Page last updated at 21:42 GMT, Tuesday, 25 October 2011 22:42 UK

Plea to save chief coroner post

The government has come under pressure to abandon its plans to scrap the post of chief coroner in England and Wales.

The post was established by the last Labour government with cross-party support. It is designed to improve the handling of military inquests and provide leadership for coroners.

The coalition has not appointed anyone to the office on the grounds of cost and under the terms of the Public Bodies Bill it will be scrapped.

As MPs debated the bill at report stage on 25 October 2011, Conservative Andrew Percy urged the government to revise its plans.

He said the post would provide "independent leadership" to "drive long overdue reform", adding: "It's also about respect for the families of those who have had to go through the system."

The Ministry of Justice has said it will set up a charter for coroners, with a minister in charge of the reforms.

But Mr Percy maintained there should be "somebody at the top… who is independent of ministers and who can drive this reform".

He also challenged the Ministry of Justice's "inflated" estimates that setting up the chief coroner's office would cost £11m, with an ongoing expenditure of £6.6m.

Labour shadow minister Michael Dugher said the government's plans were opposed by a number of organisations including the Royal British Legion and Cruse Bereavement Care.

He added: "It is widely acknowledged that there are currently great variations in both the manner and the quality of coronial inquests. It is clear that reform is long overdue."

But Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly said the plans would be too costly.

He explained that the majority of the powers which would be handed to a chief coroner would now be passed to the Lord Chief Justice or Lord Chancellor. This would deliver "real and significant" changers to the coronial system, he said.

Labour supported Mr Percy's amendment to retain the post of chief coroner but it was still defeated by 287 votes to 235, a majority of 52.

The debate was immediately followed by third reading, which the bill passed by 300 votes to 224, a majority of 76. The legislation now goes to the House of Lords for peers to consider changes made in the Commons.

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