So completely does the Government dominate the business of the legislature that the chances of a backbench parliamentarian getting a Bill onto the Statute Book are always remote. But it did look like Lord Saatchi might buck the trend with his Medical Innovation Bill, which would allow doctors to test new drugs on seriously ill patients without the fear of being sued.
The measure was fully debated in the House of Lords, where amendments were made at the Government’s behest to improve the drafting and introduce safeguards. All that remained was for it to go through the House of Commons in a race against time before Parliament is dissolved next month for the election. However, the Lib Dems have now vetoed the legislation and without government time it cannot possibly become law. has a duty not to pass bad law, say critics of the Bill. This, though, is not a bad law. It is intended to be helpful and the opposition to it is hard to understand. If unconvinced MPs — reflecting the views of some patients groups and charities — think the measure is flawed then surely it should be debated in the Commons, which has little enough to do at the moment as it is, and not simply blocked.
Lord Saatchi is understandably aggrieved at the way this has been handled since his motivation was the tragic death of his wife Josephine Hart from ovarian cancer.
The Liberal Democrats’ decision to stop MPs voting on a new law to allow doctors to test treatments on dying patients is “odd and wrong”, Labour has said.
The comments from Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, leave Nick Clegg's party politically isolated over its controversial decision to withdraw support for the Medical Innovation Bill.
Mr Burnham criticised the decision as “strange” and said the LibDems should have entered talks with Labour and the Tories to iron out any concerns.
He told The Daily Telegraph: “I am disappointed that the Liberals have done this – there should at least have been some cross-party talks about this, at the very least.
“The Bill was heavily amended and extra safeguards put in, and I worry a little bit that those who are opposed to it don’t realise that it is actually quite a different Bill now.”
Mr Burnham said that the Bill had offered hope to desperate parents of seriously ill or dying children.
He said: “For parents like them nothing is available and they have no hope, it [the Bill] is about opening up hope.
“It is often parents who struggle to get their voice heard – they often don’t get much parliamentary time or much focus.
“Norman’s move is odd and wrong, because just to give it an airing would help get some focus on the awful position many of these parents find themselves in.”
Margaret Hodge, a senior Labour MP, said the Bill provided “clarity and certainty for patients and doctors at the point of treatment, and enable doctors to innovate confidently”.
Peers also expressed their anger on the floor of the House of Lords on Monday that the legislation had been effectively axed without a vote by MPs.
David Cameron, the Prime Minister who had supported the Bill, said Mr Clegg and the LibDems would have to defend their decision.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The Prime Minister has expressed his support for this – there were changes that were made during its passage through the Lords, with regard to safeguards.
“He has argued for it to go ahead and those who have come to it differently will have to explain their position."
Source: Daily Telegraph 2 March. Christopher Hope, Chief Political correspondent.