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Mr. Garnier: The Secretary of State knows precisely what the answer to that question is because he had a discussion recently with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve). Our Bill of rights will replace it.
Mr. Garnier: I know that the Secretary of State is deaf in one ear, but he heard the answer clearly yesterday. I repeat that we intend to remove it from the statute book and replace it with our better version
Mr. Garnier: It is a no; that is right. Well done! I am delighted. It is almost a no that this Bill will get a Third Reading. The other place will not suffer the same time constraints and will not be bullied by Government business managers, and I am sure that it will produce a far better Bill.
Yesterday, the Governments timetable motion allowed only the clause 11 discussion to take place. All the other stuff on homicide, assisted suicide and other aspects of the coronial system had to fall by the wayside, and that is not a good way to construct legislation. Today, we were not able to complete all the timetabled business. Is that because the Government did not want those issues discussed? Did they not have the self-confidence to allow that discussion? Either way, we are left with a duff bit of plum duff, a curates egg. I hope that the other place will not feel in the least bit inhibited by the Governments attitude to civil rights or the proper way to deal with legislation, and I trust that when the Bill comes back to this place in a few months, it will be greatly improved.
The Minister was right to say that several parts of the Bill have received all-party support. She was also right to say that it is a better Bill than when it was introduced, especially after the removal of the information-sharing provisions. As I said yesterday, the jurors inquest provisions are slightly better than they were when we started. However, as we made clear yesterday, they have not improved enough. They still permit the exclusion of juries in cases in which it is essential that they are involved, and they still far too easily exclude the families involved.
The rest of the Bill has scarcely been scrutinised at all and it is scandalous that we should pass the Bill in its present form. Several of the matters that we have discussed tonight are still not right. The data commissioner, for example, still has insufficient powers, especially over the private sector. The Sentencing Council provisions are still biased in favour of an old-fashioned, backward-looking view of the criminal justice system. The anonymous witness provisions are still seriously flawed. They fail to
recognise the importance of special counsel and the Government have not responded to the penetrating debate in Committee about threats to property and how they should be handled in this legislation. We have not even reached the provisions for criminal memoirs and, although they are fine in principle, many of the details are confused and will cause serious difficulty if they reach the statute book in their present form. Above all, however, what happened yesterday means that the Bill cannot be passed in its present form. The motion before us says that the Bill be now read a Third time, and it is the word now to which I object. Virtually none of the provisions on coroners were reached. Amendments to do with the duties of coroners, the make-up of inquest juries and how the medical examiner system would work and be governed were simply not discussed. There are serious problems in all those elements of the Bill.
Even more importantand for me this is crucialis the issue of the law on murder. The Bill reforms the whole law on murder, and the defences against it, but discussion in Committee revealed important weaknesses in the Governments approach to what is the most serious of crimes. We put forward an entirely different approach that took into account the Law Commissions original recommendationswhich the Government ignoredand what was said in Committee. Those proposals have not been discussed at all.
In many respects, the law on murderwhat counts as murderremains too narrow for some cases and too broad for others. What counts as murder does not respond fully to what the public would understand by the word murder. Many deaths that the law would see as murder would be counted as accidental by most people, yet many other deaths are counted by the law as only manslaughter when most people would regard them as murder. That aspect of the law, which the Law Commission attempted to reform, has not been reformed at all by the Bill.
The Governments diminished responsibility reforms are retrograde. They introduce far too much detail and specificity into a defence whose main function is to allow the jury to do justice. The introduction of an over medicalised form of defenceas the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) said, it does not include any consideration of developmental immaturity in young peopleis only part of the problem. Other difficulties include the fact that the Bill uses far too strict a notion of causation, with the result that the Government are restricting a defence that should not be restricted.
The Bill proposes that the notion of provocation to murder should be replaced by a defence of loss of control, but that is entirely unsatisfactory. In Committee, it became clear that the Government were jamming together two different types of situation. In one, a person can claim to have been justifiably angry at the victim of the homicide, with the result that the charge can be reduced to manslaughter. It is right in such cases that the defenceit is a sort of blame the victim defenceshould be as narrow as possible. The test of loss of control remains perfectly proper in those cases, but the Bill confuses them with cases in which the defendants fear of what might happen, rather than his anger, is at issue.
Cases in the latter category include those that involve abused wives, but the Government have insisted, in the way that the Bill has been drafted, on maintaining a requirement for loss of control in those cases. I do not think that justice can be done if loss of control is included in such cases. Many of us came to the conclusion that cases based on anger and on fear should be entirely separate, yet the Government have not allowed any debate on that. I think that we are on the edge of a historic mistake in the law on murder, and it has all come about thanks to the procedural foul-ups in the way that the Government set up the debate.
