Government criticised for restricting embryos votes

Former Conservative Health Secretary Kenneth Clarke has criticised the Government for only allowing limited free votes on certain issues in its ‘flagship’ embryos Bill.

Speaking in a Second Reading debate on the Bill, Mr Clarke pointed out that when similar legislation was passed in 1990, all MPs were allowed free votes on all aspects of the proposed law.

He said: “A complete free vote was allowed to every Member of the Government – each and every Minister and not just each and every Back Bencher.”

The leaders of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties have said that their MPs will be allowed similar freedom to vote on the current Bill according to conscience.

Abortion, in accordance with convention, will be subject to a completely free vote for all parties.

However, the Government has made it clear that Labour MPs will only be allowed to vote freely on three other issues – saviour siblings, an IVF child’s need for a father, and animal-human embryos – at Committee Stage. The whole Bill will be subject to a Labour whip when it reaches Third Reading in the Commons, as it was at Second Reading.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson said: “We believe that some elements of this Bill require exactly the same completely free vote for Ministers and others, but that the Bill itself – a flagship Government Bill, in respect of which we are building on a precedent that has gone on for 18 years – should be whipped on Second and Third Reading.”

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