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I would also like sincerely to thank all Members of the House who have supported the move to have a chief coroner, who have voted with their consciences in the past, who have asked questions, and who have given so much support to the drive to establish this office. I also thank, of course, the bereavement organisations such as INQUEST, the Royal British Legion, Cry and many others, the list of which is almost too long to mention. All have stood shoulder to shoulder in a campaign where at last they can see that, after more than 100 years, our coronial system will be modernised.

The chief coroner will establish independent leadership, set standards and ensure that all coroners, deputies and officers are trained. I currently have the privilege of being involved in this year's round of training for those groups of people, and I look forward to the days when we all know, and indeed the chief coroner has made sure, that all coroners, all deputies and all officers have participated in training, which is currently voluntary but needs to be made compulsory to drive up standards.

All Members of this House will have received the letter that was circulated to us, and I would ask the Minister, when responding to me, to provide a reassurance that the appointment will now proceed without delay, and that there will not be a hiatus before these long-overdue reforms can start.

It is with sadness that I note, in the letter, the intention to exclude the appeals system from the process. If I might remind the House, the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 in Section 182 states that the appeals process, which is Section 40, is one of the provisions of the Act that comes into force only,

That means that, in fact, the appeals system could sit on the statute without any pressure for it to be implemented until such time as the chief coroner and the Secretary of State agree that the appeals system should start. That means it could sit there for five, 10 or 15 years. I know that the Secretary of State cannot decide without the agreement of Parliament to cancel the appeals system, which is why we have this amendment before us which aims to do that, but it could just sit there.

In the letter that we have all received, cost was cited. However, I remind the House that those costings have not had an enormous modern review because they were made by the previous Government in their impact

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assessment in December 2008, in which they estimated that the costs of the appeal system would be £2.2 million of the running costs. However, as the Minister, Mr Djanogly, informed the other place, no further analysis has been conducted by the Ministry of Justice.

The suggestion has been made that the appeals system could be based around a tribunal-even a level 1 tribunal-which would be far less costly than the current process of judicial review. I remind the House that judicial review is a difficult and traumatic process, particularly for bereaved people to go through. It also incurs substantial costs to them. In 2009 alone, there were 12 substantial hearings and a further six renewal hearings, so the number of people who feel that they have to go to that extent is not insignificant. The appeals system as laid out in the Act would allow for appeals about coroners but not over an enormously broad-ranging aspect. It would be about the processes and decisions-particularly about whether to hold, suspend or restart an inquest, or whether a post-mortem should be conducted in the case. That system did not open the door to wide-ranging litigation but very much made sure that the system functioned properly.

I suggest that any future decision on the issue should be taken on the basis of rigorous, sound costings and careful consideration by the chief coroner himself. It would seem that leaving Section 40 out of the Coroners and Justice Act does not allow this review to happen, as it should. If this goes through, the chief coroner will be forced to address his concerns over appeals in his annual report, which will go to the Lord Chancellor. If it is recommended that there should be an appeals system, there would need to be a decision that further legislation would have to be brought through Parliament. I seek an assurance now from the Minister that the chief coroner will be required to report on both the complaints system and the views of the chief coroner on the appeals system, as far as it goes.

I remind the House that, time after time, there has been a call for an appeals system. Disaster Action, whose members have been involved in all the major disasters from Aberfan in 1966 to the Zeebrugge ferry disaster in 1987, the London bombings in 2005 and the Mumbai attacks in 2008, has said:

"It is crucial that",

the appeals system,

an expensive,

I also remind your Lordships that the "Marchioness" disaster occurred only a stone's throw from this House. In 1994, a Court of Appeal decision upheld the complaints by Eileen Dallaglio and Margaret Lockwood-Croft against Dr Paul Knapman, the Westminster coroner who had conducted the basic inquest. The tragedy occurred in 1989. That was five years of appeal before those bereaved relatives had any justice. I also remind the House that the Dallaglios are really a very high-achieving family. Their daughter died on the "Marchioness", but of course their son became an international cap in rugby and has become a role model for many youngsters in the UK. The family's perseverance is to be admired.

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In its second report, the public inquiry criticised the coroner for removing the hands of victims for identification purposes and stated that this should never have happened. I will not list all the other examples. They come from the report on Hillsborough, which was debated recently in the other place, and many other reports into the conduct of inquests.

