A Bill designed to remove legal barriers for families of missing people has overcome its first major hurdle in the Commons after it passed its inaugural reading unopposed.
The legislation, brought by the Thirsk and Malton MP Kevin Hollinrake, aims to give the friends and families of missing persons greater control over their finances to avoid issues such as debt.
Its smooth passage today was welcomed by campaigners, who described it as a “vital step” toward easing the distress experienced by hundreds of affected families.
A visibly emotional Peter Lawrence – father of the missing York woman Claudia Lawrence – was in Westminster for the reading, where he told The Yorkshire Post it felt like a “milestone” in his campaign for reform.
“There are so many families – about 2,500 at the moment – who are just waiting to be able to do what everybody else does, and look after the financial affairs of their missing loved ones,” he said.
“We’ve had promises and promises. This is a milestone at last.
“The challenge now is to get the Bill through before the end of the session.
“But if it’s anything like the Presumption of Death Bill which went through very quickly and with very little debate. This will be much the same.”
Under existing law, the relatives of missing people often find themselves unable to get access to their loved one’s financial affairs, including bills, mortgage payments or direct debits.
This can result in a build up of debt – both on the part of the missing person and their relatives – as well as a loss of property.
The new Bill – dubbed Claudia’s Law after Mr Lawrence’s daughter – aims to minimise this risk by allowing third parties to apply for temporary control.
Susannah Drury, director of services at the charity Missing People, welcomed its successful first reading, but stressed the need for a quick progression through the remaining stages of the legislative process.
“We work with families who are facing immense and incredibly difficult problems because of the lack of these guardianship powers,” she told this paper.
“For example, we worked with a family where the brother went missing, and the family spent around £30,000 keeping his home for him and paying his mortgage and all the bills.
“It’s brilliant news that we’ve got a second reading date so soon – this does feel like the vital first step we need towards legislation to bring in these powers.
“We’ll work with Kevin, Peter and anyone else who supports this bill to make it go through as quickly as possible, because with every month that passes more families find themselves in this horrendous situation.”
The Bill will have its second reading on February 3.
Mr Hollinrake said he was optimistic that he will be able to “deliver the legislation quickly”, due to the high level of cross-party and governmental support.