HL Deb 17 April 1989 vol 506 cc558-67

3.34 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, with the leave of the House, it may be convenient if I repeat a Statement about the disaster at the Sheffield Wednesday Football Club ground at Hillsborough Stadium on Saterday which is now being made in another place by my right hounourable friend the Home Secretary. The Statment is as follows:

"Everyone has been horrified by this incredible tragedy in which 94 lost their lives and 174 were injured.

"Shortly after the start of the match there was a surge of spectators on the Leppings Lane terrace which crushed many at the front against the perimeter fence. This accounted for most of the deaths and injuries.

"The match was due to start at 3 p.m. To help ensure orderly access, the gates of the ground were opened at 12 noon. At 2.30 p.m. most of the Nottingham fans were in the ground, but many of the Liverpool supporters were still arriving. It was clear to the police officers in charge that there was ample capacity still to be filled in some parts of the enclosure allocated to Liverpool.

"At about 2.45 p.m. there was a large crowd of Liverpool supporters at the turnstiles in Leppings Lane behind the West Stand. There was difficulty in coping with the pressure on the turnstiles and the police used loudhailers to urge the crowd to be patient.

"At about 2.50 p.m. more Liverpool supporters arrived and the numbers in front of the turnstiles increased. Some supporters started to climb the walls and turnstiles and those at the front of the crowd outside the stadium were under considerable pressure from those behind.

"The senior police officer present considered that there was a possible danger to the lives of the spectators at the front of the crowd outside the stadium. In order to relieve the pressure he arranged for an exit gate near the turnstiles to be opened to let a section of the crowd through. The relationship of that action to the disaster on the terrace shortly afterwards is clearly a central question to be investigated.

"My right honourable friend the Prime Minister and I yesterday visited the football ground and the two Sheffield hospitals which received casualties. I should like to pay tribute to all those involved in the rescue operations at the ground, including the many spectators who gave their help; and to those others, including the hospital staffs and voluntary agencies who have since been working so hard treating the injured and consoling the bereaved. We heard many accounts of courage exerted on behalf of others.

"I have asked for further factual reports from the police and other services, the local authority and the Football Association. Inquests will be held in due course. But over and above this, there is clearly need for a full and independent inquiry to identify the causes of the disaster and to examine what needs to be done to prevent such an accident happening again. I have therefore asked Lord Justice Taylor to carry out an inquiry, with the following terms of refrence: To inquire into the events at Sheffied Wednesday football ground on 15th April 1989 and to make recommendations about the needs of crowd control and safety at sports events. "Mr Brian Johnson, the Chief Constable of Lancashire, has agreed to assist the inquiry as an assessor; and arrangements will be made as necessary for other qualified assessors to be appointed and for the inquiry to be provided with technical advice and support. I am asking that the inquiry should proceed with all possible speed. Lord Justice Taylor will visit Sheffield tomorrow to begin his investigation. I am grateful to him for agreeing to undertake this task.

"However, we need also to take a wider view. The Government believe that the future of football in this country lies in a national membership scheme in designated grounds, and now it seems also in providing all-seated accommodation at major football clubs. This would involve the disappearance of terraces at those grounds. It might also involve amendments to strengthen the Football Spectators Bill so that its provisions for the licensing of grounds matched this concept. We shall be considering these matters urgently and bringing forward changes as soon as possible.

"An appeal fund is being set up by the civic authorities of Liverpool, Nottingham and Sheffield. The Government will be contributing £500,000 immediately towards this fund.

"This was a devastating tragedy. Our deep sympathy goes to the families of those who died, to those recovering and to those still fighting for life and health. We owe a duty to these passionate supporters of football to examine urgently and thoroughly the causes and background, and to do all in our power to prevent such a thing happening again."

My Lords, that concludes the text of the Statement.

3.42 p.m.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, for repeating the sombre Statement of the Home Secretary. The whole House will join with him in offering our deep sympathy to the bereaved families of the many victims and to those who were injured in Saturday's terrible tragedy at Hillsborough. The whole nation shared, and still shares, in their grief and their suffering.

Perhaps I may express our gratitude to all who responded so quickly at the scene of the tragedy to what was going on and who worked so admirably in saving, and trying to save, lives, in comforting the dying and in helping the injured. I refer to the police officers, the fire officers, the doctors, nurses, the hospitals and other emergency services. It is a particular satisfaction, in view of other previous events, to say thank you also for the endeavours of the football supporters on the ground. On Saturday they acted with discipline and compassion. No one behaved badly that day.