My fear in not having appeals available is that expensive judicial reviews or the difficulty of persuading the Attorney-General to exercise his or her power of fiat is not the way to signal that we recognise when bereaved people are not being treated with the respect that they deserve. I am disappointed that the Ministry of Justice has not analysed the cost of judicial review applications against coroners and their decisions. Having a High Court judge as a chief coroner, who will be welcomed universally-of that I am sure-would mean that some legal issues that currently are resolved in the administrative court could be resolved by the post-holder himself or herself in a more cost-efficient way for families and for the public purse. That direct link with the coronial system may also be a much more powerful lever than has been exercised up until now on those coroners whose way of making decisions should be reflected on by them and revised.

As best practice becomes the norm and a chief coroner is able to drive up standards and improve the way that the system works, I and many others predict that there will be a reduction in the number of disputes; complaints will be properly handled; families will be able to be represented; and, as standards rise, the need for people to proceed right through to appeal against a decision will drop, not rise. Far from creating a litigious culture and an endless right of appeal after inquests, the carefully crafted framework of the Act that we have at the moment has the potential to reduce the need for so many bereaved people to engage in expensive litigation.

I hope that no one will feel that my plea for an appeals system in any way detracts from the importance of the post of chief coroner. I will listen with great interest to the response of the Minister for the assurances that I have sought before I decide how to act tonight. I beg to move.

6.30 pm

Lord Boswell of Aynho: My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, in this matter. I have only two points of divergence from what she has said, and they will be of a rather different character. I emphasise the noble Baroness's praise for the efforts of Ministers to take up and address the fears that a number of us have expressed.

My first point of divergence from the noble Baroness is simply that she cannot praise herself, but I hope I may do so for her. She, and to some extent I, were participants in some of those earlier explanatory meetings after the initial flurry on this matter, when I found myself unable to support the Government, which is not my usual stance, because of the concerns that have been expressed. I know that Ministers have gone to an exceptional level of trouble, culminating in decisions this week to give us, in effect, the substance of what we want. It is perhaps difficult to score but as a percentage

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of the overall objective it is in the high 90s. I shall come back to that in a moment. It is an object lesson in how to do it.

To unpack the concerns that I and others expressed at the time, the coronial system, which had grown up locally and was delivered differently in different areas, had been perceptibly unresponsive to the needs of its users and often quite harsh to people who felt themselves vulnerable. In particular, it was uneven in its delivery. Something had to be done and I think the Government have now done it. I very much hope that the chief coroner, who has now been reinstated as the lead and the champion in this matter, will be able to take the agenda forward.

My other point of divergence from the noble Baroness is over the appeal system. It is of course right that we should raise that. It would be helpful if the Minister, in his response, said a little more about the managerial functions, which report to him in the Ministry of Justice; the judicial functions, which report to the chief coroner; and the overarching function of seeing that the system works satisfactorily and in accordance with the charter for bereaved people and is meeting their needs. He needs to set that out for us again, despite the helpful letter that he has circulated.

The area where I am mildly in dissent with the noble Baroness is that of appeals. Frankly, this is partly because when one has extracted nearly all the juice from the orange, it may or may not be prudent to put it to the final point. However, there is also a point of substance here, which I hope noble Lords will consider. One of the concerns that Ministers had was that in having a chief coroner they would be seen to be mixing up the administrative side with the judicial side. Although an inquest is a judicial process, it is not the normal kind of judicial process. I speak as a non-lawyer. It is not adversarial; there are no parties to it, although there are interested parties, including the bereaved families; and there is no judgment in favour of one side or the other. There are findings of fact, which may be right or wrong. Therefore, it is not necessarily self-evident that we need to cap this process of finding facts with a second tier of appeals, even if there are-as I am sure there are-some bereaved families whose concern, or duty to their loved ones as they see it, would lead them into further rounds of appeals until the process was exhausted.

I am not particularly keen on an appeal process, but one of the reasons why people wanted it was because the coronial system, as it had been delivered, probably deserved one because many inquests were flawed or not well conducted. There may be an argument that in those prelapsarian days, when we had no training and there was no overall supervision-which the chief coroner will now give-there was an uneven, patchy and unfair service. I hope that will be remedied without going through the second stage of an appeal process. If that was the major element of cost, and if it was a concern-as I am sure it was to Ministers-and it can be eliminated, whatever the exact figure, I think that would be sensible.

