In this debate, we are concerned not just with leisure and the economy—although that is terribly important for woodland—but with the protection of thousands of homes and businesses. Flood protection,

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and the planting of trees to help with that, has a strong economic benefit. Can Her Majesty’s Government ensure that there is as much joined-up thinking as possible in the aftermath of this flooding, including tree planting?

Secondly, some weeks ago I put down a Written Question to ask Her Majesty’s Government,

“whether they are taking steps to ensure that the collective knowledge and experience of Regional Advisory Committee staff is being retained within the new Forestry and Woodlands Advisory Committees”.

Again, I am grateful for the response from the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley. He replied:

“Around 40% of the current Forestry and Woodlands Advisory Committee membership previously served on the Regional Advisory Committees”.—[Official Report, 15/1/14; col. WA 22.]

Unfortunately, in the past we have seen examples where we have lost from such bodies experienced people who understand woodlands. I urge Her Majesty’s Government to ensure that we do not lose the contribution of such skilled people so that we not only maintain our woodlands but increase them.

Thirdly, the report of the Independent Panel on Forestry contained a section on “Trees in our neighbourhoods”. The section entitled “Aspiration” states that it believes that we need,

“more, and better maintained trees, close to where people live. This means more trees on urban streets, more trees in town parks, and tree ‘corridors’ from the centre of towns and cities out to local woods and forests with good access”.

I am glad that the Big Tree Plant funding scheme, run by Forestry Commission England, is giving £4 million in grants to community organisations between 2011 and 2015 to support the planting of 1 million trees, but the question I want to ask is: what will happen after 2015? This needs to be a long-term project that enhances the urban environment. Anecdotally, I know of two communities that feel that their local council positively discourages tree planting in urban areas. I hope that local councils will be required to address this important area in the legislation for which the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, is rightly calling.

Finally, perhaps I may share a thought about the potential of woodland in addressing another challenge—namely the acute shortage of land for burial. There are now around 40 woodland burial sites in the UK. In my own diocese of St Albans we have our own St Albans Woodland Burial Trust, which is in north Bedfordshire near the village of Keysoe. It is 12 acres of land surrounded by 60 acres of woodland. There is a very real and sensible concern, as the noble Lord, Lord Eden, pointed out, about the economics of how all this will work—how we are to pay for the upkeep of our woodlands as the surpluses from the sale of timber are likely to decline because we have, of course, been harvesting it rather effectively. In some places there is the potential—admittedly very small potential—for a small section of woodland to be used for green burials. In our woodland burial site, a single grave space costs £700; to bury cremated remains costs £180. You have to be buried in a biodegradable coffin. You can have only a wooden memorial—you cannot have stone headstones—so eventually they will simply disintegrate and rot way and the woodland will be left as woodland. In addition, many people want to plant a tree in memory

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of their loved one, and for that privilege they are paying £100 a time. In other words, they are paying to plant the forest. Some of these sites are cared for by volunteers, so the cost is small—just a few hours’ administration, as in our own diocesan woodland burial site. Could this not be one small way in which we can pay for the planting of more trees and find a modest amount of further funding for our woodlands?

1.56 pm

Lord Patten (Con): I am very happy to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans in his very clear exposé of the close links between flooding and forestry and woodlands, and I agree with everything that he said. However, one way of mitigating flood risk is by trees in catchment areas fixing soil and diminishing run-off, whether they are part of the public or the private forest estate. A great strength of the independent panel’s report is that it does not erect a conceptual iron curtain between the two spheres in its powerful recommendations, rather it links the public and the private estates. I know that that is welcomed by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon.

These recommendations are far-sighted stuff, as one would expect from anything chaired by Bishop James—a man of great spirituality, huge insight and equally great intellectual bandwidth, which has enabled him to range, as he has in recent years, over everything from helping victims in Hillsborough seek some kind of solace to his great report on woodlands and forests with his colleagues. The recommendations say clearly that England’s woods and forests should be revalued for all that they provide, from recreation via clean air and water to wildlife habitats and flood reduction. That was prescient stuff when the then Lord Bishop of Liverpool wrote it with his colleagues back in 2012. Living in Somerset I recognise that it was indeed very prescient—we have much flooding but some of the lowest acreage of woodland in southern England. Both the polders that are the levels in Somerset and the few patches of woodland that we have are manmade. There is no ancient forest of any sort at all. What is there is in specimen trees, coppices and shelter belts.

As I am sure both right reverend Prelates would recognise, from every stance, planting any tree is an act of faith. Few of us live long enough to see a sapling in magnificent maturity in future years. However, all trees play as vital a role in water as in carbon capture—and again the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans recognised that point. They also play a great role in and around housing, as in open fields. That is why I applaud the conclusion of the report, at page 58, where it calls for planning policy and building practice to:

“Ensure woodland creation, tree planting and maintenance is part of the green space plan for … housing development”.

This is especially so where such housing is being constructed on steeply sloping land which is naturally prone to water run-off before any concrete is poured or asphalt is laid.

