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Military Inquests

Volume 475: debated on Monday 28 April 2008

6. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Justice on reducing the number of pending military inquests. (201531)

My right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary and I have held frequent meetings on this subject with Ministry of Justice Ministers. We make regular statements to the House about progress on reducing the number of outstanding inquests. We are strongly committed to minimising delays, and we will consult regularly about management of, and support to, inquests relating to deaths on operations.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I have received a number of letters from constituents who are concerned that the Scottish National party Administration in Scotland are dragging their heels on this matter. Does he think they are doing everything they can to expedite a solution?

My hon. Friend knows that the situation in Scotland is different from that in England and Wales. We have been trying to deal with the matter for some time. My predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr. Ingram), wrote to Kenny MacAskill MSP in June last year raising this issue, I have tried to meet Scottish Executive Members and the Secretary of State wrote again to Mr. MacAskill in March setting out what needs to be done, so the ball is now firmly in the hands of the Scottish Executive.

I am sure the Minister will join me in paying particular tribute to David Masters, the Wiltshire coroner, who is doing an outstanding job wrestling with the complexities of the inquest into the deaths of the 10 people killed when a Hercules came down in Iraq. Can the Minister confirm that in no circumstances will he or anybody else in the Ministry of Defence attempt to interfere with the investigations or with the outcome of any such inquests, even if those inquests were to be critical of Ministers or of the MOD?

Not only would we not attempt to interfere with such an inquest, but we welcome the input that we get from the independent coronial system. It throws up issues and findings of immense importance, which we must examine and know about, so of course I can give the hon. Gentleman the commitment that no attempt will be—or has been—made to interfere with coroners’ decisions.

May I encourage the Minister to keep trying with the Scottish Government as far as the holding of fatal accident inquiries for Scottish-domiciled soldiers is concerned? Such inquiries would not only take some pressure off the English inquests system, but would mean a great deal to the families of serving soldiers who were domiciled in Scotland at the time of their death.

We believe that it is important not to oblige families to travel the distances that they are required to travel to attend inquests in the south of England when they are based in Scotland and their loved ones who have died came from parts of Scotland. That is why we have been pursuing the matter with the Scottish Executive and will continue to do so. As I have said, we have made representations over time, and we hope that a solution to the problem will be found because that would be in the interests of Scottish families.