However, we have essentially secured the main prize: the survival of the position of the chief coroner. I remember the saying of the Roman poet: "You may

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kick out nature with a pitchfork, but somehow she will always come back". This miraculously seems to have happened at the last moment with the chief coroner. I welcome that. The families of the bereaved will welcome it too, and we should not look the gift horse of government Ministers in the mouth. We should welcome what they are offering and accept it.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, for enabling Parliament to get back to the place where it should have been, and was, after the Coroners Act. She has done a tremendous job. It has also brought forth something that she mentioned briefly in her speech-she is now involved in the training of coroners. Already there is tremendous progress. I am also hugely grateful for all the work that my noble friend Lord McNally has put into this matter, because I am sure it is not easy to turn the ship of government around when it is sailing so fast in one direction. I can imagine the sort of effort that he had to put in.

The Royal British Legion and Inquest deserve particular gratitude, as do all the other organisations that signed the letter to the Times. A lot of them are run and supported by bereaved families, and it is not easy to go out and campaign when in the midst of grief. Some of those parents and siblings came to give evidence to parliamentarians about what had happened to them at inquests. I should like to take this opportunity to put on record my thanks to those people for giving us examples of why not only the training but the attitude of coroners to issues such as timeliness are extremely important.

I have one question for the Minister. The charter on the table is not now just for bereaved people but for anyone who comes before the coronial system. Some of us, including me, certainly felt that it should be a charter for bereaved people. It is not yet finalised and I hope that the chief coroner, who will be in a wonderful position to cast his or her eye over the draft charter, will have an opportunity to comment on it and perhaps improve it in the light of the things that he or she hears when talking to coroners.

Finally, I wish to comment from a purely personal point of view on the issue of appeals. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, made some very good points about the fact that the issue could lie on the table and be implemented later, if necessary, but my heart lies with the government position, and it is not really a question of cost. In many cases, there will never be real satisfaction for the bereaved because, even though the process may have been thorough, timely and open, that is just the nature of bereavement; there is no satisfaction. If the chief coroner manages with all his other coroners to get the process right, there should be no need for appeals. There will obviously be an interim period that will not be entirely satisfactory, but the package on the table is all that we could have hoped for and is one for which I am particularly grateful.

Lord Newton of Braintree: My Lords, I am going quietly on Amendment 54, but not on Amendment 53. I will go more loudly, but briefly, on this. I congratulate

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the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, on her success. I thank the Government for giving her that success, even though she is showing some signs of looking the gift horse in the mouth. I have one very small point that is not about appeals, but about suicides. I declare an interest as the chair of a mental health trust.

One of the problems with the coronial system has been the great inconsistency between the verdicts of coroners, some of whom, it is alleged-I am not an expert on this but I have been to a number of meetings with people who have studied it very carefully-prefer to find suicides as accidental deaths to spare the families. I cannot vouch for that, but that is what is reported by reputable researchers. The Department of Health is devising a suicide prevention strategy. I do not see how such a strategy can be devised, let alone measured, unless there is consistency in coronial verdicts around the country. One thing that is required from a chief coroner's office is the need to ensure consistency. I should be grateful for an assurance that part of the role envisaged will be to seek to bring about greater consistency in the practice of coronial courts around the country. I believe that I see the noble Baroness nodding her head at that proposition.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, with reluctance I want to speak against the proposition of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff. Before I do so, I reiterate all that my noble friend Lady Miller and others have said in this mini-debate about the worth of the efforts of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and indeed about how exemplary the combination of her efforts and those of others in this House as well as in outside bodies has been in bringing about the change in government policy that we have heard about today. That really is democracy in action.

However, there is one practical issue here that may not be sufficiently understood. I speak as one who at the start of his legal career was a coroner's officer and indeed, on occasion, sat as a deputy coroner. The change we are making in creating the chief coroner post is, I believe, fundamental, and I think that it will have more ramifications than many realise. There is positive merit in waiting to see how it pans out over the next few years. Surely we do not want to rush into the creation of a new appeals mechanism without having the benefit of the experience of that changed situation. For that reason, if no other, I think that the position to which we have come-that is, acceptance of the chief coroner but at this stage not approval of a brand new appeals mechanism, especially in view of the fact that coroners' juries find as to fact-may be the right one for the time being.

Baroness Fookes: My Lords, when I last spoke in this Chamber it was on the occasion of the debate in advance of Remembrance Sunday introduced by my noble friend Lord Selkirk. In that debate, I expressed my grave dismay at the then prospect of the duties of the chief coroner being distributed between departments and various officials.