Let me give one such specific example which is currently under construction at New Barns Farm on the edge of Wincanton in Somerset. Incidentally, this is not a piece of housing development that is in my

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backyard in any way; I have no interest to declare here. More than 250 homes are to be built. I recognise that we need such homes on greenfield sites when all the local brownfield land has gone, and I support the policy. The site is on a hilltop with very steep slopes going down to the River Cale, a small stream that after a few miles across the Blackmore Vale becomes a tributary of the River Stour in Dorset, which itself has been subject since Christmas to a number of red danger to life signs because of massive flooding. When the site was first developed, it was excellently landscaped by a local developer, the Abbey Manor Group of Yeovil. Again I have no interest to declare because I do not know the company. Before the first houses were even started, the company ensured that good hedges and fencing were put in, and quite a wide shelter belt was planted at the top of the slope. It was sited exactly where it should be. Everything was maturing nicely before the site was sold on to a publicly listed company called Bovis Homes. My noble friend Lord Eden of Winton referred to the need for corporations to pay attention to this kind of thing. Since the site was sold on, I am afraid that there has been a spot of what one can only call environmental vandalism. Part of the shelter belt has been cut into, trees have been cut down and failing trees have not been replaced. Trees that were leaning have been left until they fall over. Gardens for the newly built houses have been encouraged to go into the shelter belt, which has led to more tree cutting.

Over the past sodden days we have had a lot of celebrity visitors coming to Somerset for a spot of grief tourism and photocalls, where people point vacantly at things while the cameras click. My ad hoc survey suggests that green wellington boots have mostly been sported, although we did enjoy the wonderfully bizarre sight of Mr Nigel Farage appearing in the Somerset Levels wearing chest waders and a jaunty cap. It must have been some sort of fashion statement while he posed for his photographs. I wonder whether the chairman of Bovis Homes, Mr Ian Tyler, and his chief executive officer, Mr David Ritchie, might put on their gumboots and come and see what their company is doing to the landscape.

What has been happening will exacerbate rather than help to control the run-off of water in this area of Somerset in the future. The behaviour of this company is bad for its business and bad for its relationship with the local authority, South Somerset District Council. I am broad-minded: it is Liberal but it is quite a good council in terms of planning matters. It has been having a bad time because it was given unfulfilled undertakings by Bovis Homes to replant the trees and maintain the woodland. That has not happened for the past three years. This is very bad for the image of Bovis Homes in terms of meeting its corporate social responsibilities for the environment. If only the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, was free of her Front Bench duties, I would recommend the all-male board of Bovis Homes to hire her instantly as a non-executive director to sort out its gross failures. It is certainly very bad for water run-off and flood risk.

I am talking about what may be only a few dozen trees, but as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans has just said, a few dozen trees here and there mean that, over time, those trees will make an

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integrated contribution to mitigating floodwater run-off. The whole building industry urgently needs to revisit its role and responsibilities in these critical issues. I do not know what the situation looks like in the diocese of Worcester, which I know has quite a lot of trees and has had quite a lot of flooding. I look forward to hearing what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester has to say about it, associating myself if I may with the best wishes of we web-footed ones in Somerset.

2.03 pm

The Lord Bishop of Worcester: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for securing this debate. Like her, I am a great lover of the Forest of Dean, which until recently was part of the diocese of Worcester. When I say “recently”, I mean the 16th century, but what are a few centuries in the life of the church or, indeed, in the life of a forest? I pay tribute to her for her work, as I do, along with other noble Lords, to the recently retired Bishop of Liverpool for his significant contribution to the welfare of our forests made as chairman of the Independent Panel on Forestry.

As has already been observed in this debate, the estate provides enormous benefits in all sorts of ways: ecological, economic and, perhaps most importantly, in terms of people. Research has shown that regular access to woodlands leads to a healthier population in body, mind and soul. People feel recharged by encounter with woodland. It reaches the soul in a way that other landscapes very often cannot. It is no wonder that Thomas Merton, the celebrated monastic hermit who lived alone in the woods of central Kentucky, found the experience there and the silence provided by his simple home of vital importance. He wrote:

“I cannot have enough of the hours of silence when nothing happens. When the clouds go by. When the trees say nothing. When the birds sing. I am completely addicted to the realization that just being there is enough, and to add something else is to mess it all up”.

It is not for nothing that the Book of Revelation refers to the leaves of the trees being for the healing of the nations.

That is all the more important in this country at this time. No generation has lived more remote from the land than ours, the majority of people being urban dwellers. It means that places such as the Wyre Forest in my diocese and within very close reach of the great urban sprawl of Birmingham—which until recently was part of the diocese of Worcester—adds so much to people’s well-being. There is so much for people to do and take part in there, quite apart being still, from mountain bike trails to going ape like Tarzan in the treetops or partaking in the gentler activities of bird-watching or walking along the trails.

I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us about the timetable for legislative changes that are ahead. I hope that, when that timetable is announced and the legislation is brought forward, those three areas—people, nature and the economy—are all given equal consideration. As has already been articulated, managing the public forest has in recent years been a careful balancing act between economic, environmental and social or recreational aims.

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Reference has already been made by several speakers to the recent floods. The situation in Worcester is very serious—the city is gridlocked as a result of the closure of the bridge in the middle of the city—and is expected to get worse even if no further rain falls. The river peaks in Worcester some four days after the rain stops because the water comes to us as a gift from the people of Wales—which generally is welcome, but they have been somewhat overgenerous in recent times. Attention to woodland far beyond Worcestershire will be needed if floods of the sort which we are experiencing at the moment are not to be repeated. The statistics which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans quoted about the enormous contribution that woodland can make to soaking water away are pertinent in this regard.

