§ 37. Mr. St. John-Stevas
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he will appoint an independent commission to inquire into the working of the Abortion Act.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
In view of the continuing and widespread professional and public anxiety about the working of the Act, the fact that abortions are running at a rate of more than 1,000 a week, and that my amending Bill last Session was only narrowly defeated, is not there a substantial case for an impartial inquiry into the whole issue?
§ Mr. Crossman
I should not have thought so. I think that if one looks at the working of the Act one sees the encouraging fact that the proportion of abortions carried out in National Health Service hospitals has increased steadily during the year from 56 per cent. during the first quarter to 65 per cent. in the third. I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that it was the activities of the private sector about which we were alarmed. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the increased proportion of abortions in National Health Service hospitals.
§ Mr. David Steel
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on resisting the invitation to set up yet another independent committee, on any subject, but will he accept that it might be useful to have a report from his Department at some time in the near future on how it sees the working of the Abortion Act and the difficulties which have arisen in some parts of the country?
§ Mr. Crossman
I think that that would be useful, and in preparation for it I have asked the B.M.A. and the Royal College of Gynaecologists to send a questionnaire to their members, on the basis of which I might be able to issue a report.
§ Mrs. Renée Short
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is general public satisfaction that a larger number of girls and women who require pregnancies to be terminated are now able to get that done in National Health Service hospitals, always bearing in mind that there are still some black spots where gynaecologists in the National Health Service are not prepared to carry out what is now the law of the land? Will he therefore consider setting up special units in those areas to increase the number of terminations carried out under the National Health Service?
§ Mr. Crossman
I must remind my hon. Friend that it is the law of the land that each doctor's conscience must be respected, and that when a doctor does not do an abortion he is not breaking the law. This was the definition of the law. This is what gives rise, inevitably, to the differences between regions. I agree that one of the results is that private nursing homes are being established in the Birmingham region, something which I much regret, but I should regret even more the creation of special clinics in the National Health Service, because this operation, to be done adequately, must be done in a general hospital with full supporting services.