I spoke, and speak now, from a very precise position. I am honoured to be the president of the War Widows Association of Great Britain. Its members know above all others what it is like to suffer the loss of loved ones

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and to go through military inquests. Over the years, they told me in no uncertain terms how difficult it was if a coroner was inexperienced in dealing with inquests, the nature of the war scene and the military ethos. To put it bluntly, the Ministry of Defence could pull the wool over the eyes of coroners not experienced in wartime matters. As time went on and certain coroners became expert, life became very much easier. My concern when the last Bill, now an Act, went through was that there should be coroners who had experience and had been properly trained to deal with this particular aspect of the coroner's duties. Therefore, one can imagine my dismay when this was apparently thrown out of the window and it was decided not to take it further.

I am therefore very pleased indeed that wiser counsels have prevailed, and I know that many have been involved in the persuasion. I am grateful to the Government for largely, if not entirely, rescuing the whole coronial system. I think it would be churlish not to offer my sincere thanks for this particular mercy. Since I feel I am getting a bit aged to be a rebel, I am also relieved that I have been spared that tonight.

6.45 pm

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, I, too, put on record my appreciation for the Government's decision, having been involved at various times in this subject. As I recall, a chief coroner has been identified, but I cannot remember whether he has actually been appointed; he may or may not still be around. It would be extremely helpful if the Minister made very clear, having decided to go ahead with the chief coroner, that the appointment will be filled expeditiously, as will those of the medical officers and others who will assist him. To pass the Bill into law to include a chief coroner, without an assurance that those posts will be filled promptly, would be something of a pyrrhic victory.

Viscount Slim: My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister and the Government. I have worked rather hard to see that we have a chief coroner. One little area that is not often remembered is that when it comes to the military side, the widows, the mothers and the dead servicemen actually still belong to the Ministry of Defence, which is responsible for them. These people should not be left out of the thoughts of this new chief coroner-which I am so pleased about. I hope that on his introduction to this very important post, he goes across to meet and talk to the Ministry of Defence, and perhaps visits a battle zone-this would be rather sensible. He would then get the feel and the ethos, as the noble Baroness has just said, of military thinking on these occasions.

I end by saying one further thing which I have said on this subject in your Lordships' House before. At the moment, thank God, the casualty and death rate for war is fairly steady and fairly low. However, some things can go wrong very quickly in an operational area, and somewhere the coroner's system has to be geared up for a higher casualty rate coming in across its bows. At present, we are waiting one to two years for conclusion. If the rate was to increase and the coroners did not have a plan for this, then I can see bereaved families, widows and mothers waiting up to four years before conclusion. For the sake of the chief

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coroner, I hope that he will get to know the military and will look ahead for, God forbid, worse rates of death.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, I hope that I will have the tolerance of the House if I briefly ask the Minister a question about a somewhat tangential issue. The Lord Chancellor is quoted on page 8 of today's Times as saying:

"Everyone is agreed that the priority is raising the standards of coroners' inquiries".

I take it that he was referring to coroners' inquiries of all sorts.

Following the Government's extremely welcome acceptance of the need to appoint a chief coroner, will the Minister assure us that they will also accept the will of Parliament as expressed in the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 that an office of coroner for treasure should be established? Will he acknowledge that the appointment of a national coroner for treasure would lead to the elimination of lengthy delays, excessive bureaucracy and errors, as well as to savings in overall public expenditure as the activities of coroners in 45 local authority areas would be replaced by the streamlined, specialised work of a single national coroner, probably supported by a single staff member? If the noble Lord is unable to give that assurance, will he undertake to reconsider the matter urgently, and to correct the failure by the Ministry of Justice to include reference to the treasure process in the draft charter for the coroner service?

Lord Bach: My Lords, it does not seem like a year since this House decisively rejected the Government's firm plan to abolish the position of chief coroner by a majority of 112. It was a vote in all parts of the Chamber of which the House could be proud then and can be even prouder today. Of course I join in congratulating the Government. However, in this instance the congratulations must be slightly modified. The Government have given in at the 59th minute of the 11th hour. They deserve credit, but as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, will recognise from his position at the Ministry of Justice, there is an analogy with someone in the dock who does not deserve the credit that someone who makes an early admission of guilt deserves. This is the equivalent of a change of plea at the moment when the jury is being sworn in. It is worthy of credit, and the judge will pass a lesser sentence, but he will not show as much leniency as if the Government had given way some time earlier. It is better late than never-but it is pretty late.

