The Crossbench peer, who represented Birkenhead for 40 years, revealed he has spent time in a hospice as he intervened in a House of Lords debate
Image: Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)
Former MP Frank Field has backed a law that would allow assisted dying as it was announced he is terminally ill.
The 79-year-old represented Birkenhead for Labour for almost 40 years, before forming his own party and losing the seat in the 2019 election.
He was later made a Crossbench peer in the House of Lords, which is today debating a Bill that will enable terminally ill adults to legally seek assistance to end their lives.
Peers heard Lord Field – who campaigned against bereavement benefit cuts as chairman of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee – was unable to attend today’s debate, having spent time recently in a hospice.
Crossbench peer Baroness Meacher, who is leading the Bill, said: “Our colleague Lord Field of Birkenhead, who is dying, asked me to read out a short statement.”
The statement from Lord Field said: “I’ve just spent a period in a hospice and I’m not well enough to participate in today’s debate. If I had been, I would have spoken strongly in favour of the second reading [of the Bill].
“I changed my mind on assisted dying when an MP friend was dying of cancer and wanted to die early, before the full horror effects set in, but was denied this opportunity.
“A major argument against the Bill is unfounded. It is thought by some the culture would change and people would be pressured into ending their lives.
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“The numbers of assisted deaths in the US and Australia remains very low, under 1%, and a former Supreme Court judge in Victoria, Australia, about pressure from relatives, said: ’It just hasn’t been an issue’. I hope the House will today vote for the Assisted Dying Bill.”
Lord Field was MP for Birkenhead on Merseyside from 1979 to 2019, making him one of the longest-serving MPs in the Commons.
Born to a Tory labourer and teaching assistant during the Second World War, he was briefly a member of the Young Conservatives before joining Labour for most of his life.
He first stood unsuccessfully for Parliament in South Buckinghamshire in 1966 when he was 23.
He did not make another run for Parliament for 13 years, 10 of which he spent as director of the Child Poverty Action Group.
After being elected in 1979 Lord Field became Michael Foot’s education spokesman and claimed he “led the campaign” against the Trotskyist group Militant on Merseyside.
Jason Roberts photography)
He was briefly a welfare reform minister under Tony Blair in 1997 with the job of “thinking the unthinkable”. But he quit after barely a year in office over falling out with the PM.
Later he advised the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition on welfare reform. leading an independent review into poverty in 2010.
From 2015 he chaired the Work and Pensions Committee, where he became a leading critic of Tory benefit cuts, disability tests and errors in Universal Credit.
He also slammed “a culture of intolerance, nastiness and intimidation” among local members, weeks after he lost a no confidence vote by local members.
Lord Field refused to call a by-election to allow Labour to oust him, instead staying as an Independent MP and standing for his own Birkenhead Social Justice Party.
He won 7,285, coming second behind Labour’s Mick Whitley who won 24,990 votes.
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The Assisted Dying Bill, tabled by Baroness Meacher, proposes that only terminally ill patients with full mental capacity, and are not expected to live more than six months would be eligible to apply for an assisted death.
Campaigners argue that a change in the law would give those at the end of their lives greater control over how and when they die.
Heartbroken Tory peer Michael Forsyth admitted he will back the bill after his dying father changed his mind.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, told BBC Radio 4: “Just before he died I went to see him and said ‘I’m so sorry, dad, you’re in this position’, and he completely took me aback by saying ‘well, you’re to blame, because you and others have consistently voted against the right to die, I would like to be relieved of this, they can’t relieve the pain and I am in this position because of folk like you.”
However opponents, including many religious leaders, warned that it could leave vulnerable people exposed to unwanted pressure.
The Archbishop, the Most Rev Justin Welby, told the BBC that although the safeguards in the legislation were stronger than in previous attempts to change the law, they still did not go far enough. “What we want is assisted living, not assisted dying.
“There is no difference between us in compassion.”
The topic is being debated today in Parliament for the first time in six years. Previous attempts to introduce similar laws have all been defeated.
Dame Prue Leith has backed the bill and slammed critics of “scaremongering” families. Writing in the Telegraph, she said: “Opponents to the Bill fear that grasping children will coerce dying parents to get their doctors to see them off so they can inherit. If someone is going to die within six months anyway, which must be the case to qualify for assistance to die, why would anyone risk prosecution to get the money a few months earlier?”
This is despite her son, Tory MP Danny Kruger campaigning against the change in law. Mr Kruger set up the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Dying Well.
Mr Johnson is not expected to back the plans and it is unlikely to become law without government support.