The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd) : With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the disaster at the Sheffield Wednesday football club ground at Hillsborough on Saturday. 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 pm. To help ensure orderly access, the gates of the ground were opened at 12 noon. At 2.30 pm 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 pm 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 loud hailers to urge the crowd to be patient. At about 2.50, 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 hon. 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 reference : "To inquire into the events at Sheffield Wednesday football ground on 15 April 1989 and to make recommendations about the needs of crowd control and safety at sports grounds."
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.
Column 20Lord 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-- [Interruption.] --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 provision for the licensing of grounds matched this concept. We shall be considering these matters urgently.
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--particularly moving yesterday--to those young people who are still fighting for life and health. We owe a duty, it seems to us, to these passionate supporters of football to examine urgently and thoroughly the causes and the background, and to do all in our power to prevent such a thing from happening again. We have to set our sights high and find a better way for British football.
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook) : May I, first of all, offer the deepest sympathy of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself to all those who were injured in or bereaved by this terrible tragedy. Little that we say will help them at this moment, but I hope that they find some comfort in the knowledge that the whole country shares their grief and suffering. We also offer our hopes for a full recovery to those 17 patients still in intensive care.
May I also express our gratitude to and our admiration for all those individuals who did such remarkable work saving lives, comforting the dying, and helping the injured--police, fire officers, the ambulance service, St. John Ambulance Brigade, doctors and nurses, the staff of the club, and the football supporters who acted with such great discipline and compassion?
May I go on to welcome the Home Secretary's decision to set up a public inquiry, and express our hope that its report will lead to immediate and decisive action? May I ask the Home Secretary about the police inquiry that is to be carried out at the same time? Can we be assured that neither its proceedings nor its conclusions will delay or inhibit the public inquiry that he has announced today? We need an unequivocal and authoritative account of what happened at Hillsborough, why it happened, and what must be done to prevent such a thing from ever happening again. On the face of it, two parallel inquiries are not the best way to achieve that result.
The report emanating from the public inquiry must be followed by a reorganisation of football ground control, which may take some time to achieve. I refer, for example, to the replacement of terraces with seats. But some action must be taken at once. Will the Home Secretary issue an immediate instruction to those safety committees and chief constables who have insisted upon football clubs installing perimeter fences? Many football clubs have warned for years that perimeter fencing is a potential danger. On Saturday it proved lethal. It must not be maintained where lives are put at risk.
Column 21We assume that the recommendations of the public inquiry will concern crowd control outside the turnstiles and on the way to matches--not simply organisation and accommodation inside grounds. In the light of that, will the Home Secretary consider the implications of any policy or legislation that results in concentration of crowds outside grounds immediately before matches? The potential consequences of football supporters being held in large numbers outside turnstiles was demonstrated yesterday. Nothing must be done to make such concentrations more likely or more frequent. Most informed opinion, including that of the police, insists that the concentration of supporters outside turnstiles would be the certain result of part I of the Football Spectators Bill. This morning's decision to push that Bill through Parliament even while the inquiry is sitting is neither rational nor sensitive to the mood of the country. We shall oppose it with every legitimate means at our disposal.
I offer the co-operation of the Opposition for any legislation that is genuinely concerned with football safety. Indeed, I do more : I assure the Home Secretary of my party's profound wish that proposals on safety at football grounds can be made with the general support of all political parties and wholly free from political controversy. It will clearly be in the interests of everybody to obtain unanimous agreement on a subject that has nothing whatever to do with party politics. I ask the Home Secretary to try to achieve that agreement.
