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Points of Order

3.31 pm

Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you received any indication from the Minister for Sport and Tourism that he intends to come to the House to make a statement on the future of the British grand prix? The matter is vital for three reasons. The British grand prix is one of the great events of the UK sporting calendar. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Hon. Members should not be in discussion during a point of order.

Hugh Robertson: The motor racing industry employs 40,000 people in this country, and many of their jobs may be at risk. The loss of the grand prix would be a huge blow to the nation's sporting prestige and is bound to affect our chances of hosting other international sporting events. The Minister has been making statements to the press over the past three weeks.

Mr. Speaker: I refused an urgent question from the hon. Gentleman regarding this matter, and I would not like to pursue it on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will the House consider that this is an important matter, both locally and nationally, in terms of jobs and prestige, and also that it is urgent because, as I understand it, if a decision to reinstate the grand prix is not taken by Wednesday, we will lose it for a year, which will obviously have long-term implications? Anything that you can do, Mr. Speaker, to encourage Ministers to take the matter seriously will be appreciated.

Mr. Speaker: I am sure that the appropriate Minister will have heard the hon. Gentleman.
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Orders of the Day

Mental Capacity Bill

[Relevant documents: The Report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Mental Incapacity Bill, Session 2002–03, HL Paper 189-I and HC 1083-I; the Government's reply thereto, Cm 6121; and the Fifteenth Report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Session 2002–03, HL Paper 149 and HC 1005.]

Order for Second Reading read.

3.34 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. David Lammy): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am delighted to be able to introduce this important and long-awaited Bill. Voluntary organisations, individuals and their families, and many Members on both sides of the House, have campaigned for the Bill for many years—since 1989. The Bill will empower, protect and support people who lack mental capacity. We can and should no longer dismiss people by simply labelling them incapable. Professionals, families and friends who care for people who lack mental capacity need to understand more fully and more clearly their legal rights and responsibilities.

The Bill will affect everyone in this country. Nearly 750,000 people have dementia. At some point, 1 per cent. of the population will suffer from schizophrenia and 5 per cent. from depression or serious bipolar disease. More than 5 million people in England and Wales are carers for people who lack mental capacity. All those people, and many others, may need decisions to be made on their behalf, or need to make decisions on behalf of someone else.

The Bill's journey began many years ago. In 1989, the Law Commission said that specific legislation was needed, pointing out that case law was unsystematic and full of gaps and that it often did not reflect changes in attitudes. The Bill has benefited from input from numerous people and organisations with experience, expertise and commitment. They include Age Concern, the Alzheimer's Society, Mind and the other organisations that make up the Making Decisions Alliance. I thank them for all their support and advice.

Many hon. Members know that a draft Bill was scrutinised last autumn by a Joint Committee of both Houses. I thank all members of that Committee for their commitment and dedication. We accepted the vast majority of the Committee's recommendations. The Bill is much improved as a result of that scrutiny: in particular, we renamed it the Mental Capacity Bill to emphasise its focus on enablement; we included a set of key principles up front to frame the Bill; and we reworked the clauses on acts in connection with care and treatment to make their purpose clear.

Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend for giving way so early in his speech. The Joint Committee, of which I was a member, received many representations from people who regarded the draft Bill as introducing euthanasia by stealth—by the back door. We demanded assurances that that was not the case. I am sure that he
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will refer to the matter later, but will he take this early opportunity to reinforce that message, which some people still do not accept?

Mr. Lammy: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for all the work she has done to bring the Bill to fruition. I know that in some of our communities there has been a debate with some groups that cast the Bill in that light, but we state categorically in the Bill, at clause 58, that it is not about euthanasia. Euthanasia remains a criminal offence in this country and the Bill does not change that fundamental arrangement. I am grateful to the Joint Committee for its work in stating that the draft Bill was not about euthanasia. I am also grateful for the work that we have been able to do on that important issue with the Catholic Church in particular, and for the Church's indication that the measure is not about euthanasia.

The Bill is about life and about people who suffer extremely debilitating diseases, such as schizophrenia and depression. Later in my speech, I shall discuss advance decisions, which are the matter that has attracted most attention. However, because the Bill is about the whole life of an individual, it will take me some time to reach that subject.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con): Will the Minister clarify his comments that the Bill is not about euthanasia? Does he accept that there is a difference between the act by omission and the act by commission, and that in the drafting of the Bill the Government have dealt with the act by commission? Carefully left open are the issues surrounding the Bland judgment, particularly as that refers to the act by omission.

Mr. Lammy: I have said that the Bill does not change current common law. It makes it clear that any decision must be made in the best interests of the person who lacks capacity. We shall come on to discuss the advance decision, in particular.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): Will the Minister be very specific? What concerns those of us who fear euthanasia by omission is the definition of treatment, not only in the Bill but in its associated code of practice, and particularly in the definition of futile treatment. Will the hon. Gentleman categorically assure the House, with no ifs and buts, that treatment does not include, under the Bill, the provision of assisted food and fluid?

Mr. Lammy: I have said that the Bill does not change the current arrangement. Artificial hydration, with which I think the right hon. Lady is concerned, relates definitely to particular cases, some of which find themselves before our courts. The Bill does not alter that situation. Extremely difficult determinations have to be made involving hydration and nastro-gastric tubes and the balance between personal autonomy and dignity as well as sanctity of life. The right hon. Lady is right to pick up a difficult issue. As I have said, the Bill does not
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change the current law, the position on euthanasia or the difficult determinations that are made in the court of protection.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Lammy: I shall give way to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and then I want to make some progress before we return to these issues.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): Many of us are concerned about how the Bill does or does not take forward the issue of euthanasia. Will my hon. Friend give the House an undertaking that if any of those people who do not, perhaps, have the capacities that most of us normally have are to have any of their rights infringed, they will have someone who acts as a champion for them and they will be able to go to an outside tribunal before any detrimental decision is made in "their interests"?

Mr. Lammy: We have ensured that an independent consultee will assist with decisions involving health and welfare, put the best interests of the person who lacks capacity at the centre of decision making and established a new court of protection. Given all the safeguards that we have put into the Bill, which no doubt we shall scrutinise in detail, we have been able to proceed without setting up a separate tribunal system. I shall now make some progress.

I have said that we renamed the Bill the Mental Capacity Bill to emphasise its focus on enablement. We included a set of key principles to frame the Bill. We reworked the clauses surrounding acts in connection with care and treatment, to make their purpose clear. We made it clear that the court would set clear limits on the authority of deputies. We followed the recommendation to bring into statute legislation on advance decisions to refuse treatment, with clearer and tighter safeguards. We included provisions on research as it suggested, again with strict safeguards. The Joint Committee agreed that concerns linking the Bill with euthanasia appear to be misplaced, but it thought that it would be helpful to include additional reassurances in the legislation, and we have done so.

I now want to say why the Bill is so important. First, it is about the rights of the individual person. It starts by saying that individuals should be assumed to be capable of making decisions, and helped to make them. If they cannot make them, the Bill says that each decision or act under the Bill must be based on the "best interests" of the individual. Secondly, the law is unclear, and the Joint Committee agreed that we needed to clarify the law as it affects day-to-day life. Thirdly, the Bill makes it clear that relatives and carers should be consulted when other people do things without consent to someone who lacks capacity. Hon. Members will know from their own constituents that this does not always happen. People come to us and say that something has happened, and that the person concerned did not have consent. We have tightened up those provisions. Fourthly, the Bill clarifies what can be done, and who can do it, when someone lacks mental capacity, and emphasises that they must act in that person's best interests.
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