HL Deb 24 February 1993 vol 543 cc223-31

3.6 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Ampthill)

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

I shall move the Motion formally, then perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, may care to move his amendment. Other noble Lords may also wish to speak. I must apologise to the House for the fact that I was prevented by illness from attending the Committee of Selection last week. I am grateful that the noble Lord the Leader of the House has agreed to reply to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following Lords be named of the Select Committee—

  • L. Colwyn,
  • B. Flather,
  • L. Hampton,
  • B. Jay of Paddington,
  • B. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe,
  • L. McColl of Dulwich,
  • B. McFarlane of Llandaff,
  • L. Meston,
  • L. Mishcon,
  • L. Mustill,
  • L. Rawlinson of Ewell,
  • L. Walton of Detchant, (Chairman)
  • B. Warnock,
  • L. Abp. York.
That the Committee have power to adjourn from place to place;

That the Minutes of Evidence taken before the Committee from time to time be printed and, if the Committee think fit, be delivered out;

That the Committee have power to appoint Specialist Advisers;

That the Committee do meet on Tuesday 9th March at half-past ten o'clock in Committee Room 4B.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

Lord Stallard moved, as an amendment to the above Motion: In line 1, leave out from ("That") to end of line 16 and insert ("the membership and chairmanship of the Select Committee be reconsidered by the Committee of Selection").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is with some trepidation that I move the amendment standing in my name on the Order Paper, because I realise that this is not a normal process; it is not something that happens all the time. I realise too that I shall be taking a few minutes out of the time available for an extremely important debate. Nonetheless, I feel strongly enough about the subject to want to ask the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees one or two questions about the committee.

My first reaction when I read the list of members and the report was that the committee was too big. As a result of my committee experience in the other place and elsewhere, I have found that a committee of 14 members may be difficult to handle in normal times. On a subject as important and controversial as this, I can imagine how hard it will be to manage a committee of the size proposed. With co-options, it will be even bigger.

I wondered how the Committee of Selection arrived at the number of members and decided who should serve. How many people volunteered to be members of the committee? How many were rejected? And what criteria were used to reject them? I looked more deeply into the membership of the committee. The last Question on the Order Paper and the replies to it a few moments ago helped me, because I am worried about the lack of representation from what some might call the principalities. There is a lack of representation from Scotland which has its own legal system. That is important. And there is a lack of expert legal advisers and of experts within your Lordships' House. They are not represented on the committee: that seems to me an omission.

The same goes for some of the other regions mentioned earlier. In particular I have had correspondence—I am not speaking of special friends of mine—from Northern Ireland. They resent the fact that they do not seem to be represented, that their voice will not be heard and that their views will not be put to the committee. I am worried about the lack of regional representation on the committee.

I considered the chairmanship of the committee. I cast no aspersions on the noble Lord who has been nominated as chairman. To appoint a medical man as chairman of a committee considering an extremely delicate subject in which there is bound to be tremendous public interest—there already is—was not, I felt, quite the thing to do. We need medical opinion on the committee; that is obvious. I am not too happy that it is in the chair. There are a number of excellent chairmen —I have noticed them in your Lordships' House over the past few years —who could have been appointed chairman of the committee and who would have aroused no questions. Therefore, I question whether it is wise to make a medical man chairman of such a committee.

Finally, I express an interest because I am involved in the hospice movement. I share the anxieties related to me by members of that movement as regards the whole debate, how and where they are involved, who will speak for them and what will happen. I feel sufficiently strong about the matter to raise it, and I hope that the committee will do nothing to deepen the fears and anxieties of the people I have mentioned. Those people are not represented on a committee whose decisions will affect everybody in the country. I beg to move.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, is perfectly entitled to express his views about the recommendation of the Committee of Selection. Indeed, it is salutary that the Select Committee, like others of your Lordships' House, should know that its recommendations are likely to be questioned in this House. For that reason, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, has intervened. My difficulty is that on this occasion, although perhaps not on others, the Committee of Selection appears to have done rather well. The Select Committee appears to be just about right to deal with an infinitely delicate, sensitive and controversial question. The Committee of Selection seems to have got it right, and it is right that somebody should say that.

I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, in objecting to the fact that the recommended chairman is a medical man. The subject is deeply medical. It is one about which many of us hesitate to speak because we are conscious of our ignorance of matters medical. It is an excellent idea to have in the chair a distinguished and able Member of this House who happens to be a qualified doctor. I hope that when noble Lords have expressed their views they will on this occasion say that the Committee of Selection has got it about right.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar

My Lords, I come from neither a region nor a principality; I come from a nation known as Scotland. Scotland is completely unrepresented on the committee. The Act of Union of 1707 preserved the Scottish legal system, and medical ethics and legal issues go together hand in hand. It is wrong that Scotland should not be represented on the committee.

