§ Mr. Norman Hogg
asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland what differences, if any, there are in the criteria which determine whether or not a public inquiry is held into a death from a suspected industrial disease which occurs in Scotland as against one occurring in England or Wales; and what were the comparative numbers of such public inquiries held in the past five years.
§ The Solicitor-General for Scotland
In terms of the Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths Inquiry (Scotland) Act 1976, section 1(1)(b), it is within the discretion of my noble and learned Friend the Lord 254W Advocate to direct that a procurator fiscal apply to the sheriff for the holding of a public inquiry if it appears to the Lord Advocate to be expedient in the public interest that such an inquiry should be held into the circumstances of a death on the ground that the death was sudden, suspicious or unexplained, or has occurred in circumstances such as give rise to serious public concern.
Procurators fiscal have been instructed to report to the Lord Advocate's office all deaths which appear to have been caused by poisoning or disease, notice of which is required to be given to any Government Department or to any inspector or other officer of a Government Department under or in pursuance of any Act. In addition, procurators fiscal report all deaths which occur in circumstances the continuance of which or possible recurrence of which is prejudicial to the health and safety of the public and where the death occurred in industrial employment. Similarly, arrangements have been made with the Registrar General for Scotland that registrars will report to procurators fiscal all deaths arising out of industrial employment, accident, industrial disease or industrial poisoning.
When such reports are received consideration is given in association with the Health and Safety Executive, to whether the circumstances of the death are such that there is any serious public concern, whether there are any local representations concerning the circumstances of the death, whether the relatives of the deceased have expressed any views to the procurator fiscal on whether there should be a public inquiry, whether there is any continuing danger or risk which should be ventilated at a public inquiry and whether there are any other factors or circumstances which would tend to lead the Lord Advocate to the view that the circumstances should be the subject of public examination.
In terms of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, section 14, the Health and Safety Commission have power, with the consent of the Secretary of State, to direct an inquiry to be held into any death from, inter alia, any suspected industrial disease. This provision applies on a United Kingdom basis and the criteria are therefore identical in England. Wales and Scotland.255W
The investigation generally in England and Wales of deaths associated or possibly associated with industrial disease falls initially within the jurisdiction of the coroner and to obtain details of coroners' inquests into such deaths, the hon. Member would require to be in touch with the Lord Chancellor's Office.
The Scottish figures for which the hon. Member asks are not available as details are not kept separately of inquries into specific types of deaths.