Peers have been told former MP Frank Field is “dying”, as he revealed his support for a bill enabling terminally ill people to legally seek assistance to end their lives.
Lord Field, who lost his seat at the 2019 election after resigning Labour to sit as an independent, said he had recently spent a “short period” in a hospice and was not well enough to attend the upper chamber debate.
His comments were read out in a statement by the crossbench peer Baroness Meacher, who said her bill on legalising assisted dying was an attempt to drag existing legislation “out of the 1960s and into the present day”.
Lady Meacher said the current law turns “compassionate friends and family into criminals” with those who are judged to have assisted someone in taking their life facing the possibility of prosecution and prison sentences.
Reading out a statement on behalf of the former MP of 40 years, Lady Meacher told peers: “Our colleague Lord Field of Birkenhead, who is dying, asked me to read out a short statement.”
Peers heard Lord Field said: “I’ve just spent a short period in a hospice and I’m not well enough to participate in today’s debate. If I had been, I’d have spoken strongly in favour of the second reading.
“I changed my mind on assisting dying when an MP friend dying of cancer wanted to die early before the full horror effects set in, but was denied this opportunity.”
Lord Field, who was lined up for a peerage after losing his seat when Boris Johnson called a snap election in winter 2019, also argued: “A major argument against the bill is unfounded. It is thought by some the culture would change and that people would be pressured into ending their lives.
“The number of assisted deaths in the US and Australia remains very low – under one per cent – and a former Supreme Court judge of Victoria, Australia, about pressures from relatives, said it just hasn’t been an issue.”
In a plea to peers, he added: “I hope the House will today voted for the Assisted Dying Bill.”
Lord Field, who was elected on 10 occasions to serve the constituents of Birkenhead since 1979, served as the minister in the Department for Social Security between 1997 and 1998 – Tony Blair’s first year in No 10.
The pro-Brexit MP resigned the Labour whip in 2018, criticising the leadership for becoming a “force for antisemitism in British politics” and also blamed a “culture of intolerance, nastiness and intimidation” in local parties after siding with the government in critical Brexit votes and losing a vote of no confidence.