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Freedom of Information Act 2000

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Vera Baird): My right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice has made the following written ministerial statement.

“Confidence and confidentiality: Openness in family courts - a new approach”

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Ms Harriet Harman): My noble Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, has made the following written ministerial statement.

Inquests Into the Deaths of Servicemen

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Ms Harriet Harman): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and I wish to make the following statement to the House about the inquests of servicemen and women who have died overseas where jurisdiction has been assumed by the Oxfordshire coroner, Nicholas Gardiner, and the Wiltshire and Swindon coroner, David Masters.

All casualties suffered by the UK armed forces are a source of profound regret. UK service personnel have put their lives on the line to help build strong, stable and democratic nations and protect the interests of the United Kingdom and we cannot pay high enough tribute to the job they are doing, or the sacrifice some of them have made. We are committed to assisting the families of UK service personnel who have died on operations overseas when their loved ones are returned to the UK.

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We made statements to the House on 5 June 2006, Official Report, column 4WS; 12 October 2006, Official Report, column 26WS; 18 December 2006, Official Report, column 112WS and 29 March 2007, Official Report, column 121WS, with information about the conduct of inquests by the Oxfordshire coroner and today we are announcing progress which has been made since the written ministerial statement in March.


Coroners are independent judicial officers appointed and paid for by the relevant local authority. Their officers and staff are employed by the local authority and/or the police.

Each death of a serviceman or woman killed in an operation overseas whose body is repatriated to England and Wales is subject to an inquest. The inquest, both the investigation into the death and the holding of the public hearing into the death, is conducted by the coroner with jurisdiction which derives from where the body lies.

In the case of deaths of servicemen and women whose bodies were flown into Brize Norton military airbase until it could no longer be used for repatriations on 31 March 2007, the Oxfordshire coroner has initial jurisdiction. In the case of deaths of servicemen and women whose bodies have been flown into Lyneham military airbase since 1 April 2007, the Wiltshire and Swindon coroner has initial jurisdiction.

The coroner has powers under the Coroners Act 1988 to transfer jurisdiction to another coroner while the body is still lying within his district and with the consent of the other coroner. Since late December 2006 the Oxfordshire coroner’s practice was to transfer jurisdiction to coroners closer to the next of kin wherever possible; this practice has been continued by the Wiltshire and Swindon coroner since 1 April 2007.

Progress with the Remaining Inquests

At the time of the March written ministerial statement, 56 inquests had been held, 46 into the deaths of servicemen and 10 into the deaths of civilians in Iraq whose bodies were repatriated via RAF Brize Norton.

A further 16 inquests have been held into the deaths of servicemen, making a total of 72 inquests which have been held since June 2006.

Of these 72 inquests the Oxfordshire coroner, Nicholas Gardiner, has conducted five, Assistant Deputy Oxfordshire coroner Sir Richard Curtis six, Assistant Deputy Oxfordshire coroner Selena Lynch 28, Assistant Deputy Oxfordshire coroner Andrew Walker 32 and the Greater Manchester West Coroner Jennifer Leeming one.

Oxfordshire Coroner’s Jurisdiction

There remain 11 inquests to be concluded into the deaths of service personnel in military conflicts and exercises overseas and four inquests into the deaths of civilians who lost their lives in Iraq and whose bodies were repatriated to Brize Norton before 16 May 2006. This includes the death of a serviceman on an exercise in California in December 2005, details of which we have recently been advised by the coroner.

The oldest outstanding military inquest in the Oxfordshire coroner’s jurisdiction is the inquest into
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the death of Corporal Allbutt on 25 March 2003 which will be heard on 29 June 2007. The oldest outstanding civilian death inquest in the Oxfordshire coroner’s jurisdiction is the inquest into the death of Antonio Jose Monteiro Abelha on 22 June 2006. This inquest will be heard on 13 July 2007.

The four outstanding civilian inquests all have a hearing date. All but one of the outstanding inquests into servicemen’s deaths before 16 May 2006 have a hearing date and these inquests are due to be heard by the end of October 2007. The MOD recently determined that there should be a board of inquiry in the case of Lieutenant Palmer who died on 28 February 2006. His inquest will not be heard until 2008.

Of the 66 more recent cases since 16 May 2006, and which have been repatriated via Brize Norton, the Oxfordshire coroner has retained jurisdiction in 50 cases and has transferred 16 inquests to other coroners with jurisdiction closer to the next of kin of which one inquest has been held. Of those retained by the Oxfordshire coroner, pre-inquest hearing dates have been set in 17 cases, hearing dates set in nine cases and progress made in the remainder. Of the 15 inquests which have been transferred to other coroners, progress has been made and dates set for three inquests.

Wiltshire and Swindon Coroner’s Jurisdiction

There remain 10 inquests into fatalities which were repatriated via RAF Lyneham prior to 16 May 2006. These relate to the deaths of 10 crew members who died together in the crash of Hercules XV179 on 30 January 2005. The coroner held a pre inquest hearing in February 2007 and hopes to fix a date for the inquest after a further pre-inquest hearing in July and August.

A further 22 inquests relating to deaths since 16 May 2006 fall within the jurisdiction of the Wiltshire and Swindon coroner. Of these the Wiltshire and Swindon coroner has transferred or is in the process of transferring 12 inquests to other coroners with jurisdiction closer to the next of kin. A further inquest has been heard by the Liverpool coroner, André Rebello.

