Moved by Lord Forsyth of Drumlean
170: After Clause 164, insert the following new Clause—“Assisted dying(1) 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.(2) In preparing the draft Bill and any accompanying documents and in making arrangements to lay them before Parliament, the Secretary of State must take account of the need—(a) to respect that this is a matter of conscience, and(b) to enable Parliament to consider the issue.”
My Lords, we are on Report and I know that a number of colleagues have engagements and want to see this matter resolved as speedily as possible, so I will be brief and stick to the substance of my amendment.
This amendment has nothing whatever to do with the rights and wrongs of assisted dying, and I apologise to colleagues who have received many letters and emails urging them to vote against it from people who have been told that it does. The amendment would simply enable a Private Member’s Bill on assisted dying to be properly considered by Parliament at a time when the courts and the vast majority of the public are crying out for this to be done.
Time and again, private Members’ legislation on assisted dying is destroyed in Committee after enjoying strong support at Second Reading. The Bill from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and, most recently, the Bill from the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, suffered this fate. The noble Baroness’s Bill was subject to more than 200 amendments, many of them tabled by Members who expressed complete opposition in principle to it at its Second Reading. It is hard to escape the conclusion that their purpose was to ensure that the Bill ran out of time. They succeeded; it is dead. A particularly egregious example was an amendment requiring a terminally ill person to give 12 months’ notice of a diagnosis of having only six months to live. You do not need to take my word for it that some people are using these tactics, which are deliberately intended to subvert the democratic process and prevent Parliament coming to a considered view.
This is what Care Not Killing, as it calls itself, had to say in an email sent to its supporters on
“It must be opposed because”— horror of horrors—
“point 2 would force the Government to give parliamentary time and prevent it from instructing its MPs on which way to vote.”
It goes on:
“This in turn would open the way for MPs and Peers to pass a new law.”
How shocking that that should be allowed to happen.
I regret to say that, even though the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats are rightly allowing a free vote on this amendment, the Government are instructing colleagues to vote against it—despite my offer to the Front Bench to withdraw it in return for an undertaking to provide time in future for a Private Member’s Bill to allow Parliament to reach a considered view. Everyone knows that Private Members’ Bills, unless they are government handouts or are utterly uncontroversial, have little chance of clearing the parliamentary hurdles unless they are given government time and assistance. It is fatuous for the Government to say that they are neutral on assisted dying while, at the same time, refusing to allow time for it to be considered. Without government time for private Members’ legislation, many controversial and important social reforms, such as the decriminalisation of homosexuality or the abolition of the death penalty, would never have reached the statute book. Passing by on the other side is not neutrality. It is a failure to come to the aid of the democratic process on an issue of the highest importance.
In Scotland, the parliamentary procedures for private legislation provide for proper public consultation and consideration by MSPs; this is probably the first time I have praised the Scottish Parliament in this Chamber. I am told that it is highly likely that the law on assisted dying will be changed north of the border—something for which my friend and political opponent, the late Margo MacDonald MSP, campaigned so bravely while herself suffering from a terminal illness—because Liam McArthur MSP’s private Bill enjoys strong public and parliamentary support. Of course, this opens up the possibility of people from England being forced to travel to Gretna Green for a less happy reason than today. Such an outcome would be impossible to defend if the UK Parliament had not even addressed the issue properly.
This must be serious because my noble friend the Minister, who is the equivalent of Kate Adie, is answering from the Front Bench. I am sure that he is equipped with the arguments; I remember them well. I remember the lines to take when Ministers are faced with a hopelessly weak argument against an amendment: “It is not the right Bill. It would create an unwelcome precedent. It is not properly drafted. The time is not right.” I hope that we will not hear them all again tonight. However, the Government are on record as saying that they will not stand in the way of Parliament deciding on the matter of assisted dying, which is a matter of conscience. This amendment would enable them to be as good as their word. To my colleagues on these Benches, I say this: help them to do the right thing. Ignore the Whip and vote with your conscience. I beg to move.
My Lords, many people are fearful and dismayed about the disastrous, inhuman situation in Ukraine. The threat of a nuclear attack and a third world war frightens many people. Added to this, many disabled and elderly people here in the UK are also frightened. Many vulnerable people feel that, if the assisted dying law is changed, they could be pressured into assisted dying because they feel that they are a nuisance and because they need looking after. Whatever the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, says, this Bill should be about care, not killing. There should be compassion and palliative care for all those people who need it.
The majority of the British public support the legalisation of assisted dying. In a Populus poll of more than 5,000 people in 2019, 84% of respondents said they supported giving dying people the right to an assisted death. I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, has managed to praise the Scottish Parliament system that has enabled my colleague Liam McArthur to have time for his Bill in its Parliament.
As the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, has said, it is important to note that the amendment would not actually change the law on assisted dying. What it would do is to ensure that some proper parliamentary time is made available, as in Scotland, within 12 months of the Bill passing into law, to ensure that there can be a planned and proper debate with the wider public and with MPs and Peers that is just not possible in the Private Members’ Bill process that we have in our Parliament.
It is important to note that the amendment does not require government to support the legislation through Parliament, merely to ask for the time, and that this procedure has happened before with Section 16 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. I hope that the Minister will change the Government’s mind on this so that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, does not have to call a Division.
My Lords, in moving this proposed new clause, superficially so bland, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, beckons us along a path which leads towards constitutional and moral anarchy.
What is dangerous constitutionally about this amendment is that it would undermine the way we do parliamentary government. Forcing the Government to lay a Bill before Parliament and to enable Parliament to consider the issue, as the proposed new clause requires, would be a coup. This Back-Bench amendment would usurp control of the parliamentary agenda from the democratically elected Government. In the last Parliament we saw Back-Bench MPs, with the collusion of Mr Speaker Bercow, contriving to set aside Standing Order 14(1), which gives precedence to business tabled by the Government, in order to substitute their own agenda on Brexit. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, was very much opposed to that.
Parliament proceeds by precedence, and these are dangerous new precedents, as any noble Lord who sees their party as a party of government must surely agree. While it is for Parliament to interrogate government and hold it to account, it is not for Parliament to claim for itself the role of the Government. Parliament is incapable of governing and it should not dictate the parliamentary programme. If Parliament makes exceptions to that principle to gratify a faction of its Members in either House, and if the principle that it may do so becomes established through reiteration so that the Government no longer control the legislative agenda, the ability of Governments to govern will suffer. Our system of parliamentary government is battered and unsteady as it is; we should not injure it further.
