Government accused of repeatedly blocking Hillsborough public advocate law

·4-min read

The Government was accused of repeatedly blocking a Bill aimed at introducing a public advocate for families like those who lost loved ones in the Hillsborough disaster.

The Public Advocate (No 2) Bill would introduce an independent representative for the bereaved and survivors of disasters involving public authorities.

But the Bill was effectively denied a second reading at the end of Friday’s Commons sitting, a day when backbench MPs are conventionally given a chance to make laws outside of the Government’s legislative agenda.

Following the objection, Labour former minister Maria Eagle questioned whether ministers cared about “righting the terrible wrongs” of the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.

The Garston and Halewood MP told the Commons: “We have seen five Bills proceed today. The Public Advocate (No 2) Bill has been introduced repeatedly into Parliament since 2015.

Labour Party Conference – Day Two
Maria Eagle said it was the 12th time the bill had been blocked (PA)

“The objection today from the Government is the 12th time they have objected in the last two years, despite a proposal for a public advocate being in the Government’s own 2017 manifesto.

“Can you advise me please on how I can convince my constituents, who are families of the 97 unlawfully killed and survivors of that terrible day at Hillsborough, that our government cares about righting the terrible wrongs they have suffered over the last 34 years, and making sure that the lessons of that terrible day are truly learned?”

Commons Deputy Speaker Sir Roger Gale responded that the whole House had “enormous sympathy with those who suffered at Hillsborough” but told Ms Eagle she could not use a point of order to prolong debate on her Bill.

Speaking outside the Commons, Ms Eagle later added: “After 34 years of waiting, the Hillsborough families now need legislative change to ensure no other families bereaved by public disasters are treated as they have been by state agencies covering up the truth.

“This Bill is part of the change they have called for but it has been blocked for the 12th time by the Government objecting to it when they could have let it proceed.

“I will not give up fighting for them and for these measures, and I will bring the proposals back again in March so that we can deliver justice for these courageous families.”

Police chiefs this week promised a “cultural change” and apologised to families of Hillsborough victims in an official response to a report by the Rt Revd James Jones, former bishop of Liverpool, into the experiences of the Hillsborough families is published.

Ninety-seven football fans died as a result of a crush at a match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on April 15, 1989.

They were unlawfully killed amid a number of police errors, an inquest jury ruled in 2016.

Steve Reed MP, shadow justice secretary, added: “Labour stands unequivocally with the Hillsborough families. There can be no justice for those who died until we stop the same thing ever happening again.

“We’ve repeatedly called for the Hillsborough Law and making it reality would be a priority of a Labour government to ensure that victims of major tragedies get the same legal representation as the authorities that failed them.”

The Bill is set to be debated again on March 3, but will fall to the bottom of the order paper for the day, meaning MPs will likely run out of time to consider it.

Labour MP Luke Pollard’s attempt to reform gun laws were also blocked from a second reading.

The Plymouth Sutton and Devonport MP’s Firearms and Hate Crime Bill was aimed at preventing attacks similar to the 2021 Keyham shooting, when gunman Jake Davison killed five people.

Lib Dem MP for Bath, Wera Hobhouse meanwhile criticised the Government for blocking her Bill aimed at ending all installations of prepayment meters over the winter.

Ms Hobhouse said: “This Bill has been in front of Parliament since early December, but the Conservative Government chose to ignore it. Only after a scandal and shocking revelations about energy companies prying on vulnerable people did the regulator, Ofgem, finally act.

“It is too little, too late. My Bill would go further than the regulator, by banning the installation of prepayment meters for a period of time to get people through this difficult winter and to investigate any rogue practices.”