I hope that the governance structure that is developed for the future carefully reflects the balance of people, nature and economy. I want to ask in conclusion one or two specific questions. Reference has already been made to this by the right reverend Prelate, but it seems to me important that continuing measures are put in place to ensure that the collective knowledge and experience of Forestry Commission staff are retained within new organisations to ensure that policy decisions taken today do not have a detrimental effect on trees, forestry and the community when those trees come into maturity—which we will not see—in 40 to 50 years’ time.

I am delighted that the newly formed forestry and woodland advisory committees are beginning their work and will be actively encouraging the protection, expansion and promotion of the agenda of the Forestry Commission. How do Her Majesty’s Government see the role of those groups in future in extending and improving the diverse range of community involvement in woodlands?

Finally, I turn to a detailed but crucial point. As I am sure that we are all well aware, several very serious diseases affecting trees in this country are slowly spreading across the landscape. What steps are being taken to ensure that, with the reorganisation of the responsibilities of the Forestry Commission, important disease prevention, control and elimination not only continues but is strengthened?

2.10 pm

Baroness Trumpington (Con): My Lords, I have listened with enormous interest to the very learned speeches of all those who have been active in this debate today. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for introducing this subject today because, at the moment, agriculture in every shape and form is so topical and so very difficult for those who are involved. I hope that the Minister may say something about the general picture as well, because it all folds in together.

My only reason for standing up is that I planted the first tree at the national Forestry Commission. I have a photograph of me from the Daily Telegraph which proves that, as I am carrying that wretched tree in order to plant it. I hope that it has flourished and perhaps given shelter to several, if not many, red squirrels throughout the years and will do so in future.

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2.11 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord De Mauley) (Con): My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for calling this debate. I know how passionate she is about the subject and I say humbly that I share that passion. I thank her for her eloquent speech. I strongly agree with almost everything she said, except of course her scepticism about the Government’s intentions.

England’s public forests are a cherished national resource which provides precious habitats for wildlife and natural spaces for people to enjoy, as many noble Lords have said. We want to conserve and enhance them for now and for generations to come. Half of the country’s population lives within six miles of one of the 1,500 individual forests, woodlands and other landscapes that make up the public forest estate. That estate attracts 40 million visits a year, providing a wide range of recreational activities for people to enjoy, from dog walking and picnicking to mountain biking and abseiling. The public forest estate is also a vital natural asset, providing sanctuary for wildlife, as well as carbon storage, water improvement and flood prevention—the importance of which we are all currently extremely conscious, as was referred to by my noble friends Lady Parminter and Lord Patten and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester. The public forest estate is also England’s largest timber producer. It helps to employ about 40,000 people in the forestry, wood products and paper industries, and it supports tens of thousands more jobs in local rural economies through tourism and other commercial activities.

The nation holds those things dear, and so do we. That is why we said in our forestry and woodlands policy statement this time last year that we wanted to establish a new public body, in line with the recommendations of the Independent Panel on Forestry, to hold the estate in trust for the nation. We have no intention of selling off the estate; nor do we have any plans to privatise the body that manages it. Our vision for our public forests is crystal clear. The public forest estate will be safe under the stewardship of the new public body that will own and manage it with a clear remit to conserve and enhance the estate.

Our forests will be better for people, better for nature and better for the economy—that is in answer to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester. No Government can bind future Governments, so no Government can promise that the estate will be protected in perpetuity, but we can put the right safeguards in place to ensure that it is less vulnerable to short-term political demands and ensure that any plans to dispose of it in future will require further primary legislation and be subjected to full parliamentary scrutiny.

We have made good progress over the past year in developing our plans for the new body. We have held numerous meetings with interested parties including Hands Off Our Forest, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, referred, and we are most grateful for their constructive contribution to our thinking. We published some initial thoughts on the shape, structure and governance of the new body last summer, and we received more than 250 helpful comments and suggestions

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on how we might improve our proposals. We have used these to shape our plans for looking after this unique asset, and at the recent National Forestry Forum my colleague the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Forestry, Dan Rogerson, set out 10 core principles that we are using to underpin the new PFE management body, which I shall set out.

The new body should conserve and enhance the estate for the benefit of people, nature and the economy. The precise wording of its statutory purpose and objectives will be confirmed in due course, although we are clear that the new body should be focused on maintaining the quality of the estate and the benefits that it delivers. It should be publicly owned and operationally independent of Government. We confirmed last year that the estate will remain in public hands, owned and managed by a new public body with a clear remit and no day-to-day involvement from Ministers. It should be underpinned by statute. We intend that the new body will have its own founding legislation. We also intend that it will have a charter, which will amplify its statutory functions and objectives and set out how it will work with others in order to achieve those objectives. It should be managed by experts and have access to the best advice. We intend that the new body will have a management board drawn from across the sectors interested in the public forestry estate. This might include experts from the forestry and timber business sectors as well as recreation, environmental and community interests. It should have commercial freedoms but will be required to protect the estate. Forest Enterprise England currently generates around £50 million a year from its timber production and other trading activities.

We want it to continue to earn income from timber production, tourism, recreation and other commercial ventures but any commercial activity will be subject to relevant planning controls, be justified against the wider interests of the estate and its users and be undertaken in a sensitive way so that the long-term quality of the estate is not put at risk. It should be able to buy and sell land, but any land sales must be for the benefit of the estate. As the panel recommended, we want the new body to be able to buy and sell land as part of its everyday management role. We intend, however, that land sales must be in line with the body’s responsibility for maintaining the quality of the estate and that the income generated should be reinvested in the estate. It should be a pioneer in natural capital accounting and payment for ecosystem services, something that my noble friend Lady Parminter referred to. We are developing a set of natural capital accounts for the PFE. These will be used as a baseline for assessing the performance of the new body and will help to inform the innovative funding arrangement that we are currently exploring for it. This will be based on a contract for the delivery of ecosystem services such as recreation, access and biodiversity.

