HL Deb 30 March 1882 vol 268 cc277-8

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government, Whether any instructions have been given, in conformity with their intentions as expressed in the House of Lords on the 8th of last July, relative to the periodical production by the authorities of the Crown Office in Scotland of the number of investigations by procurators fiscal in each county of Scotland into cases of sudden death and death under suspicious circumstances, with the result of each inquiry; also of investigations in cases of accident and of incendiarism? The noble Earl said, there were very serious cases constantly occurring, and he thought it not only desirable, but necessary, that some such proposal as he had indicated should be carried into effect. He complained that hitherto the public had been kept in ignorance, in many cases, of the investigations which had been made in various parts of the country as to suspicious and other deaths. He contended that in all such instances there should be prompt communication made to the chief officials of the county in which a death took place, and that every facility should be given to enable the public to acquire full information with regard to it. He had before now stated that he was in favour of the names of the deceased persons being published officially; but he learnt that the Government did not approve the adoption of such a course, on the ground that pain and annoyance would be caused to the surviving relatives of dead persons. He had, therefore, relinquished that part of his proposition; but he could not impress too strongly upon the House the vital importance of taking immediate steps in reference to this matter, which he conceived to be of immediate consequence. What he mainly desired to insist upon was, that the chief officials in each county should be instantly apprised of all investigations taking place in such county, and that the public at large should be placed in such a position that they might have full opportunity for the acquisition of information on matters which, to many of them, were of serious and grave moment. He had on a former occasion, as their Lordships knew, brought this question before the House; but the answer he received upon that occasion was, he was afraid, not so satisfactory as he could have wished. He hoped that the answer he might now receive would be a satisfactory one; and that whatever action was taken would be taken promptly and without delay.


I am sure everybody is extremely indebted to the noble Earl for the trouble he has taken with reference to this subject, and the means he has taken, both inside and outside the House, to bring his exertions to a satisfactory conclusion. I think my noble Friend will consider that the answer I have to give him to-night is a satisfactory conclusion to the exertions he has made. Instructions have been given to the Crown Agents and the Sheriff Clerks in counties, and to Town Clerks in burghs, to make a Return of the cases reported to them under the heads—first, of sudden deaths and deaths under suspicious circumstances; second, fires and explosions; and third, accidents. They are also to specify those cases in which there is reason to suspect crime and culpability, and to state the number in each county. These Returns will be open to public inspection, and care will be taken that they shall be brought under the notice of parties who may be supposed to be more immediately interested. As regards the question of names, the noble Earl has correctly stated the reasons which disincline the Government to publish them; and, as regards the promptitude with which these measures I have indicated will be carried out, I can assure him that the arrangements made will insure their being carried into effect without any delay.