Amendment 292E

Part of Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Committee (10th Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 10:45 pm on 22 November 2021.

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Photo of Lord Touhig Lord Touhig Chair, Services Committee, Chair, Services Committee 10:45, 22 November 2021

My Lords, that was one of the most powerful statements I have heard in this House, coming from someone who knows what it is like to suffer. It is a horrible tragedy that the Amess family have suffered. I echo the noble Baroness who introduced the amendment in saying that our thoughts and prayers are with them tonight, and for the repose of Sir David’s soul.

I was not sure that I could add much to this debate, but I gave it some thought and would like to share some personal observations. Thinking about the amendment, I recalled the singing of the hymn, “Abide With Me”. I have heard it sung twice recently: first, when I tuned into a vigil mass celebrated by Canon Pat Browne, the Roman Catholic priest in Parliament, on the eve of Armistice Day, and, again, when I watched the Festival of Remembrance at the Albert Hall on television. What kept coming into my mind was a line in that hymn:

“Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes.”

Those words express what I believe many people of the Christian faith hope for at the end of life. They emphasise how important it is to receive spiritual comfort.

For Catholics like me, the last rites are an important and spiritual passage, a sacrament, an opportunity for reflection on past failings and for seeking forgiveness and reconciliation. I bear witness from within my own family of the peace experienced by loved ones when they were supported in their faith by a priest administering the last rites.

People of faith, whether Jews, Muslims, Christians or indeed of any other faith belief, desire the spiritual support that their faith can give them at the end of life. More widely, I think that many of my friends who have no faith would always wish to be surrounded by family and friends at the end of that life. Let us ask ourselves: who among us would not hope to leave this life comforted by family and friends or, as in the case promoted in this amendment, by a priest?

I strongly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, who made it clear that this is a probing amendment and the matter does not require legislation. Rather, it requires a little bit of common sense, perhaps education, training and research, so that the blue-light services, especially the police, recognise this matter and treat a request such as the one that has prompted the tabling of this amendment in a way that will allow a minister of religion to be with a dying person at the end.