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Mental Capacity Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:07 pm on 1st February 2005.

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Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench 3:07 pm, 1st February 2005

I support the spirit which lies behind the amendment moved by the noble Earl. My only concern is the way in which it is phrased and whether it takes into account sufficiently the criticisms that have been made by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which has looked at how conscience clauses work generally. It says in regard to this approach that it does not allow the doctor who does not want to be involved to walk away completely from the situation; he has to refer it on to someone who would be willing to do the things to which he takes ethical objection.

We have to examine that question again in the context of the Abortion Act 1967, to which the noble Earl referred. The experience of that legislation is that it has placed an unhappy responsibility on practitioners who feel uneasy about what they are being asked to do and who do not therefore like to be asked to commission someone else to do what they would rather not do themselves. So I support the spirit of the amendment. I hope that we will incorporate a conscience clause into the Bill. It is an issue that I have raised with the Minister during our meetings; it is an issue that I raised at Second Reading. But we perhaps need to think a little further about the detail.