HL Deb 26 July 1961 vol 233 cc1051-3

4.52 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Newton.)


My Lords, may I, on this stage of the Bill, just ask the noble Lord one question? This has been a very interesting Bill and, in my opinion, of much more importance than any Bill that has been discussed this afternoon. But it relies upon two things: that is, on the generosity of mind of the person who is prepared to bequeath his body, and on the family of that person being prepared to initiate the business which has to be done at the death. Your Lordships will agree that on the death of an individual the family generally feel that to deviate from the norm is almost a little improper. I expect the noble Lord has had some letters on the subject during the course of this Bill. I have had three from people who want to bequeath their body, but who, on approaching their doctor and discussing it with their family, have been a little obstructed. The family have said, "This is a little complicated and I should not do this."

As this matter is of such profound importance to medical science, and, indeed, to the health and welfare of the country, would he consider giving it more publicity? It is known that the British public, and I presume publics in other countries, rather like looking at television pictures of hospital life and medical problems. Surely this is a subject which could be dealt with, perhaps by the noble Lord himself or by a Minister bringing the provisions of the Bill to the attention of the country and telling people precisely what they have to do in order to be assured that their bodies will be bequeathed to the hospital and that the bequest will be observed by the parents Or relatives or the doctor. If he would consider publicity of that nature, and not just leave any publicity to the National Association of the Blind or any ad hoc body, I think it would be better.


My Lords, I should like to support what the noble Lady has just said. I would also add one word. I myself have made one of these provisions in my own will, and I am happy to inform the House that my lawyer informed me that nothing in the world is simpler than the arrangements for the disposition of a body left in this way. I understand there is an official who is called Her Majesty's Master in Anatomy, and if he or his officer is informed, the body is collected with the minimum of trouble and there is no difficulty whatever about the operation of a bequest such as this. I support the noble Lady in her suggestion that this Bill should be given the greatest possible publicity. Many people may be deterred if they think the process is complicated or difficult. It is neither.

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, has read the OFFICIAL REPORT of our proceedings on the Second Reading of this Bill. If he has not done so, might I respectfully suggest to him that he does?


I did.


I took some pains to try to explain clearly the legal position about these matters, and I explained why it is you cannot make a legal bequest of a dead body.


My Lords, I beg the noble Lord's pardon. I was not questioning at all the adequacy of his explanation, but was trying to support my noble friend Lady Summerskill in her request that the greatest possible publicity should be given, on the particular grounds that the thing is not complicated but is in fact quite easy.


My Lords, I appreciate that. I was going on to say that it is perfectly true that it need not be difficult where people wish their body or parts of it to be used for the benefit of their fellow human beings after their death.

I entirely agree with the noble Baroness: this is an important Bill, and it certainly has given me a great deal of interest to study the history of these remarkable and wonderful advances in operative techniques which have largely given rise to this Bill. We discussed publicity and propaganda a little on Second Reading. I agree that we should consider how widely information should be spread about what it will be possible for people to do after this Bill is enacted. But I still think, as I slid on Second Reading, that it is essential that propaganda and publicity be handled with care and with tact and taste, because if that is not done, then I think there is a risk that popular sentiment will be offended, and that might defeat our whole purpose. One must not forget that it was not so very many years ago that there was in this country very real opposition to any dissection of the human body. However, subject to that, I agree with the noble Baroness that we should consider this, and I can assure her that what she said whose be carefully observed by those whose business it is to consider these matters.

On Question, Bill read 3a, and passed.