Robert Neill Excerpts
Friday 24th May 2024

(1 month, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)
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Mr Speaker, I hope to catch your eye later in today’s proceedings in order to thank you and others, but now I will confine my remarks to this measure and to congratulating the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Chris Webb).

This is a sensible measure, and I am delighted to see my hon. Friend the Minister, who is my constituency neighbour—at least for a couple more days—in his place on the Treasury Bench. He will know that the Justice Committee published a substantial report on coroners some time ago, and that we recently did a follow-up. This measure is wise and sensible, but there are broader issues that need to be tackled in the coronial system. I hope that either my hon. Friend the Minister—if we come back into government—or any future Government will look again at our report, because the one thing that we have not done and that we need to do is tackle the root problem of the coroners system, which is that it is piecemeal and sits outside the rest of the normal judicial framework.

I hope that a future Government will revisit our recommendation that we should move to a national coroners service. That would ensure greater consistency and that the same service is provided to bereaved families right across the country, which is currently not the case. It would be a small investment but would do the right thing. There is, of course, a role for juries, particularly in important matters. I welcome the changes that the Government have made to the representation of families at inquests, but, again, I hope that we can go further, particularly where state agencies and public bodies are concerned.

This is a sensible measure in the right direction, but I hope that we will grasp the nettle and have a proper national coroners service—something that has been recommended overwhelmingly in the evidence to the Justice Committee and championed by both Chief Coroners with whom I have had the pleasure of working, His Honour Judge Mark Lucraft and the recently retired His Honour Judge Thomas Teague. Both have done a fantastic job as Chief Coroners, and I want to pay tribute to both of them.

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Edward Timpson Portrait Edward Timpson
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The hon. Gentleman, my friend, was my first Select Committee Chair back in 2008, when I joined the Children, Schools and Families Committee—a baptism of fire, as it turned out. I have been fortunate enough to serve under a number of excellent Chairs over the years. I wish him well in whatever comes next in the varied and colourful life that I am sure lies ahead of him.

Some of the detail behind this statutory instrument needs the continued attention of Ministers and the Ministry of Justice. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst touched on the need to look at the potential unification of the service, the funding model, how it is resourced—we do not want to imperil the rule of law by making the service unworkable—potentially the need for an inspectorate so that we know how well the service is functioning and, as the Minister rightly said, ensuring that we put bereaved families at the very heart of the process. I hope that this measure will be part of enabling many of those changes to take hold in the ensuing years.

Mr Speaker, as you will know, this is my second time around in Parliament—often called a retread, unfortunately—but, unlike Arnold Schwarzenegger, this time I will not be back. This is the last time I will be standing up in this place, so I want to take the opportunity to thank you and all your team for your support and friendship over 14 out of the past 16 years. I also thank my staff up in Cheshire, in Eddisbury, and in Crewe and Nantwich my previous seat: Roz, Dan, Lynn, Joel, Amy and quite a few others who came before them, including Sean, who has recently got on the candidates list and I suspect has a reasonable chance of finding a seat, as we still have about 100 or so that have yet to find a candidate. If he is selected, I wish him and his campaign extremely well, as I do my own candidate successor, Aphra Brandreth, who will be standing in the new seat of Chester South and Eddisbury. She is a first-class candidate. I very much hope that she will be able to join colleagues here after the general election.

Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill
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With characteristic modesty, my hon. Friend has not mentioned his own very significant contribution on the Justice Committee and as a Minister, and the contribution that he and his family have made to the justice system. Everybody knows the work that he, his brother and his father do to deal compassionately and humanely with those who go through prison. They and he are absolute role models. I am deeply grateful to him for his friendship and support, and we wish him all the very best for the future.

Edward Timpson Portrait Edward Timpson
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I am extremely grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. I probably ought now to declare my interests, which are on the register, not least my brother’s chairmanship of the Prison Reform Trust. They are there for all to see. It is true that there is clearly a gene in the Timpson family that makes us want to reach out beyond our own family to help others, whether that is through fostering or helping ex-offenders into work. That is something that, beyond Parliament, I want to continue to do.

Finally, I congratulate the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Chris Webb) on an excellent maiden speech. It took me back to mine in 2008, a nerve-racking moment, but he delivered his superbly. I wish him and his family all the very best. I had a very young child when I first came into Parliament, and actually I had another young child when I came into Parliament again—it is obviously a route to success in this place.

I want to thank my own family: my late mother Alex and my father John, for all the inspiration and guidance that they have given me, my wife Julia, and my four children, Sam, Elizabeth, Lydia and Nell. I hope that they will see a bit more of me now, and I hope that is the right thing to do.

Question put and agreed to.