Moved by Baroness Meacher
203: Clause 69, page 62, line 19, at end insert—“(1AA) The regulations must make provision—(a) for anyone with a diagnosis of terminal illness to be offered a conversation about their holistic needs, wishes and preferences for the end of their life, including addressing support for their mental and physical health and wellbeing, financial and practical support, and support for their social relationships,(b) that, where that individual lacks capacity for such a conversation, it is offered to another relevant person, and(c) that for the purposes of section 12ZB a relevant authority must have regard to the needs and preferences recorded in such conversations in making decisions about the procurement of services.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment ensures that the scope of the regulations as to patient choice includes those at the end of life.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 203, I declare my interest as chair of Dignity in Dying, the sister organisation of Compassion in Dying. This amendment is supported by Marie Curie, Together for Short Lives, Hospice UK, Sue Ryder and the Alzheimer’s Society, as well as Compassion in Dying, a national charity which enables people to prepare for the end of life. I thank them all for their support and their briefing. I apologise—I have cut my speech to the bone in light of the late hour.
This probing amendment aims to ensure that dying people are at the centre of decision-making about their care. It is not an attempt to change the law on assisted dying, although the principle of patient choice must be, in my view, central to palliative care as a whole, as well as to the right to choose a dignified death. It is impossible for health and care services to ensure this without having proper, honest conversations. People should be spoken to and listened to in order to find out their wishes, preferences and needs.
This amendment would go some way to ensuring that those conversations take place, that the outcome of those conversations are recorded—I know it sounds so simple, but it just does not happen—and, crucially, that services are designed around their decisions. These conversations are the first step in a process of advanced care planning, where the dying person’s wishes, needs and preferences are recorded in a written care plan. This could include an advanced decision to refuse treatment—a living will; nominating a trusted person to make decisions through a lasting power of attorney for health and welfare; writing an advanced statement of wishes; or completing a clinician-led care plan through a process such as ReSPECT.
Advanced care planning has been shown to have a significant positive impact for dying people and those close to them, because this process helps healthcare professionals to deliver more tailored care, care which the patient actually wants. When a similar amendment was debated in the Bill’s passage through the House of Commons, the Minister responded by expressing support for the principles of advanced care planning and recognition of the importance of patient choice at the end of life.
The absence of statutory underpinning until now probably explains why advanced care planning has never been widely recognised as fundamentally important—hence the relevance of this amendment. It requires that there are systems in place properly to record and share patients’ preferences, as I have said. Mechanisms must be put in place so that individuals’ wishes and decisions are easily accessible—that is no simple task, apparently—and can be respected by healthcare professionals. Real attention must be paid to the recorded wishes of patients on an individual and—even more importantly, funnily enough—a system level. This should include considering how services and funding need to be allocated so that investment is informed by real patient need. For example, if more people planning ahead results in fewer unwanted or inappropriate hospital admissions, this would in turn require greater investment in community-level care to support people approaching the end of life.
I hope the Minister will agree to meet before Report. I do not think this should be carried through to Report and votes and such like. But I hope that we can find a way forward to deal with what is essential for dying people. I look forward to the Minister’s response. I beg to move.
My Lords, there are two amendments in this group, both dealing with end-of-life arrangements, and I support both of them. Amendment 203 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, would put on the face of the Bill an extremely important provision—that of giving anyone with an end-of-life diagnosis the right to a conversation about their needs, how and where they want to die, and how they can be given the support they need to achieve that. This is long overdue. Our excellent palliative care and end-of-life healthcare clinicians and professionals carry out an invisible yet vital service to people. But unfortunately, it is not universal.
Why, oh why, as a nation, do we hate to talk about dying? I have seen both the best and worst in practice. Indeed, very recently, a friend in hospital who was told that he had a few weeks left wanted to go home to die. No one at the hospital used the phrases “end-of-life care” or “palliative care” or even talked about hospices. They thought he was not close enough to death to get to that stage. Instead, there were discussions about setting up the right domiciliary care, or possibly a care home through the council. This amendment would ensure that when the diagnosis of end of life is made, that conversation will happen for all patients. That is very welcome. It is too late for my friend, who died while he was still in hospital.
Amendment 297 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, sets out the requirement for the Secretary of State to lay a Bill before Parliament to permit terminally ill and mentally competent patients to end their own lives with medical assistance. I offer my deepest sympathies to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, on the death of his father. I look forward to hearing his speech on this amendment, and I apologise that, due to the remote contribution rules, I have to comment on it before he speaks.
Both the Private Member’s Bill brought by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and before it the Private Member’s Bill brought by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, had exceptionally sensitive and thoughtful debates in your Lordships’ House, but neither has progressed any further. We know that public views have changed—like those of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth—in light of sad family experiences of death where pain and trauma were not controlled and where, for too many people, access to palliative care and end-of-life care was just a lottery.
I have spoken in the debates on both those Private Members’ Bills in favour of assisted dying and remain firmly committed to campaigning for it, but that is not what tonight’s debate is about. If accepted, Amendment 297 would not immediately change the law on assisted dying. It would merely require Ministers to bring forward draft legislation, not even to campaign in its favour.
Government is well placed to draft the legislation, encourage a wider public debate through consultation and bring together voices and views from right across our society in a way that perhaps the polarised debate between individual MPs and Peers on such a complex issue always makes difficult. Government can and should maintain their neutrality on assisted dying, but they can guarantee sufficient time for the consideration of the legislation.
It is worth noting that in those jurisdictions where assisted dying has been made legal, there have not been the disastrous consequences predicted by opponents. Instead, those laws continue to receive huge popular support many years after legalisation. In no jurisdiction has any law been passed on assisted dying and subsequently repealed, demonstrating perhaps that the fears of opponents to assisted dying have not come to pass.
The Crown Prosecution Service has recently opened a consultation on the introduction of a prosecution policy for homicides that can be categorised as mercy killings or suicide pacts. The prosecution guidelines, if approved, would add clarity to the law in the same way as the prosecution policy on assisted suicide adopted over a decade ago. While this is helpful, it does not change the law, and it cannot protect dying people with a legal choice of how to end their life, nor can it protect their families, as decisions would be made by the CPS only after the death of the person. I have seen a family friend have to go through the trauma of a police investigation after her husband took his own life. He deliberately chose a day when she was 100 miles away to protect her. It still took months for the police to make their decision and, frankly, it was cruel.
What we need above all is a commitment to a public consultation and parliamentary time for a wider debate on assisted dying. Amendment 297 provides that. It does not change the law on assisted dying. Tonight is not the right time for that, but I think the country is ready for that debate. Both these amendments are vital in their own way, and I hope that the Minister will be able to respond favourably.
My Lords, I wish to oppose the two amendments in this group. Amendment 203 extends the scope of regulations on patient choice under the National Health Service Act to require particular services to be provided at the end of life. It is, I am afraid, clear from the speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, on Amendments 47 and 52 in Committee that this is to include the right to assisted dying. It is directly linked to Amendment 297 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth.
I am afraid I do believe that these two amendments are an attempt to hijack the Bill to promote a change in the law on assisted dying. I do not feel tonight is the time to discuss the merits or otherwise of assisted dying. By no stretch of the imagination is assisted dying within the scope of this Bill. There is a separate Private Member’s Bill already before this House, awaiting detailed scrutiny. That is the right vehicle to debate this issue and that is where it should be debated—not here, not tonight and certainly not at this late hour.
Moreover, Amendment 297 seeks to force the Government’s hand into requiring it to prepare a draft Bill on a subject that has not yet been agreed by Parliament. To date, the Government have, studiously and quite properly, taken a neutral stance. This amendment could be seen as a deliberate manipulation of the parliamentary process to provoke a viewpoint that is known to be contentious, and to force the pace of further scrutiny before Parliament, and before parliamentary time has been made for it.