It should work closely with local communities, estate users and businesses. It should have consultation at its heart. Forest Enterprise England already has a good track record of involving local communities in the management of the estate. We intend that the new body should build on this track record and be as open and transparent as possible in everything that it does.

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It should be an exemplar of sustainable forest management. We want the new body to be widely respected and regarded as a good manager of our public woodlands. It should build on the strengths of Forest Enterprise England, which currently does a good job in managing the estate and has a highly skilled and committed workforce. There is always room for improvement but we believe that the new body should build on the strengths of its predecessor and, over time, become an even better trustee for our vital public forests.

I turn to noble Lords’ questions. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester asked about legislation. As I have said, we are working on how we might establish the new body. Good progress is being made but our priority must be to get things right because forestry, as noble Lords have said, is for the long term and forestry legislation must last for many years. Therefore, I cannot say at the moment when a Bill might be published. However, I can say that we as a Government remain committed to allowing an opportunity for pre-legislative scrutiny. Once a draft Bill is published, I will of course be very happy to discuss it with noble Lords.

The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, asked about the prospects for Forestry Commission staff. I can say to her that there is absolutely no intention that there should be any redundancies. She also asked about access. We are committed to protecting the public benefits that are currently provided by the public forest estate, including public access. The new management body will ensure that public access to the public forest estate is maintained and improved wherever possible. Current access on foot is guaranteed where the land has been dedicated under the provisions of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, as all of the freehold estate has been.

The noble Baroness asked about the board. We would like to see the interests of relevant sectors, including local communities, properly represented in the governance arrangements. She also noted the importance of the guardians. We are in the process of determining the final details of the guardians in collaboration with interested parties. We are clear that the guardians will play a vital role in overseeing the conservation and enhancement of the estate for the benefit of people, nature and the economy. They would be drawn from across the full range of interested sectors, including not only forestry and business but also environment, recreation and local community interests, to advise the new body and hold it to account.

The noble Baroness suggested that a public corporation might be a halfway house to privatisation. Public corporation classification has no bearing whatever on whether or not a public body might be privatised. I can confirm that we have no plans to privatise the public forest estate. We are designing the new body to own and manage the estate within the public sector for many years to come.

The noble Baroness mentioned the charter. I have already mentioned that the new body would have a charter which would amplify the statutory duties and objectives in its founding legislation and set out how it

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plans to work with others to deliver its statutory remit. We intend that this charter would be laid before Parliament.

The noble Baroness asked about land sales. The body will need to be able to buy and sell land as part of its day-to-day management role, as I have mentioned. We intend that there should be appropriate checks and balances to ensure that land sales decisions are in line with the body’s responsibility for maintaining the quality of the estate and that income generated from sales should be reinvested in the estate. We certainly do not intend for it to sell any part of the estate to raise revenue to sustain itself. In answer to her specific question, the Secretary of State will have a veto on land sales. There are no plans for anyone else to have such a veto.

The noble Baroness knows, but I will repeat clearly for the record, that we have no plans whatever to privatise the estate. We are designing the new body to own and manage the public forest estate within the public sector for many years to come.

My noble friend Lord Eden asked about economic benefits. England’s woodland cover is as high as it has been since the 14th century. We want woodland cover in England to increase through planting of the right trees in the right places for the right reasons. We also want more of England’s woodlands to be sustainably managed to maximise their public benefits. We believe that the current rate of planting, of 2,500 hectares per year, can be accelerated and that an eventual level of 15% coverage could be achieved over time. However, this is not a matter just for Government. Conditions need to be in place so that landowners choose to plant trees in locations where it best suits them and their local conditions and priorities.

My noble friend Lord Patten raised the issue of woodland in the context of new housing development. I share his aspiration for people living in new housing developments to benefit from the social and environmental improvements that woodland planting can bring to these sites. There are many good examples of such sympathetic landscaping and planting on developments across the country. I am sorry to hear of the far less successful example to which he referred.

My noble friend Lady Parminter referred to natural capital accounting. I can tell her that good progress is being made on national natural capital accounting. The Natural Capital Committee is working closely with the ONS and Defra to implement the road map to 2020 which the ONS published in December 2012. Early progress had been made with accounts for woodlands. Further work is being taken forward on accounts for enclosed farmlands, wetlands, marine and a more detailed set of accounts for the public forest estate.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester referred to skills and experience, both within the Forestry Commission and more widely. I agree entirely. We are keen to see experience retained and new blood coming in and adding to the skill base and experience levels.

I am being prodded; I have run out of time. One thing that is really important to finish on is the reference made by a number of noble Lords to flooding. The allocation of Defra grant in aid for flood and coastal

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erosion risk-management projects is undertaken by the Environment Agency. Afforestation is funded where there is sufficient evidence that it will reduce flood risk or for experimental purposes. The Slowing the Flow project in north Yorkshire is an example. In addition, the Forestry Commission has contributed to various assessments of using woodland to alleviate flooding. In 2011 it joint-funded a review called Woodland for Water, which highlighted how woodland could contribute to reducing flood risk as well as deliver other water and wider ecosystem benefits. That led to the development and use of national, regional and catchment “opportunity maps” to direct planting to where woodland would be most effective.

