According to the Independent on Sunday, the evangelical charity Christian Action, Research and Education (CARE) is leading opposition to the new proposed laws on embryology research. The Independent story continues:
Twelve research assistants sponsored by Care are Commons pass-holders, allowing them unrestricted access to Westminster in the run-up to highly sensitive and potentially close votes on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Bill next month. At least two MPs face questions after they omitted to declare they have Care-sponsored staff.
While charities are allowed to carry out political campaigning, says the story, they "must not give support or funding to a political party, or to a candidate or politician", according to Charity Commission rules.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown last week said he would allow a free vote on some aspects of the legislation, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, after bleating from Catholic MPs who wanted a conscience vote (or should that be a vote according to how their church tells them to vote?).
"As research assistants, CARE's interns can go unaccompanied to nearly all areas of Parliament," says the Independent on Sunday story, "and are allowed free access to documents that are out of bounds to journalists. Their passes also allow them to interact with all MPs in Portcullis House, the main meeting area of Westminster."
CARE is said to receive donations of more than £2 million a year, and spends nearly £70,000 on its intern programme.
The Oxford University geneticist Professor Richard Dawkins is quoted as saying, "If only these restless busybodies would keep their prejudices to themselves, nobody would object. But they can't resist inflicting their ignorant opinions on others."
And the Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris (a National Secular Society honorary associate), who has led support for the Bill, tells the paper, "CARE pushes the boundaries of charitable status. It is a clever initiative [to place interns] because once they have parliamentary experience they have an advantage over others in the employment market to get powerful positions in other organisations. It is clear that patient and medical research charities will have to divert funds and resources into writing to MPs who are undecided [over] the Bill."