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Presumption of Death Bill

Volume 554: debated on Friday 30 November 2012

Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.

Third Reading

Queen’s consent signified.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I will speak briefly, because we had a full discussion on Second Reading and in Committee and I do not wish to repeat the arguments. I think that it is appropriate that I draw attention to the considerable work that has been done by the Justice Committee, the charity Missing People and the hon. Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), who have supported me in bringing the Bill to this stage.

The Bill will introduce a new court-based procedure to enable those left behind to obtain from the High Court a declaration that a missing person is deemed to have died. The certificate will be conclusive about the presumed death and effective for all purposes and against all persons. Essentially, it will act as a death certificate. I believe that the Bill will provide a great deal of solace to those families who are going through an extremely difficult time by simplifying the number of legal processes and financial hoops they have to go through to tidy up the affairs of the estate of a missing loved one or relative.

The Bill will ensure that England and Wales are on the same footing as Scotland and Northern Ireland. It will make a real difference to the lives of those who are left behind. We anticipate that between 30 and 40 such declarations will be made each year. The Bill makes provision to deal with the unlikely possibility that a person might not have died; there is provision in clause 5 to allow variance on a certificate and to revoke a declaration.

During the Bill’s passage through this House so far there has been some consideration of the provision of guardianship, which many people wanted to be included. That has not been included in the Bill but, as I have said on previous occasions, I believe that it will need to be looked at in future. There are several issues relating to how that process would work and considerable consultation is needed. I serve notice that I will be looking at the matter in future, because I think that ideally it should have been included in the Bill.

There is little more to say, as the Bill was not amended in Committee. I hope to see it progress and receive Royal Assent in due course.

As hon. Members know, the Government support the Bill. We believe that it will simplify and streamline the procedures that people encounter when dealing with the property and affairs of a loved one who has disappeared and is thought to be dead. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen) on his success in piloting the Bill through the House to its Third Reading. I hope that the House will join me in supporting the Bill’s Third Reading and wishing it a speedy and successful passage through the other place.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.