Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. O'Hara: I recognise what my hon. Friend has just said but, on my more substantive point, if there is indeed proof, as has been suggested most notably by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), that there has been a systematic cover-up from that day to this and that people are still in post or available to be proceeded against, they should not be allowed to get away with it.

Mr. Howarth: My hon. Friend draws our attention to an important point. Lord Justice Stuart-Smith makes it clear that there was an attempt to cover up what happened, but the truth of the matter is that the information that various people might have tried to suppress is out in the open and, even so, the advice is still the same.

Another aspect, which will not help in this case but is nevertheless important, is that of corporate manslaughter--it could apply to the inquest system or equally in the context that my hon. Friend just mentioned. Could a body, or someone who headed it, be held responsible for what happened? The Law Commission,

8 May 1998 : Column 1001

in its report on involuntary manslaughter, made recommendations about an offence of corporate manslaughter and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is considering those and actively considering whether we should proceed with that.

Again, such a charge could not be applied retrospectively. My hon. Friend has followed European matters closely for a number of years and knows that, as a signatory to the European convention on human rights, we simply cannot deliver the law retrospectively. However, if anything like Hillsborough were ever to happen again, I hope that we would have in place the legal tools to deal with it in a better way than it was dealt with.

Mr. Miller: My hon. Friend mentioned the Law Commission report, to which I also referred and said that our right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is studying the possibility of corporate offences. Is he examining all the recommendations in the report and is primary legislation likely to result?

Mr. Howarth: My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is examining all the recommendations and tells me that he hopes that something may be done as a result.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) mentioned coroners' inquests and spoke with some experience in other contexts about the matter. Indeed, the inadequacy of the coroner system and most particularly the coroner's procedures, has had particularly lasting and deeply corrosive consequences for many of the Hillsborough families. Frankly, some of those will not be eased by our promise to reform the procedures for the future, although that is welcome and important.

Something burns on in people's souls. I know that there are no legal means available to remedy that deep and infuriating anger, but those feelings should be expressed in this Chamber today. The coroner's inquest evidently left some people feeling hurt, degraded and confused and no amount of explanation about the purposes of an inquest will take away those feelings.

I attended a day of that long ordeal, as it became for the families, at the request of two of my constituents, Mr. and Mrs. Joynes. Even on such an admittedly brief visit, I was filled with horror--a feeling that, instead of the inquest being a vehicle for establishing the cause of death, it had turned into an occasion when the lives of those who died, the way they had lived and how they might have behaved, were on trial. What happened at that inquest cannot now be undone, but we have to understand just how much that process itself caused bitterness, disillusion, pain and even, in some cases, rage. Whatever else Jimmy McGovern's Granada Television programme did or did not do, it portrayed that inquest in a way that squares with my own feelings and I say that as someone who spent some time there. I believe that the families who had to endure much more of it than I did feel the same way.

Several of my hon. Friends have referred to the verdict and the question of whether the word "accident" should be used. The legal explanation is given in Lord Justice Stuart-Smith's scrutiny of evidence, and I do not intend to go over it again. Nevertheless, it is important to acknowledge that the word "accident" is not applicable to people who voluntarily go to an event and have no

8 May 1998 : Column 1002

specific responsibility, as others are responsible for safety at the ground. Although the legal verdict is adequately explained by Lord Justice Stuart-Smith, the use of the word "accident" still causes hurt and confusion.

Another source of hurt and confusion arising from the inquest will endure: the 3.15 cut-off point. Lord Stuart-Smith describes and explains very well its legal significance in the coroner's procedures, and I shall not add to that explanation. However, perhaps inevitably, he could not capture the strong sense of confusion and the corrosive anger that many people feel about the 3.15 cut-off point. It is almost as if events after 3.15 were considered of no significance. The fact that people continued to suffer and that some of the emergency services could have been allowed into the ground sooner seemed to some of those who attended the inquest to have been put to one side. That anger and confusion is felt by some of the survivors just as keenly today as it was then.

Something else needs to be said here today even though it has been said before. People died after 3:15--those people suffered God knows what panic, pain and desperation. That that was not considered relevant for the purposes of the inquest should not be allowed to diminish the truth of what actually happened. Even though the legal facts are established, it is important that we acknowledge here and now that many people will never accept that. They feel that, as events unfolded, the emergency services might have been able to save some of the lives that were lost. We cannot ignore the fact that events took place after 3.15.

The feelings of frustration that have grown out of what happened on that day at Hillsborough have not gone away, and, as the hon. Member for Ryedale said, they probably never will. Mrs. Joynes, my constituent, said to me in her house a week ago that all we have to offer is words. I know in my heart and mind that she is right.

I hope that, in stating part of the truth about what happened, I have at least expressed some of what people wanted said. If I cannot do more it is not because I am bound and gagged as a Minister in the Home Office: if I felt that that was holding me back, I would not allow it to do so.

We must all face up to the awful truth that the procedures that people understandably feel deprived them of justice have already been carried out. What has been done cannot be undone: we can only change them for the future. Sadly, I suspect that the families' own lawyers will tell them the same: we cannot turn back the clock.

If I felt that my right hon. Friend and I could do more--by more, I do not mean empty gestures or more words that promise much and deliver nothing--we should gladly do so as a debt of honour to those who died and, just as importantly, for the peace of mind of those who survived. If we cannot change the past, at least we can make things better in the future. As my right hon. Friend said, police disciplinary procedures will be changed. Never again will any family have to go through such horrendous coroner's procedures--God forbid that similar circumstances should arise. Perhaps the greatest testament of all is that never again will we accept second-best safety standards for football fans. That is an abiding achievement, and we should reflect on what has been achieved, as well as on people's feelings. I hope that people will feel a little better

8 May 1998 : Column 1003

after what has been said today, even if their hopes have not been wholly fulfilled. I am glad to have taken part in the debate.