I do not speak for myself—I do not seek a place on the committee—and I do not care who is a member of the committee to represent Scotland. However, someone should be appointed as a member to represent the interests of Scotland.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, I agree entirely with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. It is also within the right of the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, to raise the matter in this House, and it is indeed salutary that that should be done from time to time. However, on this occasion I believe that the Committee of Selection has got it right. Perhaps I may refer to what was said by the noble Lord the Leader of the House when he moved the terms of reference for the setting up of the Select Committee. He said that it should be: a forum for serious and thoughtful consideration".— [Official Report, 16/2/93; col. 992.] I suggest that it does not matter from where in the United Kingdom one originates. What does matter is that the right balance is achieved between legal representation, medical representation and ethical, philosophical or theological representation. All are represented on the Select Committee and the party balance is just right. The committee will have a difficult function in dealing with such a sensitive subject and I suggest that we agree to what is proposed.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, has been appointed as chairman of the committee. I find it difficult to understand the objection to the committee raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stallard. He said that the committee is too large and that 14 people are too many. One cannot say that while in the same breath saying that various interests should also be represented on the committee. If the noble Lord had his way the committee would be double its size.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Richard

My Lords, perhaps I may comment as a member of the Committee of Selection. It is not often that I am in such agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, but on this occasion I am. The area of inquiry is difficult and delicate. The Committee of Selection set about its task by trying to choose as sensible a group of Peers as it could find in this House whom it thought would be capable of doing the job. If ever there were a subject which your Lordships' House is uniquely qualified to examine it is precisely this.

It struck me from the outset that given the nature of the inquiry it would be a positive advantage to have a medical rather than a non-medical chairman. The issue intimately affects doctors in some of the most sensitive decisions that they must make. Members of the Committee of Selection tried to choose Members of your Lordships' House who could make a major contribution to the work of the Select Committee and would inquire into the subject in an objective and open-minded way. I believe that it has succeeded. I did not look at the task on the basis that the Select Committee should comprise of one or two Welshmen, one Ulsterman and one or perhaps two Scots. The issues involved are national and the "nationality" of the individual members matters little. I hope that the House will consider that the Committee of Selection achieved its aim, which was to choose a balanced committee of people who are well-qualified to do the job.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, as a member of the Committee of Selection I support what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Richard—

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords—

Noble Lords

Order, order!

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Wakeham)

My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, should speak first and then the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I am grateful. Perhaps I may deal with one or two of the points which were properly made by the noble Lord, Lord Stallard. If the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, wishes to intervene perhaps he will stand up to do so and not speak from a sedentary position.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Stoddart tried frequently to speak. The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, has spoken once before. In my judgment that is somewhat unfair.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, I did not hear myself speak once before but others may have done so. I was congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, for having raised the matter in your Lordships' House. It is wise that the issue should be raised and discussed because, clearly, it is one of considerable emotion. A whole spectrum of views is held on the subject. Your Lordships' Committee of Selection took that into account when drawing up a list of Peers to serve. The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, rightly said that the committee is too large. Indeed, the Chairman of Committees made that point to the Committee of Selection. There are 14 members rather than the usual maximum of 12 members because it wanted to accommodate as many views as possible on the committee.

This is not a subject on which anybody is neutral. It is difficult for anybody to be impartial about it. I remember when I first became a magistrate in the fair city of Manchester many years ago, we were lectured on the subject of prejudice. We were told that we all have prejudices but that it is important to identify those prejudices and then to isolate them when making decisions. I do not know what are the prejudices of the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, although I am sure he has some. I am sure that he is capable of isolating those prejudices so that he will act impartially as chairman of the committee.

Of course the hospice movement is very important as regards this issue. That movement will be able to give evidence to the committee, to which I am sure noble Lords on the committee will listen with great care.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I wish to support my noble friend Lord Stallard. He has raised an extremely important point as to whether, first, the committee is too large and whether it is properly representative. This is a matter of ethics and morals. It is also very much a matter of religion. I see that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York is to be a member of the Select Committee but I see nobody who is an obvious Catholic.