The moral anarchy that lurks in this new clause is that it would legitimise in a new way the taking of human life by other human beings. I readily acknowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and other proponents of what they call assisted dying are motivated by compassion and kind intentions. I profoundly believe, however, that their approach misreads human nature and that legislation to permit assisted suicide would create more suffering than it would alleviate. The offspring of this compassion would be a coarsening of our society and a diminution of the value we place upon life.
Some people make a moral case for assisted suicide on the basis of personal autonomy. I understand the appeal: I want, or I think I would want, such choice and control for myself at the end of my life. But that is not a good enough argument. Our responsibility is not just to ourselves, or even to those individuals we love the most, but to our community. For a community to be healthy, it must have norms. It has been a norm in our culture to place an especial value on human life. We reaffirmed that value when we abolished capital punishment. Since then, we have subjected our society to decades of laissez-faire ideology and chaotic individualism, and among the consequences of that have been a dissolution of community bonds and new harshnesses.
If we continue to dissolve our traditional norms, we are at risk that there really will be no such thing as society. As we look at our society now, at lethal child abuse and domestic abuse, at murderous assaults on women, as we look across the world at the millions consigned to death in the pandemic by the refusal of rich countries, including our own, to share intellectual property and technology to enable poorer countries to have vaccines, and as we witness increase discriminate mass killing in Ukraine and Yemen and genocide in Xinjiang, do we really think we should be preparing to sanction a new class of killing?
The new clause requires that a vote in Parliament on the intended legislation must be a matter of conscience. Let us examine our consciences very carefully indeed as we consider the proposal the noble Lord has put before us.
My Lords, I support Amendment 170 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, to which I have added my name.
As the noble Lord made clear, there is no realistic prospect of a Committee day for my Assisted Dying Bill. This makes the point that the current procedures limiting Private Members’ Bills to Fridays do not enable important legislation such as the Assisted Dying Bill to reach the statute book.
The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, introduced his amendment brilliantly. It leaves me only to reiterate that we are not discussing the pros and cons of assisted dying this evening. The House is expected to rise at 1.30 tomorrow morning. I hope for the sake of everybody in this House that noble Lords on both sides of the assisted dying debate will resist the temptation to get into such a debate—that is not as what this amendment is about. We are debating whether it is acceptable that there is no procedure at present to enable the Westminster Parliament to test the willingness of both houses to pass such a significant and popular piece of legislation. We know that not only Scotland, which the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, mentioned, but Jersey and even the Isle of Man have procedures to enable them to pass an assisted dying law, and all those three are likely to pass such legislation within the next one to three years.
We therefore ask noble Lords: do we really think it is satisfactory that the Westminster Parliament is hamstrung without a procedure for Parliament properly to debate a Bill to legalise assisted dying for terminally ill people who are mentally competent and who are suffering unbearably? For Westminster to be upstaged on such an important and popular human rights issue by our much smaller neighbours is surely unconscionable. Amendment 170 from the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, deserves our support.
My Lords, I oppose this amendment. Much as I admire my noble friend Lord Forsyth and fully understand the reasons why he has brought this before your Lordships’ House, it is not a good precedent to bind the Government in one Bill to introduce another a year or so hence. We should think very carefully about the constitutional issues.
We should remember Silverman and we should remember Steel: those Bills began in the other place—an elected House. An initiative of this sort should come from the elected House and not be imposed upon it by an unelected House. I do not think anybody would question my devotion to this House. I believe passionately in it. I believe passionately in an appointed House, as we are. I admire enormously the variety of expertise and experience that is in your Lordships’ House. However, we are not the elected House. I agree that it would be entirely reasonable in the elected House for time to be sought from government. The last time they debated this there was a fairly emphatic result, and it was not in favour of having an assisted dying Bill.
Much as we can admire the total sincerity of those who are committed to the principle of assisted suicide—I happen not to be of their number—it is very dangerous for us to begin in this House changing constitutional precedent by obliging government to introduce a Bill. Therefore, I urge your Lordships not to support this amendment.
My Lords, I have been informed that the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, would like to participate in this debate remotely. I invite her to contribute.
My Lords, I am so thankful to be here tonight. It is a rare appearance but an important one and I am glad to be here in your Lordships’ House to oppose Amendment 170, which repeats the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, tabled in Committee. I apologise to the noble Lord for missing the first sentence of his contribution—I always enjoy his contributions and I am sorry to have missed the very first part.
This is a complex and highly contentious ethical issue. Opening the door to what is effectively assisted suicide would be a monumental change in the criminal law with potentially lethal consequences. If we get it wrong, it will result in some vulnerable people needlessly taking their own life.
The current Bill on assisted dying needs to be examined with the utmost care on the basis of highly informed opinion, robust evidence and a deep understanding of why hundreds of disabled people fear it. I do not think that we understand this cohort. I wish we did but we do not. We have seen a range of legislative developments in recent years in the UK and abroad, all of which demand detailed analysis.
Using this Bill to force the Government’s hand and the pace of deliberation on a matter specifically covered by an existing Bill is, I believe, as others do, a blatant manipulation of the parliamentary process. It sets a dangerous precedent and should be resisted. This is the wrong Bill, the wrong time and the wrong way in which to debate one of the most fundamental issues that we face as a society. I beg—yes, beg—noble Lords to reject the amendment.
It is a privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, whose contribution to the debate on assisted dying over many years is the admiration of all. I pay tribute to her and I know that the House thinks that as well.
I strongly support what the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, is proposing for the following reason. We are trying to deal with an issue of conscience in Parliament. Issues of conscience generally have a bad time in Parliament because the major parties are not interested in such issues. You have to fight under our parliamentary procedures in order for issues of conscience to get dealt with. I completely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, that this is a complex and difficult issue, but it is one that requires parliamentary time and, above all, Parliament to address the issue and make a decision.
I cannot convey adequately the mess that the law is now in. The law does not have the stomach to be enforced. Nobody wants a decent person who helps a loved one to die because they are having a terrible death to be the subject of prosecution, conviction and a possible sentence of 14 years. The law has been stood on its head and the Director of Public Prosecutions has been given the power to say that he will not prosecute if certain guidelines are followed. That means that the most basic principle of English law is subverted. It is not the judge and jury any more who decide whether you are guilty of the offence but the well-meaning and admirable Director of Public Prosecutions. If he says that you are not to be prosecuted, you are in the clear. If he says that you are to be prosecuted—remember you have assisted somebody to take their own life—you are guilty. He is making the decision. That reflects the way in which our society is trying to deal with the issue.
