The Government expects to publish its response to the Hillsborough report “in the course of this spring”, a Home Office minister said amid strong cross-party calls to act.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper questioned the absence from the Commons of Home Secretary Suella Braverman, saying “it is a devastating failure of responsibility and respect” to the Hillsborough families “not to be here to respond”.
Responding to an urgent question on the national police response to the Hillsborough Families report, Home Office minister Chris Philp said: “The Government is fully committed to engaging with the Hillsborough families prior to the publication of the Government’s formal response.
“And I can also say that in particular since arriving in the Home Office two or three months ago, I have asked for this work to be sped up and we are expecting it to come out in the course of this spring.”
Mr Philp added: “The National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing published their response earlier this week. I welcome their commitment to avoiding repeating the mistakes that were made and for the apology which they gave. They made clear that strong ethical values, the need for humanity and humility in the police response to public tragedies is critical.
“And one of the commitments they made rightly earlier this week is to substantially strengthen and update their own code of ethics in relation to these issues.”
The police apology for the Hillsborough disaster is “far too little, far too late”, the Labour MP for Liverpool, West Derby Ian Byrne said, noting the former bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd James Jones, delivered his Hillsborough report in 2017.
Mr Byrne, a survivor of the 1989 tragedy, said: “Yesterday’s recommendations from the police did not go anywhere near far enough to change the culture we came up against in our quest for justice. So I ask the minister, will this Government do the right thing for future generations of our nation and implement a Hillsborough Law, containing Bishop Jones’s recommendations with immediate effect?”
Conservative former prime minister Theresa May called on the Government to publish its response to the Hillsborough report and for the introduction of an independent public advocate.
She told the Commons: “The apology from the police is of course welcome, but frankly it would have been far better for them to have done their job properly on that fateful April day 34 years ago.”
The Maidenhead MP added: “Can I say first to (him), saying vaguely that the Government’s response will be available this spring, I do not think is good enough.
“Five years on, the Government must publish its response.
“But will he agree with me that one of the elements that can be put in place to help families who, if sadly such an event or tragedy of this sort happens in the future, is the introduction of what was promised in the Conservative Party manifesto in 2017 of an independent public advocate?
“And will he commit now that the Home Office will not put any barriers in the way of the work of the Ministry of Justice to introduce such a body?”
Mr Philp said: “A public consultation has taken place on that and the response is being worked through in the usual way but it’s happening at pace.”
Shadow home secretary Ms Cooper said it is “even more shameful that there is still no Government response to what has happened”.
She said: “The Home Secretary yesterday said it was because of active criminal proceedings but those finished 18 months ago and the work could have taken place even while those proceedings were ongoing.”
She added: “Where is she (Ms Braverman) today? Because previous home secretaries have shown the respect to the families and to the appalling ways in which they have been wronged by being here to respond and it is a devastating failure of responsibility and respect to them not to be here to respond.”
The Hillsborough disaster was a tragedy. The lies, smears and cover-ups that followed were an absolute disgrace… so the extended delay in getting this response out just makes it even worse— Conservative former minister Kevin Foster
She called on the Government to “commit to support that Hillsborough Law”, adding: “On the duty of candour, on the public advocate, on the elements of the Hillsborough Law, the Labour Party stands ready to support that law to get it into statute.
“So will the Government now commit to support that Hillsborough Law and to recognise what the bishop has said about it being intolerable – the pain to those families not to have a response?”
Mr Philp said: “Since I was appointed I’ve asked for this work to be sped up and it will be concluded very rapidly.”
On the independent public advocate, Conservative former Cabinet minister Sir Robert Buckland asked: “The consultation was five years ago. What’s stopping the Government from doing this?”
Mr Philp said: “The usual processes in Government are going on in relation to responding to that consultation and as soon the Ministry of Justice are able to make an announcement on this they will most certainly be doing so.”
Conservative former minister Kevin Foster said: “The Hillsborough disaster was a tragedy. The lies, smears and cover-ups that followed were an absolute disgrace… so the extended delay in getting this response out just makes it even worse.”
Labour former minister Derek Twigg, who was at the Hillsborough disaster, said: “It is an absolute disgrace that the Home Secretary was sat on those benches just before this debate has started and has left.”
He added: “This is adding to that torture of the families and those people who are affected by Hillsborough… Saying that you hope to have a response by the spring is just not good enough.”
Conservative former minister Sir Christopher Chope called on the Government to stop “blocking” a Bill that could introduce an independent public advocate.
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.