We are not just acting for people on prepayment meters or trying to get a better deal for people who pay by a standard payment method; we are taking action to

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get a better deal for people on direct debits as well, because they do not always get a fantastic deal. We know that many people do not realise they are inadvertently building up stores of credit with the energy companies, as has been highlighted by Members on both sides of the House, including the hon. Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott), I believe. We will soon be announcing proposals that will give consumers a much better deal. That is just one of the measures we are taking to get a better deal for British consumers, particularly the most vulnerable, and comes on top of the £135 warm home discount, guaranteed winter fuel payments for pensioners and energy efficiency support for the most vulnerable through the ECO.

This has been a good debate. I am pleased that we were able to benefit from expertise from across the House and that the concerns shared across the House on this issue were properly aired. I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Harlow and for Chatham and Aylesford for bringing it to the Floor of the House and allowing us to demonstrate that this coalition is taking action for British consumers.

6.50 pm

Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con): When my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) asked me if I would wind up this debate, I thought it would be a great privilege. Now as I stand here, with my intelligent and beautiful Whip—my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Anne Milton)—sitting on the Front Bench with her pen poised, I am beginning to wonder whether this will determine whether I shall be a Minister in the future. The Minister was kind enough to offer me some advice, which was: “You’ll do a good job, but please try not to do a great job.” I shall therefore do my best to satisfy both the Whip and the Minister, but also to reflect the important aspects raised in this afternoon’s debate.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing this important debate and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow on securing it. He is a tireless campaigner who always puts his case so expertly, as he has today. His speech was very clear in setting out the scale of the problem. He recognised that the Government have done much on the need to protect consumers, especially when experiencing additional charges. He outlined the case incredibly well, as did many others.

It is important to note that until the shadow Minister’s speech and the Minister’s speech, there was a great deal of consensus across the House on helping the most vulnerable consumers. The motion focuses on the 17 energy companies that are subjecting customers who do not want to pay by direct debits to charges. It is a great honour that 179 colleagues signed the motion, which shows how important this issue is to us in representing our constituents.

Those who spoke did so with passion. The hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) did a great job of standing in at the start. He spoke on energy prices in general and praised the work of the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change. Like him, I was reluctant to switch to direct debit initially, preferring, like millions of other people across the country, to have control over when I pay my bills, based on the energy I use. That was reflected in many contributions this afternoon.

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The hon. Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue) is a consumer champion on many issues. Her emphasis today on prepayment meters demonstrated characteristic concern for our poorest in society. I listened carefully to what she had to say. The hon. Member for Redcar (Ian Swales) spoke of one of his constituents and raised similar concerns about prepayment meters. The Minister heard those concerns loud and clear, as I am sure did those listening to the debate. I hope that the energy companies also took on board some of the issues that were raised.

The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) used constituency casework as the basis of her contribution to today’s debate. I was fascinated by the excellent project she highlighted, an advice day surgery involving the big six. With her permission, I might steal it for my constituency, which has areas of deprivation and where we see concerns among particular pockets of energy consumers about paying their bills. I will be in touch with her office to find out precisely how she did that.

The hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) said that the charges should be seen in a wider economic context. She also said that many people felt that they were being penalised for not paying by direct debit, a view that was reflected throughout the debate. I agree with the hon. Member for Angus (Mr Weir) that this is as much about social exclusion as it is about unfair charges for those who cannot pay for utilities by direct debit because, for example, they do not have bank accounts. He made that case extremely well.

As a fellow south-east Member, I agree with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) about rural broadband. However, I think it important to note that those who pay online are not immune to stealth charges. The problem does not just affect those who post cheques or take them to the post office.

The hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) made an incredibly important contribution on behalf of his constituents. He pointed out that 38% of people in Northern Ireland pay bills by direct debit, as against 55% in the United Kingdom overall. I thought that that was a very interesting statistic, and I hope that work will be done to establish the reason for it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark) spoke of the need for fairness and transparency for our constituents, especially, but not exclusively, the elderly. He said that those who paid bills on time should not be penalised. He also made the very fair point that Labour Members, who had been very critical of some of the Government’s measures, had had 13 years in which to sort the problem out, and had not done so.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) praised the good work of Christians Against Poverty, and spoke of the importance of social contact to those

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who pay their bills at the post office. As a Member of Parliament who highlights the problem of isolation, particularly among the elderly, he was absolutely right to raise that issue.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) certainly made amends for not signing the motion by speaking so knowledgeably about the issue. That was hardly surprising, given his long-term advocacy of consumer protection. He did a good job in, as it were, providing the 180th signature.

