Skip to main content

Counter-Terrorism Bill

Volume 474: debated on Monday 21 April 2008

The Government have received representations on part 6 of the Counter-Terrorism Bill from four non-governmental organisations—Inquest, Liberty, Justice and Amnesty International—three trade organisations and a small number of private individuals, including one submission entitled “Fascism—the UK Government wants to change the law on inquest. Will this give the freemasons a licence to kill?”

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer, but is he aware that the Bill gives the Home Secretary fundamental powers to overhaul the coroners system completely? For example, the Home Secretary will have the power to appoint the coroner, and to issue a certificate requiring an inquest to be held without a jury. Is today’s terrorist threat so different from what we faced under the IRA that it is vital in the minds of the Home Secretary and the Minister to tear up hundreds of years of judicial procedure? Is that really necessary? Surely the Government should wait until a coroners Bill is before the House so that the matter can be properly discussed and debated.

I do not agree with much of that. I certainly do not agree that the legislation fundamentally changes the whole coroners system; it does not. It simply says that in one or two specific cases—terrorist and non-terrorist cases, by the bye—it might be necessary to go into such a context to get full closure for the families involved on the circumstances in which someone dies and how they have died. Some Opposition Members indicated that they had difficulties with that provision in the Bill and I am happy to discuss it further in Committee.

In the summer, I lost nine of my friends in Afghanistan. None of their deaths has so far been the subject of a completed inquest. Their families are grieving. I utterly fail to understand why such a provision should be part of a counter-terrorism Bill. Will the Minister listen to many of his Labour colleagues who have said to me that we need a proper coroners Bill, not a provision that is part of a totally different and overweening Bill?

I agree with the second part of the hon. Gentleman’s question. The whole House agrees that there is a need for substantial reform of the coroners system, which is forthcoming. But to alleviate and obviate at least some of the delays that he talks about—I have huge sympathy with what he says about them—it is important to include the provision in question at this stage. The hon. Gentleman will be on the Committee considering the Bill, and as I indicated on Second Reading, I am open to exploring how we can resolve a problem that everyone is aware of—the use of sensitive and secure material in such cases—to ensure that the system works well and is expeditious, so that people are not left in the sort of limbo he describes. Let us talk about that in Committee.