Hillsborough: Bishop James Jones Report

– in the House of Commons am 12:46 pm ar 6 Rhagfyr 2023.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice 12:46, 6 Rhagfyr 2023

With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Government’s response to Bishop James Jones’s report, “‘The patronising disposition of unaccountable power’—A report to ensure the pain and suffering of the Hillsborough families is not repeated”, and on the steps we will take to respond to the points of learning contained therein.

Bishop James has done our nation a great service and his report is an exceptional piece of work. I salute the Hillsborough families for the assiduous care they have given to help to create the report and forge the response that flows from it. I had the privilege of meeting many of the families in Liverpool in June this year, alongside the former Home Secretary. I was deeply moved to hear of their experiences, and by the dignity with which they shared them, but perhaps even more affecting was their unflinching determination to make sense of the senseless and bring about change for others. That is the true mark of compassion: campaigning selflessly for change, knowing that nothing that any Government can do will bring back their own loved ones or temper their grief.

The Hillsborough families have, through their determined efforts over decades, created a lasting legacy—a national legacy—that is a tribute to their loved ones. At the start of his report, Bishop James expressed his hope that

“we might be a better nation for having listened to them.”

We are, and they deserve the thanks of our nation.

I also pay tribute to those in this House who continue to campaign on behalf of the Hillsborough families and for families bereaved by other tragedies, including Maria Eagle and the hon. Members for Halton (Derek Twigg), for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) and for Liverpool, West Derby (Ian Byrne). I thank former members of the House who have given important support to the families, including Steve Rotheram and Andy Burnham, and I of course thank the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend Mrs May. I also thank Glenn Taylor for his vital work on the ongoing independent forensic pathology review.

Quite apart from its important recommendations, Bishop James’s report laid bare the truly devastating experiences of those bereaved by the Hillsborough disaster on 15 April 1989. An unimaginable tragedy unfolded: 97 innocent men, women and children ultimately lost their lives; hundreds more were injured and traumatised by what they saw. But for Hillsborough’s bereaved and survivors, that terrible day was only day one of an enduring ordeal, and in the days and decades thereafter, it became clear that they suffered a double injustice. First, there was the abject failure of the police and others at the ground to protect their loved ones—failures described in Lord Justice Taylor’s 1990 report as

“blunders of the first magnitude”.

Then, they faced years of unforgivable institutional defensiveness.

Secondly, the Hillsborough families and survivors suffered what can only be described as cruelty, as innocent fans were cynically blamed for their own deaths. But that, as was later to become clear, was a web of lies spun by those seeking to protect their own reputations. I emphasise that point because although the disaster may have been more than 34 years ago, such baseless narratives inexplicably persist in some quarters today, so let me take this important opportunity to restate what is not a matter of opinion, but unassailable fact: fans attending Hillsborough stadium on 15 April 1989 bear absolutely no responsibility for the deaths and injuries that occurred. In making that statement, I echo what was said seven years ago by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead at this Dispatch Box when she read out the full findings of the second inquests—namely, that 96 men, women and children were unlawfully killed.

Since then, Andrew Devine, who suffered life-changing injuries at Hillsborough, passed away on 27 July 2021, becoming the 97th fatality of the disaster. I would like to place on record my deepest sympathies to Mr Devine’s family and friends, and indeed to all those who lost loved ones.

The Government’s response to Bishop James’s report has been a long time coming—too long. For some of that time, it was necessarily held back to avoid prejudicing the outcomes of criminal trials, but there has been delay since and I recognise that this has only compounded the pain of the Hillsborough families and survivors. The Government apologise for that.

As the House will be aware, the Government’s response follows that of the police, which was published in January this year. Today, the Chief Coroner is also publishing his response, which relates to his leadership role regarding the coronial service. Collectively, these responses address the points raised by Bishop James, but this does not stop here. We will, of course, continue to listen to the families of those involved in all major incidents and to their concerns.

Bishop James’s report contains 25 points of learning. While he said that he considered each to be “vitally important”, he was clear that three in particular were, to use his word, “crucial”, so let me turn to those. First, he proposed the creation of a charter for families bereaved through public tragedy. Bishop James made it clear that he wanted to

“help bring about cultural change” through commitments to change

“related to transparency and acting in the public interest.”

It is worth reflecting that, in setting out point of learning 13 regarding the Hillsborough law, which I will come on to, Bishop James says that he has “drawn heavily” on that law’s principles in the drafting of the charter, so it is worth taking a moment to consider the language of that charter. It commits signatories—the leaders of public bodies—to strive to place the public interest above the reputation of their own organisations; to approach all forms of public scrutiny, including public inquiries and inquests, with candour in an open, honest and transparent way; and to avoid seeking to defend the indefensible.

The Deputy Prime Minister has today signed what will be known as the Hillsborough charter on behalf of the Government. Other signatories to the charter include the National Police Chiefs’ Council on behalf of all 43 police forces, the College of Policing, the Crown Prosecution Service, the National Fire Chiefs Council and others. We want the charter to become part of the culture of what it means to be a public servant in Britain, so the Deputy Prime Minister will be writing to all Departments to ensure that everyone who works in Government is aware of the Hillsborough charter and what it means for the way they work. A reference to the charter will also be added to the central induction to the civil service for all new joiners. The Hillsborough charter and Bishop James’s report have also been added to the curriculum for every recruit who joins the police. This charter will now be embedded in our public life.

