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Second Reading

Part of Assisted Dying Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 5:51 pm on 18th July 2014.

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Photo of Lord Haskel Lord Haskel Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 5:51 pm, 18th July 2014

My Lords, like many other noble Lords, I want your Lordships to let the Bill proceed so that we can legislate in our usual, well established manner—especially as the Bill is a matter of individual conscience. There is no right answer. Yes, this is a Private Member’s Bill but the same arguments prevail. It is far easier to introduce a Private Member’s Bill in this House, and that is why I have always felt that it is our duty—our constitutional duty, as my noble friend Lady Jay put it—to do so.

We consider Bills in detail. Generally, we have more time and we often have more relevant experience—and, yes, we are less politicised—whereas, in the other place, sometimes large chunks of legislation are not even considered in Committee. That is why we need to debate the Bill in this House and then pass it to the elected House.

Some want the law changed. Some do not. Some want clarification. For my part, I would like to see the law changed. Fortunately for me, death and dying is pretty unfamiliar territory. As I learn more about this from the many letters that I have received, most of which are in favour, and hearing about the experience of others, I certainly want the law to be more compassionate and understanding of unnecessary suffering so that people do not suffer to satisfy my conscience or because they are not able to go to Switzerland.

We also have to move with the times. As a society, we are becoming a lot more aware of choice. Personal choice has become one of our freedoms. As a result, our society is moving away from moral certainties towards personal choice. The Bill reflects this.

When considering legislation, public safety has to be at the top of our list of concerns. The law must protect the citizen from the slippery slope, so that assisted dying does not become assisted suicide or dying for the convenience of others. Many noble Lords have expressed this concern, but the law protects society from many other slippery slopes. I do not see why it cannot do so in this case.

I, too, want to be sure that there are safeguards against coercion and depression; that there is consideration for those who believe in the sanctity of life, respect for those who are conscientious objectors and respect for the concerns of the disabled; and that such a change in the law should not diminish the importance and provision of palliative care and hospice care. I want to see respect for the concerns of doctors and nurses, because it is their skill, professional standards and dedication on which this Bill will depend.

I believe that this Bill begins to address those concerns, but they need to be tested—although not by a commission, as other noble Lords have suggested. We tried that in 2006 and, as the noble Lord, Lord Blair, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, told us, it did not work. Our concerns must be tested in detail in the same way that they are addressed when we debate all legislation. Our concerns will be tested several times as the Bill passes through its various stages, which brings me back to where I started. The way to deal with this emotional, difficult and controversial legislation is to follow our well trodden path. I hope that noble Lords will give this Bill a Second Reading.