HL Deb 22 November 1978 vol 396 cc981-4

2.55 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will arrange for kidney donor cards bearing the message: "Your kidneys could help someone to live after your death", to be sent with driving licences rather than, unsolicited, with first provisional licences as at present.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I well remember the discussion which we had on this subject earlier in the year when I said that I was willing to help in identifying potential kidney donors, but at that time I felt there were real issues of principle and practice against using driving licences in this way. I still have some doubts on that score, but I hope that the research commissioned by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services will shortly be available and will give us new information about public attitudes to kidney donation—and, indeed, to the donation of other organs—and about possible ways of identifying the potential donors. Should the results suggest that driving licences do hold the key to this, then we would certainly be willing to review the position.


My Lords, in thanking the noble Baroness for her Answer, I must make it clear that I fully support a very wide system of kidney donors and that I have no objection to the card going with driving licences. But is it wise to confront 17-year-olds, many of whom will never have taken a car out on the road before, with this grim message? Some of them are bound to be extremely nervous. Might not this simply add to the hazards of learner drivers on the roads?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I accept that some learner drivers probably are rather horrified when they receive a notice asking whether they are willing to donate their kidneys or any other organs. It is possible to send out these cards only with provisional driving licences, but we now have the switch to the "until 70" licensing, which means that most drivers will not be renewing their full licences until they reach their seventieth birthday. When a person receives his provisional licence he receives also a great deal of literature from the Department, including a copy of the Highway Code and a kidney donor card. Research is taking place. We anticipate that the results will be presented to the Secretary of State for Social Services next month. If the Secretary of State then approaches the Department of Transport and says, "We think that this is the best way to do it", we shall co-operate in every way possible.


My Lords, bearing in mind the kind of drivers whom we as pedestrians so frequently meet, may I say that perhaps pedestrians would be more at risk in carrying this card.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness whether the Government would consider sending a reminder to people that their eyes and other organs might be useful as well?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, arising out of the research that is being conducted at the moment, if that suggestion is made we shall certainly carry it out. However, anybody can carry with him a handwirtten note saying that he is prepared to give all or some of his organs, and this will be accepted as legal and binding in the case of an accident.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness whether she is aware that it would be satisfactory simply to add the words, "and any other parts of my body", to the kidney donor card?

Baroness STEDMAN

Yes, my Lords, that is correct, but all noble Lords have not yet got a kidney donor card.


My Lords, will my noble friend not agree that there is a better prospect of obtaining a supply of kidneys from holders of provisional licences, especially if this message is unsolicited, than from holders of the regular driving licence?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I should not like to comment upon that question or to make any supposedly informed comment. These organs are necessary; they are desperately needed in all kinds of ways by all hospitals. Anything that can be done to make available more organs for hospitals to save other people's lives my Department will do, and it will co-operate with them.


My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that my Question is concerned solely with timing? Can the noble Baroness explain why this card cannot be sent with the licence which has to be sent to the driver at some point when he or she has passed the test? Is the noble Baroness also aware that, in the case of eyes, which I have recently had to deal with as an executor, they cannot be used after three hours?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, the point which the noble Lord raises—that the card might be sent with the full rather than the provisional licence—is one which I shall take up with my Secretary of State. So far as eyes are concerned, there are problems, but there are still occasions when they might be used.


My Lords, is not this a proper case for contracting out rather than contracting in, so that the card states "all organs of the body"? That could be confined by the holder, if he chose to do so.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, that is a very complicated position and I should not like to comment upon it this afternoon.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that I amended my donor card to say exactly what he requested?

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I am delighted to see that so many noble Lords have with them this afternoon their kidney donor cards. When there are accidents, the trouble is that most people do not have with them their driving licence or kidney donor card.


My Lords, I am wondering whether your Lordships' livers would be acceptable!