I have a great deal of time and respect for the hon. Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott), whom I call a friend outside the Chamber, but I have to say that, given the tone of the debate, I was rather disappointed by her response. Opposition Members should remember that the ripping off of consumers by energy companies did not begin in May 2010, and that the Labour party had 13 years in which to stand up for vulnerable consumers and did not do so. The Minister made that point as well, but I was very sad that the debate ended on a party political note.

I was thrilled to become involved in the campaign initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow. Like many others, I did so because I was contacted by a constituent. Mr Steele, who lives in Lordswood, contacted me because he wanted to pay a number of utility bills online, but felt that he was being penalised for doing so. He said that British Gas had had the cheek to remind him that he would have been £67 better off if he had paid his gas bill by direct debit, and £33 better off if he had paid his electricity bill by that method.

It has been made very clear that Members want more transparency for their constituents when it comes to energy charges. We know that the charges are high and that they are often hard to justify in view of price increases and the large profits made by the industry, but it is unacceptable that customers are being penalised for choosing to manage their payments in a way that is convenient for them. The motion notes that 45% of people do not pay their energy bills by direct debit, and are being charged for not doing so. I hope that the energy companies will note what has been said here today, and will rectify the position immediately.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House is disappointed that 17 energy companies in the UK charge their customers more if they do not pay their bills by direct debit; acknowledges that some firms do not charge their customers any extra at all; notes that Department of Energy and Climate Change statistics show that this adds £114 to the average consumer’s bill; further notes that 45 per cent of people do not pay their energy bills by direct debit; recognises that over one million people in the UK do not have access to a bank account; believes that these charges are a stealth tax on the poor; and therefore urges Ofgem to hold an inquiry into these practices, encourages energy companies to operate with more transparency, and urges the Government to consider ways of limiting these charges, such as by introducing a cap.

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Planned Closure of the Portland Coastguard Helicopter Base

7 pm

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con): Picking up on the campaign zeal I have experienced in the past 20 minutes in the Chamber, may I say our fight to retain the Portland search and rescue helicopter continues? The petitioners have raised 105,000 or more signatures and I want to pay special tribute to the team that in the main went out in wind or rain: Belinda Craig, Patricia Joy, Debra Joy and Shelley Cutler. I also want to thank Roger McPherson, who has played a large part in co-ordinating that, Councillor Sandy West, a Labour councillor on the island of Portland, who has been very supportive and Dr Ian Mew, a consultant at Dorchester county hospital, who has provided advice and help.

The petition states:

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Department for Transport to reverse the decision to close Portland coastguard helicopter base.

Following is the full text of the petition:

[The Petition of residents of South Dorset,

Declares that the Government plans to close Portland coastguard helicopter base, despite protests from local people, MPs and hospital consultants; and further that the Petitioners believe that there may be lives lost as a result of losing this search and rescue facility.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Department for Transport to reverse the decision to close Portland coastguard helicopter base.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.]


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Deaths in Custody (Legal Aid)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn—(Anne Milton.)

7.1 pm

Mr Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab): I am very sorry to have to rise in my place tonight to bring this debate to the Floor of the House of Commons. For nearly three years I have worked to avoid this debate, and I come here tonight because I have been left with no other choice.

Let me say at the outset that there is no more determined campaigner for the police of my city than me. For 10 years as a Member of this House I have campaigned for bigger, stronger police teams. I have run half-marathons and triathlons to raise money for the West Midlands Police Benevolent Fund, and it has been my privilege on the Floor of the House to praise the bravery of officers such as PC Adam Koch and his colleague who literally risked their lives to save worshippers recently at a Ward End mosque. I am motivated tonight by their courage, because I believe our police are so important to our communities that they deserve to have the best team around them, but I am motivated too by an injustice that I want to bring to the attention of the Government.

