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Mr. Boswell: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that an important subsidiary motive in the Bill is to protect the position of carers, family members or professionals who are doing their best in difficult circumstances? They should not be dragged up before the beak on charges of assault, battery or other intrusion into the interests of the person if they have taken reasonable steps. That objective is a fair one, although it may conflict with some of the other priorities.

Dr. Pugh: That is a fair point. It is not easy for anybody to make a decision when someone is near death and the doctors say that some intervention—even the provision of food—is not helpful. I do not know how such a decision can be made simply and effortlessly. I do not know how if an LPA is challenged because it is felt that the attorney has lost the plot. That cannot always be easily decided.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Ms Rosie Winterton): That is why we have proposed the court of protection, which will be a new jurisdiction set up to deal with such disputes.

Dr. Pugh: I accept the Minister's point, but the decisions by the court of protection may depend on the judge and his or her values. In some cases, the evidence will be overwhelming and the judgment simple and straightforward. In other cases, much may depend on the individual values of judges. It is not the Bill's interests to allow much of the latter.

8.7 pm

Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab): Like other hon. Members, I was greatly moved and—as someone else said—uplifted by the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas). It reminded us that we are talking not only about the law, but about deep, agonising moral dilemmas. It reminded me that I have been asked in the past to take a decision about the resuscitation of my father. On another occasion, I was asked whether I wanted one of my children to be taken off a life-support system. All of us, in different ways, have had to take dreadful decisions in circumstances for which we had had no preparation. We sought to work
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through them as best we could with the people who brought something to bear to that situation. We have to be humble in the way in which we talk about such things and take some care in doing so.

It is often said that the House of Commons legislates too hastily and repents at leisure. Whatever is said about this measure it cannot be said that Parliament has moved too hastily. I shall not run through the whole chronology, but we have had everything, starting in 1989 with an inquiry by the Law Commission. We have had seemingly endless consultation documents, Green Papers, White Papers, consultative forums and draft Bills—the whole bag of tricks. It is probably true to say that never in the history of this House has any measure been so exhaustively scrutinised before being finally dealt with.

On the whole, that is a good thing because the measure is important. Certainly, we could compare it with the Human Tissue Bill, which is a cognate matter, where the fact that it was not properly consulted on and did not have a draft Bill stage caused all kinds of problems, so that it had to go into cold storage for months and the Government had to rewrite parts of it. Whatever else the passage of this Bill does, it will vindicate a process of deliberative decision making that builds in consultation throughout.

I can see why both this Government and the previous Government were nervous about the issue. That is why the process has taken so long. The previous Government, having dipped their toe in the water, quickly took it out again. It took only a typically well-informed, balanced and temperate campaign by the Daily Mail, with cries of euthanasia, to lead the Government into thinking that it was not a good idea to proceed with their measure. It is to the credit of this Government that they have persevered, against all that. The cries are going up again, but the Government are persevering because they think the measure is worth delivering.

I was disappointed that the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell), speaking for the Opposition, had a slight loss of nerve at the end of his speech when he told us what he intended to do about the Bill. However, I quite understand that the issues are complex and that there are people sitting behind him who cause him some difficulty.

After a process of so much time and intensity, one would have thought that the Bill would be universally welcomed. As we have heard today, the welcome has been almost but not entirely universal. Some people will not accept the inclusion of clauses relating to advance decisions on treatment. We are all receiving letters about that and they have been referred to frequently. I received a fairly representative one this morning. It states:

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That is one of the more temperate letters that I have received about the issue and it is from a good person. Indeed, all my constituents are good persons; they differ only in the degree of their goodness, but someone—some organisation—has told my constituent that that is what the Bill will do.

As gently as I can, I want to ask such organisations to think of their responsibility when telling elderly, vulnerable and infirm people, "This is what the state is going to do to you. This is what doctors and nurses are going to do to you." However much we may disagree about parts of the Bill, all of us have a huge responsibility to have the argument. On the whole, the House has done that today and it reflects the complexity and difficulty of taking any decisions on these matters.

David Taylor: Is it not possible that the cessation of nutrition and hydration could cause the pain, distress and extreme discomfort that my hon. Friend's constituent fears?

Tony Wright: I am not suggesting for a second that the issues are not deeply important and complex. I have listened to all the exchanges today; they have been important. I simply object to an approach to such questions that produces the consequences to which I referred. That is not helpful to the argument and it is massively unhelpful to the people who are likely to be affected by some of our decisions.

If I can put the point in a rather indelicate way: God save us from the fundamentalists and the absolutists. They are the people whom we do not require in the argument, because they can help us least. People who think these matters are simple and that they can merely read the answers from a rulebook will not help us to get through a minefield of deeply complex issues. If anything comes out of our proceedings today, I hope that it will be in our understanding that these are complicated balancing judgments and that we do not need declamatory moral polemics.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) is not in the Chamber. She talked about people who disagreed with her as cynical and wicked. In her absence, I have to say to her that that is precisely the language we do not need to use about a measure such as the Bill. Such language is massively unhelpful and deeply damaging.

In some ways, the Bill is a rather modest proposal. Its ambition in the aspect that is causing the most difficulty is to codify existing case law provisions. That is what it does. Many Opposition Members who have taken exception to certain provisions are taking exception not to the codification so much as to the case law. They do not like the current position and the fact that we are codifying that position makes it worse for them. Their argument is with what we are doing already—in particular, in trying to extend rights to people with capacity with regard to the care and treatment that they will be entitled to ask for and to expect in conditions of incapacity. Indeed, I would ask that not only for them but also for myself. It is a balancing act. It is always a balancing act.
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Mr. Grieve: The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful contribution, all the more so because we have not had a huge opportunity to hear from Members who broadly support the Bill. Apart from the hon. Gentleman and one or two of his colleagues, they have not been present. Does he agree that criticising the current state of the law and the consequences of the Bland judgment is a perfectly legitimate standpoint for individuals to take? There are consequences of the Bland judgment that give people considerable concern, including the way in which it may have affected the care in hospital of the very elderly and terminally ill.

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