Given the existing pressures on the Bill before us, these tactics are, I believe, truly not worthy of your Lordships’ House, so I hope that the Minister agrees with me that the amendments should be rejected and withdrawn. This is not the place to have this debate.
We have just listened to very powerful speeches by the noble Baronesses, Lady Campbell and Lady Brinton.
I would like to begin with an apology to all Members whose email inboxes have exploded over the last 48 hours. If it is any consolation, so did mine. I got the same emails, all of which were identical and came from the same email address, email@example.com. They began:
“Dear Lord Forsyth, I am making contact on an urgent matter. As you probably know, Lord Forsyth has tabled an assisted dying amendment to the Health and Care Bill, and this amendment will be debated next week. I am asking that you please oppose this dangerous amendment”.
The first point I would like to make is that it is very late at night, so I am going to keep my remarks brief. Contrary to what the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, said, this has got nothing to do with the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. The reason that they are grouped together is because I asked for them to be grouped together; otherwise, it would have come up on a Friday when I could not be here. There is no common link in the terms of these being about assisted dying, and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has explained why her amendment is not about that.
My amendment is not actually about the merits of assisted dying. It is true that I have changed my mind on this matter as a result of not just my own experience with my father but also because all the time that I opposed it I have felt a bit of a hypocrite, because if ever I was, for example, to contract motor neurone disease, I would want the right to assisted dying. I felt it was rather hypocritical to vote against something that I would want for myself. But I persuaded myself that I was doing so because there were certain protections that were needed. That is all I am going to say about that—and I was not going to say anything at all—because the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, raised it. It is an unusual position to be proposing an amendment when it has already been opposed, before you have even spoken to it.
My amendment is not, absolutely not, about the merits of the case for legalising assisted dying. What it is about is trying to ensure that this Parliament is given the same opportunities as the Scottish Parliament to consider these matters carefully. I have to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, that it really is disingenuous to suggest that the Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, before this Parliament will be given proper consideration. Her Bill will receive exactly the same fate as every other Private Member’s Bill. I am told that something like 200 amendments have been tabled to the Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, so it is not going to succeed. The same thing happened with the Bill of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. The Private Member’s Bill procedure results in our inability to properly discuss the merits, the demerits and the protections that are needed, and over and over again this happens.
Many of the same people who, no doubt honestly and with real conviction, sent me all these emails, who did not actually have the courtesy to read my amendment, or even read whom they were sending their email to, will be encouraging Peers to table what are wrecking amendments to the Private Member’s Bill which prevent Parliament from having a view. It suggests to me that there are people in this debate who are determined to prevent Parliament being able to make a decision, and that cannot be right. So I have tabled this amendment.
In Scotland, the Liberal MSP Liam McArthur has taken advantage of the procedure which the Scottish Parliament has which allows for non-Government Bills to be given time and to be given assistance so that a consultation can be carried out with the public, so all matters can be considered. The Bill can then be brought before the Scottish Parliament and go through its whole process with proper protections from people making wrecking amendments to prevent the Bill being considered and voted on by those who are democratically elected—I am thinking here of the other place.
That procedure in Scotland has resulted in a very fine consultation document, the consultation period for which finished just before Christmas. There will be a Bill. I am told there is a majority in the Scottish Parliament in support of that Bill—although quite how people have reached that conclusion, given that the Bill has not been published, I do not know. Certainly, there have been several attempts in the Scottish Parliament to do this. My friend, the great SNP campaigner Margo MacDonald, herself suffering from a terminal illness, tried to get a Bill through the Scottish Parliament and did not succeed.
I think we need to have a little care here, because I am not particularly keen on opinion polls—particularly this week—and I realise that opinion polls are a crude method of working out what people think, but consistently opinion polls have shown that something like three out of four people and more in our country would like to see legislation in this area. I think it is quite wrong for people to try to deny Parliament the opportunity to carry that out.
Just to finish on the Scottish thing, as a unionist I am very nervous about a situation where a Bill was successful in the Scottish Parliament and there was some kind of procedure for a right to die for people with a terminal illness but the position in England was that we had not even been able to get Parliament to discuss the issue and consider a Bill properly. I do not think that would be a very good advertisement for this Parliament and for the democratic process in England.
I see my noble friend Lady Fraser of Craigmaddie, who wrote a very flattering article in the Times about me that was completely over the top, and then said that I was abusing parliamentary process by tabling my amendment. I have spoken to the clerks and have taken advice on this. I have a precedent for an Act requiring Her Majesty’s Government to publish a draft Bill. I must say it is not one I am particularly comfortable with, but the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 contained precisely such a provision. It might perhaps be unusual but there is certainly nothing unprecedented about having a requirement on the Government to publish a draft Bill.
Those people who have been going round saying that this is an absolute abuse and completely unconstitutional need to read the amendment: it is for the Government to publish a draft Bill. I cannot for the life of me imagine why anyone would be opposed to the Government providing help and support through a draft Bill. It could be considered as a Private Member’s Bill, or by a Joint Committee of both Houses, or be subject to a whole range of processes that would enable people to express their views. It does not commit the Government to supporting the legislation but would allow Members of the House of Commons and of this House to express their views.
I promised the Chief Whip that I would not talk for very long. I hope that I can persuade my noble friend the Minister, and that the Government will indicate that they are prepared to help the provision of a draft Bill. Perhaps they will also recognise that no Private Members’ Bills reach the statute book without some support from government. It is not a neutral position that the Government maintain on this matter of conscience; it is not neutral to persist in a position which means that any Bill which is introduced is going to fail and which prevents Parliament from reaching a view. A neutral position is one that says we will allow Parliament to take a view and that we as a Government will not promote or oppose it but will give the opportunity for Parliament to do so.
I say to my noble friend that perhaps he could make a commitment this evening—perhaps he might even accept the amendment, which is a probing amendment. For those people listening to this debate and wondering whether there might be any votes, I am not proposing to divide the House at the Committee stage of this Bill, because I am really hopeful that my noble friend the Minister will come forward with a proposal that meets the expectations that this amendment is designed to achieve, and it will not be necessary for me to come back on Report.
My Lords, the Green group is operating on the lark and owl system —appropriately enough, you might say. My noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb attached her name to Amendment 203 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. I am going to be brief, as I am aware of the pressures. I find it very hard to see why anyone would resist Amendment 203. It is about providing appropriate structures and law to ensure that people’s views are heard and respected.
When I looked at this, I thought of the very old feminist slogan, “the personal is political”. What could be more personal or political than a person having control over the nature of their own death, being able to express their wishes and ensuring that they are heard and recorded.
It is worth saying that I was not able to take part in an earlier debate about the funding for palliative care. We should see much better investment in palliative care in the UK; we should not see volunteers rattling fundraising buckets for hospices to meet their basic needs. But that goes along with the right of individuals to be in control, knowing that they will be heard and listened to, and their wishes acted on. That would allow them to be in a situation of much less fear.
I also want, very briefly, to offer the Green group’s support for Amendment 297. Support for assisted dying is Green Party policy. I want to reflect back to October last year, when the Private Member’s Bill was being debated. There was a very respectful, silent crowd outside, holding up signs saying “Choice, Compassion, Dignity”. I ask people considering this to make sure that those people can be heard in this House and this can be debated.
As the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said, it is not about a change in the law; it is about a guarantee of parliamentary consideration, as the courts have requested. It might surprise the noble Lord to know that I preceded him on this. I am trying to remember the details—I was not aware that any fuss had been made about this procedure, but it was either in the Agriculture Bill or the Environment Bill that I put down an amendment in this form. I would not consider myself a procedural innovator, so this is something that has been done many times before.