The Bill is still seriously defective. In one regardthe proposed secret, juryless inquestsit is objectionable, but it has not been scrutinised enough. I cannot vote for, and must vote against, a motion that includes that word now.
Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): I should like to speak briefly in support of the aspects of the Bill, as amended, that have an impact on Scotland. Of course, some of the matters raised in the debate, and some amendmentssome pursued, some droppedwere contentious, but they affect only England and Wales, although there are minor provisions affecting Northern Ireland. I want to speak about the amendments, tabled for the first time yesterday, on fatal accident inquiries into overseas military deaths.
For the past 41 years, the bodies of service personnel stationed in Scotland who suffered a military death overseas have been repatriated, but there have never been legal proceedings in Scotland. All bodies returned to the UK were returned to England, where coroners courts undertook their duty of helping families to understand the circumstances of the death of loved ones. I have attended coroners inquests in Oxfordshire, and I pay tribute to coroners who have spent time trying to get to the bottom of tragic circumstances.
The Ministers involved, both here and in Edinburgh, have recognised that the current situation is no longer tenable. It is not fair that the English and Welsh legal system should carry all responsibility for inquiring into the background of overseas military deaths, while the Scots legal systeman excellent legal systemplays no part. I am pleased that there has been a confluence of interest in getting the situation resolved. It has been a technical process, and there are issues between the legal systems. However, a mechanism has been agreed for the repatriation of bodies and the transferral of cases, should that be necessary. In truth, we do not know how the mechanism will operate, although it was agreed in good faith. I hope that the proceedings will never be needed. Of course, we hope that nobody dies overseas in military service, but at a time when the UK military has a very fast tempo of military operations, sadly there are too-frequent deaths. Unfortunately, it is to be expected that the amendments, now part of the Bill, will move into operation.
People have listened in recent months and years to the families of service personnel, whether it be to those involved in the recent tragic case of Nimrod XV230, to Rose Gentle or to many other service families in Scotland, who have said that the burden and stress put on their families by having to travel far to coroners inquests
down south was very difficult. The changes will remedy all that. We will look closely at how the system operates in practice.
Those are the only measures in the Bill that relate to Scotland; all the other matters of contentiondata sharing, murder and assisted suiciderelate entirely to England and Wales. There are also some provisions that pertain to Northern Ireland. The only measures in the Bill that apply to Scotland relate to fatal accident inquiries into overseas military deaths, and that is why the Scottish National party will support the Government tonight.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): There are elements of the Bill with which I profoundly disagree, and I shall have no hesitation in following the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) this evening. I want to touch on the matters that were not debated yesterday on Reportthe changes to the coroner system. I have no doubt that the system could be improved further, but I respect the Governments intentions in changing the architecture of the coroner system, and in making significant improvements to its operation.
My interest in the subject was sparked largely by the experiences of a constituent of mine, Mr. Alick Moore, who sadly lost his son on 15 October 2004 in a diving accident. Mr. Moore and his family had to wait four and a half years for an inquest to be held, with very little information on the protracted investigations of the Health and Safety Executive and the police into the circumstances of his sons death. There was little apparent co-ordination, and a very unsatisfactory conclusion at the end. That, and the treatment that Mr. Moore received at the inquest, persuaded me that serious questions need to be asked. I have been in a long correspondence on the subject with various authorities, including the Attorney-General and the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Bridget Prentice). I should like to say how grateful I am for the way in which she addressed the concerns raised by Mr. Moore in her most recent letter to him. I know that he very much appreciates the care she took in responding to the points that he put.
I hope that the outstanding questionswork-related deathswill be resolved in the further stages of the Bill, if it passes to another place. The work-related death protocol has been ineffective in ensuring proper co-operation between the investigating authorities, particularly the HSE and the Crown Prosecution Service. I am dismayed that the wait that Mr. Moore had to experience is so often seen as the norm. My question to Ministers is whether they believe the Bill will cure that chronic problem of delay in investigation and delay in inquests being held.
It is essential that the investigative period is substantially reduced in order to provide comfort to the bereaved family at an early stage, and so that at the time of the inquest they have clear and conclusive reasons for a prosecution being pursued or not. The key point that Mr. Moore would want to raise with the Minister is how we reduce that very long and entirely unacceptable period between the death and the results of any investigation.
Other issues include the degree to which bereaved families are represented in court. In work-related deaths, corporate respondents to the inquest are often well and expensively represented. The family do not have that
opportunity. We should look at whether, within the guidance and the funding of the inquest system, we can provide for families to be properly represented where there are questions that need to be put on behalf of the family about the circumstances of death.
