Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Lammy: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) for indicating that the important point is that we get the spirit right. We are debating the Mental Capacity Bill because we are concerned about protecting vulnerable people. Although today's debate has centred, rightly, around the difficult issue of what happens to vulnerable people as they approach the end of their lives, we should not forget that the entirety of the Bill concerns carers, parents and doctors who deal on a day-to-day basis with people who have Down's syndrome or autism and those who have had a stroke or been injured in car accidents.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke), the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), my hon. Friends the Members for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), for Heywood and Middleton (Jim Dobbin), for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) and for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) and the hon. Members for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow), for Congleton (Ann Winterton) and for Southport (Dr. Pugh), along with many others, have been engaged in the discussion on a Bill that will help up to 2 million people.
14 Dec 2004 : Column 1571

The crucial issue at the heart of this afternoon's discussion is the interface between euthanasia and assisted suicide and the Bill. The Government have proposed clause 58 because of the work of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. The Bill categorically states that nothing in the Bill is outside the law on suicide, manslaughter and murder.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Lammy: We have also sought to work with the Catholic Church. We have introduced amendments on advanced decisions and objective measures.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab): The letter that the Minister has circulated from Archbishop Peter Smith welcomes the undertaking given by the Lord Chancellor, but states:

That would satisfy me and many hon. Members. Will the Minister give an undertaking that he will discuss the wording with both the Churches and hon. Members? The amendments will be tabled in the other place, so will he also undertake to make sure that there is sufficient time to discuss them when the Bill returns to this House?

Mr. Lammy: Yes, absolutely. Let us not forget that the Bill began 15 years ago under another Administration. We have continued the dialogue and have engaged in discussions with both my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Jean Corston), the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and Peter Smith. Notwithstanding the detail on the purpose amendment, which we will get into shortly and which centres on new clauses 1 and 2 in particular, the Government are with the sentiment behind those new clauses, but the wording and unintended consequences would cause some problems.

Jean Corston (Bristol, East) (Lab): The Minister knows the concerns of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which I chair. We were particularly concerned about advance directives. People who are required to sign advance directives would have to say that they agreed to the withdrawal of treatment. We are concerned that they will not know that treatment includes artificial nutrition and hydration, which would put people, and sometimes their medical carers and families, in an impossible situation. Will he undertake to introduce measures to make sure that people give consent, that consent is independently witnessed and that the procedure is agreed throughout the medical profession? The consent should be in writing or, for people who are unable to write, some form that gauges intention.

Mr. Lammy: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, as is the Lord Chancellor, for our continuing discussions on this issue over the past few weeks. I can give her that undertaking. She will know that we put it in the code of practice, which has statutory power under the Bill. However, she has tried to see to it that advance decisions
14 Dec 2004 : Column 1572
in relation to life-sustaining treatment are covered by the Bill, and I can give her that undertaking on the basis of what her Committee has said.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton) (Lab/Co-op): It was my intention to vote for new clauses 1 and 2, but given the appearance of the letter from Archbishop Peter Smith of Cardiff and the commitments that seem to have been given, I ask the Minister to assure me that the spirit of new clauses 1 and 2 will be embraced as the Bill goes to the House of Lords and that constructive engagement will take place so that those who have objections can feel assured that they are being taken seriously.

Mr. Lammy: I can say that. Let me come to new clause 1—

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Lammy: What I need to say—

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. I do not think that the Minister intends to give way at the moment. It would be helpful if he indicated whether he intended to give way to hon. Members when they stand.

Mr. Lammy: I intend to make some progress so that I can explain the situation that we have reached today.

I am of course sympathetic—

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that it is important that this letter be clarified. The hon. Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) said that it had been circulated by the Minister, in which case he should simply say whether it reflects the position of the Government; that would assist everybody.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. It would be helpful if the Minister were allowed to continue to clarify these matters.

Mr. Redwood: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would it be possible for us to have the Lord Chancellor's letter, as it is the most relevant document and it is missing from this debate?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: As I understand it, arrangements are now being made for it to be available in the Vote Office.

Mr. Lammy: It is precisely because I want to explain the position that we have reached today that I am going to make some progress.

Mr. Cash: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It seems to me that these proceedings are degenerating into something of a shambles. I am personally very much in favour of new clauses 1 and 2, but in the light of this letter, could we look to you to give us some guidance on the manner in which any amendments that are received in this House from the House of Lords
14 Dec 2004 : Column 1573
properly reflect the matters that are being discussed? We do not want to find, I am sure, that inadequate time is given in this House to consider these vital matters, whatever the House of Lords may have to say.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is an experienced Member of this House, and he will understand that we will consider whatever amendments come back from the House of Lords in the normal way.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I do not want to stifle points of order, but time is running out, and I think that the Minister should be given the opportunity to respond. It would be helpful if he directed his remarks to the letter that seems crucial to the debate.

Mr. Lammy: Can I say—

Mr. George Howarth: I am sorry to intervene on my hon. Friend, but in view of the assurances that he gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall), unless he can give a further explanation I will feel obliged to press amendment No. 2 to a vote.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South) (LD): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Further to what you said about the letter to the Lord Chancellor being made available to Members in the Vote Office, may we have an assurance that if it is not available before the vote at 3.30, the Minister will read the letter to the House before he concludes his speech?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I am not in a position to direct the Minister in this debate, but I think that he should now be allowed to make his response.

Next Section IndexHome Page