All 2 Debates between Baroness Flather and Lord Alton of Liverpool

Fri 23rd Mar 2018
Conscientious Objection (Medical Activities) Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

Conscientious Objection (Medical Activities) Bill [HL]

Debate between Baroness Flather and Lord Alton of Liverpool
Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, in his remarks just now the noble Lord invited me to contribute at this point in the Committee’s proceedings. I spoke at Second Reading and I do not intend to repeat what I said then. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, will not be surprised that I oppose his amendment. Nevertheless, over the nearly 50 years that we have known one another, I have always been grateful for the respect he has shown to an alternative view to the one he puts now and has put in the past. I was particularly grateful to him when this became a matter of policy in my former party. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, also resisted it becoming party policy because, as he said, it would polarise attitudes and mean that some people could no longer follow some issues of conscience because of party diktat.

Some 51 years ago, when I was at school, I wrote to the then leader of the noble Lord’s party, the late Jo Grimond, asking whether the Abortion Bill, which the noble Lord had placed before the House of Commons, was a matter of party policy or conscience. I was given the forthright reply: there are different views about this and it is a matter of conscience. It was never a problem for me, as the only new member of the parliamentary Liberal Party in 1979, to serve under the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and, indeed, to be his Chief Whip. Reasonable accommodation—how we accommodate one another—which I mentioned in my earlier intervention, is at the heart of what this debate should be about. The noble Lord, Lord Winston, made some telling and helpful points in his contribution. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, said: “This isn’t the way to go about this”, but he would agree that, 50 years later, many things have come to pass that were never anticipated during the debates in 1967. A proper review—perhaps outside the proceedings of this Chamber—of the legislation, its implications and the ways we can protect people such as Mary Doogan is long overdue.

She spoke in your Lordships’ House and her case goes right to the heart of today’s debate. She is, as the noble Lord, Lord McColl, said, an extraordinary woman who was involved in delivering over 5,000 babies and said in an interview:

“It is not about religion. It’s about conscience”.


She went on:

“It goes against everything we stand for … the women I cared for would never ever have known my views on abortion”.


This is very important. Here is someone who has been driven out of her calling in life. She did not go into midwifery to carry out abortions; she went into midwifery to deliver babies. Although I understand the reasons why the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale, found as she did—my noble and learned friend Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood was right to refer to the judgment earlier—it is up to this place, as the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, told us, to then deliberate and decide whether the law should be allowed to continue to stand in that way.

Consider for a moment the changes in the law since 1967 and how they impact on people who may have a profound conscientious objection to the law. One is, for instance, the extension of the Act in cases of disability right up to and even during birth, on the grounds of things such as club foot, hare lip and cleft palate, let alone Down’s syndrome—90% of all babies with Down’s syndrome are now aborted. If I were working as a medic and was told that I had either to participate in—to be hands-on—or to facilitate such things, I would rather lose my job than do that. This is where I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, who said that such people should not join the service. Who do we lose if we take such an attitude to people who, yes, have a different view from the noble Baroness but nevertheless make an extraordinary contribution to the health service?

Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
- Hansard - -

This is a very interesting point. Should they leave the service or not? I had a very recent experience when my husband was taken ill; he was dying and was taken to hospital. We had to make a decision about whether to keep his breathing going. My sons and I were there discussing this matter and it was a very difficult time for us. The doctor in charge came and spoke to us and told us what the situation was. We decided it was not the right time to prolong his life. If the doctor had then said, “I’m sorry, I have to get someone else to do this necessary job. I can’t do it because I object to it”, that would have been terrible. You can say that he should have prepared for that in advance, but how can he prepare for everything in advance? You do not know when a dying person will come into hospital.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble Baroness is of course right; you cannot ever say with any certainty what will happen and how long someone will live. My noble friend Lady Finlay intervened on that point earlier and, at Second Reading, my noble friend Lady Richardson gave another good example, which I can come back to.

Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
- Hansard - -

My noble friend Lady Finlay’s example is perfectly correct but it is not the same as my example. My example is that my husband had got to a stage where he really did not know what was going on. My noble friend’s example is of course totally different—and it is a very good thing that people have hospices to go to.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are agreed about that. The point I made at Second Reading when my noble friend Lady Richardson intervened on a similar point is that we do not need to go to heroic lengths—that is the phrase people often use—to keep alive someone who would otherwise be dying. I think we sometimes confuse these two things. Let me return, if I may, to the particular point about abortion.

Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill

Debate between Baroness Flather and Lord Alton of Liverpool
Monday 4th March 2013

(11 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I want briefly to intervene in order to support the amendment that has been laid before this House by my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries of Pentregarth, and to support the powerful speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, and the intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.

As I heard their speeches, I was thinking of two things that I have in my study. One is a poster on the wall that says:

“God so loved the world that he did not send a committee”.

I recalled that it was William Wilberforce who, after the abolition of the slave trade, said that the next great challenge was the abolition of the caste system. Here we still are setting up yet more committees and more inquiries. I really do not believe that that is the signal that we want to send today.

The other thing in my study is a terracotta pot that I brought back with me from Uttar Pradesh two years ago. When a Dalit has held that pot, they are required to break it, because nobody else must touch it if they have drunk from that pot. That is what it means, in simple terms, to be untouchable. Those two simple things motivated me to speak in this debate.

I know that my noble friend has pursued this issue with great vigour and doggedly over the years, and I think that the House ought to support him today not least because, as we discovered in the earlier amendment, the importance of making declamatory statements is sometimes crucial in advancing a cause. The Minister should perhaps recall the wise advice that was given to her on an earlier amendment by my noble friend Lord Cormack. He suggested that if she were not able to accept that amendment today, it would be wisest to come back at Third Reading. The same is true with this amendment. She ought to go away and think about it further if she cannot accept the amendment today, not least because of the declamatory nature of not accepting it.

What signal will that send to the extraordinary number of people who remain in India as Dalits, some 170 million of them in addition to the 400,000 in our own country? When the House considers that every single day in India every 18 minutes a crime is committed against a Dalit; every day three Dalit women are raped; two Dalits are murdered; two Dalit houses are burned; 11 Dalits are beaten; that many are impoverished; some half of Dalit children are under-nourished; 12% die before their fifth birthday; vast numbers are uneducated or illiterate; and 45% cannot read or write it is quite clear that we do not need more inquiries or studies. We have to be certain about what it is that we want for ourselves. The noble Lord, Lord Deben, is right: there are values that we hold dear in this country that we stand for and believe in. We must stand firmly on those principles, not suggest to others that somehow or other to import those kinds of conditions into the United Kingdom would ever be acceptable. Furthermore, however important things such as trade relations are—and they are important to British industry in developing cordial and good relations with India or China—none the less, the stand we take on upholding not just human rights but human dignity, and the belief that no one is untouchable and that every person is of equal value, certainly in the sight of God and as they certainly ought to be in the sight of their fellow human beings, are important. For those reasons, I am happy to support the amendment of my noble friend.

Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
- Hansard - -

My Lords, perhaps I may say a few words as the only person here to belong to a caste. As far as I know, there is no other Hindu in the Chamber.