Mr. Jim Dowd (Lord Commissioner to the Treasury): I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

AGENDA 2000: REFORM OF THE COMMON AGRICULTURAL POLICY

Ordered,


Ordered,


    That the Motor Vehicles (Approval) (Amendment) Regulations 1998 (S.I., 1998, No. 1008) be referred to a Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation.--[Mr. Dowd.]

    ADJOURNMENT (WHITSUN)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 25 (Periodic Adjournments),


    That this House, at its rising on Thursday 21st May, do adjourn till Monday 1st June.--[Mr. Dowd.]

Question agreed to.

LATE PAYMENT OF COMMERCIAL DEBTS (INTEREST) BILL [LORDS]

Ordered,


8 May 1998 : Column 1004

Capital Gains Tax

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Dowd.]

2.20 pm

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): On 17 April, my constituent Mr. Conway wrote asking me to make representations on his behalf and that of others in a similar situation. He is 60, and his wife is 59. They run Candlesticks restaurant in Ringwood, where they employ about 10 people. They have run the business for 16 years, and have nursed it through two recessions. Mr. Conway and his wife plan to retire when he is 65, in 2003.

Like most small business people, the Conways do not have a pension plan in the sense that most of us would understand. As with many small business people, most of their savings are tied up in the business. In effect, the business is their pension plan. By selling it in 2003, they hope to gain enough capital to generate a modest income for their retirement.

Mr. and Mrs. Conway will also have to find somewhere to live. Again like many small business people who live over the shop, their principal asset is the premises from which their business is transacted, in which they also live. The capital gain that they hope to make by selling the business will have to generate not only an income for their retirement, but a capital sum that will allow them to buy somewhere else to live.

Existing tax arrangements are pretty favourable to people such as Mr. and Mrs. Conway. They hope to be able to realise a capital gain of some £250,000 in 2003, and existing arrangements would allow them to have that free of tax. For anyone over 50 who makes such a capital gain, the first £250,000 is tax free, and the next £750,000 is taxed at half the standard rate. Only when a business realises a capital gain in excess of £1 million does the full 40 per cent. rate apply.

Mr. and Mrs. Conway made their retirement plans on the basis of that known and predictable information. It is therefore a matter of some dismay to them that the rug may be pulled from under their feet--that the assumptions on which their plans were made may be swept away by proposals to change the basis on which capital gains tax is assessed. Under those proposals, if Mr. Conway put into effect his plan to retire in 2003, and achieved the £250,000 capital gain for which he hopes, he would be liable for a staggering £55,000 in tax.

Consequent on a decision to change the basis upon which capital gains tax is paid and to charge a flat rate, some people will benefit. Unfortunately, my constituent will not. To benefit from the new 10 per cent. rate that is a feature of the new proposals, he would have to retain his asset for a further 10 years. No credit is given for the fact that he has been running his business for the past 16 years. If he wanted to benefit from the new 10 per cent. rate and to cut his tax bill in 2003 from £55,000 to £25,000, which is still a staggering sum bearing it in mind that he would pay nothing under the existing arrangements, he would have to put off his retirement for a further five years, until 2008. It is most undesirable that business men and women who have made their plans should suddenly find themselves in that situation.

I have described the predicament of a restaurateur, but many small businesses will be affected. Given the rural nature of my constituency, it is not surprising that the

8 May 1998 : Column 1005

National Farmers Union has contacted me to register its concern about the effect on farmers. What are people to do? They have a choice. They can reconcile themselves to much reduced circumstances in retirement or they can rush out and sell their businesses now. That is a most unattractive proposition because, as a result of the new regulations, people will be forced to make sales precipitately and the market will be flooded. In addition, many people will be tied into medium-term business plans and will be unable to sell. The proposals may cause a rush of such sales, bringing about the very short-termism that the Chancellor is determined to stamp out.

I understand that it would not be in order for me to specify legislative remedies and I would not attempt to do that, but the existing arrangements seem satisfactory and would relieve my constituents of the problem. If the Chancellor persists with his proposals he will receive advice from the Forum of Private Business, the National Farmers Union, the Chartered Institute of Taxation, The Mail on Sunday and many others on how to implement the proposals while ameliorating the impact on constituents such as mine.

I have drawn attention to the impact of the problem on my constituents, but I have a wider concern. The changes could be greatly regretted and there is the prospect of a significant transfer of income from the modestly-off to the wealthy. Under the proposals, anyone who makes a capital gain of £500,000 or less stands to be much worse off after the changes while those making a capital gain in excess of £500,000 will be significantly better off. The greater the capital gain, the better off people will be. That is extraordinary, given that the proposal comes from a party that spent 18 years in opposition complaining about the inequitable distribution of income and about how the poor were becoming poorer and the rich were growing richer. I never shared Labour's analysis: I did not believe that the poor were becoming poorer and the rich were growing richer, but these proposals might take us some way down that road.

When Mr. Conway, my constituent, came to see me at my surgery in New Milton, he said that he could not believe that the Government were seeking to penalise him in this way. He said that he believed that it must have been a mistake, an oversight or a question of officials having drawn up proposals that were not fully thought through. I hope that the Paymaster General will say that this is a listening Government and that they will take away the problem to which I have drawn attention and return with redress.


Next Section

IndexHome Page