I want to make one final point. It is perhaps not of legal significance, but, in a way, it is a legal issue. Assisted dying is already available to people in our society—to people who have the funds, the knowledge and the remaining health to get to Dignitas, in Switzerland. This is very much an equalities issue around a right that some people have and some people do not. There is also the fact that, to be guaranteed to be fit to travel, some people are now dying before they need to because we have that inequality.
My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 297 from the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. He has made the case, so there is not much more to say. At the core of that amendment, in proposed new subsection (2)(b), all we are asking is
“to enable Parliament to consider the issue.”
That is really all we ask.
We know, as has been said, that the public want change. I believe that the House, at its full strength, wants change. The courts have said that it is not for them, judges, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Law Commission or anyone else to decide. It is the role of Parliament to take a decision of this importance.
By failing to allow a full debate and a decision in Parliament, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, has just said, the Government are effectively siding with those who want no change. That is not a neutral position: it is allowing no change by forbidding those who want to put the issue to Parliament from being able to do that. That is done partly through the number of wrecking amendments that we have seen. I know that the Chief Whip has lots of other demands on his time, but my judgment is that, even if he did not, he would not give time for this—for what would be necessary, given the number of wrecking amendments.
All the Government are doing is accepting, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, has just said, that people with money can go to Switzerland. More importantly, there are no safeguards. Those who oppose assisted dying say that it exposes people to pressure from their families. The whole point of having safeguards is that you will have to go and get permission before it happens, and someone has to test that. At the moment, you can go to Switzerland and there is no check—there is not even a check for whether you are dying. There is no check on whether you are of fit mind; there is no check on whether you are under pressure from a family member. You can just go, if you have the money, but there are no checks. The Government are allowing that to continue: our citizens are able, if they have the money, without any safeguards, to go quite legally to that country and end their lives when they are facing the end of life anyway. That really is not how this country ought to be.
What is important is that we allow Parliament to decide. I can only think that those who have turned up wanting to oppose this are actually afraid that Parliament will decide that it wants change. I often do not like things that Parliament does—unsurprisingly, sitting where I do, on this side of the House—but we are a democratic country and we should let Parliament take the decision on this.
My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. This is an unusual position for me; I do not remember in 22 years ever having supported an amendment tabled by the noble Lord. I am beginning my third decade in this House supporting change in the law. Who knows? I may have reached my fourth decade before we have got there.
During this time, I have watched many parts of the English-speaking world use their Parliaments to debate these issues and change their laws. This has now happened in Canada, New Zealand, five Australian states and 10 states in America and the District of Columbia. These changes have not been rushed through; they have been measured, considered and debated, and the populations have been consulted in the way described by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. It cannot be said to be right, if we live in a democracy, if the only way forward on an issue that is of great personal concern to many people is having to rely on Private Members’ Bills, which can be treated to wrecking amendments which make it almost impossible to progress a discussion and debate this issue. In the statesman-like way that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, has set this out, we should be impressed by the need to facilitate this debate within Parliament, as other countries have managed to do both in the English-speaking world and across Europe. Even countries such as Spain, with strong religious traditions, have allowed this debate to take place and changed their law as a consequence.
At the end of the day, this issue comes down to being a matter of personal choice. It is right that Parliament should be able to debate that issue of personal choice and facilitate the exercising of it by many people who are terminally ill if they wish to do so. They are not forcing anybody else down that path—it is a personal choice; it is a personal decision. Changing the law does not mandate anybody to do this; it is left to the individual, within the safeguards provided for in the legislation, to exercise that personal choice.
I have also added my name to Amendment 203 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. She makes it clear in that amendment that end-of-life issues are a matter of personal choice. We make many speeches in this House about patient choice, so why is it wrong to have more patient choice at the end of life when we have a lot of patient choice during it? We need to focus much more on patient choice. I support Amendment 203 as well as Amendment 297.
My Lords, I think I am about to score a historic double whammy. I thought that I had stayed tonight to let some momentous words cross my lips that I never thought would do so—that is, I agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth has said—but, and I never thought I would say this, I also agree with every word that the noble Lord, Lord Warner, has said. How is that for a double whammy?
I do not want to delay the Committee, because it is late, but let me touch briefly on Amendment 203 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. I sat on the Commission on Assisted Dying, and we heard endlessly and quite heartrendingly from medical professionals, patients and relatives of those who had already passed away about the inadequacies of the discussion about choices at the end of life. At the moment, the legislation makes it almost impossible for healthcare professionals to open up that sort of conversation—we are not talking necessarily about assisted dying; we are talking about any sort of choices at the end of life. The amendment in the name of the noble Baroness is therefore much needed.
However, for heaven’s sake, on Amendment 297, the whole process of Private Members’ Bills is doomed to failure for something as important as this, which has been tackled by legislatures across the world. Yet we are frozen in this grand old Duke of York scenario, where we march up to the top of the hill at Second Reading on a Private Member’s Bill, then absolutely sod all happens after that and we all march back down again. We cannot continue to do that on a five-yearly basis for ever. This is not asking the Government to nail their colours to any particular side of the debate but simply to open up parliamentary time. I very much commend the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth—good grief— on his foresight in seeing this opportunity.
My Lords, your Lordships will know that I have known my noble friend Lord Forsyth as a noble friend and as a friend for many years. I know also that he is extremely good at putting forward a case—whether the case is well founded or not does not seem to matter too much.
We have a procedure in this House, which was established a long time ago, which says that government time is to be used for Bills presented by members of the Government. That is the rule generally. However, there is also a procedure for dealing with Private Members’ Bills. It has been used many times, and it has been used in connection with assisted dying during the present Session. We had a full day of discussion of the merits of that matter—exactly the merits of this matter; the arguments for and against are not for tonight. We are not here to argue for that amount of time; it took a whole day with quite brief statements being made to express different views about this matter.
The Government are a member of those procedures; they are a party to the procedures that deal with Private Members’ Bills. The Government are there so that they can be asked in the course of the proceedings to help. From time to time, they decide that what is in issue is so important generally that it should be given government time. That is the procedure that has been laid down, and as far as I know in this case so far, the Government have not been asked to give time. They said at the end of the debate just two or three weeks ago that they were neutral and waiting for a decision from Parliament. It is Parliament that takes a decision; a Private Member’s Bill is a proceeding in Parliament. It is not just Parliament dealing with government Bills—Parliament deals with Private Members’ Bills also, as well as other kinds of Bills, such as hybrid Bills.
However, this Bill was in Parliament in the Private Member’s Bill system, which is the system that exists just now. If my noble friend, with his skill, wants to suggest a different sort of procedure for Members’ Bills, he can go about it, but to try to break out of the present system a new system for this sort of Private Member’s Bill will produce a complete wreck of the present procedure when no new procedure is being introduced. The Government have from time to time given time for a Bill to be taken forward, which has reached the statute book. That is the procedure which is available now, and it is the proper procedure to ask for.
This procedure is about trying to put an amendment into a health Bill, which has no mention of this, to amend the law on assisted suicide. That is the essence of this—the heading in the amendment is “Assisted dying”—which would mean an unnecessary amendment to the law relating to assisted suicide in his country. There is no question about that. There is nothing about that in the Long Title of the Bill. This Bill is not the proper machinery for raising this matter. It is not my responsibility or an option to deal with the merits of the case. I made a speech in the debate two or three weeks ago towards the end. I think my noble friend was not able to be present, if I remember rightly.
I was able to be there, but as we got only three minutes to debate it, I did not think it was possible to deal with the very complex issues in that time. My noble and learned friend is making the case against the amendment that it requires the Government to produce a Bill. It does not. It requires them to produce a draft Bill. If my amendment had said that the Government should bring forward their own Bill, then my noble and learned friend would be quite right, but I would not have been able to table such an amendment because it would have been out of order for the reasons he has given.