In conclusion, good progress is being made on how we might establish the new body, but our priority must be to get things right. As I have said, forestry is for the long term, and forestry legislation must last for many years. We remain committed to allowing an opportunity for pre-legislative scrutiny. Once a draft Bill is published, I will of course be happy to discuss it with noble Lords.



2.25 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Taylor of Holbeach) (Con): My Lords, with the leave of the House I will now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in the House of Commons earlier today. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Hillsborough stadium tragedy.

It is over a year now since Parliament last debated Hillsborough and the report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel. I hope that the House will join me again in expressing my thanks and gratitude to the panel’s Chairman, Bishop James Jones, as well as to all his colleagues, for their remarkable work.

The contents of the Independent Panel’s report were truly shocking. On the day it was published, the Prime Minister rightly apologised to the families of the 96 for what he described as a ‘double injustice’. The first injustice, he said, was the appalling events. The second was the treatment of the victims by the press.

I would like to pay tribute to the bereaved families, the survivors, and all those who have campaigned on their behalf. As Home Secretary I have met a number of the bereaved families and I have been impressed by the dignified way in which they and their supporters have pursued their search for truth and justice.

I would also like to pay tribute to a number of those in this House who have campaigned on behalf of the families: the right honourable Member for Leigh, Mr Andy Burnham; the honourable gentleman the Member for Liverpool, Walton, Steve Rotheram; the honourable lady the Member for Garston and Halewood, Maria Eagle; and the honourable gentleman the Member for Halton, Derek Twigg.

So significant were the conclusions of the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s report that its publication on 12 September 2012 set in train a number of important events. By the end of that year this had resulted in the

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quashing by the High Court of the original inquest verdicts and the ordering of fresh inquests, as well as the establishment of two major investigations.

In a debate in this House following the publication of the panel’s report, I said that ‘after truth must come justice; and after the apology, accountability’. As lead Minister within Government it is my responsibility to ensure that the various processes of government and the criminal justice system are working effectively and are properly resourced to ensure that justice can be done, not only for those who died, but just as importantly for their families and for all those who have campaigned on their behalf ever since.

Today I would like to update the House on the progress that has been made, both in respect of the new inquests and the new investigations. First, I will address the inquests. Last year and within two months of the decision by the High Court, Lord Justice Goldring was appointed as the coroner to conduct the fresh inquests. A number of pre-inquest hearings have already been held. The police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission investigations are working in support of the coroner to a timetable determined by him. The Government welcome the fact that Lord Justice Goldring has made it clear that the fresh inquests will start on 31 March.

I have always made it clear that the Government will support the families in their quest for justice. As part of that commitment, the Government are funding a comprehensive legal representation scheme. Work began on this immediately after the original inquest verdicts were quashed, and the scheme which is now in place will ensure that the families are properly represented and supported at the inquests.

In addition to the inquests, there is also the investigative process, of which there are two elements. The first is led by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. This is the IPCC’s biggest ever investigation. Its principal focus is on police involvement in the aftermath of Hillsborough. I think it is worth reminding the House that this includes not just the role and actions of the South Yorkshire Police, the force responsible for policing the match, but also the West Midlands Police. The West Midlands Police had a significant role to play in the aftermath of Hillsborough, providing support to Lord Taylor’s inquiry, producing the report to the Director of Public Prosecutions and assisting the then South Yorkshire West Coroner, Dr Stefan Popper. I can therefore confirm that the experience of survivors, which was again brought to public attention in the past week, is part of the ongoing IPCC investigation.

The second element is a criminal investigation—Operation Resolve—led by Jon Stoddart, the former Chief Constable of Durham. Jon Stoddart was appointed by me in December 2012. His key role is to investigate the deaths at Hillsborough. Working alongside both investigations is a discrete Crown Prosecution Service team, through which lawyers from the CPS provide an ongoing service.

When he was Bishop of Liverpool and sitting in another place, Bishop James Jones said that justice is about process as well as outcomes. The unique, complex and wide-ranging circumstances of Hillsborough meant that there had to be created, from scratch, two major

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and large-scale investigations. Both had to have firm foundations. Suitable premises had to be found, acquired and fitted out. This has been done. Suitably skilled and appropriate staff had to be identified and recruited. This has also been done. It was inevitable that this would take time, but the investigations are now located together on one site in Warrington, close to the sources of the investigation, and are making good progress.

Like a number of the bereaved families and a number of those in this House, I have been to Warrington to see the investigations for myself. I have met some of the staff from the IPCC and Operation Resolve investigations and I was struck by their dedication and professionalism. I welcome the fact that the IPCC and Operation Resolve want their investigations to be open and transparent, and both investigations have welcomed the opportunity to demonstrate to families the work that they are doing.

I would now like to set out to the House some of the progress being made. First, in respect of the IPCC, more than 1,600 people have now responded to the IPCC’s witness appeal. This includes more than 250 people who have never given accounts before. The IPCC is conducting detailed analysis of every response and is following up the evidence provided. Separately, around 400 witnesses have made requests to the IPCC to see their original statements, and the IPCC is helping people access those statements. In addition, the IPCC has recovered around 2,500 police pocket notebooks. These pocket books had not been made available to previous investigations and are now being analysed by IPCC investigators. The IPCC has also conducted further analysis of the 242 police accounts now believed to have been amended. In this context, they have completed more than 160 interviews, and these interviews continue.

