HC Deb 13 December 1926 vol 200 cc2612-5

I beg to move in page 18, lines 27 and 28, to leave out the words "twenty-two of the Coroners Act, 1887," and to insert instead thereof the words "twenty-three of this Act."

The discussion on the previous Amendment has led to the discovery that an Amendment of a drafting character will have to be made. I have been at pains to tell the House that Section 22 of the Coroners Act, 1887, has been repealed by the provisions of this Bill, and instead of referring to the Section in that Act, we will have to refer to the Clause in this Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."


The hon. and gallant Gentleman who is in charge of this Bill will remember that in Committee upstairs we were in some difficulty with regard to the provisions of Clauses 13 and 22. Clause 13 deals with the holding of inquests without a jury in certain cases, and it proceeds to give an indication as to what must be done by coroners when inquests are held. The hon. and gallant Gentleman indicated that the Home Office, or the Lord Chancellor at the instigation of the Home Office, will issue instructions to the coroners as to the manner in which they are to carry out some of their duties. I understand that when a circular is issued the instructions are to be detailed and very minute. I want to ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman a very specific question on this point; whether any arrangement can be made to ensure that, if the deceased person was a member of a trade union or a similar society, that society will be represented, and that its representative will be allowed to examine or cross-examine witnesses at the inquest? We bad a friendly discussion on this point in Committee upstairs. I would like to point out to hon. Members who were not on the Committee, that most coroners welcome the help of representative persons, especially in cases where it is likely that claims for workmen's compensation may be brought as a result of an accident.

I have a further point on almost the same lines to put with respect to Clause 22. That Clause deals with the power of the coroner to request specially qualified persons to make post-mortem and special examinations. When a post-mortem examination is being carried out by a medical man, the result of the examination sometimes reveals reasons why a claim for workmen's compensation or damages at common law should be made. It is very necessary in such a case that a representative of the trade union should be present to follow the whole of the transactions in order that the family of the deceased may he safeguarded in any claim they may make. I should like to ask the Under-Secretary to the Home Office a specific question, whether the trade union can be represented by a medical man in connection with a postmortem examination.

Whilst on the Third Reading of the Bill, I would like to say to the hon. Member for the Royton Division (Dr. Vernon Davies), who is not in his place, that he need not be offended by our attitude regarding the medical profession. We hold that profession in the very highest esteem. I am not sure whether we do not hold them in much higher esteem than they hold us. The way they treat us sometimes would seem to indicate that we have very mach more confidence in the doctors than they have in us. I can assure them, without any hesitation, that the working people of this country have a very high regard for the medical profession as a whole. I am not sure whether the working people have not a very much higher regard for the medical profession than they have for the legal profession.

I am very glad that this Bill has reached its final stage. I feel sure that it will do a great deal of good, because the position of the coroners, especially the franchise coroners, has always been a very doubtful one. As far as I understand it, the franchise coroner has been in this position up to now, that he could be appointed, but there was no power on earth that could remove him from his office. That is a sort of occupation, I suppose, we would all like to have. We would always like there to be no power to remove us us from our positions, especially if they are comfortable ones. This Bill will, undoubtedly, remove that very serious difficulty. I much regret that there is not included in this Bill some provision to deal with the question of fire inquests. In spite of that I hope that the Bill will be passed into law and that all its objects will be ultimately achieved.


I should like to draw the attention of the hon. and gallant Member for St. Albans (Lieut.-Colonel Fremantle) to the fact that, apart altogether from any opposition from a party standpoint, our attitude on this Bill has not been one of hostility to the medical profession. When this Bill emerged from the House of Lords, and as it went to Committee, certain figures were included in the Bill. Consequently, anything that has been said in regard to the figures could be aimed at the House of Lords, because they were charged first with the responsibility for the Bill, and they must have felt that the figures in the Bill adequately met the needs of the medical profession. I make this observation in order to let the hon. and gallant Member see that there may have been, and there may be, no more consideration for the medical profession by certain hon. Members on this side than on the part of the friends of hon. Members opposite who sit in another place.


I am obliged to the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) for having drawn my attention to the two points mentioned. When we were in Committee I made a provisional promise that I would try to persuade the Home Secretary to issue, in the first place, instructions and, if necessary, to frame rules to cover the two points. It must be made quite clear that the Home Secretary can send out, instructions in the first place to coroners calling their attention to certain matters, and if they do not comply with any request contained in those instructions lie would then have the power to ask the Lord Chancellor to frame rules. Such rules would have practically the effect of law. The hon. Member has asked me two specific questions: (1) whether instructions would be sent out in order to persuade coroners to allow trade union representatives to be present at inquests and (2) whether he would also send out instructions encouraging coroners to allow a medical man representing the relatives to be present at a post-mortem examination. I have no hesitation in giving both those undertakings. I think they are both perfectly reasonable. Although it is a fact that the coroners at the present time do in most cases comply with the request that has been put to me this afternoon, I am sure that if effect were not given to the obvious wishes of the. House in this matter, instructions would be sent out by the Home Secretary, and, if necessary, a rule would he made which would be submitted to the Lord Chancellor.

Having given satisfaction on the two points which have been raised, may I say how grateful I am to the Committee upstairs and to the House for having given me so much support in the passage of this Bill into law. Each House is in agreement with the general principles of the Bilk. The Bill has been before the country for a considerable number of years, if not before the two Houses. It is based on the Report of a Committee which was appointed long ago and reported in 1910. The Act is very much overdue. I believe it will be of very great assistance to coroners. It will, I believe, effect a good deal of saving, which is very unusual in any Bill which passes through the House of Commons. It will prevent duplication of coroners' inquests and other legal proceedings. I am grateful to the House for having given their blessing to the Bill, and I am sure that their faith in it will be perfectly justified when the Act comes into operation next year.