More priority given to lobsters’ end of life than people’s, says Tory grandee

The Government seem to think it is more important to discuss ending the lives of lobsters than the end of life of people, a Tory former Cabinet minister has said.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean criticised what he viewed as the failure of the administration to allow proper time for Parliament to fully debate assisted dying.

Meanwhile, there has been disquiet on the Conservative benches at the Government introducing legislation which recognises that animals have feelings.

The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill was extended while going through the House of Lords, to cover octopuses, crabs and lobsters, as a result of a scientific study that recommended a ban on traditional slaughter methods.

Lord Forsyth (pictured) issued the rebuke as the House of Lords rejected by 179 votes to 145, majority 34, his bid to force the Government to introduce draft legislation on assisted dying aimed at guaranteeing the deeply divisive and complex issue could be fully considered at Westminster.

While Labour and Liberal Democrats were allowed a free vote on his amendment to the Health and Care Bill, Tory peers were instructed to oppose it.

The Government opposed it on procedural grounds, describing it as “constitutionally offensive”.

But Lord Forsyth argued that attempts to introduce backbench legislation on assisted dying had been “destroyed” by opponents at Westminster, who he accused of using tactics “deliberately intended to subvert the democratic process and prevent Parliament coming to a considered view”.

The Conservative peer told the upper chamber: “On a matter of huge importance Parliament is completely unable to reach a view. My amendment was really an attempt to do that.”

Criticising the Government for refusing to commit to make time available, he added: “They seem to think that it is more important to discuss ending the lives of lobsters rather than actually addressing this hugely important issue of end of life for people.”

Responding to the debate, Tory frontbencher Earl Howe said: “I have to tell him I am not with him on this amendment and nor is the Government.

“That has nothing to do with the issue of assisted dying, about which we will each have our own views.

“It is about the proper process for bringing forward legislation and the roles and responsibilities of Government on the one hand and parliamentarians on the other.”

He added: “It is for the Government to say what its legislative programme should be, not Parliament.

“This amendment is constitutionally offensive and it should be rejected on those grounds.”

Earlier, Lord Forsyth told the House: “It is fatuous for the Government to say they are neutral on the issue of assisted dying whilst at the same time refusing to allow time for it to be considered.

“Without Government time for private members’ legislation, many controversial and important social reforms, like the legislation decriminalising homosexuality or the abolition of the death penalty, would never have reached the statute book.

“Passing by on the other side is not neutrality. It is a failure to come to the aid of the democratic process on an issue of the highest importance.”

However, Baroness Campbell of Surbiton, an independent crossbench peer and disability rights campaigner, said: “Using this Bill to force the Government’s hand and the pace of deliberation, I believe, as others do, is a blatant manipulation of the parliamentary process. It sets a very dangerous precedent and I believe it should be resisted.”

But backing the move, Labour former lord chancellor and justice secretary Lord Falconer, who attempted to legalise euthanasia through a backbench bill in 2013, said: “I urge this House to adopt this amendment, not because they agree or disagree with the issue of assisted dying, but because… Parliament should properly address issues of conscience.

“Please do not be swayed by the issues one way or the other on assisted dying.”

Raising her opposition to assisted suicide, Paralympic gold medal winner Baroness Grey-Thompson said: “We are continually being asked to vote through the principle and think about the detail later. The devil is in the detail.”

Liberal Democrat Baroness Walmsley said: “I don’t think it should be for the director of public prosecutions to make decisions about these issues, because assisted dying is happening and Parliament must decide how or if it should be done at all.”

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