Exactly. A draft Bill is preliminary to a Bill; it is not there for the purpose of not being considered. A draft Bill is for making a proposal the subject of an ordinary parliamentary Bill, which has the same authority as a government Bill. All Bills are produced in draft; some are considered in draft in pre-legislative scrutiny. A Bill has to be in draft at some stage, but the object of producing this Bill is not that it should remain in draft but that it should be considered. The amendment does not say how long it should be allowed, but that is another matter. The point is that there is already a procedure by which government help can be obtained if it is asked for in the proper situation of Private Members’ Bills.
I think it is wrong in principle to consider the merits of this matter tonight. Some remarks have been made about that, and I refrain from making any remarks about it because I do not think that that is what is needed here. I submit that it is a view well founded on the rules that Private Members’ Bills are drafted by the private Member, are submitted and then are subject to procedure in the Private Members’ Bills system, including if the Government think it is right that they give additional time.
It is also questionable whether this Motion is in order, since the matter has already been discussed in this Session. There is a question about whether having have a separate procedure raising the issue in much the same form as it was considered some weeks ago is in proper order.
But my main point is about the procedure for dealing with Private Members’ Bills in our Parliament—we are not in the Scottish Parliament at the moment, and there may be some question as to whether my noble friend would like to be—and we have to apply the rules in this Parliament. In my submission, applying the rules of this Parliament, if we want help from the Government, it is to be asked for in the Private Members’ Bill procedures and the Government may, for all I know, be prepared to do something along the lines that my noble friend has suggested.
My Lords, I wish primarily to speak to the amendment standing in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, but, before I do so, may I just reply, without any hint of rancour, to the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter? She repeatedly described the amendments tabled to the Assisted Dying Bill as “wrecking amendments”. Certainly, my amendments are not intended to be wrecking amendments; the Bill raises very important consequences for the National Health Service, and my amendments are primarily about the effect on the relationship between doctors and patients. These are important considerations, and to call them wrecking amendments is a little unfair. I say that without any rancour at all.
I was very impressed—before I get to Amendment 203, I shall comment on Amendment 297—by the remarks just made by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay. My noble friend Lord Forsyth referred to a precedent, but my understanding is that that precedent was a case where the Government themselves brought forward legislation mandating themselves to bring forward a Bill. At least nobody was imposing on the Government something that they did not want to do. The idea that we can impose on the Government something that they do not want to do, for which they have no electoral mandate and which is not on their policy platform, seems an abuse.
It is an abuse with which one could have great fun in future. I am already thinking of an amendment to some piece of legislation that might come up that would mandate the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, to bring forward a Bill requiring the nationalisation of all land and means of production. I think he might find it uncongenial to have to bring forward such a Bill, but once it was in statute he would have no choice. We are in a similar position here. As my noble and learned friend has pointed out, producing a draft Bill is not for the purpose of decorating the room with wallpaper; it is preliminary to moving legislation, and I think that the Government should be allowed to choose which legislation to bring forward—and they are accountable to the electorate for that which they do.
I turn briefly to Amendment 203. I have some sympathy in principle with what the noble Baroness is trying to achieve here. I shall be fairly brief. I can well imagine that there are occasions when people who are still conscious, still capable of understanding their own affairs, and aware that they are approaching their end of life, might wish to have conversations that are not easy to have, and where there are not always channels available for them to have one. I take the simple example: someone might want to say, “Have you actually thought about your will? Have you updated it? Are you content with your testamentary disposition?” I can see why that might be a difficult conversation for a member of the family to bring up, and there might be few other opportunities. So I see the good intentions behind the amendment.
What I have difficulty with, and this is a genuine difficulty, is whether it would work if it were part of statute. It is meant to be part of a set of regulations. I am currently engaged in the annoying business of trying to move my savings around. Because of regulation, I have to fill in a form asking a whole set of inane questions, most of which are not pertinent to me, because that is what the regulations require and what the lawyers have said to the fund provider that the regulations require, and so forth. What terrifies me about the prospect of proceeding with this really quite essential idea within a statutory context is that it quickly degenerates into a tick-box exercise that has to be completed—you can imagine the rush to complete it before patient A dies. The questions will often not be appropriate. It might be carried out with great sensitivity but it might be carried out with insensitivity. It might be welcomed or it might be resented.
In my view, this sort of conversation ought to be available to people in the circumstances that we have discussed. I say only that this is the wrong route, and it would be better if its provision were pursued through the charitable and pastoral sector rather than through being embedded in what will inevitably be an insensitive statute.
I support both these amendments. I have listened to the noble Lord, Lord Moylan. In answer to his points on Amendment 203, it is highly relevant that organisations such as Marie Curie want this legislation in the Bill. Marie Curie’s nurses work tirelessly to make the end of life as gentle and congenial as possible for so many patients, but if they believe that this would help them, I would certainly support the amendment.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, that in this country people are too frightened to talk about dying, and that is what we are talking about tonight—and for some it will be painful. Nevertheless, dying is a subject that nurses and those in hospitals should be empowered to feel comfortable discussing with their patients, and Amendment 203 should help with that.
It is with some trepidation that I venture to support Amendment 297, having heard the noble and learned Lord—
Yes, Lord Mackay. Your Lordships can see how nervous it makes me feel! I think that, in this particular situation, private Members’ Bills have failed, and the Government show absolutely no intention of moving on something that is so crucial to so many people. Although you have to be wary of opinion polls, it seems perfectly clear that opinion in this country has moved and that a majority of people would like not to have assisted dying made mandatory but to have the choice at the end of life of how they say farewell.
Like others, my inbox has been inundated, and I have tried to reply to one or two of those who have been opposed to the proposal from the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. One doctor, Dr Whitehouse, a palliative care doctor, wrote to tell me that nobody had come to him whom he could not help, and it was very important that everybody should treasure their short remaining time, and palliative care would do that and assisted dying should be resisted. I wrote back to him a week ago through email—he gave me his email address—and said that I wanted to know more. I am a firm believer in palliative care; it works wonders, and it has improved hugely over the years, but I do not believe that it works in every case. I asked him whether it worked, for instance, with motor neurone disease, or whether it could cope with the incontinence which makes the end of life such a discomfort and an indignity for so many people—or did the help that could be provided mean only understanding and care, which does not necessarily deal with the indignity at all? Noble Lords will not be surprised to learn that I have not heard back from Dr Whitehouse, and neither do I expect to.
This matter polarises people, but the amendment is asking merely that Parliament should have the chance to debate a matter that is crucial to parliamentary Members and, more importantly, the constituents who vote for them. I support both amendments.
My Lords, I declare all my interests in palliative care and as a director of Living Well Dying Well and vice-president of Marie Curie and of Hospice UK. There are two amendments in this group. I do not intend to lay out all the arguments against the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. Indeed, the noble Lord was right that we had only three-minute speeches when we debated the Bill proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. However, I remind the Committee that the Bill put forward in the other place by Rob Marris MP actually failed—it was voted out—and it was one that came high in the ballot, so if it had been voted in it would have progressed quite well.
Personally, I do not think this is the place for us to debate assisted dying, which would need a change in the criminal law. The procedural issues have been clearly explained by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, spoke about the right to die. I remind him that everybody is going to die—it is an inalienable right. What he is talking about is licensing some people to provide lethal drugs to others, against a set of criteria. I remind him that three-quarters of people in my branch of the profession—specialist palliative medicine—who look after these patients all the time, not only do not want the law to change but do not want anything to do with it in the event it changes.
The claim has been made that palliative care is not a panacea. Assisted dying is not a universal panacea either. There is a 6.9% complication rate in Oregon, which is experimenting with the fourth drug cocktail in seven years. I remind the Committee, because I have made a plea for specialist palliative care, that it is estimated that 118,000 patients each year in the UK cannot access specialist palliative care. That is why I have an amendment tabled to the Bill, which I hope the Government will look favourably on. Areas where assisted dying has happened rank low on end-of-life care compared to the UK. Areas with assisted dying have dropped in the rankings for palliative care since 2015 compared to areas which did not change the law.
