Clause 41 is intended to support the objective of the Government and, more recently, the Chief Coroner to merge coroner areas where the opportunity arises in order to improve consistency of coroner provision and standardise practice. In essence, clause 41 will enable coroner areas within a local authority to be merged by order of the Lord Chancellor where the new coroner area would not be the entire local authority. Before 2012, there were 110 coroner areas in England and Wales. Through coroner area mergers, we have brought that number down to 85, and our long-term objective with the Chief Coroner is to reduce it further to around 75 coroner areas. It is intended that this clause will make it easier for coroner areas to merge.
The clause also meets one of the Justice Committee’s recommendations in its inquiry report on the coroner service. The Committee acknowledges that reducing the number of coronial areas has helped to increase consistency across the coroner service. Implementing the clause will ensure that merger opportunities can continue to be progressed. I urge that clause 41 stand part of the Bill.
There is a very helpful example on page 50 of the explanatory notes as to how this would work, for anybody who has any concerns about it. It seems to be administratively sensible and tidy. I cannot do any better than to raise the concerns of a member of the Bar Council who said that this is all well and good provided it does not result in fewer coroners, deputy coroners and deputy assistant coroners covering greater areas. Can the Minister give us that assurance? We have no other points to make or objections to the clause.
To be completely transparent, the purpose of the clause is to allow some very specific mergers to happen. If implemented, there will be an immediate benefit in allowing Kent County Council to progress the merger of its current four areas into one coroner area. Kent is currently unable to achieve this because current legislation does not allow two coroner areas to be merged if the merged area will be less than the area of a local authority. The clause has a very practical justification. We do not see any significant impact in the way the hon. Gentleman describes.