Margo MacDonald slams opponents' bid to stifle suicide Bill debate

MARGO MacDonald today claimed opponents of her assisted dying Bill were determined to kill off the legislation without the issue getting a full airing.

The independent Lothians MSP spoke out after the parliament's business bureau pushed through its plan to set up a special committee to consider the Bill rather than refer it to the health committee.

Ms MacDonald highlighted a newspaper column by Mike Rumbles, the Liberal Democrat member of the bureau, in which he said he hoped there would be a vote on the Bill before the summer recess to stop it continuing until the autumn.

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Ms MacDonald wants people with a terminal illness or degenerative condition whose lives have become intolerable to have the right to ask for assistance in ending their life. The signs are there will not be enough support in the parliament to pass the legislation, but she is keen to see the issues fully explored and debated.

The parliament's health committee was preparing to scrutinise the Bill when the business bureau unexpectedly announced it had decided to set up an ad hoc committee instead.

Ms MacDonald failed in her bid to reverse that decision yesterday when MSPs backed the move by 69 to 48 in a whipped vote.

Afterwards, Ms MacDonald said: "They have undermined the committee system, as is given away by the timetable Mike Rumbles outlined in his column. He wants it done and dusted and out of the way. That's not typical of public opinion. People want to see this whole business properly investigated with seriousness."

In his column last Friday in his local paper, the Deeside Piper, Mr Rumbles made clear his opposition to the Bill. And he said: "I think we should aim to have a vote on this issue by the summer recess. If MSPs do not wish to proceed with this Bill, then it is better not to have it continue on into the autumn."

In an e-mail to fellow business bureau members, Mr Rumbles argued the Bill should not be referred to the health committee because the convener, SNP MSP Christine Grahame, was "a major advocate of Margo's Bill" – although Ms Grahame says she has not made up her mind.

However, Mr Rumbles told MSPs yesterday the only reasons for setting up an ad hoc committee were to do with the "unique" nature of the Bill.

Ms Grahame argued that the business bureau decision was in breach of standing orders which required Bills to be referred to the relevant subject committee.

But presiding officer Alex Fergusson ruled there had been no breach.

Now Ms Grahame plans to raise the issue with the parliament's standards and procedures committee.