The second crucial point of learning from Bishop James’s report is what he described as the “pressing need” for the

“proper participation of bereaved families at inquests”.

Inquests are, first and foremost, about answering four questions: who, where, when and how an individual has died. However, as Bishop James highlighted, the Hillsborough families were let down by the very process that should have given them answers during the first inquests, and they then had to endure a second, which had been ordered by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead. At the first inquests, the families were forced to fund their own legal representation, with a single barrister between them.

We recognise that proper involvement in an inquest will, in appropriate cases, mean that bereaved families should get legal representation, especially when the state is represented. That is why changes have been made such that, had the Hillsborough tragedy happened today, the families would have been eligible for free legal aid through the exceptional case funding scheme. The Government are determined to make this process as straightforward as possible, which is why in January 2022 the Ministry of Justice removed the means test for representation in relation to ECF cases and in September 2023 the means test was removed for legal advice at inquests. We want to build on this progress, so I can announce today that we will consult on an expansion of legal aid for families bereaved through public disaster where an independent public advocate is engaged—I will come back to that—or in the aftermath of a terrorist incident.

I acknowledge that Bishop James talks broadly about the proper participation of bereaved families at inquests where the state is represented. We will seek to further understand the experiences of these individuals, and I would welcome a conversation with Bishop James on that early in the new year.

We support the principle raised in Bishop James’s report that public bodies should not be able to spend “limitless” public funds on legal representation. That is why we have, for the first time, set out a requirement on Government Departments to

“consider the number of lawyers instructed bearing in mind the commitment to support an inquisitorial approach.”

We will now go on to set out that central Government public bodies should publish their spend on legal representation at inquests and inquiries, reaffirming that this spend should be proportionate, and never excessive.

We have also published a set of principles to guide how public bodies should instruct lawyers at inquests. These include a requirement to approach the inquest with openness and honesty and to keep in mind that the bereaved should be at the heart of the inquest process. We will also publish guidance to set the clear expectation that central Government public bodies must instruct their lawyers in accordance with the principles of the Hillsborough charter, because how lawyers engage with the inquest process and with the bereaved families matters.

I shall turn to the third of Bishop James’s three crucial points of learning: a duty of candour for police officers. As he described it, there is

“a gap in police accountability arrangements” for officers who

“fail to cooperate fully with investigations into alleged criminal offences or misconduct.”

That is why a new offence of police corruption, applicable to police and National Crime Agency officers was introduced in 2017, punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment. In 2020, we updated the Police (Conduct) Regulations to introduce a new duty to co-operate for individual officers during investigations and inquiries. Failure to do so can result in disciplinary sanctions, including dismissal. Last month, we introduced legislation to place an organisational duty of candour on policing. Through the Criminal Justice Bill, we will place a duty on the College of Policing to issue a code of practice for ethical policing, and for that code to include a duty of candour. This duty is designed to promote a culture of openness, honesty and transparency, and chief constables will be held to account for their forces’ performance against the code. The new code of practice has been laid in Parliament today.

We want to go beyond the police to consider healthcare settings too. In response to recent concerns about openness in those settings, we will be conducting a review into the effectiveness of the existing duty of candour for health and social care providers—the terms of reference for that have been published today.

I am aware that the Hillsborough law calls for a duty of candour on all public authorities. Since the Hillsborough disaster, a comprehensive framework of duties and obligations has developed, which covers public officials and the different official proceedings, such as inquests and inquiries. First, in central Government, the civil service code requires civil servants to act with honesty and integrity. A breach of the code can result in a range of sanctions, including dismissal. This sits alongside the Nolan principles providing that:

“Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.”

Secondly, the legal framework surrounding criminal investigations, statutory inquiries, inquests and most other formal proceedings requires that all individuals, regardless of whether they are a public official, co-operate with them. For example, there is a duty of candour in judicial review, which amounts to a duty on public authorities to lay cards “face up on the table”. When it comes to inquiries, importantly, these carry the potential for custodial sanction—prison sentences in plain English.

Thirdly, where a public official demonstrates a lack of candour, and where this forms part of their duty as a public office holder, they can potentially be guilty of misconduct in public office, which is a criminal offence. We will keep these changes under review to ensure that we achieve that culture of openness, honesty and candour, and we will not rule out taking further action if it is needed.

Today, the Government respond to all 25 points of learning, but I have focused this statement on those that Bishop James described as “crucial”. Very meaningful progress has been made, but we will not hesitate to go further if required. The discussions will continue, and the Government have committed to another debate in the new year to ensure that that dialogue progresses. I would also be happy to meet the Hillsborough families should they wish to discuss any aspect of the Government’s response.

