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Assisted Dying Bill passes its first hurdle

July 24, 2014 3:58 PM
By Toby Keynes

On Friday, Lord Falconer's Assisted Dying Bill completed its Second Reading in the Lords, its first real challenge.

The House of Lords debated the Bill for 9 hours and 43 minutes, before agreeing without a vote to pass the bill on to a "Committee of the Whole House".

Thanks to Lord Avebury, Sal Brinton, Navnit Dholakia, Earl Glasgow, Antony Lester, Jeremy Purvis and Jenny Tonge, who all spoke in favour of the Bill.

Julia Neuberger also said that she supported the Bill in principle, but that the safeguards against abuse needed to be stronger.

So the Second Reading is now completed. This was a chance for peers to air their views, and there were various comments on the bill's shortcomings and areas where it could be improved, It was also the first real opportunity for opponents to force a vote and defeat the Bill before it went any further.

That didn't happen. The Bill survives, and in due course will be scheduled for a debate at which amendments can be put.

One thing's for sure: the Bill will not be given an easy ride in the Lords. Its opponents are just as passionate as its supporters and they can count on the votes of the Church of England bloc even if its Bishops are not united and the majority of Christians support the right to assisted dying. In this area, as in so many others, the Church of England does not even represent its own members; it does not speak for Lord Avebury (Buddhist), Sal Brinton (Christian) or Navnit Dholakia (Hindu), and it certainly cannot speak for the rest of us.

If the Bill passes its Committee stage and Third Reading in the Lords, it then has to wait until the House of Commons gets around to debating it - which could be never. That's where our party's policy on Assisted Dying is so important: it calls on our ministers to make time for the Bill in the House of Commons, or even to introduce it as a government bill.

As long as the Liberal Democrats remain in government, the Bill has a fighting chance.