Mr. Hurd : I am grateful for the earlier part of the right hon. Gentleman's statement, which expressed sentiments on which the House is united. He raised several particular points. The chief constable of South Yorkshire took the view, which I think the right hon. Gentleman will probably consider right, that since the actions of some of his force will be central to any inquiry, it is right that another force, and one with experience in these matters, should undertake the police work that is necessary both in preparation for inquests and to submit the necessary information to Lord Taylor's inquiry. Therefore, he made the announcement to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. I do not think that there is any confusion or duplication. The work to be carried out by the chief constable of the West Midlands force will be at the service of Lord Justice Taylor, and will not cut across what he does.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke about barriers and perimeter fencing, and it is worth answering that point in a little detail. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, they are not a statutory requirement, but they are in many places a requirement imposed by the local authorities as a condition of the safety certificate, which is required under the law. The purpose of the barriers and in particular of the perimeter fences is to increase security and improve protection from one type of threat--that of violence.
The Home Office guidance, which the right hon. Gentleman will have studied, specifically lays down the importance of exits on to the pitch through the perimeter fence for emergency purposes. No one who saw the fence and the gate at Hillsborough or listened to those who tried
Column 22to get through it, often in vain, can believe that the right answer was found on that occasion. It must be for Lord Justice Taylor and the inquiry to look into that. He is aware--I discussed the matter with him this morning--that if he believes, as he may well, that there are certain matters--perhaps this one--that require an urgent interim report, so that steps can be taken in advance of the next football season, he will be able to do that.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Football Spectators Bill. The next stage of the Bill was to have been Third Reading in another place, on Monday next. We believe that the House and the other place will agree that it is seemly to have a short delay in that. Perhaps after that delay, the best course would be for the Bill to complete its stages in the other place so that any additions that we propose in the light of my earlier statement can be introduced when it comes to this House. In the first instance, that is a matter for the usual channels in another place.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Speaker : Order. I know that I speak for the whole House when I say that we are all appalled at this tragedy. Our sympathy goes out to the relatives of those who have been killed and to the injured. It may not be possible for me to call every hon. Member who wishes to ask a question, but I propose to give precedence to those whose constituencies are most directly affected.
Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside) : As the Member of Parliament representing the area that covers the ground and the Northern general hospital, I wish to reiterate what has already been said in paying tribute to those who helped, in the ground, in the community around and at the two major hospitals in Sheffield, to deal with the dead and injured. I offer my sympathy and those of colleagues in the city of Sheffield to the bereaved and to those families whose relatives have been injured. I am sure that we all want to consider every possible way of avoiding such an incident ever occurring again.
I ask the Home Secretary to confirm that the Sheffield Wednesday football club has done more than most clubs in investing more than £1 million over the past 10 years in improving safety and facilities in a ground that must be one of the best of the top two or three football league grounds in the country.
I hope that the Home Secretary will confirm that the inquiry will accept the task of considering how we might change the image of football. Will it be possible for us to take a fresh look at how we treat football spectators? The behaviour of a few has led to a concentration on actions and attitudes whereby fans are treated as hooligans, or potential hooligans, rather than as human beings. No one would condone the pressure and the late arrival of fans outside the game on Saturday, but we want to see facilities for entertainment, catering and comfort in grounds begin to restore decency and a sense of purpose. I speak as someone who sat on a small wall behind the goal at Hillsborough when I was a child without fear or anything happening to me or to those around me.
I ask the Home Secretary to reject the alleged statement this afternoon by the president of UEFA, in which he described fans as "beasts". I hope that the Home Secretary will say that we shall restore dignity and a sense of decency to our football supporters and to the viewing of football in Britain.
Mr. Hurd : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I agree willingly that Sheffield Wednesday has put massive investment into modern facilities at the Hillsborough ground. The terms of reference of Lord Justice Taylor are wide and will enable him to range over what he thinks is essential. I agree that those whom my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I visited yesterday in the hospitals were human beings who had suffered greatly in body and, sometimes, in mind as well. No one who made those visits could conceivably think of them in any other way.
I agree also with the main thrust of the question of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett). It is by building up the comfort and the conditions of the game and its high reputation that we can attract more and more people to become spectators and restore the attractiveness of the game. That will mean raising our sights, and thinking of new ways of doing that. That is why we have come to the conclusion that seated accommodation in the larger stadiums is an important part of the objective which the hon. Gentleman states.
Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point) : Our hearts go out to the bereaved families, but surely our thoughts should be concentrated on what lessons should be learned for general application thoughout the country. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary did not refer to one pressing matter. Is he aware that, over the past three years, ever since the inquiry of Mr. Justice Popplewell, the St. John Ambulance Brigade, which has unrivalled experience in providing first aid at sports grounds, has been pressing the Home Office, local authorities and the Football Association to provide much higher standards of medical care and equipment at football stadiums throughout the country?
If it has not been possible outside London to achieve these standards--in London it has been all right--will my right hon. Friend take appropriate action in advance of the inquiry? There is clearly a need to ensure that, in any breakdown where injury is inflicted, the rescue services and the magnificient work done by the St. John Ambulance Brigade are not frustrated by a lack of proper facilities.
Mr. Hurd : My right hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the criticisms that have been made. He may have heard the doctor from Glasgow give his considered talk on that matter on the radio this morning. I understand that before the match began two ambulances were at the ground together with attendants from the St. John Ambulance Brigade. The first call for additional ambulances was received by the ambulance service at eight minutes past 3 and within 17 minutes a total of 10 additional ambulances had attended. We spoke yesterday to the head of the ambulance service. Its record of quick recourse is a good one. However, it does not help with my right hon. Friend's point about the facilities already at the ground. I imagine that that is a matter to which Lord Justice Taylor will want to give urgent attention.
Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : These are probably the most difficult questions that I have ever had to ask in the House of Commons. I say that because many of my constituents and many of the constituents of my colleagues who represent Liverpool and Merseyside, as well as elsewhere, are dead or injured because of the great tragedy at Hillsborough. I am thinking of the families and of the people who are bereaved.
Column 24It is a tragedy that should never have happened. The people of Liverpool in particular are in deep mourning but there is also a measure of anger because, as has been urged elsewhere, they feel that steps should have been taken well before the match to avoid such things happening.
Although the attitude that the Government have adopted has been sympathetic, may I urge them not to go ahead at the moment with their proposals? Please be sensitive to the feelings of our people. Is the Home Secretary aware that I have recently received letters from some of those who died urging that the Government should not introduce the scheme because they felt that it would add to the existing problems? I urge the Government : please desist at least until the report is published. Let us have another look at the situation.
May I also urge the Government to take some immediate steps? For God's sake, do not let our people be trapped like animals again. I am an Evertonian--I do not often attend Liverpool matches and I was not at this one--but I saw on television the agony and the dreadful scenes when young people, children and others had their lives crushed out of them, not only because of the perimeter fences but because of the barriers. We must ensure that this never happens again anywhere in the country.
Those who are in authority and who had not foreseen that such a situation could develop cannot run away from their responsibilities. The last thing that I want to do is to create a scapegoat and I do not want to condemn the policeman outside the ground who made a decision, thinking, perhaps, that he was saving lives. I just want us to look at the whole situation again, again and again, so that such a tragedy does not happen again.
The interests of the spectators should be put before the interests of everybody else. They must be treated as civilised human beings, not as the enemies of society. Yes, a few enemies of society may get into football grounds from time to time, but our lovely people of Liverpool--and those elsewhere--must never suffer again because they have suffered too much already.
Mr. Hurd : Anyone who watched on television the reaction of people in Liverpool, particularly at the services in and outside the cathedrals yesterday, will know that the hon. Gentleman was right in the way that he started his question. There is also absolutely no doubt from what we heard yesterday that the hon. Gentleman is right to talk about people being trapped, crushed and helpless. That leads back to the point about perimeter fences. The hon. Gentleman is right also to advise against a rush to judgment. Yesterday, we listened to many accounts of what happened from casualties and witnesses. The broad thrust of what they said tallied. However, there were discrepancies--as there usually are--on many important points of detail. It is for precisely that reason that an inquiry is needed. There is no particular difficulty about part II of the Football Spectators Bill. As to part I, the national membership scheme is designed as a remedy against violence. Violence was not present at Hillsborough on Saturday, but it has been the curse of the game and might be again unless we find the right remedy. The remedy in the Bill flows from the Popplewell report on the last disaster-- [Interruption.] In considering the Hillsborough disaster, it would be foolish to forget the lessons of earlier disasters.
