Summary proceedings of the Parliamentary & Public Affairs Committee 8th April 2014

Chairman’s Announcements

The chairman welcomed a new member of the committee, Patricia Stoat as per last month’s announcement.

Correspondence

The chairman referred to a letter to the Daily Telegraph from Jim Dobbin, Sir Edward Leigh and others on the benefits of marriage to society.  He noted the government was, belatedly, introducing a modest transferable tax allowance which seemed an acknowledgement of marriage as a public force for good.

Euthanasia of children in Belgium

The cardinal archbishop of Malines and a rabbi had issued a strong statement condemning this.

40 paediatricians had written that in their experience no child had ever requested death. However, it was now suggested the law should be extended to allow the euthanasia of children at the decision of the parents alone. The law had been signed by Philippe I, nominally a Catholic monarch.

Abortion

 This is still a live issue in parliament. Baroness Knight asked if the law on abortion was beingupheld but did not receive a straight answer. Baroness Hollins, (past president of the BMA), Lord Alton, Lord Patten and Lord Mackay of Clashfern asked about gender based abortion. The Government said it was illegal and would examine the ratio of male to female births. Fiona Bruce MP asked about abortion on “Ground E” – disability- and gave examples of trivial cases. The Chief Medical Officer had sent a letter to doctors reminding them of their duties without publishing the Contents. The Government seems very casual about enforcement of the Act and was still considering relaxation of the law to allow nurse-only abortions. It said new guidelines were in draft but again not published. Gary Streeter MP was asking for a full debate on these guidelines. There will also be debate on the RSOP (Required Standard Operating Procedures for licencing premises for abortions).

A legal case in the north of England claimed that injury to a foetus was an assault; it was considered likely to fail since legally a person did not exist until born. However, the right of the unborn have never been defined. The chairman had written to Baroness Hollins, thanking her for her intervention and had included two papers showing that mental health problems as grounds for abortion were spurious.

Mitochondrial Donation

Lord Alton had made a strong statement about MD in so far as it alters the genetic composition of future generations, would be against international law and  he claimed would make the UK a rogue state.

There had been a campaign entitled “One of Us” aimed at limiting the misuse of embryos. It had sought a million signatures to trigger a debate in the European parliament. It had obtained 1.7 million and the debate would be on 9th April.

Falconer Bill on Assisted Dying

 This is likely to be brought back to the Lords after the Queen’s speech. Opposing such measures would best done as part of a coalition, ie with the“Care not Killing” group. There are now 193 new peers and their views on this issue were unknown. “Care not Killing” would approach these and try to elucidate their views without making any effort to persuade.  In general, public opinion appeared to be moving towards assisted dying. An assisted dying bill was likely to be brought forward in Scotland at year end, after the referendum. Baroness Butler-Sloss, formerly president of the family division of the high court, has warned that assisted dying would put many vulnerable people at risk. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference’s brief document “Sense and nonsense on assisted dying” (circulated) was a valuable contribution.

Modern Slavery Bill and Global Freedom Network

 The Bill was intended to consolidate and simplify existing legislation and to support victims. There had recently been a meeting in the Vatican of the Global Freedom Network, supported by Catholics, and other faiths. The meeting made the following declaration:  “Modern slavery and human trafficking are crimes against humanity. The physical, economic and sexual exploitation of men, women and children condemn 30 million people to dehumanisation and degradation”. There will be a high level meeting in Rome between police chiefs, church leaders and others to establish more ties between the Church and the police. The emphasis would move from punishing the offenders to helping the victims.

Any Other Business

Same Sex Marriage guidelines: the Equality and Human Rights web site stated that holding to the traditional view of marriage is not in itself an offence if expressed in moderation; teachers will be  allowed to teach what they feel is right with regard to their faith.

It was decided that in future selected items should be highlighted from each month’s minutes and sent to the appropriate member of the Bishops’ Conference, under the guidance of the Chairman.