Amendment 203 is well intentioned and builds on all the moves for advanced care planning that are spearheaded by specialist palliative care. I know it was drafted originally with Marie Curie’s help, because it initially discussed with me whether I would table it, but I did not and did not sign it for two reasons. First, it is imperative that such conversations begin early, are part of ongoing care and do not become a tick-box exercise which says, “Conversation offered—tick”. That risks all the dangers of what happened with the Liverpool care pathway. Sadly, I have seen all too often a patient being told, “But that’s what you said you wanted”, when their needs have changed. Much research on advanced care planning has been done by my colleagues in my team in Wales. This has now informed some of the moves that are happening. Having open conversations is something that patients want, and the clinicians trained in communication skills want to provide those openings and do.
The second reason that I was concerned about this is that excellent draft guidance on advanced care planning has been developed by NHS England and NHS Improvement, and is near to being published; I had the privilege of being consulted on the final draft. It sets out core principles that such planning must always be a voluntary process and that every effort must be made to help someone express their views and preferences. The person is central to developing and agreeing their advanced care plan with agreed outcomes that are shared in partnership with relevant professionals. They have a record of the shareable plan and are encouraged to review and revise it so that they can change their mind at any time. In addition, anyone involved can speak up if they feel that the principles are not being followed.
The very sensitive approach set out in the guidance recognises that people have different levels of preparedness for such conversations; that their perception of their illness evolves over time; and that, in the crisis of being given a diagnosis or told of disease recurrence, the views that a person expresses may subsequently change as they reframe their experience. The first step is to start with an exploration of how much the person wants to be involved, what matters to them, and the pace and language that matches the person, as well as that they are listened to and understood.
The amendment asks for a “relevant authority” to
“have regard to the needs and preferences recorded … in making decisions about the procurement of services.”
I hope that the Government can see that, by providing specialist palliative care as a core service, the type of bureaucratic delays that would be involved in procuring services would be completely replaced by a rapidly responsive specialist service that can address the person’s needs in all domains. The amendment also uses the term “relevant person”. If it were used as in the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Act, that person could turn out to be the care home manager, who may actually have competing interests and therefore is inappropriate.
A comprehensive survey of over 2,000 people by Cardiff University’s Marie Curie research department reported that people listed their top priorities towards the end of life as timely access to care at 84%, and being surrounded by loved ones at 62%. Being home was a priority for only 24%.
This is a well-intentioned amendment but it has now been replaced by the extensive consideration of the consultation and production of comprehensive guidance.
The normal convention in this House is that if a Member is not present at the beginning and end of a debate, they should not speak. It is not right to read out someone else’s speech.
My Lords, I recognise and respect the integrity and passion that underlie Amendment 297. However, I rise to agree wholeheartedly and briefly with those noble Lords and noble and learned Lords who have already expressed their significant reservations about it.
There are two problems in particular with that amendment. The first has to do with the many contentious arguments for and against any legislation permitting assisted dying, some of which have already been mentioned. Tempting though it is to rehearse some more of those, I am conscious not only of the time but of the fact that they have already been presented recently and at length, as we have been reminded by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, at Second Reading of the Assisted Dying Bill here in your Lordships’ House. The ongoing process of that Bill, however slow it may be, should not be undermined. We have also been assured that this is not primarily what Amendment 297 is all about. I might add that the terminology of that amendment is unhelpfully vague. “Vague” is a word that has already been used more than once in the debate today. For instance, we might ask exactly what is meant by “terminally ill” or “medical assistance”.
The second problem, which has already been persuasively argued, concerns the attempted use of this Health and Care Bill potentially, if not directly, to change the law on assisted dying. The proper place for any amendment of this kind should be Committee on the Assisted Dying Bill, not Committee on this Bill, which would be subverted were this amendment to be accepted.
With regard to Amendment 203 in this group, whether or not it is deliberately linked, it is evidently concerned to address the holistic needs of those approaching the end of their lives, and that includes, of course, talking about death. That is something that we would all wish to encourage. However, there is again an issue of vagueness in the amendment, as in Amendment 297. For example,
“wishes and preferences for the end of their life” could include almost anything, from repeated albeit futile chemotherapy, through bucket list wishes, to assisted suicide. Who decides, and how, that someone lacks capacity for engaging in a conversation about their holistic needs? Who is a “relevant person”, as we have just been reminded by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay? Then, in proposed new paragraph (c), what does
“having regard to the needs and preferences recorded in such conversations” actually entail?
Most of what is proposed in the amendment is already covered in End of Life Care for Adults: Service Delivery, NICE guideline NG142, which was published on
My Lords, it is a real pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate and, given the similarity between his see and my name, I hope I may be able to slipstream some of his authority.
I entirely agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, that this is not a debate in which we should be having Second Reading discussions about the principle of assisted dying, and I shall absolutely not do so.
I start by saying a few words about Amendment 203. I was greatly relieved when my noble friend Lady Meacher immediately revealed it to be only a probing amendment, because I had taken the trouble of reading proposed new paragraph (b). This is not the occasion for me to indulge or deploy my inner Rumpole or Henry Cecil by telling your Lordships stories of frauds committed on families by greedy relatives and the like—although there are many to be found in the annals of the criminal courts, even from the time when I practised in north Wales. However, the words “another relevant person” are an absolute recipe for undue influence and ostensible but completely fraudulent carers. I am very surprised that my noble friend, for whom I have enormous respect, thought it right to present such a vague piece of drafting to the House on this occasion.
I am very concerned in relation to both Amendment 203 and Amendment 297 about parliamentary procedure and statutory integrity. I have huge regard for the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, who is one of our very greatest debaters in this House, and so I listened to him with great care. It has been an unusual occasion to hear him relying on a Liberal Democrat Peer in Scotland and the Scottish Parliament. I am not sure that I have heard him deploy that juxtaposition before—and I am pleased to see that he sees the funny side of that himself. However, I beg him, before Report, to consider whether he has got his concept right or wrong, for I would say that, conceptually, what he proposes is wrong.
I do not want to repeat what was said so clearly by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and the noble Lord, Lord Moylan—it does not need to be repeated, and I would diminish it if I tried to—but there are a couple of points to add. One was alluded to very graphically by the noble Lord, Lord Moylan. If, as a rule, one could table an amendment simply saying that the Government—or anyone else, for that matter, as the noble Lord suggested—should present a draft Bill to Parliament, it would be impossible to control. Reference was made to the 200 amendments tabled to the absolutely extant Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher—it is a living Bill and it can still be debated. It is extremely unfair to suggest, as one noble Baroness did, that those were wrecking amendments. Some of them may be, but the great majority of them are substantive amendments seeking to safeguard vulnerable people. That is one of the things that the private Members’ procedure is for. When a private Member presents a Bill to Parliament—and many have passed; it is not a futile gesture—it has to withstand the same parliamentary scrutiny that we give to the Government when they present Bills before Parliament, such as the police Bill, debates on which a number of us here have been taking part in recently.
Furthermore, let us suppose that the clause from the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, was passed and that within the 12 months that followed the Government decided not to present a draft Bill to Parliament. I do not believe—though I may be disabused of this by greater judicial minds than mine—that the court would have the power, other than possibly to advise, to order the Government to present such a Bill to Parliament, because that would be a breach of the separation of powers. I do not believe that any judge, other than in a nightmare, would see themselves doing that.
I rise with some trepidation to take on the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, but could he just reference the point that I made that my amendment does not seek for the Government to produce a Bill? It is a draft Bill. There is no compulsion on the Government to give it time or anything else, and therefore no notion that one would go to the courts. What I am trying to do here is break the logjam. It is completely disingenuous to suggest that we have a Bill before us; we all know that that Bill is going absolutely nowhere, like all its predecessors.