What we need is proper parliamentary time for parliamentarians to address this exceptional issue. I was a remainer, tragically, and was very much against all the strange ways in which Parliament operated. But this is an exceptional matter. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, with respect, is not talking sensibly when he says that that we are sticking this matter on to the Commons. The Commons will have to decide whether they agree or not.
I urge this House to adopt the amendment, not because noble Lords agree or disagree on the issue of assisted dying but because they take the view that Parliament should properly address issues of conscience. Please do not be swayed one way or the other by the issues on assisted dying, because everybody knows that there are strong arguments in favour and against—I feel as passionately as those who are against. Address the issue on the basis of whether Parliament should be able to deal with issues of conscience.
My Lords, it would be perfectly possible for someone in the House of Commons to raise this issue and deal with it there. What concerns me—I pick up what the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord Howarth, said—is that this seems to be a constitutional issue. I am not going to say a word about the rights and wrongs of assisted suicide or assisted dying. However, I shall just read a few words of the amendment. It asks us to agree that the
“Secretary of State must, within the period of 12 months … lay before Parliament” not just the possibility of a Private Member’s Bill being given time, which was what was suggested earlier, but a draft Bill. That is telling the Government what legislation they have to pass. This is a matter that transcends issues of compassion or whether one is on one side of the argument or the other, because what we in the Lords are telling the Commons is that they have to support us telling the Government to put forward a Bill with which they may not agree. But they do not have any choice if this amendment is passed. That Bill has to,
“permit terminally ill, mentally competent adults legally to end their own lives”.
The amendment is not asking the Government to please give time—I could understand that. It is telling, not asking, the Government to put forward a draft Bill in support of one side of the argument. Whichever side I was on, I would feel absolutely impelled to resist this amendment.
My Lords, I have repeatedly opposed assisted dying and it is well known that I feel, and have felt, strongly about it. I also feel that this is quite a different situation. I do not want to argue my case here, but serious issues are raised by the amendment. I am not persuaded that voting for it would make a difference, because the Commons can still consider what we have said this evening. However, it is clear—I completely agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer—that we as a Parliament have to discuss this issue.
I remember, when I first came into this House 27 years ago, in the Prince’s Chamber there was a notice recording an Act of 1620, I think—under Charles I—that argued that we should not use intemperate language in the Chamber. In this situation, I believe this is inevitably important. I regret very much that the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, spoke in the terms he did. I do not think it is helpful to the argument. I think it probably destroys his argument to some extent. What the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, says is a very different matter—and I regard the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, as a friend. Above all, it seems that as a Parliament we have to discuss this, and this is something burgeoning in the public. Therefore, it is a duty to discuss this in Parliament. If we happen to introduce this Bill, which the Commons can then consider, whether it is passed at this stage or not, that would be utterly justifiable, and I support this amendment.
My Lords, this amendment surely goes to something of importance to all of us in this House, whether we support assisted dying or not, because it is about the role of Parliament and the proper exercise of the duties of an elected Government. The Supreme Court has repeatedly said that Parliament, and not the courts, should consider whether in some circumstances assisted dying should be legal. But so far, this Government have fought shy of doing so either of their own volition or by giving Private Members’ Bills time. There is now clear evidence that the public opinion has changed and wants Parliament to face up to this question and express its will. Yet the door is effectively being shut in the face of that opinion.
Dying is surely an issue of general public importance as it concerns every single one of us. Yet this subject is consistently and currently being starved of the oxygen of time in Parliament in order for the Government to avoid a controversial topic. This amendment does not require the Government to take sides or promote a Bill themselves; it merely requires them to prepare and lay a draft to enable Parliament to consider any possible change properly. I shall support this amendment, and I would hope that noble Lords, whatever their views on assisted dying, do the same, because this amendment is essentially about democracy.
My Lords, I rise to support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Forsyth. I do not do so lightly, because in 10 years of parliamentary politics, despite sometimes being seen as a bit of a rebel or trouble-maker, I have never actually broken a Whip before, that I can remember. It does help that I was a party leader for eight years and wrote the Whip, but it is still quite a big step for me. But for me here tonight, I have to, because I cannot believe, or understand why, the Government have whipped this in the first place, particularly when the amendment from my noble friend Lady Sugg, which is equally an issue of conscience, tonight is not whipped.
The reason I cannot believe this has been whipped is the reason that has been given—that of neutrality. I am absolutely content for the Government to be neutral on the issue of assisted dying. That is not just defendable but completely understandable, but not allowing time for discussion is not a neutral act. When contentious Private Members’ Bills attract clear tactics from oppositional Members to affix a deluge of wrecking amendments to slow progress through the House, denying such discussion time is not neutral. This is a convention that previous Governments have understood, and they have acted. The decriminalisation of homo- sexuality, the repeal of the death penalty, the legalisation of abortion: none of these measures would have passed without the Government of the day allocating suitable parliamentary time for their debate and discussion. To deny that time here is not a neutral act. It is to guarantee that this issue is killed by procedure and killed by practice. It is a de facto opposition to change.
For these reasons, I will break the Conservative Whip this evening. I encourage all people, no matter which side of the argument they happen to be on, who want us to have the deep, broad and considered debate we need on an issue as important as this to do exactly the same. I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and I urge him to press it.
My Lords, I feel I have to remind the House that we have had 95 hours of debate in recent years on this topic; and the implication that we have not debated this is a misrepresentation. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, has asked us not to talk about assisted dying but then actually did talk about some aspects. We are being asked to test the willingness in both Houses, but I remind the House that the Marris Bill started in the Commons, was debated there and was defeated there by 330 votes to 118. That is where a Bill like this should start.
It is true that, historically, there have been major changes. Those have been in Bills that started in the House of Commons, when the public understood what they were about. The public knew what capital punishment was, and they know what homosexuality is. These Bills started in the elected House, and they then came to this Chamber. That has been our procedure.
I would, though, like to challenge the claim that there is overwhelming support among the public. I think it is questionable. In the poll, when asked a bit more detail, 57% of the public did not understand what assisted dying is; 42% think it is your right to stop treatment, which is already a legal right; and 10% think it is hospice care. Dignity in Dying has said it wants to have the largest record of public support, yet to date it has less than 0.5% of the population of England and Wales signed up to this list. So I do think we have to look at some of the claims being made and think about them.
