Anger at coroners bill timetabling

By Alex Stevenson

Conservative backbencher Douglas Hogg says he will oppose timetabling of all bills – even if the Tories win the next election.

It follows yesterday’s curtailed debate on the coroners and justice bill, in which just two of the nine groups of amendments were scrutinised by MPs.

Part of the reason for the lack of time was the two ministerial statements given by Gordon Brown and Jack Straw, which led to claims from some Tory MPs that the government was deliberately trying to limit debate on the controversial coroners bill.

Mr Hogg said the practice “stinks” in the Commons and repeated his concerns to today.

Listen to the interview in full:

“In general the government is timetabling all bills and I’m very much against that,” he said.

“If the Conservative party returns to the government next year I certainly will not support any attempt by government to timetable all bills. It should be exceptional.

“Because of the timetabling only the first two groups were discussed at all. And that means whole chunks of this bill are going to go through without being properly discussed at this stage.”

Shadow justice secretary Dominic Grieve made clear during the debate he believed there are no circumstances under which a jury-free inquest can take place.

Mr Hogg disagreed. “I think there are a small number of cases that could arise where the sensitivity in intelligence or security terms is such that you couldn’t have a jury or inquest there and they be set aside where there are certain constraints and safeguards,” he explained.

While broadly supportive of Mr Straw’s stance he was dismissive of the justice secretary’s fear that judges would be reluctant to make decisions on behalf of the government. Inquests will only be held in secret if a high court judge grants the secretary of state’s request.

Mr Hogg argued judicial independence was much stronger now than it has been and that the judge would be able to make the right decision independently.

“I think it’s true that in the past high court judges were very loath to interfere with executive decisions,” he commented.

“But over recent years high court judges have been, especially in the administrative courts, willing to strike down decisions ministerial decisions on the grounds they’re unlawful or the grounds they’re just plain wrong. I don’t think the high court judge would kowtow to the government.”

Debate on the coroners and justice bill continues this evening, beginning with clauses on ‘hatred on grounds of sexual orientation’.