Assisted Dying

Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the House of Commons on 8th October 2019.

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Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

What recent public consultation he has conducted on the law in relation to assisted dying.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

The Government have not conducted a public consultation on the law in relation to assisted suicide. We remain of the view that any change to the law in this sensitive area is a matter of conscience and a matter for Parliament, rather than one of Government policy.

Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

The Secretary of State will be aware that, under the current law, people can be sentenced to up to 14 years in prison for assisting the suicide of a terminally ill loved one in great pain, and that the Crown Prosecution Service is pursuing prosecutions, with traumatic effects in some cases, so why have the Government decided to abandon even the call for evidence that his predecessor initiated only a few weeks ago?

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question. There was no initiation of a call for evidence. However, I hear his point about prosecutions. The Crown Prosecution Service guidelines, which were actually pioneered by Keir Starmer, in my view strike a very sensitive and sensible balance between the need to protect the vulnerable and the need to understand the sensitive and emotive circumstances of many of these tragic cases.

Photo of Sarah Newton Sarah Newton Conservative, Truro and Falmouth

Last week, the police and crime commissioner for Durham, Ron Hogg, said there needed to be changes in the law on assisted dying, and this reflects the view of many in the police. I know that the Secretary of State for Justice is a very compassionate man, so will he meet police officers to discuss their concerns?

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has taken a very close interest and been actively involved in this issue. Of course I would be happy to meet police officers—indeed, I have committed to meet others on this issue—but I do harbour the gravest of doubts about the ability of legislation to be watertight when it comes to the potential, sadly, for abuse.

Photo of Nicholas Boles Nicholas Boles Independent, Grantham and Stamford

It is a great pleasure to ask a question of my old friend the Lord Chancellor. I fear that he may not have received complete information from his officials, because his immediate predecessor did ask for a call for evidence and for No. 10 approval of a call for evidence. It is true that the previous Prime Minister resigned before that request could be approved, but the previous Lord Chancellor did make it clear that he thought a call for evidence was justified. To be clear about the reasons why: it is not that Government are going to take a position on a possible change of law, but only the Government can gather the information about the effect of the current law so that Parliament can decide whether that law needs to be changed.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I am grateful to my old friend for the way in which he asked that question. I accept the comments that he made. It was not agreed that there should be a call for evidence, and it is not my plan to initiate one. However, discussions and conversations will continue, and the wealth of information out there on both sides of the argument is something that will prompt right hon. and hon. Members to continue this debate, either on the Floor of the House or by other means.

Photo of Lucy Allan Lucy Allan Conservative, Telford

Parliament is out of step with the people on this issue—90% of the UK population believe that assisted dying should be legalised. Shropshire man Noel Conway recently had his case turned down in the Supreme Court, which believed that it was a matter for Parliament to decide. Does the Minister agree that Parliament must look at this issue once again, because it is not right for us to decide that terminally ill people, who are enduring great suffering, have no right over how they choose to die?

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

My hon. Friend raises the Noel Conway case, in which the Court found that Parliament’s decision not to change the law did indeed strike a fair balance between the interests of the wider community and the interests of people who were in that tragic position. That was upheld by the Court of Appeal. It is a matter for right hon. and hon. Members to raise that issue, either in a private Member’s Bill or in a general debate.

Several hon. Members:

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