The noble Lord is trespassing on the old Social Democratic Party by using words like disingenuous. I will give him an example: some years ago, I chaired a Joint Select Committee of both Houses of Parliament dealing with the draft Mental Health Bill. That particular Bill was never enacted after our year of meetings and the report that we produced, but there was not a single person or NGO—including some that have been mentioned today—that did not believe that it was a parliamentary Bill. A Bill is a Bill is a Bill. In this Parliament we have draft Bills but not half Bills. That is my answer to the noble Lord.
I do not want to take up more time. I finish by saying that I think this is a completely misconceived proposal, both procedurally and, were we to come to it, on the merits.
My Lords, I shall speak to both amendments but I shall speak first to Amendment 203, which, on the face of it, I am minded to support.
My reason for that—I hope this is not seen as a Second Reading speech—is that two years ago, just before Christmas, my mother contacted me and said she thought she had terminal cancer. She was taken to hospital two weeks before Christmas and died on Boxing Day, not of terminal cancer but of end-of-life COPD. I had no idea that she had end-of-life COPD, although I knew she had COPD. On Christmas morning, I was summoned to the hospital, and a junior doctor asked me what I wanted to do: “Your mother’s been a bit unconscious. What do you want us to do? Do you want us to wake her up? Do you want us to do anything?” That is not really the best conversation to have. The next morning, Boxing Day, I had almost exactly the same telephone call: “Please come to the hospital, your mother is very ill.” I said that I had had the same conversation yesterday. However, on this occasion I was summoned in and met a doctor who spoke to me with compassion. My father and I agreed that my mother should not be resuscitated. I had never had that conversation with her, but, when I went through her things, I discovered that she had completed a form that said: “End-of-life COPD. When in doubt, do not resuscitate.”
So, in many ways the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, is very attractive because it is surely right that, towards the end of their lives, people talk about what is appropriate.
However, I share the considerable concern articulated by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. Sub-paragraph (b) talks about “another relevant person”. Who is such a person? It might be somebody’s closest relative, or it might be a care home manager or a random friend. It is sloppy drafting. I am glad to know that this is a probing amendment, because I think there are interesting aspects to it, but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said, it may be that the new comprehensive guidance on palliative care and end-of-life care is more appropriate.
These are clearly issues that your Lordships’ House and the other place should think about, but we should think about them in exactly the way we always engage on legislation, which is through very detailed scrutiny. This is where Amendment 297 goes quite off track. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, has said on at least one occasion now—I think he may have said it three times already this evening—“This is not a Bill that is being proposed; it is only a draft Bill.” Yet it is very difficult, as the noble and learned Lord suggested, to see the difference between a draft Bill and a Bill, in particular when Amendment 297 says:
“the Secretary of State must take account of the need … to enable Parliament to consider the issue.”
Surely, that is putting a duty on the Government, and this is not the right Bill to be discussing assisted dying.
There is still a live Bill—the Private Member’s Bill in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. We have already begun some detailed scrutiny through discussions at Second Reading. Perhaps the noble Baroness can tell us when she has requested that Committee should happen, because there are many amendments tabled to that Bill. Tonight is not the time for the substance, but the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, suggested that many of the amendments are time-wasting, wrecking amendments, and I confess that my amendment is the first one.
It might help the Committee if I make clear that, as I understand it, all our Fridays are taken up, because people are talking so long on all these Bills that we are having to use Fridays for government business, and also there are lots of Private Members’ Bills with Second Readings to come. So my understanding is that we have done what we can do with my Bill.
My Lords, perhaps the Minister, in replying, can tell the Committee whether he will talk to the usual channels, especially since I note that the Chief Whip and the Deputy Leader are both in their places, about whether time could be made available for further discussion of the Bill that is extant. Because whatever the merits or demerits of assisted dying, this is not the Bill for such an amendment.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, has been trying to get in for a while.
My Lords, I want to react very briefly to one comment that has been made in debate tonight, which is the issue flagged by my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft. It is something that is continually raised in the wider debate on assisted dying and it is the issue of incontinence being seen as so inherently tragic that people should use it as a reason to want to end their lives. It is considered an important subject; we have an all-party group on it.
Personally, I find it really difficult because I am incontinent and I have never once felt undignified by it. I cannot believe that I am the only person in the House, or, indeed, in the Chamber tonight, who is incontinent and I will happily discuss the many solutions for sorting out this problem. What I see is that people are scared to talk about it, because they think it is something that we should never discuss. I have many solutions for this. I intermittently catheterise; I use indwelling catheters; I have lots of options available to me if those do not work—medication and lots of options on surgery. There is nothing undignified about being incontinent if we support it properly.
My Lords, both these amendments reflect a desire to give people a greater say over the final weeks of their lives. As a strong believer in patient choice, which is, after all, a very central part of this Bill, I am greatly attracted by and supportive of my noble friend’s Amendment 203.
As several noble Lords have said, we are not very good at thinking about, planning for and managing death, despite Benjamin Franklin’s observation that it is one of only two certainties in this world, along with taxes. This amendment would give people diagnosed with a terminal illness the possibility of some degree of agency in their final days. That seems to me a wonderful idea, but it does of course raise questions about who such discussions would be with, and what qualifications might be needed by the people offering them. So, while I support the amendment, I would want to know more about the practicalities of delivering it, hopefully without having to create a whole new regulated profession of mortality consultants. I hope therefore that the Minister will respond positively to my noble friend’s suggestion of discussions on how the amendment might work; I will be interested to hear his response.
On Amendment 297, which I also support, I make only two brief points. First, I very much agree with what everybody has said that tonight is not the time to be discussing the merits of assisted dying; that is not what this amendment is about. Many Members on both sides of the argument have made it clear that Parliament needs to decide this issue, and the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, seeks to find a way of making that possible. I feel the same sort of alarm as my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft in finding myself on the opposite side to that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, but, with the greatest respect, I think he himself said we were waiting for a decision from Parliament before the Government could act on this. In that case, there has to be some way or process for making such a decision happen. That is exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, is trying to produce with this amendment. No doubt there are ways of improving how that is done, maybe by giving more time to my noble friend Lady Meacher’s Bill. This responsibility is Parliament’s to resolve, and I cannot believe that, in this great Parliament, we cannot find a way of doing it.
My Lords, I rise partly because my noble friend Lord Forsyth referred to me earlier and partly because I wanted to clarify what is happening in the Scottish Parliament. There is not actually a Bill in front of the Scottish Parliament. The Orkney MSP, Liam McArthur, carried out a consultation which was very wide-ranging and closed only at the very end of December. Liam McArthur has reported that the submissions to his consultation were wide-ranging and unprecedented, and I look forward with great interest to reading some of them. You can look some of them up. I commend the Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care’s website; its submission is published there. The Neurological Alliance of Scotland also published a submission—I declare an interest because I am a trustee of the latter.
Both those submissions illustrate that this is a very complicated issue, as noble Lords have acknowledged, and there are many things that need evening out before we even get to potentially having draft legislation—a Bill or whatever it is; I am still learning parliamentary procedure. I find it interesting that my noble friend Lord Forsyth mentions that there might be a majority for assisted dying in the Scottish Parliament. I remind him that there is currently a majority for independence in the Scottish Parliament, but that does not mean that the people of Scotland want independence.
In my short time in this House, I have seen many amendments that may have been worthy in their own right but were in the wrong place in the wrong Bill. I think Amendment 297 in the name of my noble friend—I feel very nervous suggesting this to such an esteemed colleague—may possibly be the wrong amendment in the wrong Bill.