Of course, this is all immensely to the credit of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. She deserves huge congratulations on her success today. She will be the first to say that it is not just her success, but that of others as well. However, she deserves particular praise for her brave refusal to back down over this long period. So does the Royal British Legion-I declare my membership of a local branch-and other organisations that the noble Baroness mentioned such as INQUEST and Liberty, and those on all sides of the House and elsewhere who stayed firm and argued the case for the chief coroner.

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Noble Lords should make no mistake-sometimes these things ought to be said-that the Government over the past 12 months used every means and blandishment, and a few extra, to persuade, if I may put it gently, those who dared stand out of the error of their ways. Individual meetings with the Lord Chancellor were not the worst of it. Seductive compromises were offered one day and a hard line taken the next. There were meetings and letters galore. I hate even to contemplate the pressure that the brave Conservative Member Andrew Percy, who dared to challenge the Government in another place, must have come under at a certain stage. I do not want to sound churlish-I hope that that is not my style-but I do not think the congratulations are quite as deserved in this case as perhaps they were earlier this afternoon.

I have no doubt that our Justice Minister, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, played an important role in this. I also am in no doubt that the Sun, which I know many noble Lords read regularly, also played a pretty important role at the last moment. For anyone who has forgotten what they read in the Sun yesterday: they will have seen a story and then an editorial that condemned the Government in no uncertain terms for the stance that they were then taking. No. 10 reacted extraordinarily quickly. The Prime Minister's spokesman spoke early yesterday afternoon and the change was announced yesterday evening-perhaps coincidence; probably not.

Whatever the result, the Government have done the right thing. They have accepted the chief coroner. That was argued for on all sides of this House during the passing of the Act, which was only two years ago. It is a great pleasure to be able to congratulate the Government on what they have done, but I ask the Minister who will answer this debate why Section 40 on appeals is being removed. If I remember rightly, many noble Lords took part in those debates, so why is it being removed? Among the strong and powerful arguments in report after report in the past decade, and eventually during the debate on the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 for the setting up of this post of chief coroner, the possibility of appeal on a number of issues, which is not huge, was set out in Section 40(2), as it was well nigh impossible to appeal under the present system. The only remedy, as we have heard, is judicial review, which is time consuming. As the Public Law Project argued:

"The cost of bringing a judicial review claim is considerable: in the region of £10,000 to £20,000 for a straightforward case, higher for a more complex matter. If a claimant is unsuccessful, they are likely to be liable for the defendant's costs as well as their own. They are therefore looking at a legal bill of upwards of £30,000 if they lose, and they must be prepared for this eventuality, bearing in mind the unpredictability of judicial review proceedings and costs orders".

We believe that it would be preferable for the chief coroner to have the power that Parliament gave him or her during the passage of that Bill, which was agreed on an all-party basis. That sensible step which we all agreed should not be implemented straight away-that is perhaps the answer to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury-and that there should be a delay between the time the Bill was enacted and this section was implemented. There was no intention from any party that the appeals process would begin at once. If it

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remained in the Act it would be there if some time in the future a Lord Chancellor felt able to bring it in under the guidance of the chief coroner at the time. To abolish Section 40, which is what the Government propose, is the wrong thing to do.

If the noble Baroness were to put the matter to a vote-I can understand if she does not wish to do so-we on this side would support her. We regret that Section 40 is being taken out. However, I do not want to end on a depressing note. We are grateful to the Government for the action that they have taken.

Lord McNally: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for that non-churlish response. He must have been thinking of some earlier Administration when he talked about the main drive of government policy being an attempt to please the Sun.

This has been a very useful debate and I hope that I can give some reassurances. I cannot give reassurances on the question of appeals. As my right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor said in his letter, to extend,

The noble Lord, Lord Bach, as with most of the proposals, including that in the Division we had today, is rather cavalier about costs. I am afraid that the Government cannot be. I also think that enough doubts about the idea of appeals were expressed in the responses to make it prudent not to proceed with that at the moment. We have all been in politics long enough to know that simply to leave the appeals system hanging there would almost certainly invite the next campaign on this issue to commence straight away.

7 pm

The Government started off this proposal with the idea that we would take on board most of the core part of the previous Government's Act, but that we would give the responsibilities of the chief coroner to the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice. As the noble Lord, Lord Bach, rightly said, the House very clearly rejected that proposal. I make no apology for the fact that the parliamentary process has done its job. This has gone through both Houses, we have listened and we have come to a conclusion.

