The Bill would inhibit the freedom of business to some extent, and Members will have to consider whether that is necessary. The Government have sympathy with the Churches and others who are alarmed at the possible incursion of commercialism into Christmas day. Family life is important, and undermining Christmas day is undesirable. The Government hope that the House will give careful thought to these issues when considering the Bill. I hope that the House will allow it to go into Committee so that we can debate in detail not only the strong arguments for the Bill, but the strong reservations about some parts of it.
Mrs. Dunwoody: I am speechless. For once in my life, I am deprived of the power of speech. I have never heard such an extraordinary speech. That may be a slight exaggeration, as I have heard some very extraordinary speeches from Front-Bench Members.
The Bill would correct an anomaly that the House of Commons, in the original debate, did not realise would arise. I would be delighted if the Bill were proposing some marvellous charter to protect the rights of poorly paid women across the United Kingdom, but that is not so. It would merely rectify something that is wrong. It is
Frankly, I am disappointed--I am being tolerant--at the attitude of Ministers, who seem to think that it is all right to protect the rights of rich women, but not those of poor women. To say at the end of the speech, as my hon. Friend the Minister did, that the Government hoped that the Bill went forward was, frankly, sailing pretty close to a charge of disingenuousness.
Anderson, Rt Hon Donald
Bennett, Andrew F
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Cable, Dr Vincent
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Coffey, Ms Ann
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Ladyman, Dr Stephen
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Ryan, Ms Joan
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Vis, Dr Rudi
Tellers for the Ayes:
Mrs. Llin Golding and
Mr. Win Griffiths.
Tellers for the Noes:
Mr. Eric Forth and
Mr. Edward Leigh.
Question accordingly agreed to.
Official statistics show that, over the five years from 1995 to 1999, about 1,000 patients died in this country while on the waiting list for an organ transplant. The British Medical Association, to which I am indebted for its support and advice on this matter, would go beyond that and say that the figure understates the number of people who died for lack of an organ transplant operation. More people died who were not yet on the waiting list, and one must also consider the thousands of people who die because dialysis facilities are not available.
The Bill addresses a serious health problem. In the House, we more often debate matters of organisation and money, but this is a straightforward human problem of being unable to provide in our health service the facilities for medical treatment that could save life and dramatically improve quality of life.
The situation has not been getting better for some years. The general tendency is for the list of those waiting for organ transplants to get longer, while the number of operations being carried out has tended to drop and is currently lower than it was 10 years ago. The Bill is designed to minimise the waste of human life involved in the failure to get treatment for those who need it.
The problems that lie behind the stark statistics and the needless deaths go much wider than the law. Everyone knows that we need to campaign to get more people to volunteer to be donors if they should fall victim to a tragic accident or disease, but the number of people carrying donor cards or on the register is not the most important factor. My only mild criticism of the Government on the subject is that, at their recent organ summit--which was a welcome step that they took to ensure that no one misunderstood the implications of the Alder Hey tragedy and discouraged the transplant programme, which is an entirely different issue--they concentrated too much on imploring people to carry donor cards or put their names on the register.
I, too, want to encourage people to carry cards and put their names on the register--the vast majority are in fact willing to be donors, but only a minority get around to carrying the card--but the problems go way beyond that and turn on a whole range of issues, including medical procedures and arrangements for using the register, that lie outside the scope of the Bill. The Government, especially following the recent summit, are addressing those issues and reviewing both the law and the practice on the subject. I hope that that leads to some clarity about the role of transplant co-ordinators and provides some assistance to hard-pressed staff in intensive care units and elsewhere by putting in place facilities to enable those who are in possession of a body of someone who has tragically died and who has suitable organs for donation to get in contact with surgeons who have patients and facilities waiting for organs to become available.
Let me make it clear that the Bill addresses a small part of the process because the legal problems involved are quite tiny. There are, however, legal doubts surrounding the issue because the legal position is based on the Human Tissue Act 1961 and from time to time doubts have been raised about the ability of health authorities, trusts, doctors and others carrying out surgical procedures to be absolutely certain that they are within the law.
There has been no legal challenge so far, but as we live in an increasingly litigious age we all understand why absolutely everyone in any of the clinical professions is more aware now of the risk of someone, however cranky, bringing a legal action against them in certain circumstances. Any doubts about their legal position will create further doubts, delays and hesitation. Therefore, having found myself in the ballot for private Members' Bills, I wished to draw the House's attention to the issue as many right hon. and hon. Members feel strongly about it, but the one matter that I could address was the comparative footnote of sorting out some minor problems in the law to make sure that no risk of litigation will arise in future.
Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West): Let me emphasise what my right hon. and learned Friend has said and put it to him that were there to be challenge, there would almost certainly be an absolute stop to transplants until the law was clarified. Even if that took only a month, the chaos that would be caused for people looking for a kidney transplant, eye grafts or other transplantation would be horrendous. That is why he is absolutely right to try to sort out this minor problem as well as getting across the more general point that the gift relationship of giving consent to organ transplants is vital.