Jo Stevens MP

A strong voice for Cardiff Central

Jo Stevens - Labour MP for Cardiff Central

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I received a very large amount of correspondence from constituents about the Assisted Dying (No. 2) Private Members' Bill and I wanted to take time to consider all the correspondence properly, together with all of the issues that it raises, before reaching an informed conclusion about the Bill, which was debated on 11th September. MPs were given a free vote on the Bill.

I absolutely understand the strength of feeling that the issue of assisted dying raises for many people. End of life care and the law concerning assisted dying are extremely complex and emotive issues and there are very strongly held ethical and moral arguments both sides. Those views are often informed by personal circumstances and/or experiences. They certainly are in my case. I fully understand and respect every view that has been put forward.

Having read the Bill, studied the arguments on both sides of the debate, researched and given it much thought, I supported the Bill.

I believe that a terminally ill adult who is of sound mind should have the choice, with strong safeguards and the alternative of good palliative care, to self-administer medicine to end their own life. I believe it is undignified to deny such patients a choice.

I value life. There is no evidence that, if this law was passed, vulnerable people would be made to feel they are a burden and would therefore be pressured to take this option. In Oregon, where there has been a similar law for 17 years, every such death has been and is investigated, and there is absolutely no evidence of such pressures being brought to bear.

There would be no undue pressure on doctors. Again, there is no evidence of that in Oregon. Moreover, the Bill provides for any medical person to refuse to participate on the grounds of conscience.

Properly resourced palliative care should be much more widely available, to help make the terminally ill comfortable in a caring environment. Although it is not a reason for promoting the Bill, we are more likely to get that care if this Bill were to become law than if it does not. That is because there will be pressure, which I welcome, on the authorities to improve palliative care so that patients have a real alternative to Assisted Dying.

The current law is a mess. In summer 2014 the Supreme Court issued Parliament with a final warning to address the problems with the current law. The Director of Public Prosecution's (DPP) guidance on assisted suicide sets out the factors that weigh for and against prosecution, and broadly confirms that compassionately motivated assistance by an amateur will not be prosecuted.

There is an argument that the law’s threat of prosecution, combined with the DPP’s discretion, works well. Yet the status quo does not prevent assisted deaths, nor does it offer protection to dying people considering ending their lives.

In my view, that approach is an unacceptable compromise. The DPP is doing the best she can. However, in a democracy it is elected representatives who should make the laws, not an unelected civil servant.

In his decision on the Nicklinson case, Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, provided this compelling analysis: “…A system whereby a judge or other independent assessor is satisfied in advance that someone has a voluntary, clear, settled, and informed wish to die and for his suicide then to be organised in an open and professional way, would, … provide greater and more satisfactory protection for the weak and vulnerable, than a system which involves a lawyer from the DPP’s office inquiring, after the event, whether the person who had killed himself had such a wish, and also to investigate the actions and motives of any assister….”

Contrast that to what is currently happening, which is usually hidden. Terminally ill patients are ending their own lives, often in undignified and desperate ways. Anecdotally, for compassionate reasons, some doctors are complicit in hastening patients’ deaths. Some relatives and loved ones are doing likewise. Some richer patients are going to Switzerland.

As an MP, as a lawyer, and as an individual, I am convinced that we can do better for dying people. At present, it is illegal to assist or encourage a suicide, and the law makes no distinction between the suicide of a vulnerable person, due to depression or problems in their personal life; and the choice of a well-informed, competent, adult who is already dying, to control the manner and timing of their death.  

Having considered the Bill, I was satisfied that it has a clear process, with multiple safeguards. It covers:

  • A patient who is 'terminally ill', i.e. life expectancy of less than 6 months. (Hence those people with disabilities, however serious, are not covered unless they also have a terminal illness).
  • The patient must be aged 18 or over.
  • The patient must have been ordinarily resident in England or Wales for at least one year.
  • The patient must be of sound mind. (Hence dementia patients, for example, are not covered).
  • The patient voluntarily (i.e. not coerced) signs a declaration that they wish to end their own life.
  • The patient’s own doctor counter-signs the declaration that the patient is terminally ill and of sound mind and acting voluntarily.
  • An independent specialist doctor counter-signs the declaration that the patient is terminally ill and of sound mind and acting voluntarily.
  • If a doctor has a conscientious objection to any of this, then he or she does not have to participate in any way.
  • Upon the application of the patient, a High Court judge agrees that the patient is terminally ill and of sound mind and acting voluntarily.
  • After the court order, there is a 14-day cooling off period.
  • After that cooling off period, the doctor takes the medicine to the patient, and waits there.
  • The patient must choose:  to take the medicine themselves, or to change their mind and not take it.
  • The medicine is self administered by the patient, and by no-one else. So not by any third party such as the doctor, the spouse or other relative.
  • If the patient decides not to take the medicine, the doctor leaves and takes the medicine away – i.e. the medicine is not left with the patient.
  • The Chief Medical Officers must monitor the operation of the Act and submit an annual report, which must be laid before Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.
  • The Bill does not cover Scotland or Northern Ireland.

