Benefits Uprating

Last night the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats voted to cut the incomes of the poorest people in society. Following a fierce 5 hour debate the Government won a key vote on plans to cap working age benefit rises at 1%, below the rate of inflation and the equivalent of a real terms cut.

This is a blow to people in Liverpool and across the country who are already struggling to make ends meet and I and my Labour colleagues voted against the Bill.

As a result of these proposals 7 million working households will lose an average of £165 a year, with two thirds of the households affected by these changes in work.

In Riverside 5,900 people who claim working tax credit will be hit by these measures, as will thousands more who rely on other tax credits, child benefit or jobseekers allowance to pay the bills.

The Government’s decision to hit the poorest the hardest comes at the same time as it decided to give millionaires a tax cut of over £100,000 a year.

The Conservatives and Lib Dems have shown the contempt that they have for the most vulnerable people in society and I find this latest cut deplorable. I will continue to fight against these proposals and to speak up for people in Liverpool who have been left out in the cold by this Government.

Hillsborough update

Parliament is now fast tracking an important Bill to give the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) the powers to investigate the Hillsborough cover up.

This is my speech to Parliament, supporting the Bill but seeking assurances that the powers are sufficient:

A number of hon. Members have already pointed out that it is highly unusual to fast-track an important Bill, but we are dealing with an unusual circumstance and it is essential that this Bill goes through. We are dealing with the aftermath of a terrible tragedy that happened 23 years ago: 96 people died, thousands more were injured or traumatised, there was a cover-up, nobody was brought to book for what happened and, indeed, the victims were blamed for the culpability of others. That cover-up is now unravelling and there is a desire for urgent justice and accountability. That is why we are considering this Bill, but this is only one part of a whole range of actions now being taken speedily and correctly.

 

The Independent Police Complaints Commission has published its 10-point terms of reference, a number of which demonstrate the relevance of this Bill. The IPCC  wants to find out what happened and how 116 witness statements came to be altered in order to remove or lessen the culpability of police and, indeed, others. It wants to consider the validity of the police evidence to the all-important Taylor inquiry. It wants to consider the conduct of the West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire police in relation not just to what happened at the time but to subsequent investigations. It wants to investigate the authorisation given to test the alcohol levels of the victims and to allow access to the police national computer in an attempt to denigrate the victims. The vital issue of what happened on the day and of who took the decision to open the Leppings Lane gate is critical. The culmination of all that was the attempted cover-up—indeed, it was successful—to blame the victims for what happened.

 

Those are just some of the items specified in the IPCC’s terms of reference. In order for them to be investigated properly, it is essential that the IPCC has adequate powers. It is critical that we discuss the issue and make a decision today so that the new investigation can start quickly. I understand that if we reach an agreement today, the IPCC investigation will be able to start in early 2013.

 

The Bill addresses two key areas. First, it will enable the IPCC to compel serving officers and their staff to answer its questions as witnesses. The IPCC will be able to consider whether they are guilty of misconduct or, indeed, criminality, but it is also essential that they come forward as witnesses. Secondly—this is also essential—it will allow the IPCC to investigate issues previously investigated by its predecessor, the Police Complaints Authority. Both measures are important.

 

This debate has already shown that there are question marks over the Bill’s adequacy in respect of those measures. What would happen, for example, if serving officers or their staff did not agree to come forward when requested? Would the disciplinary measures, which have been spelt out this afternoon, be adequate? I do not think that we will know the answer until such an event happens. The issue of calling retired officers or staff is not covered by the Bill, either. There may be other means of doing that, but the situation is extremely unclear. Those are two areas of the Bill that stand out at this stage as either not covered adequately or, in the case of retired officers, not covered at all.

 

Some of the issues will be addressed when we discuss the amendment in Committee following this Second Reading debate, but it is essential that there is continuing dialogue and that the House is made aware of any progress. We need to know whether the proposals for addressing these matters are valid, and we need an ongoing discussion and up-to-date information, so that if any further steps are required they can be enacted without undue delay.

 

There is cross-party agreement on what is happening. The Hillsborough independent panel was set up in the last Parliament and its work has been taken forward in this one. There is cross-party agreement on that.

 

Twenty-three years is a long time to wait for justice. The families deserve no less than truth, justice and accountability. That requires speedy action, but that action must be backed up by sufficient powers to enable the proper information to be considered in a judicial process, if that is what is required. I hope that the Bill will help to achieve that.

 

It is extremely important that the House is kept informed of progress, including the consequences of this Bill being passed and the question of reopening the inquest—something that will be considered in this place at another time.

The IPCC has now published its Terms of Reference. It will examine the following points:

1. Actions of police officers in the gym and whether the treatment of relatives was appropriate

2. Interactions of police officers with press and politicians. This will including looking at the actions of Norman Bettison visiting parliament and making a video presentation. It will also cover whether then Home Secretary and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher were given inaccurate or inappropriate information.