Whatever noble Lords think about assisted suicide and euthanasia, this amendment would set a dangerous constitutional precedent for any Government. It is surprising that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, with his deep respect for parliamentary processes and Governments being able to govern, has taken this approach, because this amendment would set a precedent enabling any Back-Bencher from any pressure group to disrupt a Government’s agenda. Does the noble Lord plan to bring judicial proceedings if his proposal is not tabled in a year? That is the criterion in the text of his amendment. A draft Bill leads to a Bill, assuming and forcing government support, before exploring evidence of the complexities of licensing doctors to provide lethal drugs.
We do indeed already have a Bill before us, and it is awaiting debate. The amendments laid are not vexatious. Based on the extensive evidence from abroad, they expose the problems with the proposals from the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. Where assisted dying is legal, palliative care has dwindled, legislation has widened, the safeguards have been seen to fail, and non-assisted violent suicide rates rise disproportionately. Post-event reporting, as in her Bill, does not work because it relies on the clinician. I could go on, but I will not.
Yet surprisingly, no request was made for Committee until months after Second Reading, and no one seems to have sought to discuss the amendments that have been widely criticised by those who have spoken today. Some Members openly want the prognosis requirement to be dropped from the Bill to make legal drugs available on request. We have to at least know what the content of the Bill is even before we proceed. An 18 year-old with severe anorexia is already eligible under the Bill that is currently before the House. The answer to harrowing accounts of inadequate care is not to force the Government to draft a Bill that would allow doctors to supply massive overdoses of unevaluated lethal drugs to patients. Good, holistic, palliative care has been made a right in this Bill by this Government, and people should ask for it and insist on it.
This amendment is not the way to seek a careful analysis of the complexities of assisted suicide and euthanasia. It creates a constitutional headache for any future Government’s ability to govern. The procedure is to debate a Private Member’s Bill properly in Committee; and that Private Member’s Bill should start in the elected House.
My Lords, I hate to disagree with the noble Lords who have spoken against this amendment, almost as much as I loathe supporting the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, on anything. But, for me, this is a matter of democracy. Public opinion is constantly moving on this, and it becomes more and more supportive as the public understand the issues involved. It is partly the duty of the Government to explain exactly what it is about. Having a proper debate like this is something we should all support.
Personally, I want this on the statute book before I need it. I have five grandchildren, and I try to talk them all into pushing me over a cliff if I were to get too ill. As soon as their mothers told them that it was illegal, they refused me. The idea remains that this is something which many of us want for ourselves, because we fear being incapable. Therefore, I support Amendment 170.
My Lords, I would like to put a point to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. He said that his amendment simply provides time for Parliament to consider an assisted dying Bill. I note that proposed new subsection (2)(a) also says that the Secretary of State should
“respect that this is a matter of conscience”.
But a draft Bill is a draft Bill. It will be prepared by a government department; instructions will be given by solicitors, after consultation with Ministers, to parliamentary counsel; and that Bill will eventually be approved by Ministers in the relevant department and put before Parliament. There will be a Minister in charge of the Bill. Whatever mechanism is chosen—maybe a Joint Select Committee of both Houses—to consider the draft legislation, the Minister will be in charge and will be seen by the public to be driving through a Bill. If the noble Lord had said in his amendment that more time should be given for the Private Member’s Bill, I would have supported it. Businesses managers clearly need to take account of the obvious wish of this House to have more time to debate it—
I do not want to prolong the debate but, for the sake of clarity, I will say that the issue here is that this is a complex subject—as has been pointed out. It is a Private Member’s Bill, and the Government would provide support for that. It is not a government Bill, and it is not being piloted by the Minister. This is clear from the amendment. It could not be, because the Government then would not be neutral, as they should be, on a matter of conscience.
“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”.
In my book, a Minister laying before Parliament a draft Bill is in charge of that Bill.
My Lords, I agree with those who have already spoken opposing the amendment. First, the amendment is not appropriate as a use of the legislative process accompanying this Bill through your Lordships’ House. There is a question of purpose. If opportunity for debate is the goal, we must underestimate neither the significance of the Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, in October and the thorough, careful and considered debate, nor the possibilities of calling for Committee. I would also support that time being given in this House. There are important constitutional questions which arise if the amendment enacted by this House does in fact instruct the Secretary of State in the other place to propose and introduce a draft Bill—as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has just outlined. If that is not the case—and if the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, is not advocating for this draft to be introduced—what is the purpose of the amendment?
Secondly, I am aware that the language of the amendment has some real problems. One example is “terminally ill”. We debated the importance of language at Second Reading of the Assisted Dying Bill. The phrase “terminally ill” is understood in a whole range of different ways in different parts of the world. Is there any guidance offered on the definition or scope behind the language in the draft Bill attached to the Secretary of State’s instruction?
The complexity of the issue in question is so great—and the lives of the people who are facing a personal debate of this kind, and feel that they would be particularly impacted, are so important—that this cannot be how we legislate on their behalf. We are on Report, so I was disturbed that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, intervened when he did.
My Lords, ordinarily I would not support a novel procedure which overrode the precedence of the ways in which we normally do business and in which the Government expect to direct how business is taken in both Houses of Parliament. But I have been increasingly concerned that the Private Member’s Bill processes, both here and in the other place, simply do not work. They do not work for controversial Bills. It is simple to thwart the progress of a controversial Bill both here and in another place—but particularly so in this House through the mechanisms which we have seen used.
This issue is so important: it is clear that there is strong body of opinion within the British public wanting to see this issue addressed in some way. We must find parliamentary time to make a proper decision on it. I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, says about the unusual nature of a Minister having to lay a draft Bill which is not government business. But sometimes things are so important that we must find practical ways through them. I believe that my noble friend’s amendment is a practical way through a very difficult problem, and I urge all noble Lords on my Benches to ignore the Whip.
My Lords, in Committee, I asked whether the Minister—I think the noble Lord, Lord Kamall, was responding on that occasion—had thought about giving parliamentary time to the Private Member’s Bill. The proponents of the current amendment are suggesting that this is not about the Government bringing forward a piece of legislation, even though—as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, pointed out—that is exactly what the amendment says. If the intention of the amendment is to request parliamentary time—and we really are looking only at proposed new subsection (2)(b)—could the Minister, in replying, consider whether parliamentary time could be given to the issue without damaging neutrality in any way? The amendment, as drafted, would require the Government to bring forward legislation in favour of assisted dying. An amendment which gives parliamentary time to the issue would be very different.
