Luke Coppen reports on the struggle behind the struggle to pass anti-euthanasia legislation AN NIP has accused a leading pro-life group of undermining her efforts to outlaw euthanasia in NHS hospitals.
Ann Winterton has written to grass-roots campaigners urging them to boycott a mass lobby of Parliament organised by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), calling it "dangerously flawed" and warning that it could wreck the chances of her antieuthanasia Bill.
In a letter dated February
1• 4, the Conservative MP for Congleton, accused SPUC's head, John Smeaton, of reneging on a written undertaking to consult with her
over the timing of the mass lobby.
*Those assurances have not been honoured," Mrs Winterton wrote. "Whilst Mr Smeaton was recently in Rome on Vatican business, SPUC proceeded to announce dates for a mass lobby in April, in the full knowledge that the Sponsor of the Bill considers such an event premature and ill-considered."
She argued that the correct time for a mass lobby would be after the Bill's Report Stage, provisionally set for April 14, and that what was now needed was a "sustained and local lobby" of MPs. "We are surprised that SPUC has chosen to ignore this tactical advice, and that recent mailings to its members discourage them from lobbying at local level.
"The SPUC tactics are dangerously flawed and should be abandoned immediately if we are to have a real chance of seeing the Bill make progress," she wrote.
It is understood that John Smeaton made the written undertaking in a letter dated January 28. Mrs Winterton responded two days later advising Mr Smeaton not to arrange a mass lobby before a meeting of the pro-life umbrella body, the National Pro-Life Coordinating Committee, on February 10. However, in a letter dated February 7, Mr Smeaton told Mrs Winterton that he had decided to call a mass lobby on April 4, 5 and 6.
In a statement on Tuesday, John Smeaton promised to go ahead with the lobby as planned and defended SPUC's involvement in the euthanasia Bill campaign.
He said: "1 am saddened by this memorandum. Moreover I am concerned that public dispute on matters which could and should be settled privately damages the precious unity of the pro-life movement.
"We can confirm to our supporters that SPUC has not failed to honour any assurances given to pro-life Parliamentarians.
"The Parliamentarians' memorandum mentions the need for support for the Bill during its report stage in mid April. Our mass lobby in early April will apply pressure to MPs just before that stage — precisely at the time when it is needed."
Mr Smeaton said the lobby was not exclusively focused on the Bill. but also on other matters.
"In our experience writing letters and visiting MPs at constituency surgeries needs to be augmented at critical times by a concerted effort at national level.
Moreover, since some of our MPs do not hold surgeries, maximum pressure can only be brought to bear by meeting our elected repre sentatives in Westminster." Mr Smeaton defended SPUC record of campaigning on euthanasia and argued that the National Pro-Life Coordinating Committee was not the right body to coordinate a mass lobby.
He said he would be writing to Ann Winterton to request a meeting, "in the hope we can reach agreement and issue a joint statement".
Christopher Whitehouse , Clerk of the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group, said: "The groundswell of support from ordinary people for Mrs Winterton's Bill has been absolutely tremendous and indeed inspiring.
However, opponents of the Bill will be rubbing their hands with glee at the flawed tactics that some people are advocating.
"What is needed tactically is, first, a continued deluge of letters to MPs urging them to support the Bill at its Report Stage and, secondly, a sustained local lobby of MPs to persuade them to support the Bill."
Jack Scarisbrick , National Chairman of Life, commented: "We are distressed at this public way of challenging the activities of another pro-life organisation. This squabbling doesn't do anyone any good."