see truth followed by justice, not in any vengeful sense but because they believe it is important. They believe that those who were in authority should stand accountable.
If I may say so, however, the issue for Parliament extends even beyond Hillsborough. The latter has thrown up a terrible divide in this country between those who are done to and those who do the doing. There is a huge crisis of confidence in the people set in authority over us. Hillsborough could go some way to healing a divide that, if I may say so, is far bigger even than that faced by those who suffered the terrible horrors and blight of Hillsborough. Let us think of Hillsborough as an X-ray, as the barium meal going through the system. It shows up some terrible weakness in our country, where many people feel that they are done to, where it is terribly difficult for them to be heard, where it is nigh on impossible for justice to follow through when truth is established and where those who have taken money to be accountable do not accept that accountability.
I hope that when the Secretary of State for Health sums up he will give my constituents who will be following this debate some clarity on those two key issues. Now
that we have truth, what is the road map to justice and how do we get accountability? The plea I make, through him to the Home Secretary, is this. Tomorrow she will have another crisis, and the day after she will have another. It is crucial that there should be somebody who is now accountable for ensuring that the truth that has been established in the independent inquiry is followed by justice and accountability. I do not doubt for a moment the Home Secretary’s good will or her wish to see that through herself; I think it will be very difficult for her to do so. That task has to be delegated. That person needs to be named and we need to support them in taking truth, which has at last come home, to the stage of justice and, even more importantly, accountability.