Page last updated at 16:24 GMT, Monday, 14 November 2011

Defence questions

A Labour MP has called on the government to re-instate the office of chief coroner to oversee inquests into military deaths.

The post was created under the last Labour government but scrapped by the coalition before anyone was appointed.

At defence questions in the Commons on 14 November 2011, Jessica Morden said it was an issue that should "unite and not divide the House".

She told MPs that appointing a chief coroner "in line with revised proposals from the [Royal British Legion] would send a wonderful message to service families at this particular special time".

The RBL has campaigned for a chief coroner arguing that it would help grieving military families.

Defence Minister Andrew Robathan defended the government's position telling MPs the "important" thing was the results that bereaved families got at inquests, pointing out there had been "problems" in the past.

He said improved training for coroners would benefit bereaved relatives, adding that supporters of a chief coroner "seem to have got hung up" on the role.

"What is important is that bereaved families get an excellent service from coroners and we are working very hard to ensure that happens," he added.

The minister told MPs he was a "great supporter" of the RBL and believed it to be a "great organisation", but added: "That doesn't mean they are right on everything. In this campaign they have rather overstated their case."

He disputed RBL research showing that two-thirds of the public thought a chief coroner was "essential", asking MPs: "How many of your constituents have heard of the chief coroner?

"Not two-thirds of the population, I can promise you that much."

Conservative Andrew Murrison praised the independence of past and current coroners in dealing with military inquests and said they did not need a "bureaucratic official sitting over them".

Before the question session began Speaker John Bercow paid tribute to Labour MP Alan Keen who has died at the age of 73 after a battle with cancer.

Mr Keen, whose wife Ann is a former Labour MP and health minister, had been MP for the London constituency of Feltham and Heston since 1992.

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