Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017
I have real concerns about what we have been presented with here just now. I will speak a bit differently from some of the others who have been in this chamber a lot longer than I have. I am still one of the relatively new members of this Parliament. In terms of understanding what these amendments are and what they mean for the actual legislation, these are things that some of the newer members such as myself are still coming to terms with.
In a usual process we would have a party machine behind us that would actually do a lot of the work in terms of being able to brief us on what some of the implications of these amendments are. What we have been presented with here today are just those five pages of amendments. Then we are getting straight into it, and we will get a brief 3 or 4-minute run through by the minister at the table as to what those amendments are. Obviously during the committee stage we will go into details and we will be able to ask in-depth questions about them. I do acknowledge that. But the answers to those questions will be provided by the minister at the table through the prism through which he wants to answer the questions and in the way that he wants to answer the questions. What that does not give members on this side of the chamber, who are trying to understand a very complex piece of legislation and a very complex set of amendments on an extremely delicate piece of legislation — certainly the most important we will debate in this term — is any opportunity for us to have a full understanding from someone who is independent of this process, someone who is not going to bring politics to the answers to the questions that we ask. People have taken the time to provide us with lots and lots of their views — whether that be by correspondence, emails or other means — of the legislation. We do not have any understanding of what they may think in relation to this.
Through this process I have been talking to a couple of experts who have been able to provide me with independent information on different aspects of this bill. For an issue that is as important as this, a political spin or a political flavour that is applied to the questioning of such a master as Mr Jennings is not good enough in terms of what is required to address and assess these amendments, what they will mean for this piece of legislation and what they will mean in the end result. This piece of legislation is about life and it is about death. Each word has a particular meaning, particularly if you apply a legal context to it. The words here are very important, so it is more important than just having a political context to it. We need to know what these words mean legally, because these legal terms, these legal changes, will apply to people's lives.
I am very, very uncomfortable that we have such a set of amendments given to us and then we start the process. I would like to be briefed by an independent body, and I would like to be able to speak to some independent people outside the bureaucracy who can give their views on this piece of information that would make it much easier to actually ascertain what this means.
I am not sitting here thinking that I am going to vote against every amendment that comes forward. I actually might want to vote for some of these amendments. But really I just do not have a full understanding of what these amendments really mean, because I might think it means one thing but someone who is much more experienced and understands more than I do might say, 'Yes, but it will have unintended consequences in A, B, C and D'. I would want to confer with some of those people so I could have a full understanding. In that way we can do the best thing that we can by the people who put us here to represent them on such an important life and death issue.