Column 25The action that we propose is reasonable. I mentioned the parliamentary delay that we believe to be seemly. I mentioned also that we want to go forward and not back on the Football Spectators Bill and on the concept of a national membership scheme, which we believe to be necessary and right. We must go forward, to see whether the Bill's licensing provisions need to be strengthened, to make possible the move to all-seated accommodation in big stadiums, which we believe is the right way to proceed. There will be consultations and discussions about that possibility. If we reach the conclusion that the Bill needs to be altered and strengthened in that way, we shall bring that conclusion to the House.
Sir Neil Macfarlane (Sutton and Cheam) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House wholeheartedly share his sentiments about the heroic acts that took place on Saturday? I shall be grateful if he will address his mind to two points that I will put to him. I associate myself in many ways with the comments of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the inquiry will be all-embracing, because the disaster has major implications for many other major spectator sports? Also, can the inquiry be speeded up? Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends feel that the inquiry is desperately important, even allowing for the recommendations made four years ago by Mr. Justice Popplewell. If some of them had been acknowledged, perhaps we would not find ourselves where we are today.
Does my right hon. Friend hold the opinion that it would be premature and foolhardy to proceed with the national membership scheme until he has an opportunity to consider all the contributory factors, both inside and outside the ground, to the Hillsborough tragedy? Those factors clearly included panic on the part of the police and of spectators. I am certain that it would be premature to proceed with the scheme until the inquiry has been concluded.
Mr. Hurd : Lord Justice Taylor's report must be speedy and thorough. In theory, there can be a contradiction between the two. However, I have made it clear to Lord Justice Taylor--and he accepts this--that he may encounter matters and issues that need to be tackled with particular urgency and upon which he may wish to make pressing recommendations. If that is the case, it will be open to him--and I have the impression that he will take this course--to submit an interim report on such matters before he has finished reaching all of his conclusions, so that they may be acted upon. Lord Justice Taylor has it in mind that, as with the Popplewell inquiry, the proceedings of his inquiry will be in public, unless there is a particular reason in any case against allowing that. That is the procedure. I do not want to pin Lord Justice Taylor down to a specific timetable before he has even visited Sheffield, which he is to do tomorrow, but I hope that my hon. Friend feels reassured.
I note what my hon. Friend said about the comments of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), and he will have noted what I said in reply. I agree to the extent that we need to set our sights high, and that, apart from other considerations, a delay would be seemly. As I have said, we shall need to look at the Bill to see how it might be strengthened to meet the extra points that I have mentioned. I do not consider that it would be right or
Column 26sensible to resile from the concept of a national membership scheme or from that of designated grounds, for reasons that I have already given. If Lord Justice Taylor wishes to comment on that, nothing in his terms of reference will prevent him from doing so.
Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East) : On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, let me offer my sympathy to the bereaved and injured. Let me also acknowledge the efforts of those who rendered assistance, especially the unsung acts of heroism performed by many young people.
I should like to press the Home Secretary a little on the scope of the inquiry. Will it be wide enough to enable the inquiry to consider whether lessons should have been learned from an alleged incident in 1981, in the same part of the same ground? It is said that there was severe overcrowding on that occasion, but mercifully no one was killed or injured.
The Home Secretary would receive support from both sides of the House if he took a much more robust attitude to the football membership scheme. Many of us feel that even proceeding in the way that he has outlined will inevitably pre-empt Lord Justice Taylor's report.
Mr. Hurd : On the second point, I do not think that I have anything to add to what I have already said. As for the first point, Lord Justice Taylor will of course be able to look at evidence from the past if he considers if relevant.
