Hybrid debate – public prefers ethical alternatives

New poll – Gordon Brown risks further unpopularity by pressing ahead with controversial Bill

A new ComRes poll commissioned on behalf of CORE (Comment on Reproductive Ethics) released today shows that almost eight in ten people (77%) believe that the Government risks making itself more unpopular if it forces the controversial Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill through Parliament without allowing more time for people to have a proper say over the moral issues it raises.

The gravity of the Prime Minister’s predicament is further underlined by another poll finding that fewer than four in ten people (38%) trust Gordon Brown to listen to the views of people on controversial issues and not rush through Parliament laws such as the one to allow laboratory experiments on mixed human-animal embryos. The same poll reveals that 70% of people think one of Gordon Brown’s biggest problems is that he doesn’t listen to what the electorate is saying. The findings come less than a fortnight after the PM’s pledge to listen and lead following the local elections and just days after the announcement in Parliament that MPs will be given only three hours to debate the contentious issue of mixed human-animal embryos, as part of their detailed consideration of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. It also coincides with polls that suggest the Conservatives could be on course to take Crewe and Nantwich in the by-election due in 10 days’ time.

The Prime Minister’s decision effectively to curtail debate runs counter to what the new ComRes poll shows people actually want. In fact, eight in ten people (79%) would like to see the Government allow more time to give the public more of a say before it rushes the Bill through parliament.

In a further clear demonstration of how important people feel the controversial issues around laboratory experiments on mixed human-animal embryos are, six in ten people (59%) believe that MPs should be allowed a genuine free vote throughout the Bill’s consideration by Parliament. Yet the PM has decided that Labour MPs are only to be allowed a free vote at Committee Stage and then only on the most contentious issues, which includes human-animal hybrid embryos. Even if amendments are voted through by enough MPs at Committee Stage, the PM’s decision to enforce a three-line whip in the Bill’s later stages means that any MPs who had supported amendments in committee would then be ordered to vote to overturn their own amendments or face dismissal from the government (if a Minister) and a dressing-down from the Chief Whip.

The poll also shows that a full 70% of people think changing the law to allow controversial laboratory experiments on mixed human-animal embryos should only be considered after all uncontroversial methods using adult stem cells have been exhausted.

Josephine Quintavalle of CORE said:

“This new ComRes poll shows that people are growing increasingly angry that Gordon Brown is forcing this hugely contentious Bill through parliament at breakneck speed without listening to them and his own MPs. The issues it raises, such as those around human-animal embryos, deserve extensive debate. People want debate. And yet Gordon Brown seems determined to deny them and his own MPs anything but the most deliberately restricted opportunities to have that debate.

I don’t understand why, only days before a by-election, Gordon Brown would want to risk courting greater unpopularity in this way. The ComRes poll findings couldn’t be clearer: almost eight in ten people (77%) believe that the Government risks making itself more unpopular by letting the controversial Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill go through Parliament without allowing more time for people to have a proper say over the moral issues it raises. Surely, this is the moment for him to show he is keeping his pledge to listen and to lead. The clear message is that people (79%) want him to allow more time for MPs to debate the highly contentious issues around mixed human-animal embryos. They (59%) also want him to give Labour MPs a free vote at every stage of this Bill. I really wonder what people will think of his pledge to listen if he carries on as planned and effectively ignores what the public clearly wants by allowing MPs only three hours to discuss the issues and then only one opportunity for a free vote.”

She added:

“The findings of this ComRes poll demonstrate that people feel the Prime Minister faces a real challenge not just in persuading voters that he’s listening, but also that they can actually trust him to listen. The poll shows that right now only 38% trust him to listen to them on controversial issues and not rush the Bill though Parliament. A full 70% of people believe changing the law to allow controversial laboratory experiments on mixed human-animal embryos should only be considered after all uncontroversial methods using adult stem cells have been exhausted. Yet my concern is that this Bill is being steamrollered through in a way that completely fails to take that into account and actually undermines people’s confidence in parliamentary democracy. I think that’s really worrying given how strongly people feel about the issues at stake. I therefore call on the Prime Minister to use these poll findings as an opportunity to reassure people that he is listening by allowing MPs more time to debate the Bill and a free vote at every stage.”

Key findings:

70% of people believe ‘one of Gordon Brown’s biggest problems is that he doesn’t listen to what the electorate are saying’
59% DISAGREE that ‘Gordon Brown and the Labour Government are interested in the views of people like me’
56% do not trust ‘Gordon Brown and the Labour Government to listen to the views of people on controversial issues and not to rush through Parliament laws such as the one to allow laboratory experiments on mixed human-animal embryos’
59% AGREE that ‘controversial issues such as Gordon Brown’s proposed law to allow laboratory experiments on mixed human-animal embryos are so important that MPs should be allowed a genuine free vote throughout the proposed law’s consideration by Parliament’
70% AGREE that ‘changing the law to allow controversial laboratory experiments on mixed human-animal embryos should only be considered after all uncontroversial methods using adult stem cells have been exhausted’
79% AGREE the Government ‘should allow more time to give he public more of say before it rushes through Parliament its proposed law to allow laboratory experiments on mixed human-animal embryos’

Note for editor

ComRes telephoned a random sample of 1018 GB adults on 7th and 8th May 2008. Data were weighted to be representative of all adults. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. See www.comres.co.uk

For all enquiries, please contact Josephine Quintavalle at CORE on 07968 167323.
For enquiries relating to the poll contact Andrew Hawkins at ComRes on 07971 209995

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