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Conscience vote puts heat on MPs

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 8/06/2017 Peter Wilson, Political Writer

MPs don't like conscience votes at the best of times, and the run up to an election is the worst of times.

The last one was gay marriage, and now it's voluntary euthanasia.

Whichever way an MP votes, they're going to seriously upset some of their supporters who have firmly-held convictions.

Some MPs have their own firmly-held convictions and don't sit on the fence.

Prime Minister Bill English is one of them.

He will vote against David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill.

So will Gerry Brownlee and Simon O'Connor, chairman of the Health Select Committee.

National's Chris Bishop will support the bill, and several others have said they'll vote for it on its first reading so it goes to a select committee for public submissions.

Of the 119 MPs, those prepared to say where they stand are a small minority.

Various reasons have been put forward by those who aren't, the most common being:

They haven't had time to read the bill - although it's been around for two years.

They need time to think about it.

They're concerned about safeguards surrounding decisions.

They want to know what their constituents think about it.

Seymour crunched the numbers six months ago. He says there were 40 in favour, 27 opposed and about 50 who hadn't made up their minds or wouldn't tell him.

But it won't be this parliament that decides whether the bill becomes law.

Assuming the bill gets through its first reading, the process of getting it to a third reading, its final stage, could take at least a year from now.

And there's no assurance the bill will have its first reading before the September 23 election, which would suit most MPs very well.

Seymour is acutely aware of this, and suspects delaying tactics could be employed.

The bill will go on parliament's order paper, its agenda, for a first reading.

Members' bills are debated every second Wednesday parliament sits. There are only three members' days left before parliament is dissolved for the election.

Seymour figures that, at best, his bill will reach the top of the order paper on the last members' day.

Unless he is thwarted, and he thinks he might be.

"I suspect you will find MPs will find enormous passion for enormously important bills they've previously never heard of," he says.

The safest way for an MP to vote is to support the bill on its first reading without guaranteeing their vote on its final stages.

Seymour's bill is sure to be changed by a select committee, and it's valid for an MP to say they want to see it in its final shape before they make a decision on whether it should become law.

That is what's very likely to happen to the second bill drawn from the ballot on Thursday - Julie Anne Genter's attempt to legalise cannabis for sick and dying New Zealanders.

The conditions under which that could or should happen, and the means of access, will be something a select committee will have to work on.

Genter's bill really does need public and expert submissions. MPs can safely vote for it on its first reading without incurring too much wrath.

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