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The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, who has made a measured and powerful speech in support of the Second Reading of his Bill. I am sure that the whole House would wish to join with me in wishing the noble Lord many happy returns of the day, it being his birthday. I have to confess that I hope to give him as a present more down time in his life.
I feel that I should start with a word about procedure, as there has been much misleading material promulgated about the procedure which I propose
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your Lordships' House should follow today. It has been suggested that dividing the House at the Second Reading of a Private Member's Bill is in some way a breach of conventions of this House, and some have suggested that it is not proper.
I have of course consulted the House authorities. I have also taken the advice of senior Members of this House with decades more experience here than me. I have had it confirmed to me that what I seek to do today is a proper course. There is no long-established convention that the House does not divide on the Second Reading of Private Member's Bills. In reasonably recent years, it happened once in 1990, twice in 1991, twice in 1992, twice in 1994, four times in 1995, once in 1997 and once in 1998. That it has not happened since 1998 is perhaps a reflection on this House. The frequency of so dividing plainly is influenced by the controversiality of the Private Member's Bills introduced, of which there has been a clear diminution in recent years. The point is that when appropriate this House can, does and, I would respectfully suggest to your Lordships, should divide. The procedure is proper and I hope that we can get on with the real debate.
The public, it seems to me, wish to vote on this difficult issue, as our postbags show. However, public opinion polls and, indeed, private opinion polls are fragile things. I urge the House to heed those classic words of advice by Edmund Burke that we, particularly as unelected Members of a House of Parliament, should, like elected Members of the other place, be pillars of what is right and not the weathercocks of perceived public opinion.
I agree with the noble Lord that some of the letters on both sides of this debate have been intemperate. They are to be regretted. As he said, they are characterised by ignorance. The most insulting of themas anyone who has spent, as I did, years in the other place will knoware almost always anonymous and, in my practice, thrown straight in the dustbin if people are not prepared to put their name to themunless they contain a remarkable piece of visual art, which is very rare.
However, I feel that I should say one further matter about my approach to this debate. Yesterday, on page two of the Times, there was a story suggesting that the noble Lord was saying that three noble Lords opposed to the Bill have broken their word to him that they would not oppose the Bill. By innuendo, there was a clear accusation that I was one such and, in my view, a clear innuendo that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, was another. Who the third was suggested to be, I do not know. I have been able to ascertain through conversation with the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, that that story did not emanate from him. It was untrue. It was never checked. It was defamatory. No one broke their word. The Times has apologised generously today. I am pleased to tell your Lordships that whatever else happens in this debate, someone will gain. The Times has generously agreed as a recognition[Interruption.] I hear a ring tone that goes with the noble Earl's socks.
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I am pleased to tell your Lordships that the Times has generously agreed as a recognition of the defamation that there will be one gainer from this debate at least. The charity, Marie Curie Cancer Care, will receive a substantial four-figure sum from the Times in recognition of the wrongness of what it did yesterday.
Why should we vote at Second Reading? The noble Lord, Lord Joffe, reintroduced his Bill last year. It went to a Select Committee, chaired, if I may say so with huge respect, brilliantly by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. There was a substantial report. There was a take note debate in which the concerns of the committee were reflected.
There will be many more speakers in this debate and I do not want to take up too much time. But, in summary, I say to the noble Lord that his Bill in its revised form, despite a puzzling six months between First Reading and Second Readingso we are now debating Second Reading towards the end of this Sessiondoes not take fully into account all the concerns expressed by the committee. The noble Lord knows that it has absolutely no chance of becoming law in this Session in the real and practical world in which political people should live. Every word that we in your Lordships' House utter costs public money. It seems to me right that your Lordships' House should not spend further time on a costly but pointless exercise on a Bill that, in my view, cannot be made acceptable by amendment. The only point in giving this Bill a Second Reading is if it can be made acceptable by amendment.
In answer to something that the noble Lord said earlier, I come to this from an entirely non-religious viewpoint. If I am anything religious I am a monotheist utilitarian, which is not terribly religious, is it? In any event, the religious ethical aspect will doubtless be dealt with by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and others.
