Formerly a religious studies teacher and Head of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Merchant Taylors' School, Crosby, John Pugh has lived in Southport since 1974 and joined the Liberal Party in 1977. Pugh served on Sefton Metropolitan Borough Council, representing Birkdale, from 1987 until his election to Parliament. At the time of his election, Pugh was leader of the council (from 1992), and of the Sefton Liberal Democrats.
He has a history of advocating the use of open-source software and open standards
Dr Pugh is a vice-chair of the House of Commons' All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group (as of September 2012).
In May 2008 in the abortion amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill (now Act), John Pugh voted for the abortion time limit to be lowered to 12 weeks. After four separate parliamentary votes on varying time limits, the majority of MPs voted to keep the abortion time limit at 24 weeks, hence no abortion amendments were added to the bill. Only a few months earlier the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report of October 2007 had found no good evidence of change since the limit was set in 1990, and hence no new reason for a reduction. However, it acknowledged that this was only one of many factors to be taken into account when legislating, and did not make any recommendations as to how MPs should vote.
During the debate in Parliament, he defended his views, first arguing that the Committee report concentrated too much on foetal viability, and that consciousness (covered in the report paras 49-63) ought to be considered:
- "Despite profound moral differences, there is some common ground: we all believe that the abortion rate in the UK is far too high; we would all prefer a world in which there was no abortion, nor demand for it; we all recognise that our laws are among the most permissive; and we all qualify the rights that we claim: even the Catholic Church sanctions therapeutic abortion, and even pro-choice charities object to some choices. Where we differ is over the grounds, and consequently the limits, of abortion. I argue that, irrespective of any religious view, the justification for abortion becomes enormously harder from the moment when the foetus becomes conscious or responsive to pain. I also argue that we cannot be completely certain when that moment occurs, but that a precautionary principle should apply, and, where consciousness may exist, we must act as though it does. Frankly, there is no basis for giving anything a right other than that it is conscious, and there is no more significant event in the life of any being than becoming conscious.
- "I note, too, the long and undistinguished history of denying full consciousness, or degrees of sentience, to those whom we choose to exploit, whether it is animals, fellow primates—or slaves. I accept, however, that the area of foetal sentience is a grey one and that the Committee, sadly, does not want to build the law around it or to apply a precautionary principle."
He later turned to viability, although, even accepting his argument it seemed to support at most a small decrease to 22 weeks, not 12 weeks:
- "The moral reality is that someone who aborts a baby at 22 weeks, might be—they cannot know that this is not the case—aborting a baby or foetus that is viable, within the narrow meaning of the legislation, which is indisputably the case, or in any other sense. There are people in our world who are in no way inferior to us in capacity, intelligence and beauty, despite being born at 22 weeks. That is a fact, and it ought to give us cause for reflection.
- "Quantitatively, as the EPICure 2 study shows—the Minister and I saw the draft findings last week—there is a statistically significant increase in the survival rate of premature babies at 24 weeks and an increase, although not a statistically significant one, in respect of 23 weeks. We need to explore further exactly why that is happening. It is false to say that no new evidence is available. EPICure 2 differs markedly from the Trent study; it is more widely based and it shows something different. I freely admit that the EPICure 2 study does not show a decrease in the level of disabilities that, sadly, premature babies endure. However, morality in this case is not a numbers game; the exact percentage surviving is not the big issue. One cannot easily argue on Monday that the percentage mix of a human-animal embryo is of no decisive moral significance, and then on Tuesday argue that percentages matter."
John Pugh also proposed Clause 22 as an amendment to the 2008 bill which would restrict grounds for abortion on mental health grounds. Clause 22 stated that one doctor must be a mental health expert so as to decide whether a woman would face a ‘serious’ risk to her mental health by continuing with an unplanned pregnancy as opposed to a ‘trivial’ risk. The clause came in for particular criticism from Abortion Rights groups:
- "This change would be highly impractical, and lead to further delays for women as a result of an unnecessary requirement to involve mental health experts. It is a proposal which disrespects women’s health rights and implicitly ignores the mental distress that results when a woman forced to bear a child against their will. It is unnecessary, impractical and would result in serious delays and should be opposed".
Pugh's support for reducing abortion rights is consistent with the official position of the Roman Catholic Church of which he is a member.
In March 2010, following the publication of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee's report "Evidence Check 2: Homeopathy", Pugh signed Early Day Motion 908: Science and Technology Committee Report on Homeopathy, which was critical of the report.
In May 2011, John Pugh signed Early Day Motion 1820 which welcomed a campaign to "place homeopathy research on the national agenda as a credible scientific field of inquiry" and called for the Government to facilitate research into homeopathy.
John Pugh has signed a number of Early Day Motions that support the use of herbal medicines. These include EDM 1103: Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive (2005), EDM 2080: Herbal Remedies (2008), and EDM 295: Statutory Registration of Herbalists (2009).
Libel Law Reform
In January 2010, John Pugh signed Early Day Motion 423 calling for a reform of the English libel law. The motion noted that human rights activists, scientists, writers and journalists are currently prevented from publishing, and the public prevented from reading, matters of strong public interest due to the chilling effect of the law.
University Tuition Fees
In December 2010 John Pugh voted against increasing the upper limit on university tuition fees from £3290 per year to £9000 per year. The proposed increase was a response to the Browne Report, published in October of that year, which had proposed a complete removal of any upper limit on fees, together with other measures (largely adopted by the coalition government) to ease the burden of repayment.
In October 2010, John Pugh signed Early Day Motion 767: Science is Vital Campaign. The motion stated that the house "believes that continued investment in research is vital in order to meet the technological and social challenges of the 21st century, and to continue to attract high-tech industries to invest here; further believes that large cuts to science funding are a false economy, due to evidence that research investment fuels economic growth".
In an item posted on his website in June 2012, Dr Pugh attacked an EU directive that would lift the ban on experiments on stray animals. However the law in question required that certain conditions were met and would be unlikely to change experimental practice in the UK (the use of animals of uncertain origin would not be suitable for most research). At the end of the article Pugh indicated that his views went further than this particular law, and he wanted a total ban on animal experimentation:
- "I urge the Government to reject these plans and to take the necessary steps to outlaw animal testing altogether."
Views on Secularism
During a House of Commons debate on religious education on 17 May 2011, defined secularists as people who "get by without using any traditional religious concepts to clarify their life and existence" and accused "an increasing number of angry and aggressive secularists" of trying to "ensure that people are as unreligious as possible".
His summary of argument for voting against bill in February 2013: http://web.johnpughmp.com/docs/summary.pdf
Full argument: http://web.johnpughmp.com/docs/full-argument.pdf
In a Commons debate on history teaching in January 2012, Dr Pugh stated:
- "I am in favour of making children, through the history curriculum, critically sceptical. If it does that, it is no bad thing."
- Merchant Taylors website.
- John Pugh