Finally, I turn to improvements in the justice system. Bishop James made it searingly clear that the justice system, which should have supported victims and the bereaved after the tragedy, was not set up to do so. Our response sets out the steps this Government have taken to ensure that bereaved families and survivors in the immediate aftermath of a public tragedy are guided through what can be a difficult, complicated and forbidding process. Through the Victims and Prisoners Bill, we have introduced legislation to enable an independent public advocate. Once established, the IPA will be a strong voice for victims, the bereaved and whole communities affected by major incidents. The IPA, as promised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead, will make sure that those affected by major incidents know their rights, can access support services, and have their voices heard at inquests and inquiries. Its design has been informed by the very difficulties that the Hillsborough families faced and our commitment to making sure that other families do not suffer the same injustices. That can include holding public bodies to account for their commitments to abide by the Hillsborough charter. I am also grateful for the contributions of some of the families of victims of the Grenfell Tower fire and of the Manchester Arena bombing, telling us what would have helped them most in the aftermath of those terrible events.

After listening to concerns of the Hillsborough families, set out so powerfully when I met them earlier this year, as well as contributions from colleagues across the House—I am looking at the right hon. Member for Garston and Halewood here—I decided that we must go further by establishing a permanent IPA. It is vital that the IPA can be deployed as soon as possible after disaster strikes and that they have time in advance to be as prepared as possible. A permanent advocate will be able to advise the Government on their response to major incidents, such as any subsequent inquiries or reviews, and will ensure that the views of families are heard. Importantly, they will also report independently to government about the experiences of victims and bereaved families, as well as publishing an annual report. All such reports will be laid before Parliament.

The Hillsborough families have been unrelenting in their pursuit of justice, and Bishop James has done essential work to support the families and has faithfully discharged the commission put upon him by the then Home Secretary and former Prime Minister to capture their perspective, so that it was not lost following the second inquests. Today is therefore an important day. It does not provide closure for the families, of course. As Bishop James himself wrote,

“there can be no closure to love, nor should there be for someone you have loved and lost.”.

Grief is indeed a journey without a destination. But today is a milestone on that journey. It is a moment, I hope, when families will feel able to pause and take quiet pride in the enormity of what they have achieved, not for themselves, but for others—for the British people. But I hope they will serve to cement and strengthen the Hillsborough families’ legacy—the changes they have made to benefit an entire nation and to help ensure that never again can our people be so betrayed by the very organisations and institutions meant to protect them. I commend this statement to the House.

Photo of Shabana Mahmood Shabana Mahmood Shadow Secretary of State for Justice 1:02, 6 Rhagfyr 2023

It is customary to thank the Government for advance sight of the statement, but given the gravity of this matter, the fact that the report being responded to has been with the Government for many years and the length of the Secretary of State’s statement this morning, I am disappointed to have received the copy of his statement much later than is customary.

To describe the events of 15 April 1989 as “far-reaching” is wholly inadequate. To say that they were “tragic” misses the point. The name “Hillsborough” stands to this day as an indictment of institutions, individuals and an entire culture in which transparency, accountability and even simple human compassion were absent. I was a child in 1989, when 95 people died at Hillsborough stadium in the worst sporting disaster in this nation’s history. Ten years later, alongside thousands of other law students, I learnt about the shockwaves that the events of that day were still sending through our courts, to the continuing pain of the families. That included the death in 1993 of the 96th victim, 22-year-old Anthony Bland, who spent four years in a persistent vegetative state before a court made legal history by agreeing that it was in his best interests to withdraw his feeding tube. Let us not forget that it was just two years ago that the disaster claimed its 97th victim, 55-year-old Andrew Devine, who had lived with a serious brain injury for more than three decades. It has now been 34 years, and to say that justice delayed is justice denied would be a significant understatement in this context. It is simply unendurable for any family to be made to wait this long for justice.

I wish to echo the words of the Secretary of State by paying tribute to Bishop James Jones; to the many campaigners, both inside and outside this House, who have worked for so long to establish the truth; and, above all, to the bereaved families. They have gone beyond what anyone should have to endure to secure justice not only for their loved ones but for the victims of future disasters. They are an inspiration, and I speak for the whole House in saying that all of us here know the debt we owe to all of them.

I turn to the detail of the remarks by the Secretary of State. The purpose of the Government’s response must be centred on the experience of the families, just as Bishop James’s report was, to ensure that their suffering is remembered and, crucially, is never repeated. That is the commitment that the Opposition, too, make: we will work to ensure that the Government’s proposals deliver meaningful justice. We welcome the commitment to consult on expanding legal aid for families bereaved in a public disaster, but there is nothing in what we have seen from the Government to date that goes as far as we believe is necessary to require public authorities to act with candour and transparency.

To the public, a duty on all public bodies to be forthcoming with the truth is a basic requirement if justice is to be done in the wake of terrible events that scar communities and change lives forever. Many will be shocked to hear that this does not already exist as a matter of law. The Hillsborough Law Now campaign which, as the Government know, includes bereaved families who are still fighting for accountability 34 years later, has told us that without an effective duty of candour in place, the risk is that reform will simply add another layer of bureaucracy to what victims must already endure. It is for this reason that over a year ago, the Leader of the Opposition committed to a Hillsborough law that would first and foremost impose a legal duty on public institutions, public servants and officials to act in the public interest and with transparency, candour and frankness when there has been a major incident.

The Secretary of State knows that we have sought to amend his recent Bill to introduce that more effective duty of candour during its passage through Parliament, but it is an approach that the Government have so far rejected. We will continue our efforts in that regard, because the Government’s requirement for a code of ethics is not enough.

