Summary of the Parliamentary and Public Affairs Committee 14th January 2014

Chairman’s Announcements

David O’Mahony, a CU Council Member, was suggested as a prospective member of the Committee.

Synod Questionnaire on Family Life

Elizabeth Davis, Marriage and Family Life Project Officer of the Bishops’ Conference, gave a presentation on the Synod Questionnaire. It was not a survey but a consultation on experience. The online questionnaire was aimed at reaching those who did not go to church on Sundays. Since the responses had not yet been collected it was not possible to say how many there had been. However it had been taken up with enthusiasm. Many respondents stated had struggled to be faithful to the Church’s teaching. The objective was to help with setting the agenda for the next Synod of Bishops in Rome. It should not be seen as a prelude to a change in doctrine and it was hoped from a clear statement confirming this from the Bishops.

Correspondence

A letter had been written to the Prime Minister and the Dept. of Health regarding the proposal to allow the production of embryos with two mothers and one father (hoping to prevent mitochondrial disease in the child). The Chairman had written again to a named civil servant at the Department of Health about the dangers of this procedure and the lack of an ethical framework.  He would write again to Jeremy Hunt seeking an answer to his questions.

Parliamentary Lobbying Bill

The threshold for registration has been raised from £5,000 to £20,000 in England and from £2,000 to £10,000 in Wales, following a great deal of lobbying against the original proposals. The maximum has been raised to £450,000. Any higher figure will be deemed illegal. The “restricted period” has been reduced to 7.5 months. The courts can deem organisations to be cooperating without evidence. This could be an effect free speech. It is unlikely to affect the CU, given the budgets involved.

Plight of Syrian Refugees

As a result of a papal initiative the Holy See was bringing together the parties involved to discuss humanitarian relief (to both sides), a cease fire and finally a political settlement. The meeting deplored the government’s refusal to receive any refugees. Many Syrian refugees, in particular Christians, were in great danger and some, at least should be welcomed here.

Euthanasia

The CU is on the advisory group of Care not Killing (CNK), an alliance of some 40 organisations opposed to euthanasia. Margo Macdonald MSP, has sufficient signatures to introduce the Assisted Dying Scotland bill, despite the result to the consultation being 65% against. A “trained facilitator” could assist any mentally competent adult with a terminal condition. At Westminster, the Falconer Bill is to be reintroduced with softened wording. The Lords would not normally divide on a second reading but should be encouraged to do so, on this point of principle.

The Follow-on from the Liverpool Care Pathway (LACDP)

This LACDP consultation has no recognition of the need for a research base to underpin their recommendations. There is a suspicion that doctors will resort to familiar methods of treatment. To provide an alternative, the Medical Ethics Alliance has produced a document which the chairman had sent to the minister. The backlash against the LCP came from relatives, and doctors are now more cautious about using it for fear of being sued.

House of Lords Debate on end of life care 12th December 2013

This debate was initiated by Baroness Jolly on behalf of the Department of Health proposing that GPs should nominate the 1% of patients expected to die within the next 12 months in order to enable arrangements for their care to be discussed with them. The Government wishes to save money by keeping old people out of hospital since most people prefer to die at home. There were significant practical problems with this and the existence of a “death list” is extremely unhelpful.

MEA Conference on Mental Health and Abortion 21st November 2013

The topic “Mental health reasons for abortion – are there any?” Speakers were a consultant psychologist, a consultant psychiatrist, a GP and a lawyer. The conclusion was “no, there are not” and further, the Medical Colleges concluded abortion was of no benefit to mental health; stress and anxiety were not per se a threat to mental health. However the purpose of the conference was get the message out that what happens now is a charade. Doctors without mental health training or experience go through the requisite administration without asking any questions.. However there is now disquiet about the working of the Act from the gender imbalance caused by gender based abortion. The Dept of Health said only in 46% of cases, had one or both doctors actually seen the woman. The situation in the remaining 54% was uncertain and the DoH seems to have no interest in ensuring the figures were correct. The BPAS, which performs a majority of abortions, has a policy which states any unwanted pregnancy is grounds for abortion. This explicitly contradicts the official DoH policy.  MPs must ask hard questions to press home this point and so reveal the DoH’s real policy of abortion on demand.

“Rules for Migrants are a scandal” Archbishop Nicholls

The Archbishop h had strongly condemned a Government policy which prevented a UK citizen from bringing in a spouse from outside the EU unless s/he had an after tax income of over £18,500 p.a, well above the minimum wage. This led to families being split up and children being raised without one or other of their parents. The committee was not in agreement over this policy.

Any Other Business

Ministers want to replace anti-social behaviour orders in England and Wales with injunctions to prevent nuisance and annoyance. One man’s annoyance is another’s free speech and it was thrown out by the Lords 346 Votes to178.  The Government’s reaction waits to be seen.