Alongside the IPCC investigation, the police investigation, Operation Resolve, has, first, worked to the coroner’s priorities and timetable, meeting all the deadlines set by him. Secondly, it has worked in parallel on other aspects of the criminal investigation which are complementary to the work being done for the coroner. Thirdly, the Operation Resolve team has obtained access to the best quality audio visual material and carried out extensive analysis. In doing so, it has drawn on advances in digital imagery and forensic technology not available to previous investigative teams. Fourthly, the investigation has now completed more than 1,000 interviews of witnesses.

The work being done by Operation Resolve is aimed at providing the fullest possible picture of what happened at Hillsborough, both to ensure that the inquest is able to answer the questions that the bereaved families still have, and in support of the criminal investigation. Jon Stoddart has said:

‘If we find there were health and safety breaches or evidence of wilful neglect, we will seek to ensure the appropriate action is taken against those responsible. If we find that, with the benefit of hindsight, there are lessons to be learned, we will endeavour to ensure that they are addressed. And if we find evidence of criminal behaviour, including manslaughter through neglect, we will seek to lay charges and put people and organisations before the courts’.

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As I have said, this new phase of work on Hillsborough began with the publication of the independent panel’s report. One particularly important aspect of the way in which the panel approached its work was its consultation with the bereaved families, and I was keen to learn from and build on that dialogue. So I was pleased when Bishop James Jones agreed to act as my adviser on Hillsborough, bringing with him his knowledge and experience from his time as chair of the independent panel.

Operation Resolve and the IPCC have invested significant effort engaging with families, including offering the opportunity for families to visit their offices in Warrington. Family forums, proposed by Bishop James Jones and building on work by the IPCC, CPS and Operation Resolve, are now taking place regularly. The forums provide a regular and structured opportunity for bereaved families to have face-to-face discussions with those conducting and advising the investigations, and they provide an important opportunity for the families to probe and ask questions.

Bishop James Jones, in recent conversations with me, has described the families’ position as being ‘encouraged’ but not ‘persuaded’. This is a sentiment I can understand. As we approach the 25th anniversary of the tragedy it is the sentiment which underlies my continuing commitment to do everything I can to ensure that the process of disclosing the truth—started by the panel—is followed by the process of justice.

I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

2.38 pm

Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab): My Lords, I am grateful to and thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement of the Home Secretary. It is very helpful for your Lordships’ House to be updated on the process and on progress being made. I also welcome the fact that the Minister reiterated the apology. We add our tribute to the families, survivors and all those who have had to campaign for the truth and for justice.

Twenty-five years later, as the new inquests begin, the families will have to relive that day, in granular and sometimes very graphic detail for each of the 96. It is necessary to establish the precise details and the truth but it will be traumatic. What action will be taken across government to ensure that counselling support is made available to the families having to attend the inquests?

I listened to the Statement in the other place and I should like to probe further one issue that was raised. The Minister will be aware of the concern of the families and the campaigners for justice that they were subject to undercover surveillance, not exclusively but including their phone calls being intercepted. The Home Secretary was unable to confirm or deny those fears in the other place. The Minister will recall discussions that we had on covert surveillance during the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill and the need for independent oversight following the experience of my noble friend Lady Lawrence. Given the circumstances, will the Government reconsider whether in this case it would be appropriate, because it is relevant to the

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inquiry, for any and all information relating to surveillance to be made available, including whether any requests were made to the Home Secretary? I am sorry to press the Minister further on this, but I know that he will understand the depth of feeling on this issue.

The Minister will also understand the anger over so many of the police and witness statements being altered. Presumably, that was to hide the truth so that they could not get the facts of what really happened on that day. It is vital that those who gave witness statements at the time feel able to come forward and verify their statements or take action to put the record straight if their statements were changed. What message or reassurance can the Minister give to those witnesses to encourage them to come forward? To paraphrase the words of the Home Secretary, we need these statements because we need to get to the truth in order to ensure justice.

2.41 pm

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her comments on this moving and complex issue. I reiterate the sentimentsof my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in her response to a number of questions. She made it quite clear that she recognised that one of the traumas of the situation that the families now face was that they would now have to relive the moments of tragedy that they suffered 25 years ago. In terms of positive things that I can say, she reassured the families that additional consultation space will be provided to ensure that families have regular meetings with their legal teams, and further details will be shared with the family teams in the next few days about how that will work. The Government fully recognise that the appropriate support needs to be provided for all those involved in these inquests. The Department of Health and the Ministry of Justice, along with the coroner and his team, will work together to ensure that this is available.

The noble Baroness rightly focused on the anxiety that was expressed in the House of Commons by a number of Members about surveillance and the suspicion that the police had targeted families. The Home Secretary, I know, will reflect on what has been said in the House of Commons. She is well aware of the sentiment on that issue, as indeed is the IPCC, which is very much aware of that aspect of the case. It is, perhaps, another example of people feeling that tragedy has been compounded post the event. I suspect that the IPCC will be interested in following this up.

I was further asked by the noble Baroness about witnesses coming forward. As I mentioned in the Statement, a number have already done so. I will use the opportunity of being here at the Dispatch Box in this House to say to anyone who is listening to our discussions today who has something to say and wants to contribute to this search for the truth to please come forward. They will be given every help and support in doing so.