We also welcome the commitment to a standing, independent public advocate, and have supported the change to the Victims and Prisoners Bill. However, as the Secretary of State knows, we also believe—and have said to him repeatedly—that the duty of candour is the missing piece, and it is vital to add it to make effective the changes that have been introduced in respect of the independent public advocate.

This issue is above party politics, but we have a duty to say to the Government that what they have announced does not yet go far enough. They must deliver on that vital promise that what happened in 1989, and has continued to happen to the families for 34 years, will never happen again.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I thank the hon. Lady for her response, and I shall seek to address each point in turn.

On the issue of legal aid, we absolutely accept that in this particular case there was a manifest and completely unacceptable lack of equality of arms, because it was treated as an adversarial process, which was completely inimical to what the inquiry should have been designed to get to the bottom of. The culture was wrong, in terms of how the lawyers approached it, and the equality of arms was non-existent. We have sought to address that in two ways. First, in appropriate cases that become adversarial because people are defensive as they have probably got something wrong, it is necessary for the families to have the legal arms to take that on. That is why, if this happened today, that funding would be in place. This is not small amounts of funding; the total amount spent, quite properly—I have no complaints about this—in the second inquest was around £65 million. This is a very significant change that has already been made. As I say, we are consulting on whether we should go further still.

The critical issue is, of course, about candour. The importance of changing the culture runs through Bishop James Jones’ report like a message through a stick of rock. Across the House—as the hon. Lady rightly pointed out, this is not a party political issue—we must do everything possible to change that culture. On the IPA, it is important to note that in point of learning 1, which was about the charter, Bishop James said:

“I welcome the government’s commitment…to create an independent public advocate to act for bereaved families after a public disaster. Once a public advocate has been appointed, I offer the charter to them as a benchmark against which they may assess the way in which public bodies treat those bereaved by public tragedy”,

before going on to talk about the text of the charter. We hope that it will play a very important part in embedding that culture and holding people to account, but this job is not over. We continue to have the discussion, and I look forward to engaging with the hon. Lady about it.

Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Ceidwadwyr, Maidenhead

I thank the Lord Chancellor for his statement and welcome the Government’s response, although like him, I bemoan the fact that it has taken so long to respond to this report. Not only did I commission it when I was in office, but it reported when I was still in office.

What underpinned the approach of the organs of the state at Hillsborough was a desire to protect themselves and their reputation, rather than serve the public they were there to protect or, indeed, search for truth and justice. That attitude did not occur just on that day: it has continued from those public authorities through the decades since. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree, therefore, that almost the most important point in the charter is that it requires organisations to place the public interest above their own reputation? What specific steps will the Government be taking to ensure that that culture is instilled across the whole public sector.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

As always, my right hon. Friend gets to the heart of the matter. The critical and most important point in the charter is No. 2:

“Place the public interest above our own reputations.”

As my right hon. Friend has said, those are words; she has asked how they will be woven into the culture. One powerful example is that today, the code of practice for ethical policing is being published. That code states in paragraph 4.5 on page 7, under the chapter heading “Ensuring openness and candour”, that

“Chief officers have a duty to ensure openness and candour within their force, which will include the following. Implementing the Charter for Families Bereaved through Public Tragedy (see Hillsborough stadium disaster: lessons that must be learnt).”

It will be there at the point of training for officers and induction for civil servants. It is going to become part of the warp and weft of this country—part of the culture of what it means to be a civil servant in Britain.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration)

As someone with great affection for the people of Liverpool and Merseyside, I start by saying that our thoughts are once again with the Hillsborough families. I join Shabana Mahmood in her qualified thanks for advance sight of the statement. I was pleased that the Lord Chancellor thanked and congratulated hon. Members, as well as Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram, for their work in this area.

I have three questions for the Lord Chancellor. First, the chief executive of the College of Policing has described Hillsborough as a touchstone for change, but in the years since, we have sadly seen a familiar culture of cover-up in relation to tragedies such as Grenfell and the infected blood scandal. The Lord Chancellor appears to accept the principle; does he also accept that at some point, the public will tire of hearing about promised cultural change without visible action accompanying it? Secondly, no police officer has been disciplined or convicted of any offence relating to the Hillsborough disaster. Does he agree that in cases where it is proven that false evidence was given or inaccurate statements were made, retrospective action up to and including prosecution must take place?

Finally, part of the reason why the police were able to avoid full scrutiny around Hillsborough for so long was irresponsible reporting of the disaster by sections of the media. Is the Lord Chancellor convinced that reforms in that area have gone far enough, or does he agree with many of us that more reform in that area is sadly needed?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I thank the hon. Gentleman for those helpful and pertinent questions. Let me turn first to the issue of the police. Yes, it is one thing to set the culture, which, I think it is reasonable to point out, will now be woven into police training, but accountability matters, too. One thing that matters is that schedule 2 to the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2020, which, of course, post-date the report, includes the following: police officers must be

“honest, act with integrity and...not compromise or abuse their position”,


“Police officers have a responsibility to give appropriate cooperation during investigations, inquiries and formal proceedings, participating openly and professionally in line with the expectations of a police officer when identified as a witness.”

Those standards are in the regulations. Their breach would provide a powerful case, as the hon. Gentleman may think, for dismissal or other suitable sanction.