I will deal with a number of points that were raised. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, ingeniously brought up the treasure coroner. I understand that the noble Lord has written today to my colleague, the Minister in charge of coroner policy, on this issue. I am assured that it is in fact a matter primarily for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, but his point will be considered in due course. I know of his past responsibilities and continuing concerns in this area. Given the constraints on public expenditure and the usual caveats, I will give what support I can to what I think is a very sensible idea. However, if when I get back to the ranch I find out that there is no money, I will have to tell him so.

The noble Viscount, Lord Slim, made a powerful contribution. Again, one of the values of this debate is the number of suggestions that have been made. The suggestion that the chief coroner should get to know the military and do the kind of visits that he suggested is very sensible indeed. So is the suggestion that the

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chief coroner has the power to allocate cases and to bring in more coroners if, for any tragic reason, the casualty rate were to increase. It is never far from our minds when we hear those lists read out at this Dispatch Box that for every individual family affected, the casualty rate is 100 per cent. That is something that always gives us pause for thought.

I take on board the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, about the need for experience in military inquests. I pay tribute to her very long commitment in this area. If one listens to the interventions, one can well see that the chief coroner, when he or she takes up the post, will have a very full agenda. The military issue, which I will deal with in my broader remarks, will indeed be taken on board. I thank the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, who was one of the noble Lords who has fed in ideas on this right from the start.

Now we have a chief coroner. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, asked whether we would leave this on the shelf. It is a little bit like the points about the YJB. Even if there was some nefarious plot within the MoJ simply to accept this and then leave it on the shelf, I cannot imagine it would take very long for your Lordships to notice and to draw it to my attention. I think I am on pretty safe ground in assuring noble Lords that this appointment will go ahead with all due speed, and they can hold me to that in the future.

Of course, as has been said, there is no shortage of jobs for the new chief coroner. This rolling debate has reflected the concerns about the patchy nature of the coronial service: the lack of training; the lack of consistency; the lack of communications with the bereaved; and so forth. The new chief coroner has a big and serious job to do. To respond to my noble friend Lady Miller, yes, the chief coroner will be consulted as we draw up the new charter. Again, this task will be waiting in the in-tray when he or she takes office. I also take the point made by my noble friend Lord Newton about consistency on suicide verdicts. This, too, will be a very important issue for the new chief coroner when he or she takes office.

From the contributions made tonight, we accept the size of the job ahead for the chief coroner. This is not my central area of responsibility at the MoJ but that of my honourable friend Jonathan Djanogly, so I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and my noble friends Lady Miller and Lord Boswell in particular for helping me to try to understand some of the complexities of this issue and the importance of us getting it right. I also pay tribute to the campaign that has been mentioned of the Royal British Legion and INQUEST.

In the Armed Forces Bill, the Government accepted that the annual report on the Armed Forces covenant should include an analysis on the operation of the inquest system. This will provide a means for the chief coroner and other groups to inform Parliament on the progress of the reforms we are putting in place and to make recommendations on any further steps that might be necessary to ensure that bereaved families get the service from the inquest system that they deserve. Our new proposals go further than this, as implementing Section 36 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 will

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put the chief coroner under a duty to prepare an annual report to the Lord Chancellor on the operation of the coroners' system which would in turn be laid before Parliament. The report must include an assessment of the consistency of standards between coroner areas. As I said, we are not implementing Section 40 of the Act and I have explained the very good reasons why not.

I do not want to go over matters that have already been discussed. We have agreed to give the chief coroner a range of powers in the Act to drive up standards across the system. These include powers related to training, monitoring, reporting and direction. We will also set minimum standards of service in a new charter to be published early in 2012. This will help to ensure that the coroner's service across the country is delivered to the gold standard we all expect.

We have come a very long way since last December, as the noble Lord, Lord Bach, reminded us. This new compromise before noble Lords today represents a further and very significant move to meet the concerns expressed in this House and elsewhere. As always with these things, it is open to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, to press her amendment. The Government would resist that for the reasons I have given, and would take it to ping-pong if we lost. I do not think that that is the right end to what has been a good debate. If I may say so, it is a personal parliamentary triumph for the noble Baroness and it marks the culmination of some very successful campaigning on the part of noble Lords on all Benches and some significant organisations outside. However, that is a matter for her.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, I have listened carefully to the debate and I am indebted to all those who have contributed to it. I feel quite humble in responding because many noble Lords have far greater experience than me in certain specific areas. The Minister has gone a very long way and we have the essence of what we need. I recognise that there is disagreement over the appeals system, but there was no disagreement over the chief coroner, and that is what we have. So that noble Lords do not remain in suspense, I have concluded that it would not be appropriate to divide the House, but I would like to make one or two concluding remarks.

