Schedule 1 — Duty or power to suspend or resume investigations

Part of Coroners and Justice Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:45 pm on 12th November 2009.

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Photo of Denis MacShane Denis MacShane Labour, Rotherham 12:45 pm, 12th November 2009

I am broadly in the same camp as my hon. Friend Mr. Dismore, because I feel that I voted the wrong way on Monday. However, I am a serial loyalist, and sometimes that overwhelms me.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and Lord Chancellor is probably the greatest circle-squarer whom Whitehall has seen in recent years. I tend to follow him, but I remember that when we worked together at the Foreign Office he would come to me and say, "We may be going in this direction, Denis, but it is about-turn time and swallow-humble-pie time, and I am afraid that is the political reality." On this cause, he may not have the votes of the House, so I ask him to consider whether that moment has arrived.

My thinking stems, first, from a fundamental principle that is enshrined in the term habeas corpus. It translates as "produce the body", and it applies as much to the dead as to the living. A core human right is to know how and under what conditions somebody died. If we do not have that right, we do not have full democracy. Families cannot grieve and injustices cannot be put right. That is why the coroners' jury surveillance system is of the most profound democratic importance. I wish there were far more of it in Africa, Latin America and Asia, and I am very reluctant to see any watering-down of it in our own country.

Of course, I fully accept my right hon. Friend's sincerity, but I well recall our great right hon. Friend, Michael Foot, saying in the 1970s that if the freedoms and liberties of Britain had been left in the hands of judges, we would have precious few. He got terrible stick from the learned QC profession about that-the Thomas Leggs and others were out there bashing him about the head-but I actually think he was right. When I hear, "The Executive will talk to a senior judge and, er, that's all right", I am afraid I start to become more and more of a Footite and less and less of a Strawite. These things can happen.

I have some direct experience of the matter, because some 19 years ago I became involved tangentially, through a friend, in the case of eight British fusiliers who were killed by friendly fire in the first Iraq conflict. They were brought home, but they could not be buried until there had been a coroner's inquest, because a person cannot be buried in the UK without the coroner's say-so. We found the most constant lying, deceit, obfuscation, dishonesty and cover-up on the part of the Conservative party, which was in power.

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Richard Taylor
Posted on 15 Nov 2009 4:41 am (Report this annotation)

After having admitted to voting the wrong way on the previous vote(1) Denis MacShane didn't vote in the division shortly following this speech(2). It appears he deliberately abstained.


1. http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/division.php?date=2009-11-09&am...
2. http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/division.php?date=2009-11-12&am...

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Richard Taylor
Cambridge
http://www.rtaylor.co.uk