Bart's, bull bars and crazy drivers all the rage in House

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Indy Politics
qMedical merger `makes us sinners'

qBill to cool off aggressive motorists

Courts should be given power to order "rage counselling" for aggressive motorists, the Commons was told yesterday on a day taken up largely by the hobbyhorses of backbenchers.

Labour's Paul Flynn pursued his campaign to ban "killer" bull bars, the macho fashion accessory for 4x4 vehicles; Tory Nicholas Winterton led an all-party stand against euthanasia; and in a night-time marathon Brian Sedgemore talked for more than two hours in an attempt to block a private Bill which, he argued, undermined St Bartholomew's Hospital's fight for survival.

Commending the Queen Mary and Westfield College Bill, the former Cabinet minister Peter Shore, Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Stepney, said it had nothing to do with closure plans for Bart's, which he opposed.

The Bill, eventually given a Second Reading by 164 votes to 19, provides for the merger of the London and Bart's medical colleges with the multi- faculty Queen Mary College.

But Mr Sedgemore, Labour MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch, said MPs were being asked to "perform the last act in a plan to wipe the name of St Bartholomew's off the face of the earth". The Bill's approval would make "sinners and barbarians" of them all.

Cheryl Gillan touched a popular chord with the introduction of a Bill to improve road safety and in particular tackle the growing phenomenon of "red rage".

Ms Gillan, Conservative MP for Chesham and Amersham, recalled the driver in Newcastle who had his nose bitten off in a row with another motorist, and the woman forced off the M6 by a male driver. "I myself have been on the receiving end of some very aggressive driving by other motorists."

She urged the Government to launch a campaign to "improve driver awareness of the problem and the type of discourteous behaviour which can turn a normally mild-mannered motorist into a fiend of the road". Courts also needed new powers, Ms Gillan argued. Last November a driver was jailed for attacking two motorists in the space of 15 minutes. She would give magistrates an additional power to require offenders to undergo psychological assessment and counselling for rage and stress management. Ms Gillan's Transport (Motorway Safety) Bill will almost certainly fail for lack of parliamentary time, but the MP's 10- minute speech was, to all appearances, listened to with care by Steven Norris, the road safety minister.

Mr Norris earlier told MPs the Government had been unable to ban potentially lethal "bull bars" from vehicle fronts because they had been approved by the European Union. "If it were possible to ban this particular type of fitment then the Government would not hesitate to do so," he said in reply to a short debate initiated by Mr Flynn, MP for Newport West.

The best-attended debate of the day demonstrated fervent all-party opposition to the legalisation of euthanasia. Nicholas Winterton, MP for Macclesfield, said it would "discredit" doctors and undermine society as voluntary euthanasia ultimately became compulsory. He accused the Voluntary Euthanasia Society of promoting so-called "mercy killing" through "irresponsible and devious" means and dismissed claims that opinion polls showed a majority in favour of it as "twaddle".

If euthanasia were decriminalised, the elderly and chronically sick would be put under real and perceived pressure to request it to end what was portrayed as the burden on relatives and society.

Frank Field, Labour MP for Birkenhead, spoke of his friend Baroness Wootton, the social reformer, who died in 1988 aged 91. A member of Exit and supporter of euthanasia, she had told him she had "friends in the Lords who know about these things and they have given me the knock-out pills".

Mr Field said he thought Lady Wootton, who was ill and confined to a geriatric hospital, would ask him to go to her home to get the pills which were to kill her . "What was noticeable was, however difficult it got for Barbara in those last months of her life, she fought with unbelievable determination to live. She didn't ask for those drugs."

Mr Field said the story sounded a note of caution against living wills "because had they been in vogue at the time, Barbara clearly would have written a living will".

The lone voice in favour of voluntary euthanasia was Piara Khabra, Labour MP Ealing Southall, who argued: "Just as people can choose to adopt a different lifestyle and not have society condemn it or force them to adopt another lifestyle, so at the end of life people should have an option to choose what is best for them as individuals."

Responding to the debate, Tom Sackville, Under-Secretary for Health, emphasised that the Government remained "firmly opposed" to euthanasia. But he said it was essential to draw a clear distinction between euthanasia, which was a positive intervention to end life, and the withholding or withdrawal of treatment which had no curative or beneficial effect.

"The right of a person to refuse treatment is also a very important one. A patient has a right to say `no' to his doctors."

"Living wills" were an extension of a patient's right to decline treatment and were supported by the Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics and by the Law Commission, the minister said, adding: "We are not engaged in any action which we believe would bring about a slippery slope."