My Lords, I rise to speak on my own behalf; I am not representing anybody. The substantive issue is a conscience issue. I do, however, support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, because I think it is a discussion whose time has come. I am very impressed and pleased that noble Lords have resisted the temptation to discuss the substantive issue this evening, because all of us here understand—unfortunately, many outside do not—that this amendment is not about the substantive issue.
However, I am somewhat disappointed that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, wishes to knock it out on a procedural point. I think it is much more important than that. The noble and learned Lord is a wily old politician, and he knows very well that if you want to defeat something, it is often a very good idea to try to get rid of it on a procedural point. He suggested that we should use the Private Member’s Bill procedure. He has been in this House long enough to know that very few Private Members’ Bills are taken up by the Government and given time, and if they are not given time, they are going nowhere. But it is clear that this country wishes to discuss the matter and have Parliament decide on it.
The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, suggested that we cannot put anything in the Bill that the Government do not want to do. I remind him that every time we defeat the Government on an amendment, we are asking them to do something they do not want to do—and we did it 14 times last week on the policing Bill.
I have one other point. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle talked about vagueness. I think the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, has been deliberately vague, because it is for the draft Bill to be specific. That is important because we need something very specific to discuss, with specific powers and safeguards that Parliament has put in. Without that, we would have all the fear that we have around the country, much of which has been expressed in our inboxes in these last few weeks. People are afraid of what might be in the Bill and what Parliament might pass, and only if we have a specific set of proposals in front of us can we amend it to put in the proper safeguards. Parliament can then decide, and people can take their view about it. I think that will take away a lot of the fears of people who believe that there will be no safeguards, because I am convinced that this Parliament would put in proper safeguards. If it did not, a lot of noble Lords would suggest some that jolly well should be there, and rightly so. For those reasons, I hope the Minister will consider the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth.
On the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, again, I am so glad that she said it is a probing amendment, because other noble Lords have suggested that the drafting would need to be changed to avoid some unintended consequences. I am quite sure that the noble Baroness would do that if it was more than a probing amendment. She is asking for something that patients need: choice at the end of life. I hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said about what is already in place. She is an expert on this. It could well be that a conversation needs to be had about whether there needs to be anything further in legislation to strengthen the availability of what the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, talked about, which sounds absolutely excellent. So I am not expressing a definite opinion on that amendment.
I hope the Minister will consider the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, because we, as practical politicians, know that in the real world—in this Parliament—the Bill brought forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, is not going anywhere, but we need to have the discussion.
My Lords, I believe it is really important to understand what Amendment 297 does and does not do. It is my understanding that this amendment instructs the Secretary of State—not Parliament—to lay before Parliament a draft Bill that would permit terminally ill, mentally competent adults legally to end their own lives with medical assistance. I listened carefully to my noble friend’s speech on the matter just before Christmas, and I hugely empathise with his own personal journey. But it is important for us to understand what this amendment actually does and does not do.
Having consulted with the clerks, I would like confirmation from the Minister that this amendment does not require the Secretary of State to introduce a Bill. In fact, the phrase that was used to me was that this is the equivalent of posting a Bill through the letterbox of Parliament. I believe that, if this were to result in the Secretary of State having to introduce a Bill, that would be unconstitutional, as this House cannot dictate the business of the other place. Could the Minister confirm that the only impact this amendment would have would be to cause a drafting of a Bill and not its introduction?
If this is the case, though, I am concerned about the narrative that is developing around this amendment. It has been referred to as a guarantee of parliamentary procedure. It has been referred to as Members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords having the opportunity to debate this Bill. It has been said that this amendment would facilitate the debate—that it would give the opportunity for Parliament to debate. This amendment does no such thing, and it is my real concern that it is being sold to us as a House on the basis of us having the opportunity to debate something, when actually that is not the case.
It begs the question, therefore, why my noble friend Lord Forsyth would want to table such an amendment. Is it possible he believes that the drafting of a Bill by government would confer legitimacy on an otherwise non-government policy? If so, this amendment should be treated with great care. The value and worth of our terminally ill, mentally competent adults are too great to be dealt with in such a way. Are we really arguing that because end-of-life palliative care is so patchy, we need to introduce euthanasia? Surely we need a universal service of palliative care rather than this amendment.
“The Secretary of State must, within the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, lay before Parliament a draft Bill,” and so on. I feel competent to address this point because I was asked myself, when I was Minister, whether the Government should support a debate with a Government-supported Bill on this issue. There were five conclusions that I reached during my thoughts on the matter.
The first was that a Private Member’s Bill, however worthy, was just not going to get across the Table. It was like a soggy piece of spaghetti—very difficult to push across. This issue is very complex, and a large amount of consultation is needed, quite rightly on such a delicate issue, that only a Government can engage in. PMBs may be all right for cosmetic fillers, but not for assisted dying.
Secondly, on soundings with the professions, there was clearly a massive change in the sentiments of the medical professions, and the appetite and desire for reform was profound, among both the membership and the leadership. That was something we had to take account of.
Thirdly, reform in like-minded countries such as Canada, New Zealand and even Ireland had changed the international context for this issue. We cannot duck the fact that Britain is actually behind the curve on this matter.
Fourthly, public opinion has moved a long way on this. The noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, referred to this.
Lastly, there was a large amount of interest, privately, among parliamentary colleagues in engaging on this subject, particularly among those who were not necessarily highly focused on the issue.
My conclusion was that the time was right to have this debate. My message to the Minister is that it is right that the inconsistencies and delicacies of this issue are tackled by the Government and soon. In the phrase of TS Eliot in “The Waste Land”:
My Lords, I rise to make just a short contribution. I listened carefully to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, for whom I have great personal respect. I watched him in another place and saw his great ability in debate, and I have no doubt whatever that he has much to contribute to the debates here in this House and will do so in the future. However, I have to say that I profoundly disagree with him in this case.
The noble Lord said that he had changed his mind on assisted suicide. He mentioned personal circumstances within the family and then he said that he thought about his own personal circumstances if he were in that position. I do not believe that that is the best way to bring legislation forward, based on your own personal circumstances; you are therefore bringing legislation in for the whole country to meet your own personal circumstances. I have empathy with him and understand the personal circumstances he has had to face.
I say to the noble Lord that I come from a different perspective. I have personal experience of the awful pain of the suicide of a loved one. I know what it is for a family member to come to their wits’ end because of their personal circumstances, where cancer had ravaged the whole family circle, even taking a little child of four, and they could not face life any more. Were they terminally ill? I tell your Lordships, they had died within because of their circumstances. Were they mentally competent to make a decision? They made a decision, and I am sad to say that the rest of the family circle has had to live with that awful pain within their hearts.
This is not an easy situation. I understand that we say that we are not talking about the particulars of a Bill, but this amendment says:
“The Secretary of State must, within the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, lay before Parliament a draft Bill to permit terminally ill, mentally competent adults legally to end their own lives with medical assistance.”
That is certainly assisted suicide. I heard other noble Lords saying that this was simply asking for parliamentary time to have a debate. We had a long debate in this House on the Bill in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, which is in fact progressing.
I notice that the noble Lord is shaking his head. I have to ask this question. Numerous Private Members’ Bills are going through this House and are progressing, perhaps at a slow speed. Why is this one different from the others? Do we ask the Government simply to pick this one out and forget about all the rest, or are we saying that they should do it in a timely fashion? Let the Government give this special time to those that are already in that process, and when it comes to the Bill in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, time can be given for that to progress and to provide a Bill.
Over these past two years this whole nation has been fighting to save life, not take it. We have spent billions of pounds in trying to do that and I pay tribute to the health service for all its efforts. An assisted suicide law, however well intended, would alter society’s attitude towards the elderly, the seriously ill and the disabled, sending a message that assisted suicide is an option that they ought to consider. Society should not allow a double standard in allowing some people an assisted suicide while we do all we can to prevent young people and other vulnerable groups committing suicide—
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord but is he aware that in all the countries I cited in my speech, parliaments played a facilitating role in changing the law and consulting their citizens on these kinds of changes? Is it not a bit strange that so many English-speaking and non-English-speaking democracies that we all respect managed to go down that path with the help and facilitation of their own parliaments?
