Government rules out consultation on assisted dying law change, minister confirms

The Government has ruled out a public consultation on changing the law on assisted dying.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said, despite the signals from his predecessor, he does not plan to open a consultation into a change in the law.

He said he believes MPs should decide any change in the law as a matter of conscience, rather than being directed by government policy.

MPs, including former minister Nick Boles, claim a “call for evidence” is needed so an informed decision can be made in the Commons.

During a Commons debate on assisted dying in July, former justice minister Edward Argar said the then justice secretary David Gauke was “reflecting very carefully on the case” for a consultation on the current law.

The Mail On Sunday reported later that month Mr Gauke had initiated a call for evidence in a letter to colleagues.

During justice questions, Mr Buckland (pictured) told MPs: “The Government has not conducted a public consultation on the law in relation to assisted suicide.

“We remain of a view that any change to the law in this sensitive area is a matter of conscience and a matter for Parliament rather than one of Government policy.”

Mr Boles, who quit the Tory party in April and now sits as an independent, said Mr Gauke “did make clear that he thought a call for evidence was justified”.

The Grantham and Stamford MP added: “Just to be clear as to why, it’s not that government is going to take a position on a possible change of law, but only government can gather the information about the effect of the current law in order that Parliament can then decide whether that law needs to be changed.”

Mr Buckland replied: “The comments that he makes are ones that I accept.

“It wasn’t agreed that there should be a call for evidence.

“It isn’t my plan to initiate one.

“However, the discussions and conversations will continue and the wealth of information that we do have out there on both sides of the argument is something that will prompt and right honourable members to continue this debate.”

Tory MP Lucy Allan (Telford) said Parliament is “out of step with the people on these issues” and raised the case of Noel Conway, who has motor neurone disease and was refused permission by the Supreme Court to challenge the law in November.

She added: “So does the minister agree with me that Parliament must once again look at this issue because it cannot be right for us to decide that terminally ill people in great suffering have no right over how they choose to die?”

Mr Buckland said: “In that case, the court found that Parliament’s decision not to change the law did indeed strike a fair balance between the interests of the wider community and the interests of people who are in that tragic position.

“That was upheld by the Court of Appeal. It is, of course, a matter for members here, and right honourable members, to raise that issue either by way of a private members’ bill or by a general debate.”

Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable said people can be sentenced up to 14 years in prison for “assisting the suicide of a terminally ill loved one at great pain”.

He added: “The CPS is pursuing prosecutions with traumatic effects in some cases.

“So why the Government deiced to abandon even the call of evidence which his predecessor initiated only a few weeks ago?”

Mr Buckland replied: “There was no initiation of a call for evidence.”

He added that he thought current CPS guidelines “strike a sensitive and sensible balance”.

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