Amendment 121

Part of Victims and Prisoners Bill - Committee (4th Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 9:30 pm on 7 February 2024.

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Photo of Lord Roborough Lord Roborough Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 9:30, 7 February 2024

My Lords, Amendment 121, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, is intended to establish a regulation-making power to allow a qualified informant, typically a relative or close friend, to provide information to register a death where the death is the result of a major incident. I thank the noble Baroness for this intervention on such an important and complex issue. I also pay tribute to the Member for South Shields and the right honourable Member for Garston and Halewood for their commitment and determination in championing this cause on behalf of the families bereaved by the Manchester Arena attacks. I also extend my deepest condolences to the families who lost loved ones in that terrible incident.

The Government are committed to ensuring that bereaved people remain at the heart of the inquest process and are able fully to participate in it. Bereavement is never easy, but it is inconceivably difficult to lose a loved one in circumstances which, by definition, are unexpected and traumatic, so we fully understand the importance for bereaved families of having a role in the registration of their loved one’s death following an inquest. For them, as for all who are bereaved, this could be a vital part of the grieving process. In this regard, I agree with many of the comments from my noble friend Lady Newlove.

However, it is also our responsibility to uphold the integrity of the inquest process. While all deaths must be registered, not all deaths will be investigated by a coroner. Deaths which are subject to a coronial investigation and include an inquest cannot be registered until the inquest has concluded. That is because in such cases the inquest is where all the facts including the personal details of the deceased and the cause of death are established. The legislation requires the registrar to register the death following the receipt of a certificate from the coroner. The registrar has the sole responsibility to register all deaths.

The amendment does not disapply the registrar’s statutory duties in this regard and would exist alongside those requirements. So, while I fully understand and sympathise with the intent behind it, it is unclear what the statutory purpose of the relative’s provision of information and the status of that information would be.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Marks, I believe that there are a number of good reasons why we will not accept this amendment. We must be mindful that an amendment of this kind could inadvertently undermine the integrity of the inquest process, in particular where the bereaved family is not in agreement with the coroner’s conclusion at the inquest. Furthermore, the amendment is limited to those bereaved by a major incident. The distress of losing a loved one in this way is unimaginably difficult. However, I do not believe that it is right that we legislate for this now, knowing that there would be many who would not be able to utilise the new provision.

While I am sympathetic to the purpose behind the noble Baroness’s amendment, the Government cannot support it for the reasons I have given. That said, we are very aware of the sensitivities surrounding this issue and it is important that we identify the most appropriate way forward. In doing so, we must also take into account the practical implications of other legislation, such as the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill—referenced by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton—also currently before this House, which will enable implementation of remote delivery of registration processes in the near future.

For these reasons, I can confirm that—as my ministerial colleague the Minister for Prisons, Parole and Probation announced in the other place—the Government will undertake a full public consultation, as soon as practicable, on the role of the bereaved in death registration following an inquest. This will enable us to gather a wide range of views on potential ways forward. I hope that the noble Baroness will welcome my reiteration of this commitment, even if it goes no further as she has asked, and that, together with the Members who continue to champion this issue in the other place, she will work with the Government as we seek a solution to this sensitive and complex issue.