My Lords, there is a process that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, outlined tonight for how this issue could proceed. I believe we should bow to his legal and learned knowledge concerning this matter.
I think society should give everything financially and provide palliative care to those who are in need at the end of life. I trust and pray that this House will send a clear message that we will do everything to ensure people live with decency and honour rather than telling them that we will help them to die.
My Lords, this debate has probably exposed more that is not resolved rather than what is resolved. Having listened very closely to the passionate, informed and often personal contributions from noble Lords this evening, I feel there was some inevitability that that is where this debate would lie.
I want to touch on the two amendments before us. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for clarifying that Amendment 203 is a probing amendment. I am reminded of when we debated these issues in the previous group where your Lordships’ House had great regard for ensuring that a patient’s final wishes should be respected as a kindness. This allows respect and dignity but is also practical in respect of reducing unplanned hospital admissions and other interventions.
There may well be merit in further consideration of the sentiments in the noble Baroness’s amendment that patients should have the opportunity for meaningful conversation about what matters most to them at the end of their life. Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, is also right about ensuring protection for those who are more vulnerable, and I am sure that, in the course of further discussions, those considerations will be made.
With regard to Amendment 297 put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, obviously your Lordships’ House has heard, as I have, the depth and range of concerns and opinions across this issue. Such an important legislative change as proposed in this amendment would need to be its own topic, in its own Bill. I do not feel that any steps towards such a monumental change should be added via an amendment to a Bill that concerns itself entirely with other matters, as does this Bill.
In conclusion, whatever the views of noble Lords on assisted dying and however strongly held those views are, I believe that your Lordships’ House should do justice to it but that this Bill does not provide that opportunity.
My Lords, this has been a fascinating discussion and debate. I recall watching the debate on the Private Member’s Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, a few weeks ago; I remember thinking that that was Parliament at its best. The arguments on both sides are fascinating—thank goodness I was not the Minister responding.
I thank my noble friend Lord Forsyth for assuring me today that we were not going to re-open the whole issue but talk only about the merits of the noble Lord’s amendment. Before I turn to his amendment, I will start with Amendment 203 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher.
It is incredibly important that everyone at the end of their life, whether or not they have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, has the opportunity to discuss their needs, wishes and preferences for future care, so that these can be taken fully into account. There is ongoing work across the health and care system, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, alluded to, to support this aim, including a commitment within the NHS Long Term Plan to provide more personalised care at end of life, and a recently updated quality statement from NICE on advanced care planning. In addition, we have established the ministerial oversight group on Do Not Attempt Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, following the CQC’s review of this during the Covid-19 pandemic. This group is developing a set of universal principles for advance care planning to further support health and care professionals in having appropriate and timely discussions with individuals at the end of life. We believe that patient choice is a powerful tool for improving patients’ experience of care, and we intend to ensure that effective provisions to promote patient choice remain. However, I do not feel it is appropriate to specify the level of detail included in Amendment 203 in the Bill, and I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, will consider withdrawing her amendment.
Let us now turn to the amendment that has been much discussed. As many noble Lords have rightly said, it is a long-standing position that any change to the law on assisted dying is a matter for Parliament to decide, rather than one for government policy. Assisted dying remains a matter of individual conscience, on which there are deeply held and very sincere views on all sides. Sometimes these are informed by one’s own experience of family members; other times, these are informed by one’s faith. You can rationalise it, or argue, but people have very strong feelings on both sides.
Noble Lords are aware of the Private Member’s Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, on this subject, and we look forward to further debate in Committee when parliamentary time allows. I will commit to discussing this with the Chief Whip, given the request that was made. But as this matter is so important and is a matter of conscience, we cannot take a partisan position. If the will of Parliament is that the law on assisted suicide should change, the Government would not stand in the way of such change but would seek to ensure that the law could be enforced in the way that Parliament intended.
I am most grateful to my noble friend. Could he just clarify what he said? Did he say that there was a possibility that time would be made available for the Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher?
I am afraid that I cannot give that guarantee. I will commit to speak to the Chief Whip about whether time could be made available.
I was not expecting that reaction.
On Amendment 297, it would not be appropriate to include a commitment to bring forward new primary legislation in the Bill. Future Bills and the use of parliamentary time are decisions that are rightly made via other avenues. As I said, I will commit to speak to the Chief Whip—he is not very far from me at the moment.
A number of noble Lords spoke about definitions. It seems that tonight we have challenged the definition of “neutral”. I was told that if I did not support this amendment, it would not be a neutral position. Given that those who spoke in favour of the amendment tend on the whole to be in favour of assisted dying, would it be a neutral position if I supported it? Therefore, have we now got a subjective understanding of neutrality or, as I said in my PhD viva, a subjective view of objectivity?
For all these reasons, I ask the noble Lord to consider not moving his amendment, but I fully expect him to come back to it in future.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, for tabling his amendment. I was asked by other noble Lords to make it absolutely clear, and I have no problem with this, that I fully and strongly support his amendment. I did not speak to it because of time.
I thank a lot of noble Lords for being very good this evening about not addressing the great issue of assisted dying, because that would have been entirely inappropriate. Many noble Lords have been careful not to do that, so I am grateful to them. I am also grateful to the many noble Lords who have made clear their support in particular for Amendment 297. I was very clear about my own amendment; it is a probing amendment. I thank the Minister for his response and the Chief Whip for placing this at the very end of the day so that we did not spend 12 hours on it—I think we can all be grateful for that. I thank all noble Lords here tonight. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, it is late. Tempted as I am to respond to all the arguments that have been put—I have some extensive notes here—I want to make just two points.
First, on the procedural arguments that have been put, if the amendment was not in order, it would not have been allowed to be put on the Marshalled List. Had the clerks advised me that there was any constitutional or procedural problem with the amendment, of course I would not have tabled it—a tradition which I hope will be maintained in this House. All these arguments about procedure—people can think it is not the right thing to do, but ultimately it is for the House to decide. I am most grateful to my noble friend the Minister; I suspect the Chief Whip will not be as accommodating as he might have hoped when he has his conversation with him.
The Minister made the point that many of the people who supported my amendment had a particular view on this issue, but it is important to point out that all those who sought procedural reasons for why it would be inappropriate also have a particular point of view. That is why we need a proper debate.
On the Private Member’s Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, the most disingenuous argument has been that which says, “Well, we’ve got a Bill before us”, when there is not time even for a Committee stage and there are some 200 amendments. It is well-trodden path.
I shall not say any more other than that if I wanted to summarise succinctly, I would probably have said everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said. Not only is this the first occasion that I have praised the Scottish Parliament to the skies but it is the first occasion that I have relied on a Liberal to put into words what I feel about an issue. The Committee should also take notice of what my noble friend Lord Bethell, who was the Minister, had to say. He said that he would like to have done this as a Minister. I do not know whether my noble friend wants to change places with him again so that he can come back and make it happen. It is wonderful how when one is no longer in government one is able to say all kinds of things one was not able to say in government.
On the basis that I believe that this matter needs to be decided by the House, I shall consider the points that have been made and come back to it on Report, but I think that I will want at that stage to test the opinion of the House.
Amendment 203 withdrawn.
Amendment 204 not moved.
Clause 69 agreed.
Amendment 205 not moved.
Schedule 11 agreed.
Clause 70: Procurement regulations
Amendments 206 to 213 not moved.
Clause 70 agreed.
My Lords, I have got up twice today to ask people to be succinct. Front Benches and Back Benches have been very good at that, so I want to say thank you very much. I am very grateful.
House adjourned at 11.26 pm.