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Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Will the Leader of the House give further consideration to the request of my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) about dentistry? Some years ago, with the full co-operation and assistance of the then South Cheshire health authority, I got a national health service dentist established in the village of Poynton in the north of my constituency because all the other dentists had gone private for those who were not pregnant women or children. That dentist now threatens to withdraw from the NHS, with all the problems that that would create for thousands of my constituents and those in the surrounding areas. The Leader of the House suggested that there is a problem. May we therefore have a debate because the problem of dentistry is great for all hon. Members and I believe that we would all like the opportunity to debate the subject?
Mr. Hain: I acknowledge that there is a problemindeed, the hon. Gentleman was fair enough to point out that I did. We are devolving record funding to primary care trusts to sort out the problem, and 1,000 new dentists will be recruited by October 2005. There is a historic problem that goes back to the time of the Conservative Government. We are getting a grip on it and we will solve it in due course.
[That this House notes the most recent report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights which is severely critical of sections of the Mental Capacity Bill; notes in
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particular the criticism of those sections dealing with the withholding and withdrawing of life-sustaining treatment and of assisted food and fluids; further notes the conclusion that the presumption in favour of life-sustaining treatment in relation to the withdrawal of assisted food and fluids is not sufficiently strong in the Bill to satisfy the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights (Articles 2, 3 and 8); believes that it would be disastrous if the Bill, which has the laudable aim of seeking to transform the lives of mentally incapacitated individuals and their carers, were to become a vehicle for the introduction of euthanasia; regrets that, despite Government assurances, the declaratory provision in Clause 58 that nothing in the Bill is to be taken to affect the law relating to murder, manslaughter and suicide is not sufficient to rule out the threat of euthanasia by omission posed by the Bill; and calls upon the Government to take note of the report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights and to amend the Mental Capacity Bill to make it clear that it gives no statutory authority to any decision made with a purpose of bringing about the death of the person about whose personal welfare the decision is made.]
More than 100 Members have signed it to express their concern about the possibility of euthanasia by omission and by withdrawing sustaining foods and liquids. Will my right hon. Friend reconsider carefully the human rights implications of his decision? Will he also consider the conclusions of the Joint Committee on Human Rights that the position in the Bill as currently drafted is contrary to our undertakings under the European convention on human rights, which we proudly incorporated into our legislation?
Mr. Hain: As I said a moment ago, the Bill does not reopen the question of euthanasia. However, I understand the concern that my hon. Friend and others have expressed and which is demonstrated in the early-day motion. For several hon. Members, a question mark remains about the issue. I am sure that there will be an amendment on this matterif it is selectedfor debate next week. The issue will then be able to be resolved in the way in which the House normally resolves these issues. Any uncertainties or anxieties will then be resolved, and people will have the chance to recognise that we are doing the right thing.
Mr. Michael Weir (Angus) (SNP): The Leader of the House will be aware that the first contingent of Black Watch personnel returned from Iraq this morning, and that is very welcome. He will also be aware, however, of the continuing concern in Scotland about the future of our historic regiments. There is speculation that an announcement will be made on that next week. Will he confirm when that announcement will be made, and will he give us an assurance that it will be made first to Members of the House by the Secretary of State for Defence?
I will certainly ensure that the Secretary of State is aware of the hon. Gentleman's question, and, in particular, of his concern about the form that any announcement should take. We will consult about that. The Black Watch has performed heroically, as it always does, and done a fantastic job. I recall some of the hon. Gentleman's colleaguesif not the hon. Gentleman
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himselfsaying that members of the Black Watch would not be back before Christmas. They are back, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be generous enough to acknowledge that.
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): May we have a debate on under-age drinking? I understand from the press this morning that the Home Secretary is planning to strengthen the laws on pubs and clubs where under-age drinking goes on. The main problem in my constituency involves young people who buy cans from shops or off-licences and cause problems in the area. Last weekend, the residents of Whitchurch who live around the Court field had a very distressing time caused by young people who had been drinking breaking down fences, setting fire to dustbins and generally causing distress. It is important that we consider the issue of young people buying alcohol from shops. May we have a debate on the subject?
Mr. Hain: I would be very happy if there were time to have such a debate. If my hon. Friend were successful in applying for one, that would be all to the good. I can confirm that, this morning, the Cabinet endorsed a proposal by the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister to impose restrictions on premises found to be selling alcohol to under-age drinkersindeed, under the proposal, such premises could be closed down for 24 hours in those circumstancesand we are looking for a suitable legislative opportunity to introduce the measure.
Mr. Hain: Well, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) has just explained about the problem in her constituency, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would agree that there is too much antisocial behaviour as a result of excessive alcohol intake by children. We need to provide for extra procedures if we are to get a grip on that, and we shall do so as we tackle antisocial behaviour through the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill, and as we have done in previous legislation, often without the support of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): In the village of Burghfield in my constituency, the police are experimenting with devoting more of their time to tackling yobbishness and antisocial behaviour. May we have a debate on whether we should have more police around the country to tackle this kind of activity, and on whether that, rather than more laws, might be the answer?
We have recruited more than 12,500 extra police officers and 4,000 community support officers across the country, and the number of community support officers will go up to 20,000 under Labour's spending plans. That would all be jeopardised, in the right hon. Gentleman's constituency and elsewhere, under the savage cuts that the shadow Chancellor
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proposes to make within a couple of years of the Conservatives coming into office. That is the reality that people will face at the general election.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Our debate on the Mental Capacity Bill next week has already been mentioned, but many Labour Members feel that it is only right for us to have a free vote on a matter of conscience. The conscience issue is the withdrawal of food and fluids, and the amendment that has been tabled does not go far enough. I believe that the time has come to respect the views of Labour Members by allowing a free vote on what is a very important constituency issue for many of us.
Mr. Hain: I agree with my hon. Friend that it is an issue of conscience, and an issue of deep concern to our constituents. I have had representations on it, as, no doubt, has he. But, as I have explained, this is not about reopening the issue of euthanasia. When he looks at the Order Paper on Tuesday morning, he will see that amendments have been tabled to deal with Members' concerns right across the House, and I think that he will be satisfied by that, subject to their being selected for debate. I think that we can move forward on this on a basis of consensus and agreement.
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