Noble Lords


Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, thank you. Your Lordships have put that matter right. I should have thought that from the point of view of the Jewish religion we should have invited the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords—

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Mishcon is not a priest and it is on the basis of being representative that I mention the name of the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits. Therefore, it is essential that religious interests should be properly represented on the committee.

There is one other point that I should like to raise and perhaps the noble Lord the Leader of the House will answer this. The committee will have the power to appoint specialist advisers. I presume that a manifold number of points of view will be taken into account when specialist advisers are appointed so that the committee may be advised as to every aspect of this important and complex issue.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend Lord Stallard on one issue; that is, that a medical man is the last person who should be chairman of such a committee. Although we need the medical point of view—that is of vital importance—medical people are trained to preserve life at all costs. That is one of the issues to be discussed by the committee. Therefore, to have a doctor as chairman of the committee is to presume and to take for granted the end result of the committee's deliberations. I am not impugning the noble Lord in any way. He can play a very important role. However, I do not believe that a medical man should be chairman of this committee. I mention only that caveat.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, we have heard whom it should not be. Who else should it not be? It may said that it should not be a lawyer, a theologian, a Welshman, a Scotsman or an Irishman. The chairman of the committee will be someone, some member of a profession.

Lord Rees-Mogg

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, for moving this amendment which I support. The problem is much more difficult than is widely recognised. Basically it seems to me that it is a problem of whether the balance of representation is reasonable and correct between those who have a commitment to the preservation of human life in all circumstances and those who have no such commitment.

It is obviously a matter on which there has been a lot of perfectly legitimate lobbying. To give your Lordships some idea of the lobbying which has taken place I shall read the comment of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society when the first announcement of the existence of the committee was made: This exciting news is a great step forward. At this stage there is no news on the composition or terms of reference of the House of Lords ad hoc committee on euthanasia but the Voluntary Euthanasia Society will be watching its progress very carefully indeed". It is extremely important that there should be a balance between those who share the views of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, or who are open to share those views, and those who are opposed to them. If there is no such balance—and in my view there is no such balance on the committee as established—the committee will not enjoy the confidence which it needs. It will be a waste of time because people will reject the findings of the committee before it has reported. That is a real difficulty.

Noble Lords


Lord Rees-Mogg

Your Lordships may say "No", but it is a difficulty. The question is whether the balance is right. I was not chosen to join the committee, about which I felt some relief. I have made inquiries about the mode of selection. The view was taken, which at first sight is perfectly reasonable, that noble Lords who have an open mind should be chosen to sit on the committee. As I understand it, 12 noble Lords, many of them very distinguished, with varying religious views, took an anti-euthanasia point of view. Of those, two have been appointed to the committee, one very much at the last moment.

I have been informed that that was done because it was felt that those noble Lords did not have an open mind on the issue and, as I say, it was felt to be essential that noble Lords sitting on the committee should have an open mind. But what is an open mind on this subject? If you have an open mind on euthanasia, you already concede that in certain circumstances euthanasia may be justified. Therefore, the great majority of the members of this committee concede that euthanasia may be justified and only a small minority are determined to preserve life in all circumstances. Therefore, as a result of that this is not a balanced committee.

A last illustration can be given of that point. Another issue of life and death which has been much discussed in this House, although not recently, is capital punishment. Some people are opposed in principle to capital punishment and some have an open mind on the subject. If you have an open mind, that means that you are sympathetic to the idea that it may be desirable in certain circumstances. I support the amendment.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, it was not my intention to speak on this matter but I am an open proponent of euthanasia and, as far as I am aware, that voice has not yet been heard. At first I was wholly opposed to the committee because it seemed to be completely hostile and against the idea of euthanasia altogether. What I have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, seems to be an absolute travesty of the facts. However, in view of what the noble Lord has said, I withdraw my objections because, to say the very least of it, the committee must be impartial.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord the Leader of the House will be good enough to answer the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Macaulay. The committee does not represent different parts of the country. But on the face of it, without an explanation it seems rather odd that on this important matter Scottish judges and Scottish law are not represented.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

My Lords, members are not appointed to this or any other Select Committee to represent any particular interest. Therefore, any talk of a balance of interest is to that extent misconceived. As the Leader of the Opposition said, they are appointed because they can bring qualities of judgment and experience to an extremely difficult issue.

