Dignity in Dying

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:44 pm on 8th December 2021.

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Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Conservative, Sutton Coldfield 8:44 pm, 8th December 2021

I thank the hon. Lady very much for her intervention. It must be the case, and I am sure my hon. Friend Danny Kruger will agree, that all Members of Parliament will be following what happens in Scotland with the greatest possible care. It is an issue that, wherever we stand on the debate, greatly exercises Members of the House of Commons.

I wish to draw colleagues’ attention to the process envisaged by the Scottish Parliament for a debate on this issue. A proposal has been lodged in the Parliament and the initial consultation will close in two weeks’ time. In the new year there will be an analysis of the responses to the consultation, which will feed into the drafting of the Bill. Once drafted, the Bill will be examined in detail by Select Committees, calling for evidence from stakeholders across society. Only once that pre-legislative scrutiny has been completed will the legislation be debated on the floor of their Parliament.

Here in this House we lack anything like such a comprehensive system. Our system for considering private Members’ legislation is entirely inadequate when debating such an important issue. The Government have rightly determined that it should be neutral on the principle of assisted dying, but I invite my hon. Friend the Minister to recognise that neutrality on the legislative process, rather than on the principle, has the effect of siding with the status quo. A refusal to facilitate the debate is a de facto opposition to law change.

Finally, I will ask the Minister some questions about specifics of how the laws in neighbouring jurisdictions would work together. As she will no doubt be aware, the General Medical Council, the Nursing and Midwifery Council and other healthcare regulators operate on a UK-wide basis. Can she confirm that if either Jersey or Scotland were to legalise assisted dying, any health and care professional who participated in and followed the requirements of that law would not face prosecution?

The Minister may also be aware that the issue of conscientious objection has previously been treated as a reserved matter by the Scottish Parliament. It should be common ground that, whatever our view on assisted dying, health and care professionals should not have to actively participate in the practice if they believe it contravenes their conscience and beliefs. I understand that the Government’s position is that conscientious objection is in fact already within the competence of the Scottish Parliament: can she confirm to the House that that is the case, and to what extent any legislation on conscientious objection in the Scottish Parliament would contravene the devolution settlement or require the approval of the UK Government?

Finally, I ask the Minister to update the House on the work commissioned by the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend Matt Hancock, to be undertaken by the Office of National Statistics on the number of terminally ill people who end their own lives by suicide. All of us in this House wish to tackle and reduce the number of suicides, attempted suicides and incidents of self-harm, but in order to do that, it is imperative to understand why many people take that most desperate decision.