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Mental Capacity Bill (Programme) (No. 3)

12.31 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. David Lammy): I beg to move,

         New Clauses relating to life-sustaining          treatment and best interests. 3.30 p.m. on the day on which proceedings on consideration are begun.
         New Clauses relating to research and to          independent consultees 5.30 p.m. on that day.
         Remaining proceedings on consideration6 p.m. on that day.

The Government want to ensure that there is sufficient time to debate the important issues that arise in the Bill, and we recognise the need to allow adequate time to debate the amendments relating to best interests and advance decisions. That is why we have provided for the debate to last until 3.30 pm on all the amendments in the first group. It is also important that we allow time to discuss the other important issues—independent consultees and research. A number of amendments have been tabled on those subjects, which concerned hon. Members on Second Reading and in Committee. I hope the time allocated this afternoon will allow us to debate all the amendments and the technical arrangements in the three groups.

12.33 pm

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): There have been reports that the Government would table new amendments to respond to concerns in the House. In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) and myself at business questions last Thursday, the Leader of the House said that the Government would table new amendments today. There are no new amendments. That undertaking has not been fulfilled.

How are we to proceed today? Will we get some kind of assurance—which, if it is not backed by amendment, will be worthless—from the Minister in charge, about what the Government intend to do in another place or at some other time? How can the House of Commons proceed reasonably on a Bill that affects large numbers of people, which affects the consciences of Members in all parts of the House, and on which the two Opposition parties have a free vote, whereas we do not?

How is the House of Commons to proceed in a sensible, reasoned way on issues that touch the heart of the life of human beings, if the Government are not fulfilling the commitment that they made that new amendments would be tabled, and if the all the
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backdoor conversations that appear to have been going on during the past few hours have not resulted in anything on the Order Paper?

12.34 pm

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): May I warmly support that point, which the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) has made extremely well? On Thursday, I was here for business questions, when the Leader of the House clearly indicated that the Government would table new amendments. I share the view of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton that unless the words appear on the face of the Bill, all the whispers and assurances given in a quiet corner are valueless.

Before we proceed this afternoon, I hope that the Minister will indicate precisely where the Government stand, because the amendments, which the Leader of the House properly promised last Thursday at business questions, have not materialised. Are we to trust the Government? This is a matter of high moral principle, and before we proceed any further, I hope that the Minister will give assurances that satisfy me, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton, and many other hon. Members who feel strongly about the subject.

12.36 pm

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North) (Lab): It would be helpful if we knew the Government's intention on new clause 4. We have received correspondence that indicates that the Government will accept new clause 4, which has been tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), subject to a little bit of tweaking here and there. I do not like new clause 4, but if undertakings have been given, we must know what they are.

It would be useful if we knew the issues on which we can divide—I can see three such issues in the first batch of amendments.

Sir Gerald Kaufman: My hon. Friend is discussing what we know and what we do not know. Hon. Friends have been in touch with me on the telephone and in other ways to say that they have had conversations with senior members of the Government, who have given assurances about the changes that they intend to make to the Bill, but no changes have been produced. Assurances were given in conversations held yesterday evening and perhaps today—so far as I can gather, they were given to assuage the strong feelings of a number of hon. Members—but they have not materialised. The Minister could give us some information about those assurances before our detailed discussion of the clauses.

Mr. McNamara: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that timely and short interjection in my speech. He has, however, deprived me of at least half a column on the subject in Hansard.

Many Labour Members fear that they will make a lot of points and that the Government will stand firm, before capitulating in the Lords. It would be better if the Government capitulated to elected Members rather to their lordships.
14 Dec 2004 : Column 1531

12.38 pm

Mr. Lammy: Once we get to the debate, I hope to satisfy hon. Members. Government amendments have been tabled today. On the delicate issues in the Bill, the Government have continued to talk to interested parties and hon. Members. I look forward to getting into the debate, acknowledging where we have made progress and examining whether any outstanding issues remain between us.

Sir Gerald Kaufman: Will the Minister allow me, before he sits down?

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Minister has sat down.

Question put and agreed to.
14 Dec 2004 : Column 1532

Orders of the Day

Mental Capacity Bill

As amended in the Standing Committee in the last Session of Parliament, considered.

[Relevant document: The Twenty-third Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Session 2003–04, on Scrutiny of Bills: Final Progress Report, HC 1282.]

New Clause 1

Excluded decisions

'(1)   Nothing in this Act permits, authorises or gives validity to any decision made with a purpose of bringing about the death of the person about whose welfare the decision is made.

(2)   The provisions of subsection (1) do not apply to—

(a)   a decision that a life-sustaining treatment is not to be carried out or continued because it would be unreasonably burdensome to the person; or

(b)   the power of the court to make such order concerning the continuance of life-sustaining treatment as it considers to be in the best interests of a person whom it has determined to be irreversibly unconscious.'.—[Mr. Dobbin.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Minister just said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) that there are new Government amendments. I have the selection list in front of me, and there is not a single starred Government amendment. Are there amendments that we do not know about?

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