Because the police service is a human and not a divine organisation, sometimes there are shortcomings, but if we want the best police service, it is important that we do not stand by when there are shortcomings; it is important that we act. For three years now I have been seeking to help a constituent of mine to act. My constituent’s case is sub judice, but I can give the House the essence. My constituent’s son, a boy she loved, died in police custody—a tragedy the pain of which I, as a father of three children, cannot possibly imagine—but this tragedy is deeper and darker for the alleged culpability of police officers who were paid by us on that night to keep my constituent’s son safe.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): I am very glad my right hon. Friend has brought before the House this issue of people who die in custody. I have informed the Minister of the case of my constituent Philmore Mills. His case is very unusual. He was in hospital in a lung ward, and on 11 December 2011 the staff were made anxious by his behaviour. They called the police and the police restrained him, and he died under police restraint. The inquest into that death is due on 1 April—two and a half years later—yet his family still do not know if they are going to have legal aid for representation at that inquest and they are thus made more anxious still. Their dad was in hospital with a breathing problem, yet he died at the hands of the police. They should be legally represented without having to pay.

Mr Speaker: Order. May I remind Members that they should be very careful about reference to live cases because of the sub judice rule?

Mr Byrne: Thank you, Mr Speaker; I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) for her intervention.

In the months that followed the death of my constituent’s son, the family and I sought, together with the Independent Police Complaints Commission, to ensure that the police

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officers involved were judged. I am sorry to say that they were judged to have been so negligent, and to have fallen so far short of their sworn duty, that they were found guilty of gross misconduct.

Now, the family are approaching the last trial of their strength: the inquest. It will be their final opportunity to find the truth of why and how their son died. Yes, it might bring grief, but I hope that it will also bring closure. The inquest is also important for our community, because it could provide critical insights that would help us to ensure that others need never suffer the same fate.

Despite my representations and the arguments that we have put forward, the family have been told that they must pay to have questions put on their behalf during the proceedings. Like me, they are outraged. The original bill was going to be nearly £7,500. It is true that their costs have now been reduced, but our system has become perverse. The fact that the family are having to provide a smaller cut of their savings cannot be judged a great success.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I thought that my right hon. Friend would like to know that the Home Affairs Select Committee will be opening an inquiry into the issues of deaths in police custody, and policing and mental health, later this year. It will also look into legal aid provision for the families involved.

Mr Byrne: That is very welcome, and I hope that my right hon. Friend and his Committee will be able to draw the right conclusions and, perhaps, use some of the evidence from the case that I am raising here tonight.

My point is very simple: when a family have lost their son while he was in the custody of the state, and when servants of the Crown have been judged guilty of gross misconduct, it is a gross injustice to tell that family that they must now help to pay their costs at the inquest into how their son lost his life.

I know the objections to my arguments. There are few in the House who know the pressures on the legal aid budget as well as I do. As Chief Secretary to the Treasury, I too had to negotiate reductions to that fund. However, if we cannot fund an inquest into a death of which the state appears to be culpable, we have got it wrong. Our article 2 obligations demand a thorough investigation of state action and culpability in cases such as these. Like me, the Minister knows that, following the case of Main in 2007, a wider public interest test must be satisfied if legal aid is to be awarded. A death in state custody, especially when Crown servants have been found negligent, must surely satisfy that test. We in this House agreed to that principle when we passed the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. Section 51 of that Act extended the principle of public funding for advocacy at inquests such as these.

As a parliamentarian, I want to know what happened on that night. That is the wider public interest test that is being satisfied here. I want to know whether we need changes to the law, or to the organisation of the police service. I want to know that, so that I can help to bring those changes forward. I do not want this House, this Government, or this Minister to be kept in the dark. I do not want the comfort of ignorance. I want to know why my constituent’s son died, and I want to know what we must do together in this House to ensure that none of our constituents ever has to face the same fate.

