Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I appreciate that reply. Will the noble and learned Lord take account of the view that as it is now legally permissible for people with capacity to refuse medical treatment—a refusal that would lead to death—they should have the same right to refuse medical treatment for the future when they are without capacity provided that they leave a specific advance directive which acknowledges that this may lead to death?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, my understanding of the existing law, as stated also by the Law Commission at paragraph 5.14 of its report, is that,

15 Mar 1995 : Column 850

As the noble Lord said, the precise circumstances to which it will apply and its validity are important. It must be plain that the intention of the person making the directive was incorporated in the instrument.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale: My Lords, as one who introduced the Bill on advance directives perhaps I may say how much I welcome the statement which the noble and learned Lord has just made. In the meantime may I put in a plea for avoiding use of the extraordinary phrase "living wills"? An ordinary will is made when one is still living. The advance directives we are talking about are concerned with how one dies.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I would be the last to criticise the noble Lord. I imagine that the phrase "living wills" is designed to point to the fact that a living will is supposed to take effect during life whereas ordinary wills take effect on death.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, is one to assume from what the noble and learned Lord says that an advance directive and a living will are virtually the same thing?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I shall limit my answer to my understanding of this, which is that they are two names for the same thing.

Lord Stallard: My Lords, would the noble and learned Lord care to comment on the recommendation set out in Clause 9 of the Law Commission's draft Bill that doctors can withhold treatment, which ends a patient's life, if that patient has specifically stated in a living will that he or she wants to die? Surely that can be interpreted as amounting to an encouragement to patients to express suicidal wishes.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, one has to read the Law Commission's report as a whole. It would not be wise to take a small passage out of context. So far as I am concerned—and so far as the Government are concerned—we are entirely in line with the views on euthanasia expressed by a Select Committee of this House.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord confirm that all general practitioners are being circulated with leaflets which advise patients how to make a living will?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I believe that there are such initiatives. The Law Commission considers that some clarification of the precise circumstances and effects of such documents is required.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord bear in mind that many of the passages of the Law Commission's report are, in a sense, self-contradictory and that he is right to say that the report must be taken as a whole if one is to understand its gist? Regardless of what the Law Commission says, I believe that where people specifically state that they do not want to be kept alive by such means they have the right to refuse medical treatment even if that would lead to death, provided that they specify that clearly. It is wrong for doctors to insist on going ahead with medical

15 Mar 1995 : Column 851

treatment when it is clearly against the specific wishes of the person concerned. That is the key element in the whole equation.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, the noble Lord advises me to keep the whole of the Law Commission's report in mind. I shall certainly seek to do that—and I do so gladly. However, with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, I do not accept his view that the Law Commission's report is self-contradictory. As I said, if one reads the report as a whole one realises that it has the cohesion and effectiveness that we have come to associate with reports from the Law Commission.

Lord Mishcon: My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord bear in mind the substantial opinion that whereas such documents can be recognised and doctors may pay attention to them they should not be mandatory upon doctors because circumstances may well change?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, that is certainly true. The noble Lord's question gives me an opportunity to emphasise the fact that for an advance directive to be relevant it must be applicable in the particular circumstances in which the patient and the doctor are placed at the time. It is therefore important that it should be sufficiently specific for that properly to be judged.

Nigeria: General Obasanjo

3.3 p.m.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff: My Lords, I beg leave to ask a Question of which I have given Her Majesty's Government private notice, namely: whether Her Majesty's Government will make immediate representations to the Nigerian Government for the release of General Obasanjo, former Head of the Nigerian Government, who was arrested on 13th March.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey): My Lords, we have already made it clear to the Nigerian authorities that Her Majesty's Government are gravely concerned at the arrest of former President Obasanjo. He is one of a number of distinguished political figures who have been detained recently by the military regime. Others include Yar'Adua, a leading member of the Constitutional Conference.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for that Answer. Is it not ironic that the Nigerian Government should arrest the head of the Constitutional Conference (whom they themselves appointed) because he has had the temerity to recommend a return to civilian government? Is it true that General Obasanjo has been detained but not arrested so far and that no charges have been made against him? Finally, in view of the fact that the Minister's concern is shared by other governments, will she consider using the machinery of the European Union to co-ordinate representation, which would then have much more effect in securing the early release of those who have been detained?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, the noble Lord is correct that that is ironic. President Obasanjo

15 Mar 1995 : Column 852

is a distinguished Nigerian who has expressed strong commitment to an early return to democratic civilian rule. As the noble Lord will remember, President Obasanjo is the one former military president who returned his country to civilian democratic rule after three years. He has been arrested and is being detained, but he has neither been charged nor, as far as we know, has any evidence been laid against him. Therefore, it is essential that the Nigerian legal process is allowed to take place and that he is either charged or promptly released. The proper processes of the law must be followed.

We are already in touch with other governments who have made their own direct representations. We shall co-ordinate our representations not only with our European Union partners but with our Commonwealth partners. We shall do all in our power to ensure that this is brought to a successful conclusion. We still hope to see President Obasanjo here in the United Kingdom for the "Britain in the World" Conference on 29th March. If he is not here, the whole world will be united in his defence.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the concern expressed by both the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, and herself must be shared by all of us in this House who have the well-being of Nigeria and its future democracy at heart? I welcome the representations which the Minister has told us have already been made. I welcome particularly the Minister's remarks about co-ordination and co-operation with the Commonwealth Secretary-General.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for his comments. Although the resolution that was tabled by the European Union at the UN Commission on Human Rights last week was narrowly outvoted by manoeuvring, that has not altered the position of the members of the European Union, and the military regime under General Abacha in Nigeria can take no comfort from it. The latest events underline the deteriorating human rights situation in Nigeria. Given that volatile situation, I shall say little more except that we shall be doing everything in our power to ensure that people who are detained without trial are either charged or released.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that a "military disturbances board" was established yesterday in Abuja; and is she concerned that the Attorney-General has no authority in the matter?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, there is no confirmation of what the noble Viscount has just said. A tribunal may have been set up, but it is not clear what is happening in Abuja. Certainly, if the Attorney-General's authority over the due processes of the law has been removed, that is further cause for grave concern.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page