I very much hope that when we have set up this committee with its difficult task, and with some urgency, we shall send it on its way with good will by showing confidence in the Committee of Selection.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, the matter of appointing committees, as of their terms of reference, is one in which I am in the hands of the House. To that end, the House has appointed the Committee of Selection to exercise those duties of appointing members on its behalf. The importance which your Lordships attribute to this committee and its inquiry is well attested by the number of noble Lords who made known, either to the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees or to the Whips, their willingness to serve on the committee. As your Lordships will realise, it has not proved possible to accommodate them all.

However, it appears to me that the proposals which the committee is now making to your Lordships' House for the membership of the committee provide an excellent balance between all the shades of opinion on these issues which are represented in your Lordships' House. What is equally important is that the proposals, I suggest, achieve a sensible balance between representatives of the medical professions; representatives of the legal profession; those with particular expertise in looking at the difficult moral issues; and those whom I know will not be offended if I use the term laymen and women as regards this issue.

Three principal concerns have been expressed in this short debate. The first is that the committee is in some way unrepresentative or unbalanced in its reflection of the viewpoints and skills of your Lordships. As I have explained, I do not believe that is the case. I know noble Lords would not wish me to discuss the merits of individual members of the committee, but it seems to me there is strength in every name put forward by the Committee of Selection. Indeed the Committee of Selection was acutely aware of the need for all shades of opinion to be adequately represented on the committee. To that end it took the view that the committee should have a slightly larger membership than is usual for ad hoc committees. I should emphasise that in making its proposals the committee had regard to factors which go beyond the usual criteria of expertise and of party balance. The committee that is now proposed consists of four members of the medical professions, four lawyers, two members with specific experience of grappling with these medical and ethical issues and four lay members.

The second concern is that the committee should not be chaired by a doctor. No one, quite rightly, has said anything that reflects badly on the talents or the abilities of the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant. He is in every way admirably qualified to serve on the committee. The question is solely one of whether it is appropriate for a doctor, who may be expected to have some familiarity with the range of issues likely to arise on the inquiry, to be appointed chairman of the committee. For my own part I have no doubt that it is wholly consistent with the practice of your Lordships' House to appoint as chairman of a committee someone with an extensive knowledge of the issues that are likely to arise. Indeed the weight which is accorded to reports of your Lordships' Select Committees is frequently attributable to the expertise of the members and the chairman. In this case the difficult issues which the Select Committee will need to consider cover three main fields: first, medical practice, patient care and developments in medical technology; secondly, the interaction between medical practice and the law, in particular the criminal law; and, thirdly, medical ethical and moral questions.

The common feature of all those areas is medicine. I therefore suggest to your Lordships that the appointment of someone with distinct medical experience as chairman of the Select Committee is wholly appropriate. While the committee will clearly need to look closely at aspects of the criminal and civil law—for that reason the Committee of Selection has proposed that four lawyers should be appointed to the committee—it is the medical theme rather than the legal theme which will predominate. I should perhaps add that the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, already has considerable experience of the work of Select Committees of your Lordships' House through his time on the Science and Technology Committee.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, has drawn attention to what he perceives as a regional imbalance in the membership of the committee. Apart from my noble friend Lord McColl of Dulwich none of the candidates before your Lordships' House today can, I think, claim to be Scottish, nor are any of them from Northern Ireland. But it has always been a principle of your Lordships' House that Peers do not represent any regional or geographic constituency. Moreover, should the committee feel that the different circumstances in Northern Ireland or in Scotland would justify taking evidence from Scottish or Northern Irish witnesses, either here or in Scotland or in Northern Ireland, then I can assure your Lordships that it has the power to do so. Indeed, it may be that, following the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, the committee would feel that this is something it would wish to look at in some depth.

The noble Lord referred to the hospice movement. I have a family interest in that movement. I am sure he is right in saying that that is a matter the Select Committee will wish to look at. I hope that reassures the noble Lord and that he feels we have, in putting forward the names, taken seriously the concerns he has expressed. I hope he will not wish to press his amendment.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, I am grateful to all those who have spoken in this short debate and for the sentiments they have expressed. I am grateful for the comments of the noble Lord the Leader of the House. However, I must correct him on one point. I am not arguing for the appointment of a Scotsman, a Welshman or an Irishman, or for the appointment of any particular nationality to the committee. However, I wish to emphasise that there is no member of the committee who is representative of the Scottish legal system. That is an important point. There is no one on the committee who represents what is an important part of the United Kingdom's legal system. Despite what the noble Lord the Leader of the House has said, I still feel that that is an omission. I have listened to what has been said and to the opinions that have been expressed. I have made my point about what I consider to be an omission and I shall not press the amendment any further at this stage.

Amendment to the Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Motion agreed to.