The hon. and learned Gentleman asked me about the kind of issues that Lord Justice Taylor will need to address. I have already mentioned the decision to open the outside gate. There is also the question why, once in the ground, fans were propelled into the central tunnel rather than to the side entrances to the terraces, and the question why those responsible did not notice earlier what was happening on the central terrace behind the goal posts. Then there is the whole question--which we have already discussed-- of the perimeter barrier and the gates within it, which were designed to serve as an emergency exit but which obviously failed to do so.
Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North) : As my right hon. Friend knows, I am one of the strongest supporters of the Football Spectators Bill, and I remain committed to the principle of membership to combat football hooliganism. Does my right hon. Friend accept, however, that in consideration of what has been said this afternoon--and, indeed, of the tragic circumstances--it would be wise to postpone any further discussion until the full results of the public inquiry are known? I hope that my right hon. Friend will then bring to the House a Bill that will receive not merely all-party support but support from outside the House, to combat the terrible problems that have been highlighted by Saturday's tragic events.
Mr. Hurd : As I have said, there will be a pause for the sake of seemliness--as the House would wish--and also for consultations on the possible strengthening of the Bill. Both purposes are, I think, important from the point of view of my hon. Friend.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that the events at Hillsborough ought to make us all step aside from preconceptions and look afresh at how we are to find a better way for British football. [ Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear."] However, I think that my hon. Friend will agree, even if the Opposition do not, that an important part of that must be protection against hooliganism and violence,
Column 27and that in that context a national membership scheme, or the kind that flows from the Popplewell report, has a crucial part to play.
Mr. Joseph Ashton (Ashfield) : I was at the match on Saturday and saw everything that happened. If those events had taken place at a mid-week Cup tie replay on a black, dark January night, with people dashing from work in the rush hour trying to get in, it would have been twice as bad. Most of the fans had a ticket, which is a form of membership card. If the Secretary of State introduces a computer system and a membership card, all we shall need is one idiot to take a piece of chewing gum and jam it into the slot. That would put the turnstile out of action. The police would then have no option but to allow people to rush into the ground through the emergency exit. They would not then be in a position, especially on a dark night, to direct the fans to the proper entrances.
If this tragedy had happened after the Football Spectators Bill had been introduced, the Secretary of State would certainly have had to resign. Will he not wait until the report is published? In the meantime, will he not arrange for the barriers to be taken down? Will he not insist that all big matches are played live on television on Sunday afternoons so that there is less reason for people without tickets to turn up at the ground, as they did on Saturday, and fewer traffic problems? If the Secretary of State took those interim measures and introduced in the next Session of Parliament a safety of sports grounds Bill, we should certainly support him.
Mr. Hurd : The tragedy happened under the existing system, not under any future system. [Interruption.] No, the hon. Gentleman has not proved that point. Part of the problem on Saturday, as on other occasions, was that people turned up without tickets, as the hon. Gentleman said, in the belief, which tragically turned out to be correct, that some of them would find a way in. Under the scheme, that would not have been possible because they would or would not have a football membership card. They would not travel to the game in the expectation that they would be let in without one.
Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Police Federation welcomes both the public and the police inquiry? Will the inquiry particularly consider the safety of stadiums and will it have the power to recommend temporary closure, should that prove necessary? Can he also say whether the inquiry will further consider how supporters travel to matches, the parking arrangements and the way in which supporters approach the ground? Can he further say whether the inquiry will consider the role of the Football Association in connection with the proposed football membership scheme?
Mr. Hurd : We have deliberately cast very widely the terms of reference for Lord Justice Taylor, so that he can examine all those matters that my hon. Friend has listed, I believe without straining at the terms of reference. There are many angles to this--many points of comment and criticism that have already arisen, even in the last 48 hours--and it is right that Lord Justice Taylor should be able to look at them all. The existing system of safety certificates under the 1975 Act and the responsibility of local
Column 28authorities--how that works out in practice and whether it is right, as the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) pointed out earlier, that perimeter fences should in many cases be regarded as a requirement for a safety certificate- -are matters on which Lord Justice Taylor could comment.
Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe) : We all grieve today, but some of us are angry. I speak not only as a Sheffield Member of Parliament but also as someone who still stands on the popular side week in, week out. Is the Home Secretary aware that, in the aftermath of Heysel and Bradford, I wrote to his Department and described the extensive improvements that had been put in hand at Hillsborough, costing £750,000 for crowd control and police liaison, and that I invited the Minister who was then responsible for these matters to come up and see them? He did not. Will he caution those who would make whipping boys of Sheffied Wednesday and the South Yorkshire police? Will he concentrate on those who, in trying to shape our safety requirements since Heysel and Bradford, have taken us in a impractical and unreal direction?
Will the right hon. Gentleman look hard at football--its structure, greed and psyche, and its contempt for ordinary working-class lads--and ask how far the football establishment is responsible for the continuing slaughter? During the past three or four years cages have been set up to contain visiting supporters at football grounds that detain them more severely than prisoners of war were detained in world war 2 Britain.
Mr. Hurd : I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is unreal and wrong, at this stage and with our present knowledge to look for, or talk about, whipping boys. I am glad that, from the Opposition Benches and from all parts of the House, that has been stated clearly. As the hon. Gentleman said, we have endured--and football supporters in particular have endured--a series of tragedies at home and abroad. We have had a tragic fire, a number of tragedies brought about by violence--Birmingham and Heysel--and now a tragedy brought about not by violence but by physical pressures because too many people were concentrated in one narrow part of the ground. Each of those different tragedies has brought forth a series of answers, inquiries, reports and guidance designed to avert a recurrence of the most recent tragedy--the one that is on everyone's mind. We must not forget the earlier lessons as we concentrate on the new lessons. We must look at the whole picture. That includes protection against violence and hooliganism and what Popplewell said about fire. It also includes the problems that we have naturally been discussing following the Hillsborough tragedy--the problems of perimeter fences and pressure exerted on people by physical objects that can wound and crush them. Unless we are prepared to consider all these matters, we shall continue to chase partial solutions. That was the nature of my statement today.
Mr. Irvine Patnick (Sheffield, Hallam) : May I join the hon. Members for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) and Sheffield, Atterliffe (Mr. Duffy) in speaking about the tragedy that occurred in Sheffield? I pay my compliments to the emergency services on the way in which they handled themselves at the weekend and to Sheffield people who volunteered to give accommodation to those from Liverpool who were bereaved. When I visited the
Column 29temporary morgue that had been set up with my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport I was appalled by the tragedy. Only when one sees the bodies laid out can one fully appreciate the extent of the tragedy that happened in Sheffield.
I ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to bear in mind that it was apparent to me that there was a lack of a disaster plan for that sports ground, which is one of the major sports grounds in the United Kingdom. As the hon. Member for Attercliffe said, there are few better grounds than that ground. Nevertheless, shortcomings were apparent.
I congratulate the two radio stations, Radio Hallam and Radio Sheffield, which kept up a non-stop commentary on what help was needed for people in the area and the Sheffield Star on its special edition--a copy of which I gave to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister--which showed graphically the horror and mayhem.
Will my right hon. Friend examine two questions--first, the apparent lack of a disaster plan and, secondly, the part that alcohol played in the disaster?
Mr. Hurd : My hon. Friend is right to the extent that Lord Justice Taylor will have to look very carefully at the shortcomings in control and communication which seem to have been present at the crucial moments that afternoon. If the hon. Gentleman's second point becomes substantiated, it will certainly fall within Lord Justice Taylor's terms of reference.
Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston) : Can I say to the Home Secretary that I am probably one of the few people in the House who was at the game, if it can be called a game. I was in the Leppings lane area and I was pinned against a wall for about 20 minutes. One of my immediate observations was the inadequate policing of the Leppings lane entrance. People were coming down the road in quite large numbers and there was virtually no direction. What could have and should have happened is that the outer gates to that enclosure should have been closed to limit the number of people within it. That did not happen, and the police cannot be blamed for removing themselves from within that enclosure as the crushing became greater.