My Lords, I will make a brief intervention. First, I rise to challenge the view that all bishops and religious leaders are against assisted dying. I changed my mind some seven years ago.
Secondly, we are discussing the Health and Care Bill. It so happened that this week I received a letter from two doctors—husband and wife—from Colchester. I will read a part of it because they asked me to intervene on their behalf. Their experience comes from within the National Health Service; they worked in the NHS all their careers. One of them says:
“I visited P a little more than two weeks before he died. Alone with me, he explained that he was beyond misery, from the pain of his condition and from the effects that drugs were having. The time had come, the patient asked, to request something that would allow him to slip away. The look of disbelief and horror as I explained that I could not do this haunts me still.”
The doctor goes on to say:
“The Health Service which has done everything it could to involve the patient in their care and comply with the patient's wishes waits until they are at their most vulnerable and incapacitated, to impose a course diametrically opposed to the wishes of the patient.”
The same doctor goes on to offer a personal story. His own father, an eminent scientist, had developed an aggressive cancer with distressing side-effects. He loathed what he was going through. The indignity of it was abhorrent. He struggled to the local railway station and walked under a train. The doctor recounts:
“Sadly, it was a slow train, and he took several hours to die. Still conscious, he had to argue with the ambulance crew not to treat his injuries so that he could achieve his desired outcome.”
I offer these stories, which come from recently retired doctors. They believe the time has come for a change in the law to allow rational human beings to slip away in peace. I changed my mind on this issue some seven years ago, and I know that I am out of step with my church, but I believe that those of us who take this approach are on the right side of history. Therefore, I support the amendment in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Forsyth and Lord Baker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, made the accusation that lots of the amendments to the Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, were a sort of Machiavellian plot to subvert the democratic process. I want to point out that I had tabled one of those amendments, about mental health, partly because I thought that that was our job here, that when a Bill was before Parliament, we followed it through—to every Bill that I have followed through here, there have been myriad, endless amendments. I thought that our role was to scrutinise proposed laws, to debate the merits and demerits and so on. I was therefore disappointed that there was no Committee stage of that Private Member’s Bill. So I do not accept the suggestion that those who put down amendments did so somehow to avoid debate; in fact, it was the opposite.
My general view on the problems of parliamentary and democratic process was best summed up by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. I also feel queasy that there is a kind of subverting of the parliamentary process by an amendment on assisted dying or assisted suicide being put down on the Health and Care Bill. It is totally inappropriate. It is hijacking a Bill. Whatever else assisted dying and assisted suicide is, it does not contribute to improving anyone’s health. It requires ending a life; it is not a healthcare matter, and it will require a major change in the criminal law, so this is the wrong Bill.
However, I have every sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and feel his frustration. I feel all the time that there are lots of laws I want to change; there are lots of things I want to change about the country; there are lots of times when I feel as though the public think one thing and the Government ignore them. What one therefore needs to do is to lobby the Government—the noble Lord probably has closer access to them than a lot of us—or, as maybe I would do, to organise a demonstration or a protest, unless the Government had got away with banning that by the time we got there. In other words, in a democracy, there are lots of frustrations that need to be expressed if you want to change the law. Using our position as unelected legislators to add an amendment to an inappropriate Bill seems to be completely wrong on a matter of such huge importance.
My Lords, I am glad to have the opportunity to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, because it is important to recognise that she is quite right. We should be able to debate all the amendments that Members wish to debate, in both Houses, on a Bill of this sort—a Bill which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, said, addresses one of the most fundamental social issues facing society.
However, I disagree that this amendment is nothing to do with health. The last days, weeks and months of your life, the healthcare that you receive, and the options open to you are part of the healthcare provided throughout the NHS and elsewhere. So I believe that it is appropriate to discuss this here.
It is a novel procedure. It is not a procedure that mandates the Government to support the draft Bill that would be brought in. The amendment is precisely designed not to do that but to ensure that a proper and full debate is held. I normally follow the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, closely and often agree with him, but I do not accept that we are imposing something on the other House by passing an amendment to a Bill which is going to have lots of amendments made to it and will go to the other place, where those amendments will be debated and accepted or not accepted.
Most of all, I support this amendment because it is now nearly 20 years since I served on the Select Committee on the Joffe Bill. There have been numerous attempts since then to resolve this most important issue. They have all run into the sand one way or another. Our legislature has not found itself able to produce a result that satisfies everyone that there has been full debate and resolution found to how we should go ahead as a society. In that time, 20 other jurisdictions have managed that task, because they have found a way of providing adequate time so to do. For those reasons, I support this amendment.
My Lords, I want to add my support particularly for what my noble friend Lady Hayman has just said. This has gone on for a long time. I have been involved in it throughout my time as a Member of this House and I do not intend to repeat what I have said before. I want just to say that the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, offers a useful way forward so that assisted dying is given time in both Houses to be debated properly. It must be given serious consideration. Whether one is for or against changing the law on assisted dying, we all surely agree that this is a very serious issue worthy of serious scrutiny and debate. It is unacceptable that, once again, my noble friend Lady Meacher’s Private Member’s Bill risks being lost, due not to lack of support but to not enough time being allowed to take the Bill through all its stages.
Assisted dying is very much related to health and care, and it is appropriate that this amendment should be included as part of this Bill.
My Lords, this is the second occasion on which I have spoken on assisted dying in your Lordships’ House. Five years or so ago, I supported the Bill in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and voted for it. I did not speak on the Bill in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, but I was ready to vote for it. However, as we know, the vote was not called because the opponents of the Bill feared that, if there was a vote, there would be an even larger majority in favour of the Bill on that occasion than there was earlier, because the arguments against assisted dying are shrinking year by year.
This House has now accepted on two occasions a Second Reading for a Bill to ensure that assisted dying is placed on our statute book. That is the political and democratic decision of this House, yet it has now been thwarted twice, and the thwarting is most extraordinary.
We managed to survive constitutionally in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries without trying to kill legislation by tabling so many amendments. It was a device invented by Conservative Back-Benchers in the 1970s to prevent a Bill passing through the House of Commons that prevented the hunting of foxes by dogs. A small number of devoted hunters devised this trick. The Member of Parliament was Marcus Kimball; older Members might remember it. It was a political trick which has been used in this House on three occasions: on the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, on hereditary Peers; on the Bill of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer; and on the Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher.