The appeals system that would have been put in place would have been precisely on the finding of fact to ascertain that the process to find facts had been correct so that the correct verdict was given. You cannot have a consistent verdict if you do not have consistent facts. Indeed, for families who know all the facts, that is where they achieve closure. Some people may have ongoing difficulties and feel bitterness over what has happened, but in the coronial system if they know that they have been heard and that all the facts have been looked at properly, that marks the start they need in order to achieve closure of their grief.

I am delighted at the reassurance given that we will appoint a chief coroner with all due speed, and I am glad that the Government will heed the suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Slim that there should be a comprehensive induction programme for whoever

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takes the post. I also ask the Government to proceed as requested with the appointment of the relevant medical officers, because the victims of medical accidents need to know that the facts will be properly interpreted and represented to the coroner, particularly as coroners are not medically trained and are therefore dependent on the medical advice they receive.

It is to be hoped that the new charter will represent a way forward. The annual report will be read by many of us with great interest to see whether our expectations have been met. In an ideal world, in a few years' time the annual reports will say that we have a good complaints process, that there is good resolution of complaints and that an appeals system as originally envisaged is no longer needed. I sincerely hope that there will be no need to come back to Parliament to try to reinstate Section 40, but that question remains hanging in the air tonight. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 53B withdrawn.

Amendment 53A agreed.

7.15 pm

Motion on Amendment 54

Moved by Lord McNally

54: Page 21, line 23, leave out "Civil Justice Council."

Lord Newton of Braintree: My Lords, I am still going quietly, I shall say at the outset, but not, I will say to my noble friend Lady Fookes, on the basis that I am too old to be a rebel.

Amendment 54A not moved.

Motion agreed.

Motion on Amendment 55

Moved by Lord Wallace of Saltaire

Motion agreed.

Motion on Amendment 56

Moved by Lord McNally

Lord McNally: My Lords, this amendment concerns a technical matter which has to go on to the record. It should have been moved in an earlier grouping. It refers to Her Majesty's Stationery Office. I made my maiden speech in this House on the privatisation of Her Majesty's Stationery Office. On Report in March,

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your Lordships' House passed government amendments that inserted the Advisory Council on Public Records, the Keeper of Public Records and the Public Record Office into Schedule 5 to the Bill. The intention was and is simply to put the administrative entity of the National Archives and one of its advisory bodies on a statutory footing, thereby strengthening its ability to perform an important cultural function. This further amendment, to insert Her Majesty's Stationery Office into the same schedule, serves a similar purpose and therefore represents a minor technical amendment rather than a substantive policy change. It is supported by the chief executive of the National Archives, who is also Keeper of Public Records, and has been agreed with Buckingham Palace.

Motion agreed.

Motion on Amendments 57 to 62

Moved by Lord Wallace of Saltaire

Motion agreed.

Charities Bill [HL]

Charities Bill [HL]


7.17 pm

Clause 2 : Meaning of "charitable purpose"


Moved by Baroness Verma

Clause 2, page 2, line 12, at end insert "

"(4) This section is subject to section 11 (which makes special provision for Chapter 2 of this Part onwards)."

Baroness Verma: My Lords, I hope to be able to keep my contribution relatively short. I will give a brief explanation of the drafting amendment that we have put down. I will also mention the review of the Charities Act 2006, which will include consideration of the substantive issue that lies behind this amendment.

The amendment responds to the point that was raised in Committee by my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury. As the law stands, there are two subtly different definitions of charitable purpose that are used in different contexts. The definition of charitable purpose in Clause 2 is a definition which applies generally; that is, in legislation generally and in documents such as trust deeds, and in England and Wales as well as, for certain purposes, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The definition of charitable purpose in Clause 11 has a much more limited application. It applies only in England and Wales and only to provisions derived from the Charities Act 1993.

The initial suggestion of my noble friend Lord Phillips was that the two definitions should be combined into one. This was not an option, however, as the rules for consolidation Bills constrain the drafter from making any changes that would alter the meaning of the current law, so both definitions of charitable purpose had to be consolidated into the Charities Bill.