There are three main points therefore that I want to make briefly. First, despite protestations to the contrary, everyone in your Lordships' House knows that those who are moving this Bill have the clear intention of it leading to voluntary euthanasia. That has always been the aim and it remains the aim now. Despite the small amendments that the noble Lord told us of a few moments ago, the difference between Clause 1(a)(ii) and voluntary euthanasia is but a casuist's smidgen.
The Bill introduces for the first time into this country the concept of doctors abandoning therapy for deliberately causing a person's death. The fact that a person in law gives the instrument of death to another person who ingests it still includes them as the person causing death. Anyone who, like me, has spent 35 years round the criminal courts would not dare try to make this distinction in front of a judge or a jury in a criminal court.
I and many others find that, whether religious or not religious, morally objectionable. I include in that moral objection the vast majority of physicians and general practitioners, as their respective royal colleges,
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the Disability Rights Commission and, as I understand it, the Royal College of Nursing have now said. In my view, they are right. This is morally indefensible legislation. Having visited the Netherlands as part of the committee chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, I came away even more concerned about what I saw there than before I went. The Netherlandslet us be realistic about thisis a country where euthanasia is used as an alternative to an expensive palliative care system that it does not have. We are told that the Netherlands is now contemplating possibly using euthanasia on babies with learning difficulties who have absolutely no autonomy. In my view, the Netherlands system is very troubling.
I do not accept that the Oregon systemon which I have read the evidence; I did not go thereis acceptable either. We heard on the radio this morning that one of the things that happens in Oregon is that people can opt for euthanasia and then keep lethal drugs, presumably in their refrigerators, to use just in case they feel like it at some time in the future. What kind of a system is that?
So I find the system proposed morally indefensible, but in any event we do not need it in this country. The tireless noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, who, I am delighted to say, is soon to become president of the Royal Society of Medicine
Lord Carlile of Berriew: is a leader in the palliative care field. I am sure she would accept that there is always room for more resources, but the fact is that we have developed a palliative care system which is capable of meeting every need discussed in these debates, with relatively few more resources in global terms.
My second objection is that this Bill and what is proposed is a legal minefield. It holds a great deal of promise for my learned friends in their struggle against falling fees in publicly funded cases. But so porous are the provisions in this Bill that I suggest to your Lordships that we would become more likely than now to see physicians, lawyersbecause there are provisions here to involve lawyersand, perhaps above all, relatives of the sick before the courts on criminal charges.
My third objection is that the Bill provides a complete ethical nightmare. The chorus of doctors who object to this legislation speak of that ethical nightmare, and it causes real fear among very old people, many with disabilities and those with other serious illnesses because they cannot begin to understandand nor can Ihow ethical provisions could cover this matter. I shall quote briefly from a letter from a Mr Peter Hobbs, who lives in the Reading area, speaking of his Caroline:
"I have a real concern that those whose moods are altered by their treatment, as Caroline's was, could, instead of receiving treatment to alleviate depression, simply be allowed to drift into a state where they decide to take their own lives".
I spent 10 years between 1989 and 1999 as an active lay member of the General Medical Council. Both on the Conduct Committee and the Health Committee I witnessed many times the problems even straightforward events can cause in ethical terms. I witnessed ethical problems arising from everyday elective surgery, a good example of which would be cosmetic surgery conducted as a matter of the patient's choice. That was an ethical challenge and it involved what at least some would say is mere alteration of the contours of a part of the body. This is an ethical challenge on a completely different moral and philosophical plane and I do not believe it is a challenge that any of us could meet.
I look forward to many interesting speeches in the debate; having to be short concentrates the mind wonderfully, doesn't it? I invite noble Lords to pay special attention to the speeches of the most reverend Primate who, if I may put it this way, formed one third of a unique letter to the Times this morning. I believe that it was the first time there has ever been a letter signed by the leaders of three very large religious communities on a piece of legislation. I also invite the House to take special note of the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, who is to speak late in the debate. He has been extremely careful in the way he has treated this issue, and I think he may have some powerful things to say to the House later. I beg to move.
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