I remind your Lordships that the only way in which we as Back-Benchers in the House of Lords can effect personal influence on social change is through Private Members’ Bills. There is no other way in which we can effect a policy—we are all controlled by the agenda of the Government—yet we are being denied this. The democratic choice of this House in passing the Second Reading on two occasions is very clear, and it is being thwarted. That is very unfair.
I told my Whip three weeks ago that I was going to come in and support my noble friend Lord Forsyth’s Bill and vote. He said, “It doesn’t matter; it’s a matter of conscience”. He confirmed that in an email to me last week and in a conversation I had with him on Monday. I do not believe my Whip was lying—it was the Government’s view—but suddenly the Whip was changed last night, right at the last minute. Somebody must have spoken to people in the House of Lords, because the view has been very clear since my noble friend Lord Forsyth tabled his amendment. It was clear that the Government—a Conservative Government —were going to be asked to prepare a Bill on assisted dying and, in a reasonable amount of time, find time for it to be debated.
The great social reforms we have had in the last 50 or 60 years all started with the Government of the day being prepared to find time for them. The Wolfenden report in 1957 recommended the decriminalisation of homosexual activity. That was opposed by many Conservative Back-Benchers, yet the Conservative Government of the day made time for it to be debated. When David Steel produced his Abortion Bill, the Government of the day—I think it was the first Wilson Government—made time for it to be debated. Thirdly, when Roy Jenkins as Home Secretary introduced a Bill to abolish hanging, the Government of the day found time for it to be debated.
That is the principle, so I expected that we were going to have a free vote tonight. I am simply amazed that the Government have now suddenly changed the Whip. Someone has spoken to them. I do not expect the Minister to accept that, but somebody from the other House has certainly spoken to the Government and said, “We don’t want to be in a position to have to draft a Bill on assisted dying and find some time in the not-too-distant future for it to be debated”.
We are not suggesting that the Meacher Bill should come back and be debated in May or June this year, in this parliamentary Session, but there are other parliamentary Sessions in which it could be introduced: 2022-23, 2023-24 or 2024-25. If it has not been decided by the next election, I very much hope that all of the four major parties in our country—the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberals and the Greens—have a clear undertaking in their manifestos that, if they were elected, time would be found for the two Houses of Parliament to make up their minds whether they wanted assisted dying on our statute book. I am quite happy to leave that decision to the British people because, unlike the noble Baroness here, I happen to believe that the argument has moved decisively as far as the people of this country are concerned. There are now far too many people who have seen relatives or friends die long, lingering and miserable deaths.
The original argument against assisted dying was sanctity of life. I found it extraordinary that in the debate of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, not one of the Bishops or Archbishops addressed the sanctity of life. Other arguments are now put forward: the vulnerability of people who are dying, with relatives gathering around and wanting to polish them off—things of this sort, all of which can be addressed by amendments to the Bill.
I am very surprised that a Conservative Government should decide to vote against my noble friend Lord Forsyth. He and I go back a very long way. Thirty years ago he was the chairman of the Conservative Party in Scotland—that was when we had a Conservative Party in Scotland—and I was the chairman of the Conservative Party in England. I got to know him very well, and I can think of no one who more embodies conservatism in his whole mind and being than my noble friend. Whether it was a question of lower government expenditure, lower taxes, greater freedom of choice on housing or greater freedom of choice for parents, he was there. Conservatism runs in his blood—he has the bluest of blood—and I think it an insult to him and a disgrace that the Whips on my side of the House have said we should vote against him.
I hope that this amendment will be passed and that this House will recover the sense that, without it being passed, your Lordships’ democratic choice, which has been exercised on two Bills, is being totally disregarded by a political trick. That is simply not right.
My Lords, I do not understand why it is a conscience vote if it is not about the substance or the subject but somehow about parliamentary process. That does not seem to me to be a matter of conscience.
The point is that people want better care at the end of their life. The amendment to this Bill from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, is a game-changer. I wonder how many noble Lords understand that something has changed during the passage of this Bill. For the very first time, people will now be eligible and able to have palliative and hospice care at the end of their lives commissioned by the NHS. It is the responsibility of all integrated care boards to commission proper, good palliative care so that the poor care and poor deaths that people in this House are afraid of will be a thing of the past.
This is the wrong time to talk about introducing lethal drugs as a last resort. We should be looking forward with optimism and hope about how things have changed. This is also relevant to my noble friend Lady Meacher’s Bill. Noble Lords have questioned the motives of Peers who have tried to amend that Bill. It needed to be amended and scrutinised. My amendments were all about palliative care—this was before the game-changer of universal palliative care—being available before people are offered the only option of lethal drugs. If lethal drugs are the answer, why was this not an amendment to introduce lethal drugs to enable people to be assisted in their own suicide? Palliative care will reduce the supposed demand for physician-assisted suicide.
I think the statistics have been misrepresented. Only 10 US states have legalised physician-assisted suicide, despite the supposed success in Oregon. Maybe they have recognised that palliative care decreases rather than increases when lethal drugs are available. Some 200 attempts to introduce physician-assisted suicide in the United States have been defeated.
My Lords, I do not want to detain the House long. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, told us that this is not to open the debate in favour of or against assisted dying but, as the debate has gone on, there has been an opening up of that debate. We have to look very carefully at what was given to us by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, on the constitutional question. This amendment is not saying that the Government must find time to debate this matter but instructing the Secretary of State.
This is a revising Chamber. It is made up of unelected people telling the Government in the elected place that they must produce a Bill and it must be given time. That is my worry. My views on assisted dying are very clear. I will debate it whenever the issue comes back again, but the issue for me now is to avoid what was happening towards the end of Theresa May’s Government, when the Back-Benchers were trying to take control of government business. That led us into a mess.
I am not against speaking in favour of any Government of any colour, because I have never been a member of any party, but I want to observe how the liberalisation of homosexuality actually happened. Michael Ramsey, as Archbishop of Canterbury, began a debate in your Lordships’ House because of what had happened to Turing and many other people. He just thought: is it natural justice that consenting adults should actually be prosecuted and have to go through horrendous treatment, some of them facing horrendous stuff? The debate happened here and what was the result? It was the Wolfenden report. That recommended that this should be debated and a Minister of the Government, and Mr Jenkins on behalf of the Labour Party, joined in the debate and what happened? The law was passed. Where did it start? It started in the elected Chamber.