2.44 pm

Lord Soley (Lab): My Lords, in the Statement by the Home Secretary, reference was made to the abuse of press power. I remember that a number of us said at

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the time that the press were getting into difficulties because they were doing this sort of journalism. Can the Minister take it back to the Home Secretary that this is yet another reason why the press needs to have Leveson? It might seem out of context but, frankly, this has been going on for 30 or 40 years and Hillsborough was a particularly bad example of an abuse of press power. That is why people want Leveson and why the press should get out of the way and allow it to happen.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I am most happy to take that back to the Home Secretary. I am meeting her this afternoon, in fact, and I will carry that point home. This certainly was not the press’s finest hour but, having said that, I am sure that we all cherish the fact that we have a free press in this country. However, this was a situation where, as the Statement said, the conduct of the press exacerbated a grievous situation.

Baroness Hamwee (LD): My Lords, I welcome the Statement and the fact that the Home Secretary has chosen to make it in what I might call an unprompted manner: I think the Minister will understand what I mean. He referred to the importance of process. Perhaps I might ask him about the reference group, which I understand has been set up by the CPS, the IPCC and the investigation team to ensure the families’ rights under Article 2 of the European convention. I am sorry that I was not able to give notice to my noble friend of this question. I understand that the reference group is to monitor the progress of the investigation. That seems to raise the question: what powers may it have?

If I am giving time for inspiration by asking a second question, I hope that will be helpful. My second question is with regard to the IPCC. There was concern about the resources available for this substantial piece of work, both in itself and for any knock-on effect on the rest of the IPCC’s activities. Can the Minister tell the House whether the IPCC is as happy as one might reasonably expect it to be with the resources available, both for this investigation and the rest of its work, given the burden that this must be on it?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: This is by far the largest investigation that the IPCC has ever been involved in. Right at the beginning, the Home Secretary wanted to emphasise that this was a priority that needed proper resourcing. I have no doubt that the resources are available to get to the truth of this matter. The challenge panel, which was mentioned in the Written Ministerial Statement on 19 December, is working well. There were a number of helpful discussions over the summer between the investigatory and prosecutorial authorities and the families to establish the best way of ensuring that they are kept up to speed with the various ongoing investigations. These discussions were chaired by Bishop James Jones. It is not so much that the reference group actually has, or even needs, power. The power lies in those bodies which are working together with the reference group. They are the people who actually have the power to pursue the inquiry and, further to that, to effect prosecutions if necessary.

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Lord Faulkner of Worcester (Lab): My Lords, as one of the very few Members of your Lordships’ House who was present at Hillsborough on 15 April 1989, I congratulate this Government and their predecessor on their determination to pursue the truth of that terrible tragedy. The Home Secretary deserves enormous credit, particularly for engaging with our much missed colleague, the Bishop of Liverpool, who has changed the whole nature of the way in which we are looking at the events on that day, 25 years ago. I was delighted to hear the Minister’s reference to the involvement of the former bishop as the Home Secretary’s adviser and with the family forums.

Does the Minister agree that the police, particularly South Yorkshire Police and West Midlands Police, have a lot of very difficult questions to answer? Was he as astonished as I was to discover that 2,500 police pocket books have only now come to light? How many more pocket books does he think there may be out there that contain vital information? How many police officers have so far declined to co-operate with the IPCC or the bishop’s inquiry?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I was as astounded as I think all noble Lords would have been at the discovery of these pocket books. I have no idea whether there are any other pocket books that have not yet been discovered. The pursuit of truth is clearly such a singular objective that everything must be focused on achieving it, and anybody who has information or pocket books that might be relevant to this inquiry or knows where they are should produce them for the investigations.

I can only add to the tribute paid to the right reverend Prelate the former Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones. What a remarkable man he is. It is odd, in a way, that we were discussing one of his projects—on forestry—immediately before this Statement on Hillsborough. He is a remarkable figure. I shall not say “public servant” because it goes beyond that. The fact that he has such integrity and is trusted in the way that he is is a remarkable tribute to him and to the work he has done.

Lord Wills (Lab): My Lords, as one of the Ministers involved in setting up the Hillsborough panel in the first place, I, too, pay tribute to the outstandingly conscientious and diligent way that this Government are making progress on that panel’s reports. I also add my tribute to the former right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool and his panel for the outstanding work that they have done. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the stoicism, dignity and persistence of the bereaved families. Without that, none of the progress that is now being made would have been possible.

I echo what my noble friend on the Front Bench said about the need to provide continuing support for the families. This goes beyond the legal representation that they are currently receiving and beyond the inquest. I would be grateful if the Minister will confirm that as this process unfolds over a period, which could be many months, if not years, they will receive all the support they need for as long as it takes. Finally, and I understand that there are limits to what the Minister

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can say now, but once all these investigations have been completed, will the Government consider the wider implications for public policy of what has happened in this terrible event?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wills, for his involvement in the early stages of setting up the panel. It was a great decision. It led to the uncovering of the truth to the extent that we have now been able to move the panel’s report on to active investigations and the renewed inquest. It all started with that, and he should take praise for that.

Public life and politics in general have learnt a lot from this incident, which happened a generation ago. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, was a younger man when he was at the game. It was a long time ago, and we have learnt to do things differently. The noble Lord asks what the Government would learn; I think that all those in public life have learnt something from this Hillsborough engagement.