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Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): I have had a similar case in my constituency. The inquest has now taken place, Mr Speaker. James was in his 20s, and he was mentally ill. He was restrained and, unfortunately, died in police custody. When the police force in question has access to unlimited legal advice and expertise at no quantifiable cost, is it not an outrage that the parents, who are so vulnerable at a time like that, should be asked to seek advice from a local solicitor who is not an expert in mental health or deaths in custody?

Mr Byrne: Let me deal with a point directly. The family did not choose to be in this position; the Coroners Act 1988 demands an inquest. We in this House are the people who insist on the position my constituents are now in, and we do so for a very good reason: we want to know what happened. Our predecessors in this Parliament felt so strongly about the unchecked actions of an arbitrary state that they deposed the monarch and fought a war to insist on the liberty of the individual and a measure of their protection—we want to know what happened.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): There were 5,998 deaths in police custody in the 11 years from 1 January 2000 to 31 December 2010. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there must be a method for families to access support in suspicious cases and that legal aid is an important part of that support for grieving families?

Mr Byrne: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Some will say, “We should not get too worked up about this. The inquest process is inquisitorial not adversarial. It is just a gentle canter around the facts.” But when we are dealing with death in custody, it is different. How can we tell? It is because the public servants represented at the inquests will not just have one lawyer; they will have teams of lawyers, paid for by the taxpayer, on their side. We have to ask ourselves: how can we allow such a profound inequality of arms in the inquest room? How can we pretend to ourselves that that is even remotely equal, fair or right? There is now growing evidence, not just in my home city of Birmingham, but across the country, that wrongful legal aid decisions are being made in cases such as this. Many in this House will have seen the tragic case confronting Alex Kelly’s family, which was highlighted in The Observer on Sunday, and INQUEST, an organisation I wish to praise to high heaven, has brought to me a number of other cases where bad decisions are being made in our name.

In the short time remaining to me, I want to put five questions to the Minister. I appreciate that he will not be able to answer all of them tonight, so I hope that he will follow up in writing and that the House will be able to return to this subject, perhaps in the light of the report by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) later in the year. First, will the Minister meet me to discuss the legal aid decision in my constituent’s case? The case clearly meets the threshold of having “wider public interest'” set out in section 2.4 of the Legal Services Commission’s funding code criteria, which refers to the “potential” of the proceedings

“to produce real benefits for individuals other than the client”.

Secondly, when will the Lord Chancellor bring into effect section 51 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, which will extend advocacy support to those who died

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in custody? No stand part debate was held on that measure and, to the best of my knowledge, the Minister was not in the House to vote on the Bill on Third Reading. I do not believe the Conservative party or the Liberal Democrats opposed this legislation when it was brought to the House, so will the Government give us a date for bringing in section 51 as soon as possible?

Thirdly, will the Minister confirm that it is ministerial policy, and not simply administrative discretion, to seek a contribution from the family in inquests where a death in state custody has occurred? Fourthly, will the Minister tonight agree to a review of the way families are offered support and funding for inquest costs, not least because there is now evidence that the process is out of control, with the most invasive questions being asked of families in order for them to prove they do not have the resources to help contest these cases? Finally, will the Minister tell us how many families have been asked to make a contribution since 2010? What is the total bill that families in this country are now paying for cases such as this?

When I asked my constituent what she wanted from tonight’s debate, her answer was as generous as she is compassionate. “Hopefully,” she said, “we can change this for other people so that they will not have to suffer what we have suffered.” When all is said and done, the question at the heart of this debate is simple. It is the story of a mother’s loss, a mother’s love and a mother’s search for justice. Will we, in this House, stand on a mother’s side, or will we stand against her? When we begin work in this House each day, we pray for strength and wisdom to make the right decisions. I hope that we can now call on that strength and wisdom and make the right decisions in the case of my constituent and her lost son.

7.15 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Shailesh Vara): I congratulate the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne) on securing this debate, which is on a subject that we can all agree is extremely important. On behalf of the Government, I extend my condolences to the Butler family. It is bad enough that somebody should die—it is difficult for any family member to put up with that—but the circumstances in which Mr Butler died makes it even harder to accept.

I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will accept that I cannot comment in specific details about any case. I hope that the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) will appreciate that, too. I can, however, speak in general terms. I will try to address as many of the issues that the right hon. Gentleman has raised as I can, and if there is anything left over, I will certainly write to him.