We welcome the decision of the Home Secretary to set up a public inquiry and the appointment of Lord Justice Taylor to conduct it, with assistance. The public will need an unequivocal and authoritative account of what happened at Hillsborough, why it happened and what needs to be done to prevent any disaster of that kind ever happening again. It seems clear that the report of the inquiry will be followed by a reorganisation of football ground control and that this may take some time to achieve.

The greatest emphasis so far—and the Statement of the Home Secretary seems to point to this—has been placed on replacement of standing terraces with seating accommodation. But will not some action be taken at once about one particular matter? Will the Home Secretary consider making an immediate recommendation to those safety committees and chief constables who have insisted on football clubs installing perimeter fences giving urgent thought to their existence and to the part they played in Saturday's tragedy? I am informed that many football clubs have warned for years against perimeter fencing on the ground that it was a potential danger. On Saturday it seems to have proved lethal. I think that the House may well wish to know what the Government will do about that immediate, limited but important matter.

May we assume that the recommendations of the public inquiry will not simply be about conditions inside football grounds on which public attention has previously been focused, but also about crowd control outside the turnstiles and on the way to matches when large crowds are anticipated? Was not this a critically relevant factor last Saturday?

I end with an assurance of the Opposition's ready co-operation in passing any legislation directed to ensuring the safety of the public who come for enjoyment to football matches, so popular a feature of our lives. The nation expects that out of Saturday's tragedy effective steps will be taken to protect the safety of the public and its enjoyment of sport.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, I join with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, in thanking the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, for repeating the Statement. Is he aware that in this appalling tragedy all of us are grateful to the emergency services who did such magnificent work? Again, I join the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, in paying tribute to the very large number of football supporters, both of Nottingham Forest and of Liverpool, who gave assistance to those who had been so grievously injured in this episode.

Perhaps I may ask the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers three questions. First, is he aware that we warmly welcome the appointment of Lord Justice Taylor to conduct the inquiry and the fact that Mr. Brian Johnson, the chief constable of Lancashire, has agreed to be one of the assessors?

Is the noble Earl prepared to indicate whether Lord Justice Taylor will be invited to produce an interim report on one particular question? That is the issue of perimeter fencing. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, has already referred to that, but it is clear that it was a major factor in this dreadful disaster. Is the noble Earl aware that many of us hope that, if Lord Justice Taylor forms a view on the matter, he will be encouraged to produce an interim report dealing with it so that Parliament can take appropriate action?

Is the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, aware that although there was a reference to the Football Spectators Bill in the Statement which he has just repeated, many of us think it inappropriate to become involved in an argument once again on this matter? We shall have the opportunity of debating it on Third Reading next week. But is the noble Earl also aware that it is clear that the large crowds trying to gain admission at the turnstiles in Leppings Lane just before the match began were clearly a significant factor in what happened thereafter? We can deal with that matter next Monday, but the noble Earl will recognise that we shall want to debate the subject if the Government intend to continue with the Football Spectators Bill in its present form.

Lastly, is the noble Earl aware that many of us agree with the Statement by the Home Secretary that the idea of having all seated facilities at football matches has now been clearly and dramatically placed on the agenda again? If Lord Justice Taylor forms a conclusion on the matter at an early stage in the inquiry, is the noble Earl prepared to indicate that the Government would welcome an interim report from him on that issue as well?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am grateful to both the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for the manner in which they have accepted the Statement which refers to one of the most horrifying accidents that we have seen recently.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, asked what action the Government would be prepared to take with regard to the perimeter safety fencing. He will recall that many grounds have the fencing in direct response to the Popplewell inquiry and that the fences were put up for reasons of added safety. Obviously that is a matter which will be considered by the public inquiry. I think it would not be appropriate to take advance decisions as yet upon that. However I note the noble and learned Lord's concern.

He also referred to the crowd control outside the football stadium. I had cause to inquire how many police were involved. There were 773 police involved at the football match, two-thirds of whom were outside the stadium and one-third inside. To those who are concerned that there were not enough police at the ground, I would merely say that that figure works out at about one policeman for every 70 spectators.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, asked whether we would welcome an interim report from Lord Justice Taylor. I think he will be concerned to make an interim report, if he feels he is able to when he has considered the circumstances. I am sure he will realise the apprehension and concern that exists for an immediate response, provided it can be done with success and dignity.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, also referred to the Football Spectators Bill. I realise the concerns which he and others have. It is right to say that the Government consider it seemly to delay the programme of the Bill for a short while in respect of what has happened.

Baroness Stedman

My Lords, from these Benches we also wish to thank the noble Earl for the Statement which he has made. However, we regret the reasons why he had to make it. I wish also to extend our sympathy to the bereaved and injured and our appreciation to the emergency services and to the spectators who behaved so well when this happened.