On the hon. Gentleman’s point about retrospectivity, plainly, if evidence comes to light about behaviour at the time, it can be considered in the normal way. I hope that he will be encouraged by knowing that the offence of misconduct in a public office is being considered by the Law Commission, with its usual and typical diligence, and we will respond in the new year. It is reasonable to observe that it has not operated as we might have liked, and is susceptible to reform. We are giving that very active attention.

On the media and irresponsible coverage, my goodness, the hon. Gentleman has a point. I think that there still needs to be a live conversation about whether things have gone far enough.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee

The delay in the report has been unacceptable, but it is absolutely no fault of my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor. I thank him for his statement, for its tone, which was characteristically generous-spirited, and for the work that he has done to expedite it.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it will be important to pick up on some of the learning from two Justice Committee reports on the coronial system and on pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Victims Bill? Does he agree that, to achieve the proper outcome of a legacy for the victims of Hillsborough, we should work to the position where it would be the norm for there to be proper legal representation for victims and bereaved families at inquests? That should be the norm rather than any form of exception.

Secondly, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the duty of candour should extend, in terms of legal representation by Government Departments, to the fullest and earliest possible disclosure of all relevant materials that are in the hands of Departments and their lawyers? Thirdly, does he agree that we should work with the excellent current Chief Coroner, whose predecessor gave powerful evidence to our Committee, to ensure that there is greater consistency in the standards and approach within the coronial system, which has not always been the case in the past? Does he agree that those are important matters, together with the assurance of equality of arms across the piece?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Those are very helpful points. First, I pay tribute to the Justice Committee for its work, particularly the work on coroners’ inquests. Indeed, in preparation for this statement, I went back and re-read some of the evidence given by the then Chief Coroner, Mark Lucraft, in which he talked about this important issue of equality of arms. He made the point—from his position as Chief Coroner, no less—that, yes, there are of course cases in which it is important to have legal representation. We have made enormous strides, as has been indicated. Equally, there will be those in which legal representation sometimes does not help terribly. That is why we have to proceed with care.

The key issue is equality of arms, as my hon. Friend rightly points out. The business about candour as regards early disclosure is critical. One important point that can sometimes be lost is that, lest we forget, under section 35 of the Inquiries Act 2005, it is possible for someone to be held criminally liable, on pain of a custodial sentence, if they fail to act with candour in terms of producing information to an inquiry. That, it seems to me, is an important sanction, and I hope that judges will not hesitate to use it in appropriate circumstances.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Shadow Minister (Defence)

Bishop James called his report “The patronising disposition of unaccountable power”—the key word is “unaccountable.” Thirty-four years after 97 men, women and children were unlawfully killed at a televised event, for which the public inquiry interim report pinned the blame on the police within four months, no one has been held accountable for what happened at Hillsborough, and now nobody will be. Accountability is key here. Although culture change is good, we need legal change, too. The failure to legislate for a full duty of candour for all public officials or to put the charter for families bereaved by public tragedy into statute is inexplicable. As the Lord Chancellor knows, I still think that the independent public advocate’s powers need to be beefed up

As the Lord Chancellor knows, I still think that the independent public advocate’s powers need to be beefed up to include an ability to compel transparency and be a data controller in order to torpedo attempts to cover up—what went wrong at Hillsborough was a cover-up, as much as anything. Will the Lord Chancellor reconsider his apparent unwillingness to legislate to make it clear that this House and our nation require accountability, require candour and require public authorities and those who work for them to act in the best interests of those bereaved in the appalling public tragedies that have occurred and will continue to occur?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I thank the right hon. Lady and say, entirely fairly, I hope, that the merits in this response—and it can reasonably be observed that there are a great number—are due in considerable part to her efforts in engaging with me to make changes and improvements.

On the issue of the independent public advocate, for example, there is no doubt—others have fed in as well, not least my right hon. Friend Mrs May, the former Prime Minister—that the IPA will be permanent. That was not the original proposal. It will be able to make reports of its own motion come before this House, and not just at the instigation of the state. It will also be able to make recommendations about what sort of inquiry should take place afterwards. That could be, as the right hon. Lady knows, some sort of independent panel along the lines of the ones set up by Alan Johnson as Home Secretary, or it could be a statutory or non-statutory inquiry. This IPA is of a different order of muscularity from the one originally envisaged, and the right hon. Lady has played an important part in that.

The right hon. Lady and I have discussed the Hillsborough law. There are countervailing considerations, as she knows, but the point is that my door remains open, the conversation remains live and we will have a debate about the issue, I hope, in the new year. I look forward to discussing these matters further.

Photo of Jackie Doyle-Price Jackie Doyle-Price Ceidwadwyr, Thurrock

My right hon. and learned Friend’s statement goes some way to tackling the institutional behaviour that puts the reputational damage of organisations and public confidence in them ahead of the interests of the people they are meant to serve, but his comments have been very much in the context of major public incidents. How far does he think the expectations enshrined in the charter can be applied to individual cases? I speak with particular reference to suicide. Quite often, bereaved families attend inquests where the players are keen to avoid any suggestion of liability; that could conflict with what he has described in terms of a duty of candour.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I am so grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that critical point. The issue is not just about major disasters, important though they are. When something dreadful has happened, the victims and families do not want to find themselves in an unnecessarily adversarial situation or one where people are, frankly, trying to save their own skins and showing institutional defensiveness.

