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Mental Capacity Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 1st February 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs) 4:30 pm, 1st February 2005

I was trying to be very clear that I understand the intention behind the amendments. However, as I have indicated, it is quite difficult when it comes to interpretation. I accept that the anxiety behind the amendments is to make things safer and better for vulnerable people, and I share that desire. My argument is very straightforward: we should not do this on the face of the Bill. Just as importantly, we have to be clear that artificial nutrition and hydration, while an emotive issue for very good reasons, is a treatment, for the reasons I have given. As such, it needs to come under the safeguards provided for treatments and we have sought to provide clarity in the Bill to ensure that when people decide not to accept a treatment, they are absolutely certain about what they are doing.

My final point is about the Joint Committee on Human Rights. As regards the Burke judgment, which the right reverend Prelate raised, there are issues to be considered. As noble Lords will know from what I said earlier, the Burke judgment is currently under appeal. The Department of Health has joined in the appeal to obtain clarity about the potential universality of what might be covered, but not on the basis of trying to move away from the provision of ANH when it is clearly in someone's interests to receive it.

We are looking carefully at what the committee has said. We have had the report for only a few days. As noble Lords would expect, I will consider very carefully what the committee has said and will perhaps have the opportunity to pick up some of these issues later.

On that basis, I hope that noble Lords will be reassured that I completely understand these important issues. We believe that either they should be pursued in a different way or that we do not necessarily achieve what the noble Baroness and the noble Lord seek on the face of the Bill.