HC Deb 19 May 1969 vol 784 cc25-7
25. Mr. St. John-Stevas

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he will make a further statement on the working of the Abortion Act.

Mr. Crossman

I have nothing to add at present to what I said on 28th April in reply to my hon. Friend, the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short) and to subsequent supplementary questions.—[Vol. 782, c. 948–51.]

Mr. St. John Stevas

Is it not the truth of the matter that, owing to the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor ignoring the advice offered by the British Medical Association and the Royal College, a minority of doctors are operating a legalised racket in the private sector? Will the right hon. Gentleman seek to amend the Act to prevent these harpies making fortunes by battening on human weakness?

Mr. Crossman

The hon. Gentleman asked me about the truth of the matter. I doubt whether the truth can often have such a strong propagandist tone to it.

Mr. Will Griffiths

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) made a widely publicised statement that thousands of foreign women were flocking to London to use the facilities of the National Health Service made available by the abortion law? Will he confirm that the number of such operations carried out on foreign women coming to this country for that purpose is trivial?

Mr. Crossman

It would be a great exaggeration to say what he said, or indeed what was said in America by an hon. Lady who is Member for one of the Birmingham constituencies, who described London as the abortion capital of the world. This seems to me to do the country no good. I think that I am right in saying that the percentage is considerably under 10 per cent. in regard to foreign women. One has to remember that we cannot forbid foreigners coming to our country and making use of medical services here.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

Could the Minister say whether there is any evidence that the private sector is interpreting the provisions of the Act differently from doctors working in the National Health Service? If there is any such evidence, could he consider making an investigation and, eventually, a statement?

Mr. Crossman

I must be careful about this. The control which the Secretary of State is permitted to have is not control of the doctor, but control of the premises and the equipment. It is not for us to go beyond our job of looking at the premises and the equipment. To go much further than that would invade clinical freedom in a way that the House would not appreciate.