Mr. James McColm

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 10:32 pm on 16th June 1992.

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Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook , Livingston 10:32 pm, 16th June 1992

The whole House will be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe), who has done a service by providing for his constituents an opportunity for this matter to be ventilated in the House, which has not happened through the legal process.

Isobel Brydie, to whom my hon. Friend referred, lives in my constituency and in the past six years I have had a long association with the Scottish Campaign Against Irresponsible Drivers. During that time, I have seen two features that appear constantly in such cases and which appear again in this case. The first is the need on the part of the relatives of the deceased for a process which establishes the facts of death. A trial does not necessarily establish those facts and, where there is no trial, there is not even that opportunity.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the sharp distinction between a fatal accident inquiry in Scotland and a coroner's inquest in England. We have no automatic right to a fatal accident inquiry in Scotland. Indeed, they are very rare and generally involve only accidents caused by the actions of lorry drivers. We do not have the automatic right to a coroner's inquest that would exist if the accident occurred in England.

The second factor that occurs in all such cases and is again demonstrated in this case is the hunger of the relatives to know what is happening in the legal process. Tragically, the legal process gives them no recognition. and the fact that they have no information about whether or when a trial will take place or what might happen adds to their distress.

Tonight we are considering only one case, but every year more than 500 people are killed on the Scottish roads. Were it to happen on one day in one place, we would regard it as a tragedy of the most appalling magnitude. Yet sadly, because individual incidents occur throughout the year, we do not recognise the appalling magnitude of the tragedy. The very least that we can offer those who survive such incidents is that their distress should not be compounded by the insensitivity of the legal process. I hope that the Minister will be able to ease the distress in this case by answering the questions put to him so forcefully by my hon. Friend.