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House of Lords

Tuesday, 28th October 1997.

The House met at a quarter past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Oxford.

Lord Selkirk of Douglas

The Right Honourable James Alexander Douglas-Hamilton, QC, (commonly called Lord James Alexander Douglas-Hamilton), having been created Baron Selkirk of Douglas, of Cramond in the City of Edinburgh, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Crathorne and the Lord Renton.

Lord Lang of Monkton

The Right Honourable Ian Bruce Lang, having been created Baron Lang of Monkton, of Merrick and the Rhinns of Kells in Dumfries and Galloway, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Strathclyde and the Lord Fraser of Carmyllie.

Lord Gordon of Strathblane

James Stuart Gordon, Esquire, CBE, having been created Baron Gordon of Strathblane, of Deil's Craig in Stirling, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Healey and the Baroness Smith of Gilmorehill.

Gibraltar: Constitutional Status

2.48 p.m.

Lord Merrivale asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What support they will seek, jointly with the Government of Gibraltar, from appropriate European Union governments towards the settlement of the future constitutional status of Gibraltar.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, any change in Gibraltar's constitution would of course be a matter for Her Majesty's Government and for the Government of Gibraltar. However, we seek to ensure that our European partners are aware of our policy and position on Gibraltar.

Lord Merrivale: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. Does he agree that the support of certain European Union governments for joint UK/Gibraltar decolonisation proposals would carry weight in talks with the Spanish Government?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, we have always pursued this matter together with the Gibraltar Government. Clearly the Spanish dimension of these problems is an important one and arises from time to time in European

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discussions. However, we do not think it is a sensible move to establish a counterbalance to Spain within the European set-up. We want to do a deal with the Government of Gibraltar and then cover the Spanish dimension on a bilateral basis.

Lord Shepherd: My Lords, the Minister referred to doing a deal. Will the noble Lord confirm that the protocol preamble to the Act which set up the constitution of Gibraltar will not be touched in any respect without the consent of the people of Gibraltar?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, that is absolutely the position. I said "do a deal" with the Gibraltar Government about any change in the constitution. We would not allow the people of Gibraltar to pass into any different constitutional state without their consent. That protocol in the 1969 constitution will be utterly upheld.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, what difficulties does the Minister anticipate from the Treaty of Amsterdam and the commitment to freedom of movement given that Britain has asked for the right to opt in to various aspects of the Schengen agreement and it will be a matter of unanimous votes as to whether Britain is allowed to opt in or out? The Spanish Government and the Gibraltar issue will no doubt have some relevance as regards that.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, there are two aspects. Contrary to some opinions expressed in Gibraltar and elsewhere, the Treaty of Amsterdam does not affect the right of Gibraltarians to free movement within the European Union, including across the border with Spain. Those rights are enshrined in the treaty and have in no way been changed by Amsterdam.

In relation to opting-in in the future to aspects of Schengen, while those matters are subject to unanimity from our partners any decision to exclude Britain or Ireland from opting-in to the Schengen provisions would be based on a Commission opinion and would be unlikely to be vetoed by any individual member state. Its direct effect on Gibraltar is therefore extremely remote. The treaty does not in any sense alter the rights of the people of Gibraltar.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, is it still the firm position of the Government to use the British veto at the December ministerial meetings to block Spain's integration into NATO's military command structure unless the current Spanish restrictions on the movement of military aircraft in and out of Gibraltar are dropped?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the discussions are continuing within NATO as they were at the Madrid Summit, and will continue bilaterally with Spain and within NATO. To use the term "veto" in NATO circumstances is not normal. We would hope that an agreement could be reached on that; certainly that would

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be our intention. But our position has been made absolutely clear in relation to any Spanish encroachment on the sovereignty of the territory of Gibraltar.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, will the Minister give us some idea as to when a constitutional conference may take place on Gibraltar?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, as I understand it, the Gibraltar Government are making proposals. We have not yet received those proposals; they are not yet finalised. We do not envisage a conference in the sense to which the noble Lord refers. However, we shall consider seriously the initiative taken by the Government of Gibraltar. There are certain limits on the options in both the Treaty of Utrecht and the existing constitution.

Lord Merrivale: My Lords, can the Minister say whether the Government view favourably a formula which would give Gibraltar a similar status to that of the Channel Islands?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the Government do not consider it helpful to talk of alternative models. Every territory is different. I repeat that we shall consider the proposals of the Government of Gibraltar when they are ready.

Suicides: Data

2.54 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, having regard to the information published in Australia concerning the number of people over 75 who committed suicide in the period 1990-94 and the means they used to kill themselves, similar statistics can be obtained for this country and, if so, whether they will collect and publish them.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, statistics on suicide are routinely collected as part of the death registration system. Data on the means used by people aged 75 and over to kill themselves are published for England and Wales by the Office for National Statistics (formerly the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys) in Series DH2. Statistics on individual causes of death by age are published for Scotland in the Annual Report of the Registrar General for Scotland, and for Northern Ireland in the Annual Report of the Registrar General for Northern Ireland.

I can give my noble friend the headlines of the information he requires, if he would like them. However, as I said, the detailed information is publicly available.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer. However, do not the figures so far as we have them confirm that in this

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country and elsewhere we are now enabling people to live beyond the age they wish to live? I am not yet in that condition myself, despite my vast age. But I and many people think it absurd that while doctors are known generally to assist people to depart, every now and then the law catches up with one and charges him with murder. That is absurd. Is it not time that we considered seriously this matter to enable a doctor under suitable precautions to enable people to do that which they wish when their wish is to leave this earth?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend has no wish to leave us. We certainly have no wish for him to leave us. In view of his rather gloomy universal point, I should indicate that in England and Wales, for which the precise figures are given, there were only 355 suicides in that age group in the last recorded year. That is perhaps too many, but that is out of a total of 326,558 deaths. Therefore I believe that one can feel it is not yet a major problem even though my noble friend is concerned.

As regards doctors giving medication or other support to people who wish to commit suicide, my noble friend will realise that the Government have no intention to promote the cause of voluntary euthanasia although we understand the vigorous public debate in that area.

Earl Howe: My Lords, the Question asked by the noble Lord is germane to the wider debate as to whether a so-called advance directive which an individual may make when he or she is healthy should be legally binding when that individual becomes mentally incapable. To what extent do the Government think that there is a valid case for clarifying the existing law by introducing a Bill on this sensitive subject of mental incapacity?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, as the House will be aware, my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor gave notice last week that he was investigating these matters through a Green Paper on mental incapacity which followed the report of the Law Commission on this subject. The Law Commission took the view--it is one which the Government are now considering--that, as the noble Lord suggests, people should be encouraged and enabled to take decisions that they are capable of making when they have mental capacity. That includes the ability to plan ahead for a time when they have lost capacity to consent to or refuse medical treatment. But of course that advance directive could not include a requirement for an illegal act.

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