One of the things that my constituent found most difficult about the circumstances that he faced was the point-blank refusal of the coroner to communicate effectively with him until the inquest was completed, and even after that time, when he was not prepared to give any reasons for reaching his conclusions, having set aside what had already been accepted as a partial liability on the part of the company involved. That is unsatisfactory.
I hope the charter for the bereaved that the Under-Secretary mentioned will deal with some of those issues. Clear guidance must be given to coroners on the extent that they can communicate with and have a dialogue with bereaved families without prejudicing the conduct of the inquest. That seems to me to be a crucial point if we are to provide a proper service to bereaved families.
Despite my deep reservations about other parts of the Bill, I think the Government are moving in the right direction in the reform of the coronial system. I wish we had had a separate coroners Bill that dealt with that, rather than with all the other excrescences that have been added. Although I shall join my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge in the Lobby this evening against the Bill, I very much hope that reform of the coronial system will survive parliamentary scrutiny and will be improved in another place, and that we shall see a real improvement in the services offered to families in future.
Simon Hughes: I share the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), and the views that my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) expressed about the Bill. I share the frustration of colleagues who found that they were unable to debate so much of what they wanted to debate yesterday.
I return to the subject on which I intervened on the Minister. One of the things that will be a tribute both to the Minister and to the Government and that I hope will survive in the other place is a better system of protection of witnesses. When Tony Blair was Prime Minister, he made it clear that he was committed to changing the justice system so that victims and witnesses were better protected, and the Secretary of State for Justice and his team have said the same.
One of the tests of whether the Bill becomes decent legislation after scrutiny by the House of Lords is whether all those who would like to give evidence but are frightened feel that they can do so. The Minister replied positively to me about that. But whatever the shape of the Bill when it finishes its passage through both Houses, information about the protection given needs to be clearly, simply and urgently disseminatedin particular that the witness protection service works, and works well. I am still dealing with a family who have not yet had a satisfactory resolution, because of the witness protection services difficulty in achieving it, following a domestic violence case of great seriousness several years ago. Clearly, that is not a satisfactory state of affairs.
The coroners court in my constituency has a good reputation, but that has not always been true of other coroners courts around the country. The Minister shared
with me her knowledge of the frustration of those such as the recently deceased and much lamented Eileen Dallaglio, who fought for so long to get what they regarded as justice for their children or relatives who died in the Marchioness disaster. As a result of their complaints, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) was eventually extremely helpful in providing a public inquiry. One of the reasons that a public inquiry was needed was that the coroner system, through delay, insensitivity and not allowing the families to take part in the process and get answers to the questions that they rightly wanted to asknot just about the causes of death following that sinking in the Thames more than a decade ago, but about personal matters such as what happened when hands were chopped off bodies, which was unacceptablehad failed those families.
The Minister and her colleagues are well aware of the concern, expressed in cases that we are still dealing with, about what happens when a British citizen dies abroad and the investigation by the domestic authorities of a foreign country is thought to be inadequate. Sometimes the matter comes back to be considered by coroners courts in this countryI am not talking about service deaths, which have been long debated. That issue is rightly a cause for concern among Members of Parliament, and by the time the Bill becomes law I hope that we will be able to say with confidence to our constituents that wherever a British person died, we will have a system that, at home or abroad, ensures the best possible investigation, answers to questions and a sense of closure, with justice. The Minister and her colleagues desperately want that, as do I and my colleagues.
Dr. Evan Harris: In the three minutes remaining for scrutiny of the Bill [Interruption.] It is unbecoming for Government Whips who have conspiredI choose the word carefullyto ensure inadequate scrutiny, to protest from a sedentary position when a Member wants to discuss the Bill. They should recognise what has happened.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights spent a lot of time scrutinising the Bill. We were pleased by the speed with which the Minister replied to our letters. It must also be noted that the Government were willing to provide extra days in Committee, and that they provided two days on Report, when the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill got only one day [Interruption.] The Government Whip, the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), says that it was himcongratulations. However, is it not a pity to spoil it all with the programme motion, whereby important chunks of the Bill were not scrutinised? Ministers have done an excellent job
So much was done well by the Government, it is a pity that they failed on the fundamental question of Members being able to amend and debate important parts of the criminal law such as murder. To fail at that hurdle is unfortunate. In a spirit of compromise, I ask
whether the Government will reflect on whether programme motions can better be used, in consultation with the Opposition parties, to ensure that if there is failure, we all fail, rather than us having sometimes unseemly rows about the failure to scrutinise. That does not look good, particularly given what the Prime Minister has said about the importance of the House being able to scrutinise. The Bill involves important matters, and those who have not been in Committee feel that this is their only chance to get stuck in. We have had good debates about some of the other issues. I urge the Secretary of State, who is listening, to think about what I have said and talk to his colleagues about it.
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