For these reasons, I voted for the Bill as I believe it provides believe that safeguards, transparency, choice and dignity.

Following a long and detailed debate in Parliament on 11th September the bill was voted down

Assisted Dying (No.2) Private Members' Bill

I received a very large amount of correspondence from constituents about the Assisted Dying (No. 2) Private Members' Bill and I wanted to take time to consider all the correspondence properly,...

Thank you to everyone who brought donations to our office for refugees in crisis. We were absolutely overwhelmed with the response and groups across Cardiff have collected thousands of items.

It is now time to sort the items and get them ready to be sent on to Calais and Europe. 


We are working with Cardiff and Vale Sanctuary Support to sort and process the donations, but we need your help. 

The group has organised several sorting sessions over this coming weekend 18th - 20th September. Volunteers are needed to: 

  • Help sort items in Splott from 12-4 on Saturday afternoon
  • Donate strong cardboard boxes, strong plastic boxes, plastic crates and thick, transparent refuse sacks

If you are able to help sort or provide boxes/sacks, please do this directly with Cardiff and Vale Sanctuary Support. Details are available in this Facebook event and details of other locations in this group. Please don't phone our office with queries about these sorting sessions, I'm afraid all we will be able to do is direct you to the Facebook group.

Help Refugees in Crisis - Volunteers Needed

Thank you to everyone who brought donations to our office for refugees in crisis. We were absolutely overwhelmed with the response and groups across Cardiff have collected thousands of items....

Yesterday I spoken in the debate about the Trade Union Bill. I am absolutely opposed to this bill, which is an idealogical attack on the rights of working people, as well as being a partisan attack on the Labour Party. 

As so many members wanted to speak, I was limited to just four minutes, so below is the full text of my speech as it would have been without the limit. 


You can watch the speech on Parliament TV here.


Jo Stevens MP Speech on Trade Union bill, 14 September 2015

Thank you Mr Deputy Speaker

This Bill is illegal, illiberal and illiterate.

It’s illegal because it contravenes international standards.

It’s illiberal because it takes a hatchet to civil liberties

And it’s illiterate because it is badly drafted and will leave the law in a mess, creating uncertainty and cost not just for trade unions - but for employers too.

And the reason it’s so badly drafted is because it is a crudely partisan measure which the party opposite is seeking to rush through for purely political ends.
Why are we are here debating this Bill today?

Is it because there is urgency to the provisions?
Or demand of the Parliamentary timetable?

No, we all know why we are here today.

We are here today because the government deliberately timetabled the Bill for the first full day of the Trade Union Congress, when those MPs who are proud trade unionists, as I am, would have been in Brighton debating the real issues facing working people:-

  • low pay,
  • zero hours contracts,
  • inequality,
  • insecurity at work.

Instead we are here to discuss this shabby, shameful Bill.

This not only shows the Government's contempt for trade unions - it shows the Government's contempt for democracy.

The Bill was published on 16 July.

Consultations were scheduled to take place over the summer recess and only closed 5 days ago.

The Regulatory Policy Committee has condemned the government’s impact assessment as “not fit for purpose”.

And yet the debate is scheduled for today, when the Bill is incomplete - when the government accepts it will be required to move many amendments to the Bill

And the clearest example of that is on deduction of union subscriptions at source; check-off.

On 6 August, the Rt Hon Member for West Suffolk, announced the government’s intention “to abolish the practice of check-off across all public sector organisations”.

He announced that these changes would be in the Trade Union Bill.

Where are those changes?
Where are the proposals?
Where are the draft clauses?

Nowhere. Nowhere to be seen. And no timetable for publication of those clauses, nor any commitment to any period of consultation.

This Bill is a disgraceful attack on the right of employers and unions to freely negotiate arrangements which best secure constructive industrial relations.

Even the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development's Chief Executive has described it as "an outdated response to the challenges of the modern workplace."

Before being elected to this House, I was a Director of a significant private sector employer, responsible for our industrial relations with around a thousand staff.

