The (two-day) week at Westminster: Ottaway keeps busy

ANDREW PELLING summarises the latest, truncated, week’s business for our local Members of Parliament

Richard Ottaway: "well-measured"

A truncated week in Parliament last week, with just two days “in the office” before an elongated Easter break. Richard Ottaway, Gavin Barwell and Carshalton and Wallington’s LibDem Tom Brake had all voted for the House to sit only 21 days in the next 75.

So you’d hope that MPs would make the most of the two days. It was only Croydon South MP Ottaway who really took that opportunity.

Ottaway led an important debate on assisted suicide. Members of Parliament can be very flowery in the language they use about each other; 18th century powder puffs would be happy with the grandiloquent words employed. However, other MPs’ comments about Ottaway’s contribution as being “well-measured” were appropriate on this occasion.

While not all his constituents might agree with Ottaway’s long-standing interest in population control, abortion and assisted dying, Ottaway’s speech was a carefully and sensitively crafted contribution.

Ottaway secured a five-hour debate with the support of the Commons’ back bench committee. As the Commons has not debated the issue for more than 40 years on a substantive motion, the holding of the debate was in itself a testament to the new role of the back bench committee. Ottaway felt it right that our elected representatives should debate the issue, and would prefer MPs, rather than judges, prosecutors and legal precedent, to set the law.

Assisted suicide remains a crime in this country. The Director of Public Prosecutions put together guidelines in 2010 which mean that a prosecution will only take place if the assistance is seen to be “malevolent”. Ottaway suggested that the government should consult on enshrining this approach in law. Ottaway’s view is that such an approach would provide for both compassion and flexibility.

This the government was unhappy about, much preferring not to interfere in the criminal and judicial process. Sometimes, doing nothing, or not taking a position on an issue, is politicians’ favoured course of action, especially when dinners for donors, the NHS bill, the 50 per cent tax rate cut and hot Cornish pasties are flying about.

In the end, the Commons followed the government’s view that codification of the law was inappropriate. Instead, it noted the value of palliative care much in line with some views expressed back in Croydon. For instance, Croydon South resident Antonia Tully is a Tory voter who does not vote for Ottaway. She has had concerns in the past about Ottaway’s approach to population control, and last week she found Ottaway’s desire for enshrinement in law “neither flexible nor compassionate”.

Back in the facile world of party politics, Gavin Barwell, the Croydon Central MP, demonstrated the benefits of his long-standing professional party political career. In discussions of the scandal of the (now former) Conservative treasurer selling access to the Prime Minister in return for £250,000 party donations, Barwell suggested to Cabinet Office Minister Francis “Jerry Can” Maude that the episode damaged all parties, not just the Tories. Deflective politicking at its best – impressive.

Obviously, Labour’s Croydon North MP Malcolm Wicks voted against the Budget. Barwell made fun of Labour’s abstention on the 50p tax rate abolition. “Pay attention at the back” was among his Twitter missives – playground politics rather at variance with the quality discussion on assisted suicide.

MP activity last week (Mar 26-27)

Votes (out of 3)/ Written questions/Speeches/Oral questions & interventions/EDMs

Barwell 3/0/0/1/0
Brake 3/0/0/0/0
Ottaway 3/0/1/0/0
Wicks 1/0/0/0/0

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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