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Volume 115: debated on Thursday 7 May 1987

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has any plans to seek to change the length of time taken by coroners in dealing with inquests.

We are satisfied that coroners accept the need to avoid unnecessary delay. We do not consider that there is a general problem which calls for any special action on the part of my right hon. Friend.

Is the Minister aware that that is a very unsatisfactory and complacent reply? He really must consider urgently the appointment of more coroners. Is he aware that some of the implications are not immediately noticeable — for example, the delay in receiving

incarcerated have rocketed under this Government. Is it not disgraceful, and an insult to the electorate, to make excuses citing the past? The Government must accept that their law and order and prison policies have failed. They included in the Criminal Justice Act 1982 a provision to enable the Home Secretary to release the prisoners that they wanted to release, and they are not doing so only because they are scared of the electoral consequences.

The hon. Gentleman's celebrated impression of a 78 rpm record stuck in the groove is no more impressive this week than it has been for the many weeks during which we have had to put up with it.

Following is the information:

insurance and possible compensation, to say nothing of the distress caused to the bereaved who in some cases, have to wait months? Will he apply his mind rather more urgently to the problem beyond what he said in his original reply?

I appreciate the importance of the matter. Coroners are aware of the additional distress that can be caused to relatives if there is delay in completing an inquest. However, sometimes investigations take a long time.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has written to the hon. Gentleman about a particular case that he raised. It is not right for me to comment further, except to say that there has always been a part-time coroner in the district concerned and that, during the whole of the coroner's nine years in office, he has been supported by two coroner's officers. There is no question of the case being affected by a cut in resources, as has been suggested. Indeed, the number of inquests has actually fallen recently.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has a general responsibility for the law, but has no power over the way in which coroners carry out their duties in a particular case. They are independent judicial officers It is wrong to imply that in this case the coroner behaved improperly or was starved of the normal resources given to coroners.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that most coroners' inquests have wide public support and are carried out with little difficulty? Nevertheless, a very small number each year cause great difficulties of fact and law, and it often takes a substantial period for the inquest to be carried out. Is my right hon. and learned Friend prepared o consider again whether it is possible or practicable to appoint special coroners from among senior members of the judiciary to carry out the inquests in that very small number of cases that cause public anxiety and difficulty?

Obviously, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will bear in mind my hon. Friend's point. I repeat that my right hon. Friend has a general responsibility for the law, but he has no power over the way in which coroners carry out their duties in a particular case. I do not think that the public take the view that in the vast majority of cases coroners do other than carry out their duties responsibly and properly.