We recognised a trade union to represent our staff.

To collectively bargain on their behalf.

To represent their interests.
To make sure that we could discuss with them, any changes necessary for the continued success of the business in the best interests of staff.

And to do this, we had agreed arrangements to deduct union subscriptions from wages - and agreements for time off for union representatives employed by us so they could represent their colleagues and engage with us on key issues.

Deductions from payroll are a common way for employers to assist employees with regular payments, including childcare, season ticket loans and the government’s own auto-enrolment of pensions.

This worked for us as an employer.

It worked for the staff.
It was freely agreed.

And many, many other employers feel the same – in both the private and the public sectors.

Yet the government proposes to ban public sector employers from reaching these agreements.

Check-off will be banned.

And the Bill includes absurd proposals on facility time - which impose hugely bureaucratic requirements on public sector employers.

It gives the government power to scrap facility time in all or parts of the public sector – no matter what employers think or say.

Public employers will be required to publish information on the number of employees who have any facility time, how much is spent on it, the percentage of the total pay bill spent on it, what type of activities or duties were carried out, as well as details of physical facilities provided.

And I thought the Secretary of State's declared mantra was to deregulate? To cut red tape for employers?

Having been an employer, I know how onerous this will be.

How costly it is.

How absolutely pointless it is.

And the data protection and privacy issues it raises.
As the government itself says in its European Convention of Human Rights Memorandum, the intention is to deter public sector employers from granting facility time.

And, again, the government is not being open with this House.

Because the details of the proposals will be in Regulations.

Regulations which may extend these provisions to private companies providing public services.

Regulations which are to be made subject to the Negative Procedure, depriving this House of a proper opportunity to scrutinise or amend those proposals.

This is all a precursor to the government abolishing facility time, in the same way it proposes to abolish check-off.

And this is despite the fact that the value of facility time is widely recognised by public sector employers and saves money.

A review in 2007 by the predecessor department to BIS (Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) concluded that :-

- the work of union representatives on facility time reduced the number of cases proceeding to an employment tribunal, creating savings of between £22m-£43m a year

- reduced working days lost due to workplace injury, saving society between £136m and £371m a year
- and reduced workplace related illness with a saving of £45m-£207m a year

In the foreword to that report, the Director General of the CBI said “Union reps constitute a major resource…we believe that modern representatives have a lot to give to their fellow employees and to the organisations that employ them”

In the face of this, the government wants to use the law to scrap collective agreements freely entered into between employers and unions.

This is state interference in the contractual rights of employers, unions and working people.

It is an infringement of fundamental rights.

Even the government recognises this. Their ECHR memorandum states that the regulations “will have effect in relation to existing contractual arrangements and could therefore have retrospective effect”.

Even the government recognises the potential conflict with Articles 11 and 14 of the European Convention.

Facility time is a recognised aspect of freedom of association, recognised by the European Court .

The government’s bland assertion that “any limitation placed on facility time would be done in a way that does not substantially undermine the rights guaranteed by Article 11” simply does not stack up.

The government would be taking away existing legal rights, contractual rights – interfering in contracts of employment and collective agreements.

Rights that are protected by Article 1, Protocol 1 of the European Convention.

These proposals also infringe International Labour Organisation Conventions [numbers 87, 98, 135 and 151 – for reference] and EU law requiring employers to consult with elected representatives on health and safety, transfers of undertaking and business information.

The government has come a cropper on this before –when they tried to remove check off in the Department of Communities and Local Government. They lost a case brought to the high court by the Public and Commercial Services union PCS.

I will finish on a point about devolution and the inadequacies of this Bill.

The Bill deals with public services that are devolved to Wales.

This includes the way that public sector bodies in Wales work with trade unions to ensure effective delivery of services to the public - to my constituents in Cardiff Central.

So the Secretary of State should heed the warning from my Labour colleague, the First Minister of Wales, that there are necessary and critically important changes that must be made to this Bill.

But I would go further.

This is an unnecessary Bill. It’s a dangerous Bill and it’s a flawed Bill.
I urge the Government to listen to the widespread criticism – not just here – but from the business community, civil liberties organisations, respected academics, trade unions and most importantly, the public. The public do not want this Bill.

I urge the Government to turn its focus to the real problems this country faces – not the ones of its imagination.

Trade Union Bill Debate

Yesterday I spoken in the debate about the Trade Union Bill. I am absolutely opposed to this bill, which is an idealogical attack on the rights of working people, as...

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