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Marris Bill: reflections on vote

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17th September 2015

Defeat of the Marris Assisted Dying Bill - some reflections on how MPs voted

Marris Bill: reflections on vote

The Assisted Dying (No 2) Bill of Labour MP Rob Marris was the eleventh attempt in twelve years to legalise assisted suicide through British Parliaments.

But its overwhelming defeat on 11 September 2015, by a margin of 212 votes (330 to 118) should settle this matter for a decade.

It is striking (and indeed fitting) that this happened the very day after World Suicide Prevention Day. The Bill now cannot proceed further. It is dead.

There is clearly no chance at all of a similar bill passing through the Commons in the current parliament and even in the event of a Labour victory in 2020, it is virtually inconceivable that the views of MPs will change enough to make it likely in the next parliament either.

MPs dealt the Bill a resounding defeat largely driven by concerns about the risks it posed to vulnerable people who would have felt under pressure to end their lives so as not to be a burden to family, relatives, caregivers or a society short of resources. Six in ten who die under a similar law in Washington State US give this reason.

Overall 74% of MPs present voted against the Bill, a proportion almost identical to the 72% who opposed the last bill of its kind in the House of Commons in 1997. There has been essentially no shift in parliamentary opinion in the last 20 years.

Rob Marris conceded in a BBC interview after the debate that he did not foresee another attempt in the Commons in this parliament and in fact called on the Government to invest more in palliative care, a move which we would strongly support. Patients whose symptoms are properly controlled do not generally want help to end their lives.

You can read the full four hour parliamentary debate on Hansard and see reaction to the result on YouTube along with comments from our Campaign Director Dr Peter Saunders on what it means.

Overall out of 650 MPs, a total of 451 took part in the vote:

  • 117 MPs voted to support the Bill (27 Conservative, 72 Labour, 14 SNP, 3 Lib Dem and 1 Green)
  • 329 voted to oppose it (210 Conservative, 91 Labour, 11 SNP, 3 Lib Dem, 1 UKIP, 8 DUP, 3 SDLP, 1 UUP and 1 Independent)
  • One Labour MP (not grouped with the parties above), Rupa Huq, registered an abstention by voting in both lobbies
  • 4 MPs acted as tellers, with each side served by one Conservative MP and one Labour MP

Here are some reflections on how people voted:

  1. This was a huge (almost unprecedented) turnout considering this was a private member's bill debate on a Friday when most MPs would be expected to be in their local constituencies. It is a measure of how important they considered the issue to be.
  2. Over half of all MPs (330 out of 650) voted 'no', meaning that it would have been defeated even if all non-voting MPs had been present and in favour of the Bill.
  3. More Labour MPs (91) voted against the Bill than supported it (72) and the SNP and Lib Dems were more or less evenly split. This is hugely significant as it signals that assisted suicide is not a simple left/right political issue. In fact, suicide prevention and protection of vulnerable people from exploitation and abuse resonate strongly with politicians on the left.
  4. Most party leaders did not vote. Prime Minister David Cameron (Conservative) was not present. Nor was Tim Farron (Lib Dem), Angus Robertson (SNP) or Jeremy Corbyn (announced as new Labour leader the day after the vote). However, all four had previously signalled their opposition to the Bill.
  5. Former Labour leaders and 'Blairites' generally supported the Bill. These included former Labour leader Ed Miliband and Deputy Leader Harriet Harman (on her last full day and last vote as acting leader of the party).
  6. Medically qualified MPs were generally strongly opposed, notably former cabinet minister Liam Fox (Conservative), Health Select Committee Chair Sarah Woollaston (Conservative) and SNP health spokesperson Philippa Whitford.
  7. Many current cabinet ministers opposed the Bill including Theresa May (Home Secretary), Michael Fallon (Defence), Michael Gove (Lord Chancellor), Iain Duncan Smith (Work and Pensions), Jeremy Hunt (Health), Chris Grayling (Leader of the House of Commons), Justine Greening (International Development), Patrick McLoughlin (Transport), Theresa Villiers (Northern Ireland), Stephen Crabb (Wales), Oliver Letwin (Duchy of Lancaster), David Mundell (Scotland), Robert Halfon (without portfolio), Greg Hands (Treasury), Mark Harper (Chief Whip) and Jeremy Wright (Attorney General).
  8. Other prominent MPs who opposed the Bill included former London Mayor Boris Johnson; former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg; former Attorney General Dominic Grieve; former Conservative cabinet ministers Eric Pickles and Peter Bottomley; and former Labour Cabinet ministers Alan Johnson and David Lammy.
  9. Former Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Keir Starmer, now a Labour MP, voted in favour of the Bill.

© Image copyright of Paul Bratcher and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence

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