Euthanasia Select Committee
The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, before we approve the Motion, perhaps I may ask the Chairman of Committees two short questions. Will he confirm that when the Joint Committee on Human Rights met on Monday last, it declined to give the Bill a compatibility certificate, as it was incompatible, as it currently stands, with the European Convention on Human Rights? Should not such matters be resolved first, before Bills are committed to Select Committees? What weight did the Committee of Selection place on the issue of disability when it arrived at the composition of the committee? Can he confirm that there were nominations for Members of your Lordships’ House who have particular experience or expertise in the area of disability? Given the outright opposition of disability awareness groups and the Disability Rights Commission to the legalisation of euthanasia , does the Chairman of Committees not agree that it would have been helpful for one of those Members of your Lordships’ House to be appointed to that committee?
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, regarding the first point made by the noble Lord on the Joint Committee on Human Rights, I have not seen its report. But it is an issue that the Select Committee will take very much into account when it sits. As noble Lords will see from the Motion that I have proposed, the committee will not sit until July, so there is ample opportunity for that matter to be taken into account.
Regarding the disabled, the membership of the committee was selected in the usual way by the usual channels. I know that a great deal of care was taken by the usual channels in putting forward the list of names that is before your Lordships. I do not know whether any Members of your Lordships’ House who are disabled volunteered to be on the committee, but when the committee first meets it will be calling for evidence. That is the opportunity for the disability groups that the noble Lord mentioned to submit their evidence.
Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, is it not significant that the BMA and virtually all of the medical colleges have come out strongly against the Bill? Does the Chairman of Committees not agree that they are the people who will have to bear the heat, the burden and the strain if the Bill were to be passed? Bearing in mind those points, it may not be wise to go forward with the Select Committee at this stage, given the cost and difficulty of meeting during the Summer Recess and the attendant difficulties of the situation.
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, it is not for me today to go through the rights and wrongs of the Bill. I know that the noble Baroness has strong views on the issue. As I have said to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, the usual channels took great care in choosing Members of the Select Committee who have been proposed in this Motion. I am sure that, particularly under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the Bill will be given very serious consideration. It is for the BMA and others to submit their evidence.
There is more than one member of the medical profession on the committee. I do not believe that there is any proposal for the committee to meet in the recess. It will meet for the first time in July before the House rises, but there is no reason to suppose that it will meet during the recess. It is likely that when the committee meets in July it will request written and oral evidence and I assume that its next meeting will be when we return—either in September or October.
Lord Elton: My Lords, I apologise for asking a question to which I ought to know the answer. Can the Chairman of Committees say at what stage, if any, the withholding of a certificate of compatibility becomes a bar to the progress of legislation? Does it hang in the air as a comment even up to enactment or is it a structural necessity that it be acquired before that takes place? I apologise for not having given the noble Lord notice of the question.
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, catches me out completely. Frankly, I have no idea of the answer to his question. I shall do what I can to find out and I will let the noble Lord know.
Lord Tordoff: My Lords, I hesitate to correct the noble Lord on the number of medical persons associated with the matter. On my count there are four members of the medical profession on the Select Committee.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the comment by the Human Rights Committee is not a requirement for legislation? It simply indicates that if an Act is enacted it may be subject to challenge and declaration of incompatibility. That does not in itself invalidate the Act.
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord—who is not a member of the committee—for his information as no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will be. As I said originally, this is obviously an issue which the committee will look at with great care when dealing with the Bill.