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The remaining concern of my noble friend Lord Phillips was that a reader of the legislation could miss the fact that there are two subtly different definitions of charitable purpose that apply in different contexts. He suggested certain drafting amendments to address this point. The amendment we have put down deals with the issue more simply by placing a flag at the end of Clause 2 to alert the reader to the existence of the separate definition of charitable purpose in Clause 11. As I said during Committee stage, we recognise that there is a more fundamental point that ought to be considered; namely, whether it is possible to have one definition of charitable purpose rather than the two that exist in the current law. Although we could not consider such a change in this Bill, I do undertake for it to be included in the review of the Charities Act 2006.

My noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts has been appointed to undertake the review of the Charities Act 2006. He has recently chaired the red tape task force, the sensible and practical recommendations of which have been widely welcomed by the charity sector. Also, as an opposition Front-Bench spokesperson during the previous Administration, he led on the Companies Act 2006 and the Charities Act 2006. His significant experience makes him ideally suited to lead this review and I am sure that your Lordships will join me in welcoming his appointment.

The aims of the review will be twofold: to report on the operation and effectiveness of the provisions of the Charities Act 2006; and to consider whether further changes could be made to improve the legal and regulatory framework for charities. The terms of reference are broadly drawn to reflect these aims. I have placed a copy of the terms of reference in the House Library and they are available on the Cabinet Office website. The review is expected to report before Summer Recess in 2012 and a copy of the report will be laid in Parliament.

My noble friend Lord Hodgson has confirmed that he will consider the concern of my noble friend Lord Phillips about the two definitions of charitable purpose as part of his review. In the mean time, although this amendment will not resolve the underlying problem, it will ensure that readers of the legislation are aware that there are two definitions of charitable purpose. As such it is helpful. I beg to move.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I am grateful for what my noble friend the Minister said in respect of the amendment in her name. I can only concur with and applaud it, because, in my view, the Bill as drafted, given the limitations of consolidation statute, was none the less a big elephant trap for any non-charity lawyer who waded into the same, not realising that the definition in Clause 2 was subtly but significantly different from the definition in Clause 11 of the same phrase. It may seem odd for a charity lawyer to have, as a near-passion, the wish to try and keep charity law as simple, direct and plain as possible; but that has always been my position. It was during the course of the Charities Bill in 2006, when I led for these Benches, and remains an abiding passion in an age that seems to get more and more complicated and trammelled by regulation and so on. Therefore, I am glad at least that we have got this in the Bill. I perfectly understand the

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limitations of these consolidation statutes and therefore cannot complain that something more has not been done. I am grateful that it will be on the agenda of my noble friend Lord Hodgson; whom I congratulate, if that is the right word, on being appointed to undertake this review. I am glad that I was the author of this review clause in the 2006 Act. The noble Lord can blame me.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: I will.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I am sure. We will all assist him as best we can because I know that he, too, wants to try to make charity law as accessible as possible to the volunteers who are the heart and soul of the charity sector. We will have a lot of excitement when we come back to this House with a new Bill that will, I hope, do a bit of deck clearing. With that, I silence myself.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: My Lords, I will not detain the House for long, but I am very happy to confirm what my noble friend has said from the Front Bench. The terms of reference that I have been given are widely drawn. While obviously a lot of our time will be spent on the big issues that affect the sector, we shall want to make sure we do as much tidying up as we can of some of the more specific and technical points, of which this is one.

Already some of the professional bodies such as the Charity Law Association are in touch about some of the things they would like cleared up. I am sure there will be no shortage of views and things for us to do.

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I very much hope that we get a lot of input, not just from the usual suspects in the sector, but also views from the general public because it is important they should have some say in how their charity sector is structured in the future. Certainly we will make sure-I would be much too frightened not to-that my noble friend's point is addressed some time between now and next July.

Baroness Smith of Basildon: My Lords, this may be one of the shorter Reports in your Lordships' House. I am grateful to the Minister for the considerable effort I know she has taken to accommodate concerns that were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. I note he says that charity law should be as simple, direct and as plain as possible. The "as possible" part is the catch-all phrase there because charity law is never simple, direct or plain. Therefore, when welcoming the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, to his post in the review of legislation, I do not envy him the position at all. He has been set quite a challenge.

It shows this House at its best that concerns were raised-when we spoke in Committee, I said to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, that I had to go back to read what had been said at Second Reading to get the gist, because the issue was so technical-and I hope the Minister and her officials have managed to accommodate them. As I say, it is the House at its best when an issue is raised and Ministers take it away and come back with a solution, which satisfies all. I am also happy to accept the Minister's amendment.

Amendment agreed.

House adjourned at 7.27 pm.

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