A lot of the issue comes down to culture, frankly; we are aware of that. There are two things to say. First, on the equality of arms, if exceptional case funding is involved—that is to do with article 2; there are certain thresholds—there will be legal representation. On culture, we have provided a new document, which includes the principles guiding the Government’s approach when they hold interested person status at an inquest. Those include approaching

“the inquest with openness and honesty, including supporting the disclosure of all relevant and disclosable information to the coroner.”

In other words, the state should not be in the position of being defensive, whether there has been a major disaster or the case relates only to an individual.

Photo of Ian Byrne Ian Byrne Llafur, Liverpool, West Derby

I thank the Lord Chancellor for his statement today and for the empathy and decency he has shown on the subject of Hillsborough. I also thank him for his words about football supporters not being to blame; that means a lot to a lot of people.

I am sorry, but that is where my thank you ends. Like many others, I feel let down today—as if we are a world away from the effective legislation that we desperately need. I am really worried that what has been decided will not prevent another Hillsborough-style state cover-up. Bishop James Jones called for a duty of candour on police officers, but the Government’s Criminal Justice Bill mentions the duty of candour in clause 73 only in the context of a code of conduct. I feel that that is an insult to those affected by state cover-ups and to the memory of the 97. It does not establish or define the duty in law and provides no mechanism for compliance. Crucially, the Government will not today introduce a statutory duty of candour on all public officials, as demanded by Hillsborough Law Now campaigners and, thankfully, supported by my own party.

Secretary of State, without a legal duty of candour on all public servants hard-wired into our justice system, we will see continued injustices from public officials who lie on the stand, acting with impunity and no consequences. I had hoped that today the Secretary of State would push back against the powerful vested interests that do not want to see this accountability in law, but, sadly, I feel as though they have won once again. Will the Secretary of State reflect on the comments from across the House and work with us to ensure that we get a true Hillsborough law that the 97, and everyone else who has suffered injustice at the hands of the state, fully deserve?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his words at the outset. I listened very carefully to what he said subsequently. He asked me if I will reflect. Of course I will reflect. I will listen very carefully to what has been said. We are here to respond to Bishop James’s report, which was not principally about the points that have moved on since, which I know we all recognise. We want to change the culture. We remain committed to changing the culture, and I will continue to have conversations about how we achieve that most effectively.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Ceidwadwyr, Torbay

I was just reflecting on the fact that the last time we were here in the Chamber talking about this issue we were advised that the response would be produced in spring, so it is welcome to have it today. I welcome its general tone and nature. It was not just a lack of interest in finding the truth that was the issue; it was the fact that organs of the state set out to smear people, to lie and to cover up in order to save their own skin. We can say that it was 30 years ago, but we saw worrying similarities at the Stade de France—although it is not in our jurisdiction—when there was an attempt to blame fans for a complete overreaction from the French law enforcement authorities to some incidents there.

I found it interesting when the Secretary of State talked about the spend on legal representation, which is often disproportionate. He says it will be proportionate. Who will determine that? Let us remember that some of the public bodies thought it was perfectly proportionate to waste millions of pounds on trying to save their own skins, rather than on finding justice.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

That is an excellent point. My hon. Friend asks who will determine what is proportionate. The whole point about encouraging Departments to publish material is that the public can make an assessment of whether it is proportionate. Frankly, that is an ordinary English word and people should know what it means. If they do not, that will become clear.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Llafur, Knowsley

I, too, thank the Lord Chancellor for today’s statement, which, as he conceded, is long overdue. I add my tribute to my right hon. Friend Maria Eagle for the painstaking work she did to expose the evidence that existed but had never been taken into account. I also pay tribute to Mrs May, who recognised that there was an injustice that had to be put right and who set up the process by which Bishop James was able to bring all the lies and cover-ups to light.

Following the Hillsborough disaster, I and two of my constituents—Mr and Mrs Joynes, who had lost a son at Hillsborough—attended part of the first inquest. I was shocked by the extent to which that inquest was such a travesty; it seemed to be aimed at blaming the fans, rather than the authorities, for what happened. One thing that came out of that—I have said this before—is that there was a massive effort to stereotype football fans as responsible for something they were actually victims of. I welcome the fact that there will be a public advocate, but to be absolutely certain, we need to put that role on the statute book.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the support he has given to his constituents. I can confirm that the IPA is being put on the statute book.

Photo of Mary Robinson Mary Robinson Ceidwadwyr, Cheadle

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor for bringing forward today’s statement. Hillsborough is synonymous with cover-up. Innocent victims were blamed for the failures of the police and the emergency services, and whistleblowers were pivotal in bringing forward a lot of the evidence. It is important that we have a duty of candour within the police service. Right across public services, candour should be the golden thread that links them together. With whistleblowers being so important on this issue and others, will he also look at having an office for the whistleblower so that, rather than simply relying on the duty of candour, people in organisations would know where to go to raise an issue or to get help?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I thank my hon. Friend for that typically thoughtful and helpful suggestion. She makes an excellent point. Already in the civil service code, there ought to be arrangements for people to do precisely that, but, if we need to go further, let us discuss that. I would be happy to have that conversation with her.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs)