I have a real concern that we, as a revising Chamber, are not even considering a Bill that has actually come from the Government but instructing the Secretary of State to produce a Bill within a year of this coming into being and saying that it must be debated. Does this respect our position and why we are here? This is not revising legislation, at which all your Lordships do a fantastic job. Without your Lordships, the Bills in this country would be horrendous. However, let us not overreach ourselves and think that we can instruct the Secretary of State to bring this in. Who is the Secretary of State in this case? is it the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care?
May I please ask that we get another amendment or another Statement to give the House a Private Member’s Bill that needs to be given sufficient time to be debated properly? Also, other people told your Lordships that on
Noble Lords might say that it was a long time ago, but it was debated. It is not as if this has never been debated properly. It went through all the processes and unfortunately the Bill was lost. Is this another example of once something is lost, you bring it back again and again? I do not want to be like a particular German Chancellor who lost an election and said, “This is really wrong, we must change the people.” Friends, we are a revising Chamber. We need a bit of humility about our position, and should not think that we can instruct the Secretary of State to bring in a particular Bill because time has been lost.
My Lords, I detect a sense that the House would like to hear from the Front Benches, but I know that all noble Lords have a right to speak and that the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, is very keen to say something. I am sure she will understand that the House wants to hear the Front Benches and that, if my noble friend wants to bring this to a vote, we should get on with it.
My Lords, I have spoken numerous times about my opposition to assisted suicide for many different reasons. It is not, for me, about the sanctity of life. Not everybody who believes that the law should not be changed has strong faith. However, we are continually being asked to vote through the principle and think about the detail later. The devil is in the detail.
Detailed scrutiny is our role as a revising Chamber. The Commons has so many of its amendments guillotined. However, we have to take an issue such as this, which is about ending people’s lives, very seriously and we have to debate some of the detail. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, feels strongly about this and I wish she had pressed much harder and much earlier for a Committee stage for her Bill. In an issue such as this, when we are talking about ending people’s lives, there should be hundreds of amendments, because it has to be debated properly.
I would like to briefly go on the record to thank the hundreds of people who have written in. We are really lucky right now that we live in a democracy and that people are able to freely express their opinions, whether we agree with them or not. Our role in the House of Lords is to deal with those people who write in. Lots of people from both sides have written to me. However, we must also be really careful in our language and not scare people into thinking that assisted suicide is the only option for them.
As a disabled person who sits in this Chamber with a red stripy badge, I have a huge amount of privilege. Many, many thousands—tens of thousands or more— of disabled people do not have privilege in respect of protection. This amendment and what it seeks to do will fundamentally change the political and societal landscape for disabled people. If people have not read it, they should look at the article by the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, this weekend about how disabled people are encouraged to think that they would be better off dead than live with an impairment. Even in this Chamber, we hear about things such as incapacity and incontinence and all the things that people fear. I push back on that, and I push back on the view that public opinion is overwhelmingly in support of this. On the Dignity in Dying website, 284,881 people have signed the public petition. On the Commons website, asking for a change in the law, 46,483 people have done so. That is not overwhelming public opinion.
I know the frustration of people who want to change the law. I can feel it; we hear it, and I admire the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, says that we are a democratic Chamber. There are plenty on the outside who would not agree with that in terms of the way that we operate. This, however, is a constitutional matter. For all those arguing in favour of this tonight, I really look forward to them supporting my Private Member’s Bills asking for things such as good education, work, social care and access to trains, which are the things for which disabled people are arguing. This is not it: this is not the right time and not the right place. I do not support this amendment.
My Lords, may I just be indulged by the House in following the excellent speech by my noble friend Lady Grey-Thompson? Exactly seven weeks ago, not just to the day but to the exact hour, I started to feel very ill. I was barely 36 hours out of the operating theatre after surgery that had gone incredibly well and I knew something was seriously wrong. By midnight I was in agony, my bowels totally blocked by the combined effects of the anaesthesia and the pain relief. By the morning, I was passing blood and my haemoglobin levels had plummeted. That was just seven weeks ago. It was at that point that a decision was made to transfer me by ambulance to St Thomas’ A&E so that I could have an urgent blood transfusion. I lived to tell the tale, but tell it I would much rather not have done. I would much rather forget the whole episode—the unbelievable pain, the helplessness and the acute sense of vulnerability. My family do not know any of this; I have not told them. I am hoping they do not read Hansard.
I share it with your Lordships’ House because I believe that my recent experience is directly relevant to Amendment 170. We have been assured that this is not about the merits of assisted dying, but noble Lords should not underestimate the magnitude of what is at stake in this amendment. This is not the start of some cosy conversation about a harmless, anodyne measure. The end goal is assisted suicide and the means is a Bill proposed in this amendment. If this amendment were passed tonight, I firmly believe that in years to come, we would look back and say that today—
My question to the House is: if the amendment were passed, would I have felt any safer? Would I have felt any less vulnerable as I lay in agony only seven weeks ago? The answer is unquestionably no. In the culture to which this amendment would inexorably give rise, with its nuanced assumption that my impaired quality of life somehow made my life less worth living, would I still be here? I do not know.
We are summoned by our sovereign to this place, whether physically in person or remotely, precisely because it is our obligation and responsibility—indeed, our solemn duty—to fast-forward to the worst-case scenario and to pre-empt and prevent that worst-case scenario in law. I fear that the effect of the amendment would be the opposite.
My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, rightly said, the devil is in the detail. That is what Parliament does and it is what the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, is asking your Lordships to allow Parliament to do.
Like many families across the country, my family has had discussions about the substantive issue of assisted dying. Different views have been expressed and no one has fallen out, but it is not around our dinner table that decisions must be made about an issue as serious as this; that is for Parliament. I trust Parliament, and I do not think it should be—as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, pointed out—for the Director of Public Prosecutions to make decisions about these issues. Assisted dying is happening and Parliament must decide how or if it should be done.
It has been suggested that this House should not instruct the Secretary of State to do anything. As we have gone through the Bill, we have asked the Secretary of State to do quite a lot of things; in fact, we have voted that the Secretary of State should do a lot of them. What happens to those amendments? They go to the elected House. I have great respect for the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and I understand how important he feels it is that issues as controversial as this should be decided by the elected Chamber. Well, if we vote for this amendment, those issues will be decided by the elected Chamber. If this novel procedure of a draft Bill being laid before Parliament is used, I trust Parliament; there will be proper debate and I hope that what will come out of it will be a very measured piece of legislation that takes all the concerns into account. The game-changer that my noble friend Lady Finlay has successfully introduced to the Bill will be taken into account by the elected Chamber.