We agree with the suggestion in the Statement that the time has come to move towards all-seated accommodation. We think that only stadia providing that kind of accommodation should be licensed to stage the big games. If perimeter fencing and penning is continued on grounds of safety, we suggest that the design of the penning should be urgently reviewed. It would appear from what we saw on television over the weekend that there was room at the sides of the terraces but the design of the penning was such that those in the middle could not move sideways to get into areas where there was space.

We think the methods of communication between the police inside the ground and those outside should be urgently reviewed, so that both know what is going on in their particular area. Perhaps, with hindsight, if there had been better communication on Saturday, the police outside might have asked for the kick off to be postponed and might have been able to placate the crowd and carry out an orderly admission into the ground. The frustration of those who could not get into the ground confirms the view of many of us that this is the kind of thing that is likely to happen if ID cards are issued. We support any move to delay the implementation of the Football Spectators Bill and the ID cards, at least until grounds have been looked at again, and until the seating and the accommodation for spectators is satisfactory.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her comments. I understand her views about all-seated accommodation and that a licence should reflect that. The Government are also thinking along those kinds of lines. With regard to the methods of communication concerning crowd control between police inside and outside grounds, that is obviously a matter which Lord Justice Taylor will be considering.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I join in the sympathy expressed by other noble Lords to the bereaved families, and in the gratitude to those who gave immediate help. The last occasion in this country when crowd pressure caused a disaster was in Glasgow on 1st January 1971 at a Celtic-Rangers match. More than 60 people lost their lives that afternoon. I have the sad recollection of visiting the ground shortly afterwards, as Secretary of State for Scotland, and of visiting the injured in hospital. As a consequence of that tragic episode, a committee was set up under the chairmanship of the late Lord Wheatley who, besides being a distinguished judge, was a keen follower of football.

After the Wheatley Committee's recommendations had been digested, many of us hoped that the dangers of crushing in football crowds had been removed. Besides considering the report of the Hillsborough inquiries now being set in train, will the Government check whether all appropriate action has been taken on the recommendations of the Wheatley Committee?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I shall certainly see that the point made by my noble friend is looked into.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, Saturday was a sorrowing day for football supporters and a sad and salutary day for the football clubs. However, is it not time that football clubs stopped treating their supporters as caged prisoners of war? This method is not conducive to safety. As the Minister suggested in the Statement, increased safety will come with increased comfort and decent conditions. It is about time clubs improved their facilities in keeping with the needs of decent human beings.

In the light of recent events, I ask the Government to abandon Part I of the Bill proposing the football membership scheme. The scene that we witnessed outside the Sheffield Wednesday ground last Saturday could be a preview of the operation of the football membership scheme—a malfunctioning computer, then mayhem, with the possibility of another surge into the ground.

The fences went up because of pitch invasions by football hooligans. If, as the Football League and the Football Association have repeatedly said—this was argued strongly during the course of the Bill in Committee—they have put their house in order within the grounds and there is no trouble any more, then why not pull down the fences and see if sanity prevails? If so, the Football Spectators Bill can be scrapped.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his suggestions. I think that anyone who saw the pictures of the events that occurred last Saturday would have some sympathy with the feelings of the noble Lord about people being in cages. However, I should just remind the noble Lord that those fences were put up in order to prevent some of the other disasters which we had previously witnessed. What very often happens is that when a disaster occurs, one reacts to that and often that has another effect later on.

I understand the view which the noble Lord has expressed. I would only say to him that our intention is that these places must be safe. All these matters are bound to be looked at afresh in view of what has happened, but safety is important. The noble Lord asked whether we would abandon Part I of the Football Spectators Bill. I am bound to tell him that the whole purpose of that Bill is to prevent hooliganism and to allow for ordered football matches. I know it is controversial and I do not wish to get into that kind of controversy this afternoon. However, I think the noble Lord will understand if I say that the Government do not intend to abandon it.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I join with previous speakers in expressing deep condolences to the bereaved in this terrible tragedy. However, the noble Earl must be aware that during my short time in this House this is the third time that a Minister has risen from the Government Front Bench to make a Statement on appalling tragedies in football that could have been avoided. I am talking about the Bradford disaster which took place near where I live and the Heysel disaster involving heavy loss of life which resulted in extensive debates in your Lordships' House. We have had the Popplewell Report.

Part II of the Fire Safety and Safety of Places of Sport Act 1987 is introduced by the words, Application of Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 to all sports grounds. Can the noble Earl give an undertaking that the committee of inquiry to be set up under Lord Justice Taylor will make a detailed investigation as to whether these particular conditions have been adopted, applied and enforced? Bearing in mind that the victims of these disasters are always football spectators, will the Government give urgent consideration to representatives of supporters in general being included on the committee of inquiry under Lord Justice Taylor? I think that that would make the inquiry more generally acceptable and would destroy any suggestion of a whitewash, of which in the past there has been more than a whiff.