I wonder if I could explore with the Lord Chancellor what he said about Bishop James’s recommendation on the pressing need for the proper participation of bereaved families at inquests. In the summer, the Joint Committee on Human Rights held an evidence session on a proposed Hillsborough law and strengthening human rights. We were particularly interested in the impact of the inequality of funding for legal representatives between the state and bereaved families at inquests and inquiries. In evidence, witnesses argued strongly that there should be proportionate equality of arms, distinguishing that from mere parity of arms, and they saw the wider use of exceptional case funding for article 2 cases as one way of achieving that. Does he agree with that evidence?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

The hon. and learned Lady makes an excellent point. Of course, we think there should be equality of arms. The only point of potential hesitation comes from the evidence of the Chief Coroner—as I said, I was reading that in my preparation—who said that there are some cases where although the state is represented and is an interested party, adding lawyers would not necessarily assist. As he put it in paragraph 97 of his written evidence:

“There are also arguments which could be advanced that simply adding more lawyers in to the system would not necessarily, uniformly help bereaved families in all cases.”

In our view, it will depend on the case. There will be some cases—this is one—where it is manifestly necessary. There are others where there must be a more judicious approach.

Photo of James Sunderland James Sunderland Chair, Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill

I am privileged to be able to watch regular football in Bracknell, Reading and Aldershot. Following the Lord Chancellor’s statement, is he content that sufficient legal and institutional protections are in place to help prevent another event like Hillsborough?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I think that most recognise that significant changes have taken place. I hope we can feel confident that something like that could not happen, but, in the dreadful event that it were to, we need to be sure that the resources and support are in place so that families do not have to suffer as those years ago did.

Photo of Alison McGovern Alison McGovern Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I thank the Lord Chancellor for the manner in which he opened his statement, but it is really not good enough that it has taken so long to get to this point. I want to put on record my deep disappointment that we have waited this long for today. I also think that to get the change that has been described, what is being proposed is not good enough.

To achieve what we want through the legal process requires, as Mrs May pointed out so correctly, public bodies to place the public interest—that of the citizens of our country—above the reputations of their own organisations. As the Lord Chancellor said, it is not just about who is represented but about how lawyers engage in the inquest process and indeed with the bereaved families. It is about not just about establishing inquests and inquiries but the culture of candour day in, day out, which he talked about. I am not a lawyer—he is—but I think that lawyers respond to the law. That is at the heart of why we are so disappointed not to have a Hillsborough law. I do not want a debate in January; I want a law. Will he meet me and other Members of the House to discuss how we move forward from this point?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

My door is always open. Of course, I will speak to the hon. Lady and others. It is also important to recognise that part of the statutory framework has moved on. I have talked about the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2020, for example, and I recognise, as did Bishop James Jones, that the key thing we want to do is to change the culture, and the law plays a part in that. There have been changes, so let us have a discussion in due course.

Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Llafur, Halton

We cannot repeat often enough, because I do not think it is understood, just what a web of deceit and lies was put forward by parts of the state, particularly the police and others, over the years. That had an effect on the families who lost loved ones. I was there on the day, in those terrible circumstances. We do not forget how bad it was. I sat through a number of days of the second inquest, and lies were still being told until the families’ lawyers produced video evidence to say, “There you are. You didn’t do what you said.” I was astounded. All those years later and people stuck to those lies.

As I said to the Justice Secretary earlier, we can have a culture change, but what happened at that inquest, and all the way up to it, shows that the problem is so deep that it needs something stronger. That is why the duty of candour needs a basis in legislation. I understand that there are some issues, whether it be national security or confidentiality, but we can get round that. The Justice Secretary has indicated that he will listen, so will he listen and make sure there is a legal, statutory duty?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I thank the hon. Gentleman, who speaks with particular authority on these points. He talks about the second inquest, at which people continued to demonstrate a kind of institutional defensiveness. He may feel that what made a difference was that lawyers were there to hold people to account—that is the equality of arms point. I respectfully suggest that it is important to recognise that we are now in a situation where, in this kind of case, there will be lawyers to try to expose precisely that kind of defensiveness, which is extremely important. I deeply respect the points that he makes, but he knows there are countervailing issues, to which he briefly adverted. Of course, we will have a conversation in due course.

Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

There are Members of this House who had not been born when Hillsborough happened, and we have all had lives, careers and families. For the families of the victims to have waited that length of time for justice is intolerable, and it has been compounded by not having the one thing that would ensure they felt justice—the knowledge that it cannot happen again. Does the Lord Chancellor agree that perhaps the only way the families will ever feel they have justice is if we have a Hillsborough law to prevent it from happening again?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

The critical thing, of course, is that we have to change the culture and ensure that people are held to account for that culture. There are important changes in these measures, as I hope the House will agree. I have indicated that I am prepared to discuss what further steps are required.

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

It has taken six years to get to today’s Hillsborough charter but, like many, I ask why it is not a Hillsborough law. The delay for the families of the 97 has been completely unacceptable. Can I press the Lord Chancellor again on why the Government have launched a consultation on improving legal aid for victims of public disasters? Why not simply legislate to do it?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Because we have already taken very great steps. As I indicated, the sums involved are very significant. The second inquest alone was around £65 million. We are consulting on going further in respect of terrorism and cases where the IPA is appointed, but as no lesser authority than a former Chief Coroner has indicated, one has to proceed with caution in this space. We will have a consultation, and we will take sensible steps thereafter.