In my view the disaster had nothing to do with late arrivals. When I go to Anfield road to see a football match, I arrive at ten to 3 and walk through with no problem at all, because the policing there is quite adequate and the crowds are broken up by the police outside the ground.
As has been said, football supporters have been virtually disregarded because of the behaviour of a tiny minority of fans, and have been typecast as gorillas and inhuman people. That image develops in the mind of police, politicians and others the idea that everyone who goes to watch a football match falls into that category, and that influences the way that people treat football supporters. That did not happen in Sheffield, because the community around the football ground understood the situation, because their sons, daughters, fathers and brothers are probably football fans. They gave immediate sustenance and help to the football supporters. I wish to express my gratitude to the working-class people in Sheffield who did all they could to assist those who were distressed and injured and to deal with other minor matters.
I do not understand how the Home Secretary can continue to defend a scheme that, had it been in operation
Column 30on that day, would have caused even greater damage, if that is possible. It is about time that the football industry, the Home Secretary, the House and society in general concentrated their minds on bringing in legislation to make football grounds safe and deal with the hooligan element. No genuine football supporter wants to tolerate that. We want those people rooted out of our sport, and they can be rooted out.
But let us not categorise football spectators so that anybody and everybody will look for an excuse not to listen to them. They know about the grounds, as they visit them week after week, and they know where the faults lie. I hope the Home Secretary will say that the inquiry will have full regard to those people who go to football matches and know the problems. If we listen to them and act upon what they say, the game will be brought back to what it was--a game that families can watch and enjoy without any danger to themselves or to other people.
Mr. Hurd : I hope indeed that football supporters will find their voices and mobilise their ideas and put them to Lord Justice Taylor, for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman has given. As regards the police, there was no shortage of police officers--there were upwards of 770 police officers in or around the ground. The hon. Gentleman will agree that many of them showed great heroism for an hour or more trying to extricate people, help people and restore people to consciousness and life.
Of course he is right to say that, as the chief constable has recognised, the decisions of the police and the general question of control and communication will have to be examined by Lord Justice Taylor.
Because of the passionate loyalty of so many for football--we all know of it even if we do not share it--it must be right to do everything we can to restore the game's reputation.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Malcolm Thornton (Crosby) : I am sure the House and the country sense the feeling of tragedy that every person on Merseyside feels today because of the events of Saturday, when what should have been one of the great showpieces of our sporting calendar turned into such a tragedy. On behalf of my constituents and all the people of Merseyside who were helped, I thank the people of Sheffield for all they did. I am sure that I can speak for all my colleagues on Merseyside when I say that our heartfelt sympathy goes to the families of all those who were bereaved, including the family of a 17-year-old boy from Crosby who was named today as one of the dead. It is an absolute tragedy.
I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement about a wide-ranging inquiry. May I ask him to take one particular thing on board, because many lessons must be learned from the events at Hillsborough on Saturday? Will he see that part of the inquiry looks at the way in which the Football Association allocates tickets to the clubs involved in major sporting occasions? For clubs such as Liverpool, Manchester United, Everton, Arsenal and Tottenham, with huge followings, the allocation is often fearfully
Column 31inadequate and exacerbates a problem which should not exist but which we all know was part and parcel of the problem causing the fatal events on Saturday.
Mr. Hurd : That point will certainly come within the review. There seems to be a general opinion--Lord Justice Taylor will test this--that there was still room at the Liverpool end of the ground. The trouble was not that the total space was overcrowded but that particular area-- [Interruption.] Yes, as the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) said, the distribution was wrong. That is what I was referring to when I talked of people being propelled through the central tunnel rather than directed round the sides where there was access to parts of the Liverpool terraces. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw also mentioned that people came from Liverpool without tickets in the hope of getting in. Both those facts aggravated the situation.
Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough) : Yesterday afternoon at this time, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) and myself, together with dignitaries from the three cities involved, were standing on the turf in front of where all those people were killed. Everyone stood silently ; there were no photographers present. Our hearts went out from Sheffield to the people of Liverpool. The heart of Sheffield is collectively a great heart and the people of Sheffield are appalled at what happened. The last time I stood in such a way was a long time ago during the war. The sense of what had occurred was horrific to me, and, I hope, to everybody.