I should like to support my colleague on the Front Bench, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn- Jones, in his request for the immediate removal of those zoo-like bars which are placed behind the goals, supposedly in order to prevent hooliganism. There is no record of any spectator in this country dying in a football ground as a result of hooliganism. There is a record of an 18 year-old supporter of Tottenham Hotspur being knifed in Belgium, for which no one was brought to trial. Will the Government give consideration immediately to the removal of those bars, which played a major part in the appalling sequence of events at Hillsborough on Saturday?

4 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, asked whether safety conditions would be considered. He will realise that under the terms of reference of the inquiry, Lord Justice Taylor will be in a position to consider those safety conditions if he thinks fit.

The noble Lord asked whether supporters will be included in the inquiry. That will not be so.

Lord Dean of Beswick


Earl Ferrers

My Lords, if the noble Lord will contain himself, I shall explain. The inquiry is to be conducted by Lord Justice Taylor, who will have with him an assessor—or more than one assessor—in order that he may reach his conclusions as quickly as possible. It is not the intention to have a whole range of individuals to assist him, although he can call upon assistance and advice as he thinks fit.

The noble Lord said that sometimes in the past there has been a whitewash. I thought that that remark was unfortunate. I can assure the noble Lord that there is no intention of any whitewash. What has happened is an absolute disaster. We want to find the best way of ensuring so far as we can that it does not happen again.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Earl a question regarding the assessor. I do not believe that the Home Office has realised the implications. The chief constable who has been asked to serve as an assessor is a very respected chief constable and a personal friend of mine. Nevertheless, taking into account the fact that the inquiry will be conducted by an eminent lawyer and a chief constable, I feel that it would be wise for the Home Office to appoint another person and to name that other person. I accept that the judge can call upon other assessors, but I think that it would be advisable for the Home Office to name another assessor from outside the legal profession or the police authorities.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I quite see the point of view of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor. The Statement states: Mr Brian Johnson, the Chief Constable of Lancashire, has agreed to assist the inquiry as an assessor; and arrangements will be made as necessary for other qualified assessors to be appointed and for the inquiry to be provided with technical advice and support". Other assessors can and will be provided.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, all or us who have participated, either actively or as spectators, in any sport felt deeply shocked and saddened this weekend. I join in the condolences that have been sent to the bereaved in this disaster and in the appreciation of the magnificent work that was done on the field and outside the ground, particularly by the inhabitants of the locality of Hillsborough all through the night.

I should like to ask the noble Earl two questions. First, in view of the implications of the disaster for the Government's objective in t he Football Spectators Bill of increasing safety in football grounds, do the Government not consider that the progress of the Bill should be suspended, at least until the preliminary report of the judicial committee is published?

Secondly, I have known the Hillsborough ground and its surrounding area for many years. I should like to raise with the noble Earl one point which has not been raised so far. It is a point about which I doubt whether he has any knowledge and he may not be able to answer my question this afternoon. If he cannot, I hope that he will draw it to the attention of his right honourable friend and see that an answer is given.

I have talked to people who spent all night comforting the bereaved and helping to organise them in the grisly task of identifying the dead bodies of their relatives and friends. That process went on until the early hours of Sunday morning.

The reports that I have had at first hand indicate that there was very little direction, no leadership, and a great deal of chaos. A great deal of pain was suffered by those who had to wait until the early hours of the morning for the process of identification. Can the noble Earl say who is responsible for the organisation of the social services and the essential help for those who find themselves in that distressing situation in such a disaster? This applies to all disasters. Is there any central agency that can organise the many willing helpers? As understand —and I stress, as I understand—from those who participated, there was virtually no direction, no leadership and no organisation.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, whether or not those matters to which the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, referred are fact will undoubtedly come out in Lord Justice Taylor's inquiry. I can tell the noble Lord that when anything of such a nature happens, the emergency services—fire, police and ambulance—take the lead. There are plans for dealing with disasters of this nature. I have not heard reports which lead me to believe that I he situation was as the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, has suggested.

The noble Lord referred to the Football Spectators Bill. As I explained earlier, the Government think it seemly to delay the progress of the Football Spectators Bill for a short time in deference to what has happened.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, is the noble Earl assuring the House that the judicial inquiry will include an examination of what happened during the night following the disaster?

Earl Ferrers

No, my Lords. The judicial inquiry has its own terms of reference. They would enable Lord Justice Taylor to cover those points if he thought it appropriate.

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