3. The actions of police officers and those providing legal advice to police officers in relation to collecting evidence. In particular that will look at the role of the teams led by Ch Supt Wain (of which Norman Bettison was a member) and Ch Supt Denton.

This element will also look at instructions given to officers not to complete notebooks or duty statements. The process of amending statements will be examined at this stage, including those that were do so without an officers’ agreement or signature, and whether it was done to deflect blame from police.

4. The evidence put forward by South Yorkshire Police to the West Midlands Police investigation and the Taylor Inquiry. This will include whether officers gave inaccurate, false, or deliberately misleading information about fans or evidence.

This part of the investigation will also specifically examine whether the “Wain Report” which Norman Bettison helped write was an “accurate and complete picture”. Whether officers gave wrong or misleading evidence about closing the tunnel at the Leppings Lane at Hillsborough, will also be looked at.

5. Whether any police officer had any influence on the decision of coroner Stefan Popper to check blood alcohol levels.

6. The reasons Police National Computer checks were checked and who was responsible for the decision.

7. The West Midlands Police investigation will also be re-examined. This will include how decisions were taken to gather statements and evidence. The question of whether witnesses were put under “inappropriate pressure” to alter statements will also be investigated. And the matter of whether evidence given by WMP to the inquests was accurate, and if there was bias in favour of South Yorkshire Police.

8. The IPCC will also reach a finding on whether there was a general attempt by officers within South Yorkshire Police and / or West Midlands Police to deflect or minimise blame for the tragedy from the police service by focussing on the behaviour or alleged behaviour of fans.

9. To identify whether any criminal offences were committed, and if appropriate make early contact with Director of Public Prosecutions. On receipt of the final report, the commissioner shall determine whether the report should be sent to the DPP.

10. To identify whether any subject of the investigation has a case to answer for misconduct or gross misconduct, or no case to answer.

Funding for Liverpool Community College

I have written to the Business Minister Matthew Hancock warning that Liverpool Community College is facing a lack of funds to cope with an upsurge in student numbers.

New student intake among 16-18 year olds is up by 1,000 for this academic year yet the College has not received any additional finances to cater for this. This huge rise of 29% reflects the college’s outstanding reputation and teaching quality and it is fantastic to see the institution take on so many new students.

Financing for colleges is based on how many students attended during the previous academic year so while Liverpool Community College will receive a funding boost for next year I am concerned that this year it may be left out of pocket.

My letter, signed by the other four city MPs, urges the Government to grant the college additional in year finances.

It is vital that Liverpool Community College receives this additional funding to ensure that its students continue to receive the highest quality education.

Liverpool’s new Nano Investigation Centre (NiCaL)

I was delighted to officially open the world class Nano Investigation Centre at Liverpool University (NiCaL) on Friday. Based at the School of Engineering, NiCaL provides regional SMEs free access to the latest state of the art microscopy instrumentation, together with experienced analysts and material scientists.

The aim is to help SMEs to improve their productivity and competitiveness by linking them to technology and expertise that will improve their product and process design. All of NiCaL’s capabilities and offerings are available to qualifying SMEs free of charge.

I am pictured with, from left to right, Alan Tidbury, Technician, Dr Kerry Abrams, Outreach Officer, Dr Tobias Heil, Outreach Officer, Lynn Allan, Centre Administrator, Professor Gordon Tatlock, Centre Director, Dr Tim Joyce,Thomas Boegelein, Dr Simon Romani, Technical and Industrial Liaison Manager.

This is an important initiative which will enable local companies to benefit from the most up-to-date scientific knowledge. It is a great boost for our economy.

Liverpool Central station

This afternoon, I attended the celebrations marking the official opening of Liverpool Central station following its refurbishment.

£20 million pounds has been spent on Liverpool Central which has seen the widening of the concourse floor area to incorporate a much larger and more customer friendly internal access to the lift; Much larger and improved toilets and a waiting area; Larger ticket gate line to allow for increased passenger numbers and enable better control of pedestrian flows at peak times; improvements to the roof; and Seating for passengers to name a few of the works involved.

Liverpool Central has by far the highest footfall on the network and is one of the busiest stations outside London. It has 18 million passengers per year, with an increase of 40% expected by 2020. It has now undergone a complete refurbishment of all areas, is a much better environment for passengers and will benefit local retailers.

I am pictured with Maarten Spaargaren, MD of Merseyrail (second from left) and Maria Eagle MP, Shadow Transport Secretary.

Hillsborough – HOC debate – Oct 22

The debate on Hillsborough on October 22 was another milestone in the search for justice for the bereaved, injured and traumatised.

The unique Hillsborough Panel report laid bare the vindictive lie that the fans were responsible for their own deaths.

It is now vital that we move swiftly from the exposure of the truth to bringing accountability and justice.