It is very important that people who want to have palliative care to ease their suffering at the end of life actually get it—everyone should get it; there should be no postcode lottery—but even in those situations there may be people who do not want it and instead want to do something else. It is for Parliament, not for my dinner table or anyone else’s around the country, to make that decision and to be given the proper amount of time to come up with something that I hope will reassure those who rightly have fears. They have fears because they do not know what Parliament will decide. If we give Parliament the opportunity, I am quite sure that even a draft Bill, however well drafted, will probably be amended as it goes through the elected House. What will come out at the other end will probably reflect public opinion—genuine public opinion, that is; I am not quoting any polls on either side—as they will have given serious thought to the issue and listened to everyone who wants or does not want this measure on the statute book.
We must give the elected Chamber the opportunity either to accept an amendment that we may pass tonight or to send it back to us, but at least we will have asked them to think again. This House does that very well. We ask another place to think again. I hope we will tonight.
My Lords, I have listened very closely to the many passionate, informed and often personal contributions from noble Lords this evening. This debate has inevitably been about not only parliamentary process and legislative approach but consideration of assisted dying. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, for opening the debate on Amendment 170, which proposes, as your Lordships’ House is more than aware, a new clause to bring forward a draft Bill on what the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, described as a complex and difficult issue.
However, for me, the challenge of this debate is encapsulated in the contributions in the middle of it. The first, from the noble Baroness, Lady Davidson, was that not allowing time for discussion is not a neutral act. This was followed swiftly by my noble friend Lord Hunt taking a different tack, saying that allowing for this amendment is also not a neutral act, and it is that which your Lordships’ House has wrestled with this evening.
It is indeed a matter of profound moral, personal and legislative importance that we find ourselves dealing with in Amendment 170. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, will be seeking a Division and these Benches will approach this on free votes. It is a shame that this is not the case on the Government Benches. Your Lordships’ House heard from the noble Lord, Lord Baker, about the importance of principle, whereby matters such as this should be subject to nothing other than a free vote. I certainly share that view. I know that noble Lords will exercise their vote this evening with the greatest of care.
My Lords, I must tell my noble friend Lord Forsyth that I am not with him on this amendment and nor are the Government. That has nothing to do with the issue of assisted dying, about which we each have our own views, but is about the proper process for bringing forward legislation and the roles and responsibilities of government on the one hand and parliamentarians on the other.
Governments are elected. The electorate then expect the Government to bring forward their programme of legislation, which Parliament then decides on. If alongside that process there is an issue that the Government do not choose to legislate on, but which happens to be close to the heart of an individual parliamentarian, that parliamentarian has the privilege of being able to bring forward a Private Member’s Bill for Parliament to consider. In each of those two legislative processes the roles, rights, responsibilities and privileges of the Government and of individual parliamentarians are separate. It is no more appropriate for a Government to force an MP or Peer to bring forward a particular Private Member’s Bill than it is for an MP or a Peer to force a Government to bring forward a government Bill. That includes a draft Bill. As my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern observed in Committee, draft Bills are brought forward by Governments only when there is an intention to legislate.
The Government have no intention of legislating on assisted dying; it is not part of our programme, nor was it part of our election manifesto. Equally, it is no part of our agenda to prevent an MP or a Peer bringing forward a Private Member’s Bill on assisted dying. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has done just that because it is something that she feels strongly about. It is for her to persuade Parliament and the Government that her Bill is a good thing.
That is the proper process, and surely that is how it has to be. If it ever became possible for an MP or Peer to use a government Bill as a vehicle for obliging the Government to publish a completely separate Bill, even one on a subject which was in tune with the Government’s thinking, the due process of legislating would thereby be subverted. I ask noble Lords opposite how they would react if under a Labour Administration, an MP or Peer proposed to use a health Bill as a vehicle to oblige the Government to publish draft legislation, the purpose of which was to place all NHS hospitals into private ownership—or one might find an MP trying to use a criminal justice Bill as a vehicle to oblige the Government to publish legislation to bring back capital punishment.
My noble friend might say, “Well, in that circumstance, it would be for Parliament to decide whether or not to accept such an amendment”—but that is not the point. The point is that if one House of Parliament were to approve such an amendment and the other House were to follow suit, Parliament would thereby usurp the role of the democratically elected Government. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, and my noble friend Lord Cormack were 100% right: it is for the Government to say what their legislative programme should be, not Parliament.
As the late Lord Simon of Glaisdale might once have said, this amendment is constitutionally offensive and it should be rejected on those grounds.
Before the Minister sits down, does he believe that limiting debate on a crucial human rights issue to Fridays—when, as he knows, certainly in the House of Commons, very few MPs are around, and in the House of Lords too, many Peers are not available—is an appropriate way to consider a matter of very great importance?
My Lords, it is late; we have had a very good debate. I have to say, I shall long remember being accused of leading a coup in Parliament.
My purpose was very simple. My noble friend has explained the Government’s position very clearly. I say to my noble friend Lord Baker, who was very kind in his remarks about me, that the Chief Whip made it perfectly clear to me from the beginning what the Government’s position would be. It has been set out by my noble friend Lord Howe. However, there is a problem here. It is all very well for my noble friend to stand at the Dispatch Box and say, “Well, we have the private procedure, and we have the government procedure”, but on a matter of huge importance, Parliament is completely unable to reach a view. My amendment was really an attempt to do that.
There has been some nonsense talked, I have to say, about how we are getting above ourselves and that we are instructing the House of Commons. If this amendment is passed tonight, it will go to the House of Commons and, under our procedures, it will be for the House of Commons to decide.
I have made it absolutely clear to my noble friend the Chief Whip and the Front Bench that if the Government say, “We don’t like this procedure; we think it’s a bit too novel, but we’ll give a commitment that we’ll make time available at some point in this Parliament for the purpose of discussing this really important issue”—I agree with the points made by a number of people that it is a complex and difficult issue; that is why it needs time for everyone to put their point of view and for a result to emerge, which might very well be a conclusion that we do not want to change the law—then I would withdraw my amendment. But, for some reason, the Government are refusing to do so. They seem to think that it is more important to discuss ending the lives of lobsters than addressing this hugely important issue of the end of life for people. There is time for the former, but not for this.
The Government are entitled to their programme, but having listened to the response, I would like to test the opinion of the House.
Ayes 145, Noes 179.