I understand that this case deals with legal aid legislation, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the Access to Justice Act 1999 was introduced by a Labour Government. It is under that legislation that decisions about exceptional funding cases concerning deaths in police custody, or during the course of police arrest, search, pursuit or shooting, are dealt with solely by the director of legal aid casework at the Legal Aid Agency, which is the successor body of the Legal Services Commission. Ministers have no role in those individual

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decisions. However, I fully appreciate the clear frustration of the right hon. Gentleman, which he has made abundantly clear to us, and the even greater frustration of Mr Butler’s family. It appears that a long time elapsed between the initial application and the final decision on funding. I believe that, along the way, there was also an inquiry conducted by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Fiona Mactaggart: My constituent’s family have been told that there will not be a decision about eligibility for legal aid until the opening of the inquest on 1 April. The Minister seems to imply that there could be a decision before that date. Will he explain why the coroner from Berkshire has said that no decision will be made on whether there will be a Middleton inquiry until the inquest is open?

Mr Vara: The hon. Lady seeks to tempt me into territory into which I cannot go. What I will say is that as far as her constituent’s case is concerned, the process is still ongoing. As I understand it, a decision on legal aid has not been made, and dialogue is still going on. I trust she will accept that.

Although I cannot comment on the decision concerning Mr Butler’s family, I understand from the Legal Aid Agency that there was an issue concerning financial eligibility and whether it was appropriate for the family to pay a contribution, which is something that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. I hope I can assist the House by explaining how the means test is applied to inquest cases. Legal aid for the representation of bereaved families at inquests is means-tested, like nearly every other element of the civil legal aid scheme. It is important that we focus our limited resources on those who need them the most, and the means test is an important and long-standing part of the legal aid system which has been in place since well before this Government came to power.

There is discretion to waive the financial eligibility limits for inquests if, in all the circumstances, it would not be reasonable to expect the family to bear the full costs of legal assistance at the inquest. Whether that is reasonable will depend in particular on the history of the case, the circumstances, the issues raised against state institutions, the applicant’s assessed disposable income and capital, the other financial resources of the family and the estimated costs of providing representation. Contributions from the applicant can also be waived in whole or part.

That is the position under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, but it was also the position under the Access to Justice Act 1999, the legislation that applied to Mr Butler’s case.

Mr Byrne: The Minister is replying in a courteous and thoughtful manner. He has given us a number of helpful words about the broad principles of the means-testing regime, but I hope he will not elide over the point that when we passed the 2009 Act we decided to include section 51, which accepted that there were wider public interests at play in inquests that delved into deaths in state custody and explicitly provided for full legal aid costs to be provided to families in such cases. The Lord Chancellor has not implemented section 51. The arguments about it have already been rehearsed and the House has passed it. When will it be implemented?

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Mr Vara: In the same way as the previous Administration did not implement it for 11 years—

Mr Byrne: It was the 2009 Act.

Mr Vara: Well, the previous Government made provision for it but they did not implement it. I do not know when it will be implemented, but I am happy to reflect on that matter and write to the right hon. Gentleman. Let me put on the record that the criteria under the Access to Justice Act still apply, as that was the Act that was applicable when Mr Butler’s case first arose.

Tessa Munt: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Vara: I shall give way for the very last time and on the understanding that the hon. Lady will be very brief, as I am determined to get through a lot of material that I must put on the record.

Tessa Munt: I shall be brief. When the Minister is reviewing the situation, will he consider whether it is appropriate for applicants to be pressured—there is no other word to describe it—to seek local and non-specialist advice from solicitors and therefore barristers who have no knowledge about taking on something such as a police force, with all its expertise?

Mr Vara: I hope that the hon. Lady will appreciate that I cannot comment on pressures in the individual cases to which she is alluding or on specific cases.

Guidance issued by the Lord Chancellor under the 1999 Act says on contributions:

“Where it is appropriate for a contribution to be payable this may be based upon the applicant’s disposable income and disposable capital in the usual way ignoring upper eligibility limits. Contributions should always be based on what can reasonably be afforded by the applicant and his or her family in all the circumstances of the case.”