The announcements now made by the Home Secretary, Independent Police Complaints Commission, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Attorney General are a very good start. It is essential for new inquests to be held so that the horrendous failure of both the police and ambulance service to deal with the disaster can be investigated.

I, together with my colleagues, will work hard to ensure that this momentum is maintained.

My contribution to the debate:

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): This debate is another milestone in the 23-year struggle to force the authorities to face up to the truth of why 96 people died, hundreds more were injured and thousands traumatised as a consequence of the Hillsborough disaster —a disaster that was wholly preventable.
The unique work of the Hillsborough independent panel has exposed the horror of what happened and has made it impossible for the authorities to continue their deception in hiding the truth. The painstaking work of the bishop and his team has transformed the public understanding of what happened for ever, and I commend them.

 

The vindictive lie that the victims were responsible for their own deaths is laid bare for all to see. It was always based on prejudice and lies, and the denial of culpability from those who were responsible. It was perpetuated by a long-standing cover-up. The Taylor report came close to exposing the truth, but nobody wanted to listen and the authorities joined forces to hide the truth from the public.

 

The question is where we go from here and what should happen now. It is essential that the dynamic is maintained. We must move with urgency from exposure of the truth to accountability, and due process is required. I welcome the statements of the Attorney-General, the Home Secretary and shadow Ministers. I warmly welcome the actions that the Attorney-General and the Home Secretary have begun.

 

My comments will concentrate on what needs to be done now.

 

It is essential that the cases that may now be brought are fast-tracked. It has been suggested that there should be a special prosecutor to enable that to happen. I support that proposal. If there is a special prosecutor, sufficient resources must be made available to make swift action possible and there must be no financial cost to the victims’ families. The scope of the investigations and possible prosecutions should be wide and there should be no restrictions. The role of the CPS in the wake of the disaster and the subsequent inquiry by West Yorkshire police should be examined closely.

 

It is essential that there is parliamentary oversight of what happens from now on to ensure that the momentum is maintained and that any problems are identified and resolved. I was interested to hear the comments of the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee on how the Committee might follow this up. I have confidence that the Home Secretary will want to follow up what happens. It is also important that Parliament is kept informed of developments across the range of activities and actions, so that we know what progress is made and so that any problems are identified and resolved swiftly. There must be no more hiding of the truth, and the public and Parliament must not be prevented from knowing exactly what is happening.

 

I welcome the Attorney-General’s decision to apply to the High Court for new inquests. I also welcome the statements made by the Home Secretary on how that can be taken forward. The Attorney-General has stated clearly that he must listen to the representations of individual bereaved families on their cases and on what should happen. That must be done, because due process is an essential part of justice. However, action should be as swift as possible, and there must not be any more undue delays. The accidental death verdicts must be quashed, but how long will that process take? Resources must be made available to expedite it.

 

New inquests are absolutely essential, and they will confirm the absurdity of the damaging and always unjustified decision taken by the coroner to impose a 3.15 pm cut-off point. New inquests will unlock the door to exposing the horrendous inadequacy of the emergency services’ response to this major disaster, as well as the orchestrated cover-up that followed. After all, thanks to the work of the Hillsborough panel and the unprecedented disclosures made to it, we now know that more than 160 statements were altered to cover up culpability for what happened. If required, the law should be changed to enable the IPCC to question all those involved at the time and consider actions against organisations, as well as individuals, where necessary.

 

The campaigners have fought for 23 years to bring us to this point, but Parliament, too, has had a role in listening to the sustained and strong representations of the bereaved and the traumatised. Through the then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), and my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), Parliament set up the Hillsborough inquiry, and the Government of the day enabled unprecedented access to documents so that the Hillsborough panel could consider all the information available, including information that had been hidden from public view and would not normally have been available for many years, if ever. Parliament must now ensure that we move swiftly from exposure of the truth to accountability for what happened. The 96 and their families, and all those who have suffered, deserve no less. I know that Parliament is determined to pursue the matter, and tonight’s debate must help to make that a reality.

West Coast Mainline

The Transport Select Committee will call the Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin MP, and the Permanent Secretary at the Department for Transport, Philip Rutnam, to give oral evidence on the cancellation of the competition to run the West Coast Main Line franchise on Wednesday 31 October  at 2pm.

It is astonishing that the Government has had to cancel the West Coast Main Line franchise competition and delay other competitions.

Just last month the Secretary of State told the Transport Select Committee that he was content with how the Department for Transport had handled the West Coast Main Line competition and that Virgin’s challenge to the outcome would be defended robustly.

I expect the Department’s review of what went wrong to be available by the end of this month and we will want to examine that very carefully. We will also want to know how much this episode has cost the taxpayer, what lessons will be learnt, and what will be the wider implications for franchising.

In addition, I expect the Committee to look closely at the Government’s review of franchising when it is published at the end of this year.