We are very grateful for the efforts of all the coroners involved in conducting these inquests.

We shall continue to keep the House informed on a quarterly basis about progress through the remaining inquests. I have placed a table in the Library which outlines the status of all cases and the date of death of each case. Copies are also available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

Liaison with the Next of Kin

It is of the greatest importance that the next of kin have full information about the progress on the inquest of their deceased next of kin.

In order to further improve the service to families, I invited to meet me on 4 December 2006 the families of service personnel who died in Iraq whose inquests had been held. We are grateful to the 17 relatives of the 12 deceased servicemen and women who gave us the benefit of their views and experiences so as to improve the inquest system for the benefit of future families of members of the armed service who die abroad.

Following that meeting we have been working on better supporting bereaved military families. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence
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issued a written ministerial statement on 7 June, Official Report, column 26WS giving details of the support which is now being provided.

Cabinet Office

Regulatory Impact Assessment

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Pat McFadden): I have today presented to Parliament a Command Paper listing regulatory impact assessments published between July and December 2006. This is the Twenty-Sixth Command Paper.

The Government are committed to ensuring that regulations are necessary, give effective protection, balance cost and risk, are fair and command public confidence.

In accordance with this, we require Departments to produce and publish regulatory impact assessments for all regulatory proposals likely to have an impact on business, charities or voluntary bodies and the public sector.

Copies have been placed in the library for the reference of members and will be available in the Vote Office.

Trade and Industry

Competitiveness Council

The Minister for Science and Innovation (Malcolm Wicks): I will be attending the Competitiveness Council in Luxembourg on 25 June.

The Council will be chaired by Annette Schavan, German Federal Minister for Research and Education.

The first item on the agenda is the proposal for a Regulation establishing the European Institute of Technology. This proposal will be put for a Council general approach. While the UK is generally content with the way in which the EIT proposal has evolved, the financial aspects of the proposal need to be dealt with satisfactorily.

The next item on the agenda is on knowledge transfer. The Council will adopt conclusions on a Communication from the Commission on knowledge transfer and a Presidency initiative for a Charter for the management of intellectual property from public research institutions and universities. The UK supports the need for better knowledge transfer between universities and business, in line with the Lambert Review.

This will be followed by the adoption of Council conclusions on a report from the Scientific and Technical Research Committee (CREST) on “how to make better coordinated use of Structural funds and the Framework Programme to support R&D.” The UK supports the coordinated use of these major EU funding programmes in support of the Lisbon Agenda.

The next item on the agenda is a Green Paper on the future of the European Research Area. There will be
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an exchange of views on this. The UK considers future EU research policy to be an important component of the Lisbon strategy and supports the consultation on the Green Paper.

Eight items will be taken under Any Other Business:

General Affairs and External Relations Council

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Alistair Darling): I will be attending the extraordinary meeting of the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) in Luxembourg on 25 June, which has been called due to the likelihood of important developments in the Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations.

The Council will be chaired by Bernd Pfaffenbach, State Secretary in the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Labour. EU member states will be represented at the GAERC by Trade Ministers, rather than Foreign Ministers, due to the issue to be discussed.

The item on the agenda will be the Doha Development Round of multilateral trade negotiations. The meeting will review progress made during the negotiations between the G4 group of countries (EU, US, Brazil and India) between the 19-22 June, and discuss how these negotiations should be taken forward during the next few months, which represent a critical period in the negotiations. The Council is likely to adopt Conclusions to guide the Commission's negotiations on behalf of the EU at this meeting.

A further written statement will be prepared after the meeting has taken place.

Bevin Boys Badge

The Minister for Science and Innovation (Malcolm Wicks): My noble friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy, Lord Truscott has made the following written statement.

Following the Prime Minister’s statement on 24 January this year in relation to the recognition of the contribution made by the Bevin Boys who worked in the UK coalfields during and immediately after World War II I would like to update the House on the recent developments.

Members will be aware that the Bevin Boys scheme was introduced in 1943 by then Minister for Labour
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and National Service, Ernest Bevin, in response to an increasing shortage of labour in the coal mining industry. The scheme ran between 1943 and 1948 and involved recruiting men aged between 18 and 25 years to work in coal mines rather than serve in the armed forces. Some 48,000 men worked in the mines under the scheme.

I am delighted to announce that the DTI is launching today a lapel badge in recognition of the contribution this group made to the war effort.

Of the 48,000 some 43 per cent. were conscripted directly into the mines and are known more generally as “ballotees”. The remaining 57 per cent. were those who opted for mine work in preference to joining the armed forces or those who were in the armed forces and volunteered to become miners. Only those who fall into these categories will be eligible for the badge.

The Bevin Boys Badge is a survivors badge and I would encourage Bevin Boy veterans to wear it in public in order visibly to raise awareness of the important role they played during World War II and in the postwar reconstruction of the UK. Widows and estates will not eligible.

The application process for the badge will be launched towards the end of the year. With a view to the first badge being awarded to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the demobilisation of the final Bevin Boys in March 2008.

The DTI have worked closely with the Bevin Boys Association, who have expressed their extreme pleasure at the introduction, to ensure that the design of the badge suitably reflects the work they carried out. It is important that we never forget the sacrifices that were made both at home and abroad during the war, and this badge is a fitting way to remember the Bevin Boys’ work to keep the coalfields going.

A copy of the badge design has been placed in the Library.

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