It is worth underlining that we do not have a red-line rule on financial eligibility for inquests in the same way as we do for most other categories of law for which civil legal aid is available. There are a large number of variables, as I have mentioned, that the Legal Aid Agency considers when deciding whether to exercise its discretion to waive the limits.

It is also worth making it clear that, contrary to certain reports, there has been no substantive change to legal aid provision for inquests as a result of the recent reforms to the system. On that issue, both the right hon. Gentleman’s party and mine are in agreement. Let me assure the House that legal aid for inquests has been protected by this Government.

Legal help—in other words, the advice and assistance level of legal aid—remains within the general scope of the scheme, subject to merits and means-testing. That can cover all the preparatory work associated with the inquest, which might include preparing written submissions to the coroner. Notwithstanding the pressure on the public finances, the Government made a clear commitment to bereaved families by ensuring that legal help was retained in inquest cases.

Legal aid for representation can also be provided exceptionally where certain criteria are met. Those criteria have remained largely unchanged from those that operated under the 1999 Act. Let me be clear that under the new

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statutory scheme all individual decisions on legal aid, including exceptional funding decisions, are taken by the director of legal aid casework at the Legal Aid Agency.

However, the Lord Chancellor has published guidance setting out the general circumstances in which he considers that exceptional funding may be required under section 10 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. The director of legal aid casework is not bound by that guidance, but he must have regard to it when reaching individual decisions, together with any representations made by applicants on the individual case or any new and relevant case law.

Under section 10 of LASPO, the director of legal aid casework can grant exceptional funding for representation at an inquest where it is required by article 2 of the European convention on human rights, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. Article 2 confers a “right to life” and imposes on states a substantive obligation not to take life without justification and to establish a framework of laws, precautions and means of enforcement that will, to the greatest extent reasonably practicable, protect life. The other ground on which the director can grant funding for representation at an inquest is where representation for the family is likely to produce significant wider public benefits, meaning significant benefits for a class of person other than the members of the family involved.

On the coronial system, I know that concerns persist about the length of time some cases take to progress. The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 includes a number of provisions that will help to tackle delays in the coronial system, including a new power for the Chief Coroner to direct a coroner to conduct an investigation into a death. There is now greater flexibility on where post-mortem examinations and inquests can be held. They can now happen outside the coroner’s area.

The 2009 Act also requires coroners to notify the Chief Coroner of any investigation that has lasted more than 12 months. The Chief Coroner is then required to provide a summary of such cases in his annual report to the Lord Chancellor, which is laid before Parliament, together with reasons for the delays and any steps he is taking to prevent such delays from becoming unnecessarily lengthy.

While this debate has focused on legal aid, the coronial system and the police, there is, of course, a broader issue at stake. Let me be clear that the Government take deaths in custody extremely seriously. Deaths in custody are among the most scrutinised of all incidents. All deaths in custody are subject to a number of investigations, including, in the case of police custody, an independent investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Of course, an inquest is also held. Those investigations will usually involve the participation of the bereaved family.

I should like to acknowledge the ongoing work of the ministerial council on deaths in custody, which incorporates senior decision makers, experts and practitioners in the field. This allows for an extended, cross-sector approach to deaths in custody and is designed to ensure better learning and sharing of information. The council works to ensure that lessons learned in any area of state custody are disseminated across the police, prisons, approved premises, immigration, detention, and secure hospitals. The council commenced operation in 2009

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and is jointly funded by the Ministry of Justice, the Department of Health and the Home Office. The House will want to know that funding has been extended until March 2015.

Let me again thank the right hon. Gentleman and all other hon. Members who have spoken. I hope that I have been able to offer some reassurance as to the position concerning legal aid, what the Government are doing to tackle delays in the coronial system, and the

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Government’s position on deaths in custody more generally. To the extent that there are matters outstanding, I am happy to write to the right hon. Gentleman and, indeed, to have a meeting with him as well, although, as I say, my ability to influence the Legal Aid Agency is somewhat limited.

Question put and agreed to.

7.30 pm

House adjourned.