I have learnt something, because, as some noble Lords will know, the Home Secretary asked me to meet the families. It was a really moving encounter. Stoicism is the word—they were noble, in fact, in how they were handling their sadness and grief. We all recognise that they will need continuing support, and not only with practical things such as legal representation, although that helps to empower people. There is also the emotional support and the sense that we can all give them that we understand the sadness that they have had to suffer—and the inquests that they will have to go through will be quite traumatic for them.

Lord Wood of Anfield (Lab): My Lords, it is fair to say that MPs, journalists and campaigners have struggled to obtain information from different agencies under the Freedom of Information Act, most noticeably from the police, IPCC and Operation Resolve teams. In some cases, information has been withheld on the grounds that it may prejudice potential prosecutions—and, of course, we all understand that. However, there are two other grounds that should cause us concern, and I want to ask the Minister about his reaction to that.

First, in some cases information is withheld on the grounds that the IPCC has deemed that publication would be detrimental to future co-operation between itself and organisations that it is either investigating or collaborating with. Secondly, in many cases in which the police are involved, FOI requests remain simply unanswered and ignored, in some cases for periods stretching over 12 months. Does the Minister share my concern about this? Would he agree that one way forward would be to ask the IPCC and Operation Resolve teams to commit to name a date by which they plan to publish all the evidence that they have and ensure that all the documentation is digitalised and placed on the IPCC’s Hillsborough investigation website?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My own commitment to freedom of information is that I am the Minister responsible for freedom of information within the Home Office, and I take that role very seriously. Noble Lords will understand that there are sometimes genuine

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conflicts between a wish to be transparent and open and to put material in the public domain and the efficient achievement of justice, with the impartiality of evidence. Premature revelation of facts that perhaps should not be revealed might pose threats to the admissibility of evidence.

I understand totally where the noble Lord is coming from and acknowledge the importance of the Freedom of Information Act, which I would like to believe has enhanced public life. However, there are occasions when perhaps it is unwise to challenge decisions made in good faith. I will certainly report the matter back to the Home Secretary. As I say, I am meeting her this afternoon, and I shall report back on the question that the noble Lord asked.

Lord Berkeley of Knighton (CB): I congratulate the Government and express my sympathy to the families involved. There is one other wider point of importance that comes out of this, which the Minister touched on. I wonder whether he would agree with me that even since Hillsborough and with the lessons that we have learnt, many people distrust bodies investigating themselves and other bodies investigating bodies that are only remotely removed from them. If one marvellous thing could come out of this it would be that, by pursuing the truth in the way the Minister has mentioned, the public might begin to get greater confidence in investigations into wrongdoing.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, makes a good point on this area of public confidence in the police, in particular. This is a policy area within the Home Office currently which we are taking very seriously. Noble Lords will know that the College of Policing has been set up. A code of ethics is part and parcel of its immediate mission statement. It is very much in the interests of a country that is dependent upon policing by consent that that consent can be given in confidence that the police are acting genuinely in the interests of the public, not of themselves. I could not agree more with what the noble Lord said.

Lord McNally (LD): My Lords, the tributes to Bishop James Jones are well deserved but the statement by him rather ties in with what my noble friend has just said—that the bereaved families are “encouraged” but not “persuaded”. That is an indication of how far we have to go in winning not only their confidence but that of the general public in our public authorities and the capacity to investigate them when things go wrong. I seek just one clarification. My noble friend said that the inquest will start on 31 March. This ties in with the question about information from other bodies. How do you prevent cross-pollution from one investigation to another if the inquest is being held in public? Will remarks made there impact on the Stoddart inquiry or

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revelations from the IPCC? Will they be fed into the inquest? How are these three parallel inquiries to be co-ordinated or kept separate?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: You can rely on your noble friends, particularly your former colleague as the Minister of Justice, to tackle you on this subject. I am not a lawyer but I assume that the Queen’s court—the coroner’s court—has the power to seek all evidence. Its needs are the most important aspect of the inquiry while the coroner’s investigations continue. Clearly, information will be made available to the coroner’s court or discovered through the coroner’s inquiry that will inform investigations by other bodies. I would hope that that would be the case because the whole point of the inquest is to establish the truth about those 96 deaths, as well as to help clear the obfuscation that has long surrounded this issue.

Lord Snape (Lab): My Lords, will the Minister accept from me, as a former chairman of a—sadly—former Football League club, that the attitude of the police a quarter of a century ago towards the Liverpool supporters was coloured at least partly by the fact that there was a strong belief then that those who watched football were somehow less worthy of the sort of policing that most members of the public would accept—that football supporters were there to be marched and corralled and generally to be poorly treated by police officers from a senior level downwards? Will he also accept from me that, regrettably, these days that sort of attitude persists in certain aspects of policing towards those wishing to do no more than go and watch a football match?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: Amazingly enough, as somebody who has an interesting life, I have relatively limited experience of attending first-class football matches. However, in fact I went to see Arsenal play Wigan in the final home game of last season. I have to say that I found it a really delightful experience and I saw none of the things that the noble Lord, Lord Snape, has suggested. The policing was discreet and the stewards were in place but working with people rather than against them, and I think that that characterises it—it certainly characterises other sporting events that I have been to. However, I shall have to ask the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, what it was like to go to a football match 25 years ago, and he will be able to tell me of the change there has been in recent years. I am sure he would vouch for the fact that there has been considerable change both in policing and in the way that crowds, who in most cases are now seated in purpose-built stadia, are treated. It is to be hoped that, because of those measures, there will not be a repetition of what happened at Hillsborough.

House adjourned at 3.06 pm.