Photo of Kim Johnson Kim Johnson Llafur, Liverpool, Riverside

I start by paying tribute to the families and my city for their determination for justice, and to James Jones for his report. However, six years and seven Home Secretaries later, it does not go far enough. We need a duty of candour, so can the Lord Chancellor confirm that the families seeking justice for Grenfell and Manchester Arena will get the support and the justice they deserve?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I thank the hon. Lady, and she is absolutely right that there needs to be a duty of candour. Indeed, that is the single most important thing that comes out of the Hillsborough charter, and it will be buttressed and supported, and people will be held to account, by an independent public advocate.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

On the duty of candour set out in the “Code of Practice for Ethical Policing”, which has been published today, why is the duty to “ensure openness and candour” only on chief officers? Why is it not on every individual officer?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Well, it is. There are two aspects to this. Under the code, it is right that chief officers should have to be responsible for the culture and practice within their organisation. But there is also a further duty that exists on police officers, through the 2020 regulations I referred to earlier, and those can of course sound in disciplinary sanctions, including dismissal. So it is available for both.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Llafur, Eltham

Contaminated blood, Grenfell, Hillsborough—the one thing they all have in common is that ordinary people suffered an incredible tragedy, and then the authorities and the establishment circled the wagons to deny them justice. What this report has exposed is a failure at the centre of the establishment to serve the public. This report is calling for candour from the people who represent such public bodies, so why is it that the Government, after all this time, have come back and said no to that one request?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Respectfully, that is not quite a fair representation. Bishop James Jones, in his point of learning 1, talked about the Hillsborough charter, and in paragraph 3 of that recommendation, he talked about candour. We have accepted that entirely. Bishop James Jones’s report was not about the law, although he adverted to it. As I have said, we are going to have further discussions, but it is important to notice what steps have been taken thus far.

Photo of Richard Burgon Richard Burgon Llafur, Leeds East

People, including those personally affected by the Hillsborough tragedy, will have listened to the Government’s response today and been deeply disappointed. What is needed, among other things, is a duty of candour right across all public organisations, but also private organisations that are public-facing, such as those involved in social housing, for example. What is also needed is real equality of arms—not just some legal aid for the bereaved, but full equality of arms, meaning the same spending for victims as for public bodies.

The Opposition support a Hillsborough law, and a Hillsborough law is necessary, as the families have called for, to deliver this. Since the Opposition support it, the Government could have got this through and passed it in a number of weeks, and they still can. I urge the Government, before the next general election, to work with the Opposition across the House to get this passed. It is what the bereaved families and those communities deserve, and it is what people in future deserve as well.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his observations, which I listened to with care. On the issue of equality of arms, it has to be observed, I hope, that the changes that have been made are extremely significant, not least because there is a commitment to ensure is proportionality, so we can no longer go back to a situation where the state is apparently using its deep pockets to unfairly load the dice against victims. That is being changed, and we are very committed to that direction of travel.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I listened very carefully to the Lord Chancellor’s very considered statement, and the question that comes to mind is: why not? Why not have a Hillsborough law? That has not been answered.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

This has, of course, been considered very carefully across Government Departments, and there are countervailing interests, which I am very happy to discuss with the hon. Member. There are issues of concern, and if we look at how the Bill was initially drafted by Andy Burnham, there was a very low bar—[Interruption.] Well, there is a lot of complexity to it, and I am very happy to discuss it with the hon. Member. However, the central point I want to get across today is that Bishop James Jones was talking about changing the culture. As he himself has noted, legislation is not always the answer; changing the culture is critically important. Through this charter, with the IPA, we will make enormous strides towards ensuring that this is part of what it means to be a public service in Britain.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the Lord Chancellor for his statement, and I commend the right hon. and hon. Opposition Members who have fought doggedly the whole way through. At the heart of any announcement about Hillsborough should be the victims and the families they left behind, who are devastated by the lack of urgency that they see from the Government. Does the Lord Chancellor agree that at the crux of any legislation for a public disaster, the onus should be in favour of the victims and their families? Will he ensure that the correct provisions are in place finally to compensate those who still live with that tragic event each and every minute of each and every day?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point. For the victims, the pain never ends, and “grief is a journey”, as Bishop James Jones reported. It is totally unacceptable for victims to be left floundering in the agony of their grief in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy. That is why we set up the IPA and why it will be permanent, ready to swing into action not just to provide assistance, support and information, but to hold the relevant agencies to account.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Llafur, Bootle

I have listened carefully to what the Lord Chancellor has said, and I thank him for his measured, comprehensive and frank approach. The primary question to be asked is whether he genuinely believes that the families of the bereaved and those affected will be satisfied with what he has said.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

This statement is intended to respond to the 25 points of learning in Bishop James Jones’s report. Of course, because of the delay, which I have been pretty candid was too long, there has been a development in thinking thereafter, but the three of those points that were identified in particular by Bishop James Jones—the Hillsborough charter, the equality of arms and the police duty of candour—have been fulfilled, and I think they have been fulfilled in a way that massively advances the state of our country. Of course people want to have further discussion—I respect that and will of course accommodate them—but it is important to note that in terms of what was requested, very significant changes have been made.