We all have our opinions about what went wrong. I know the ground intimately, the exact spot and all the details, but I do not want to apportion blame now. When the inquiry takes place, we should all realise that it is the most important inquiry in the history of football in this country and what it decides will decide the future of football. Football is a dynamic, not a static, sport. It will not stand still and will never go away--thank heaven--but we want to make the proper decisions.
Therefore, I want voices that say, "Do it rapidly," to be listened to with much care. I do not want skimping. The decisions that we take must be long- term decisions. Every aspect must be considered ; otherwise, this will occur again and we shall once again need to have another melancholy inquiry into what went wrong. I want an assurance from the Secretary of State that we shall have such an inquiry and that it will not be rushed in any way whatever.
Mr. Hurd : I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman said. I should like to mention the generosity of the people of Sheffield, which has been evident. I have heard many stories of offers of help, accommodation and transport to complete strangers from his constituents and other citizens of Sheffield.
I repeat, without wishing to be tedious, what seems to be the crux of the matter. We have had a series of disasters and tragedies arising from different causes and circumstances. We must not simply ignore the earlier lessons and concentrate on the latest ones. The latest one is terrible and perhaps more appalling than the others because of its nature. It therefore needs to be thoroughly and urgently investigated, and the totals must be added together to find a new way for British football. The hon. Gentleman rightly
Column 32said that the inquiry must be dynamic. There must be no resting on ancient attitudes as the right foundation for the future of the game.
Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West) : I am sure that the House will join me in sending condolences to the families of Colin Sefton and David Rimmer, constituents of mine, who died, and Robert Graham, who is fighting for his life in intensive care. May I express, on behalf of the people of Skelmersdale and Ormskirk, who are ardent Liverpool supporters, our appreciation of the Sheffield services, which acted so quickly?
I support my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on the introduction of all-seated grounds, which I have advocated for some time and regard as a solution. Will he return to the Bradford City fire report by Mr. Justice Popplewell, in which he will find among the 63 recommendations one that says that it is essential to have exit gates in perimeter fencing that keeps in the crowd to give an exit on to the field should there be disturbances? Will he reconsider that and bear in mind that such gates do not exist at 16 first division grounds, including Manchester United's ground, Old Trafford, where it is proposed to hold the rematch of this game in the next week or two?
Mr. Hurd : One point on which we can all agree is the absolute necessity of emergency exits through perimeter fences. As my hon. Friend said, that is contained in the Popplewell report and is clearly spelled out, with specifications about the widths of gates, in paragraph 215 of the Home Office guide to safety at sports grounds. Anyone will agree that if the guidance is implemented it is adequate. There must be an investigation in to why the exit gate was not an effective way in which desperate people could get on to the pitch.
constituency--expressions of condolences and sympathy seem inadequate to sum up the enormity of it for a city that is mourning its dead and is united in its grief.
A time will come when grief will give way to anger and questions will have to be answered. I should like an assurance from the Home Secretary that it will be made clear why the gate was opened and who took that decision. Why were emergency arrangements so pitifully inadequate? I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said about the provision of seats in our national stadiums, but will he take urgent action to ensure that those terrible metal cages are put on the scrap heap and people are treated like human beings instead of animals? On 22 March, I wrote to the Minister about the ticket allocation for Saturday's match. I enclosed a statement from Mr. Peter Robinson, the chief executive of Liverpool football ground, who said : "I made it plain that there was no way I could support the choice of Hillsborough this year with the same ticket allocations applying."
When I received a reply dated 11 April from the Minister of Sport, he said that the mater was entirely for the football authorities. In the light of what has happened, will the Home Secretary accept that the Minister should take an interest in this matter? Will he confirm that which the Minister said, that the allocations were made on the basis of police advice? I ask that because there have been conflicting statements in the past 24 hours.