HC Deb 14 April 1972 vol 834 cc1580-9

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Third Reading [24th March].

Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

11.7 a.m.

Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)

I shall not detain the House long. I am well aware that this Bill has already occupied a great deal of the time allocated, under the proceedings of the House, to Private Members' Measures, and it was my good fortune, as a comparatively new Member, to secure the premier place to be able to introduce such a Measure this Session. All I would wish to do at this late stage in the passage of the Bill is to say that I have been gratified throughout by the speeches of hon. Members on Second Reading, in Committee and on Report, and also by the very considerable correspondence, which all of us have received and to which so many hon. Members have referred during the debates, on this subject, correspondence which has been almost unanimously in support of this comparatively modest Measure. The Press support has been additionally gratifying in view of the fact that there were a considerable number of misunderstandings about the nature of this Measure when we first introduced it.

I think that the debates in the House and in the Standing Committee and the nature of the Press comment which we have received have alleviated many fears, and, as I shall show in a moment, the assurances we have gained from the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison), Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, in the Committee and the House have been a further source of satisfaction by setting many minds at rest.

Press comment has not been unanimous in support of this Measure, nor, indeed, has it been altogether accurate in reporting. The Daily Telegraph, reporting the debate on Report on 24th March and the Third Reading debate which then began, erroneously reported, I noted, that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith), who is not, alas in his place today, had talked the Bill out. Not for the first time the Daily Telegraph was confused in its reporting of the proceedings of this House. However, I am gratified by those hon. Members who have sustained the Bill so far to its Third Reading, and I am sure they will give it overwhelming support on Third Reading today.

When the then hon. Member for Bebington, Mr. Edwin Brooks, introduced the parent Act—the National Health Service (Family Planning) Act, 1967—he said that he regarded it as the first step towards a comprehensive family planning service within the National Health Service. I regard the Bill, which amends that parent Act, as another small step in that direction. I am extremely glad to see that opinion on all sides in the country is moving rapidly in this direction, including opinion in some quarters where there has been undue scepticism about the need for the rôle of the National Health Service in this area.

Last week in its report "Unplanned Pregnancy" the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists under the distinguished chairmanship of Sir John Peel showed that the Royal College had come to much the same conclusions as the Committee which dealt with the Bill and the House of Commons. Recommendation 16 of that report said: There is a rapidly increasing practice of both male and female sterilisation and a much greater acceptance of this procedure by married couples who have reached the decision that they do not wish to have more children. It recommended strongly that this should be encouraged within the National Health Service.

I am satisfied with the assurances that we have received in Committee and the way in which several Amendments have been accepted by the proponents of the Bill. Some will need further consideration in another place in the light of the reservations which have been expressed by several hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). There are complexities to the operation and in the follow-up procedures and long-term consequences which we need to keep under the closest scrutiny. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have been right to stress this.

I am happy that the Under-Secretary of State, who has been a model of patience and courtesy in Committee and on Report, by the departmental circulars and the working party which will be set up to advise his Department on the implementation of the Bill, has given us a more adequate guarantee that all possible complexities will be fully advised upon and met.

I wish to mention the help and advise I have been given by the Department particularly the Chief Medical Officer, and those who have sustained the Bill in its sometimes controversial passage through the House since 21st January, notably the Conservation Society, the Family Planning Association and most particularly the Birth Control Campaign, which has laboured hard in London and in the constituencies reminding hon. Members of the need for the Bill and has been a great source of support to me throughout.

The hon. Members for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) and Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) have made it clear that they do not like the Bill. They regard it as a self-mutilation Measure and do not wish to see it upon the Statute Book. They are not perhaps experts in self-mutilation, although in Committee they became experts in self-closure. The tenacity of their opposition has been throughout a stimulus to us and I thank them for their constant attendance during the Committee and Report stages and for the way in which throughout in seeking assurances they, like my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool, have made the Bill tighter. I know they object to the whole principle but they would be the first to agree that by getting the assurances we have received on the implementation of the Bill if it becomes law they have tightened up considerably the procedures under which it will be applied.

I also thank those who have come to the House, often from great distances at their own expense, to tell hon. Members and noble Lords about the need for the Bill, particularly Professor Blandy of the London Hospital and Dr. Pauline Jackson who began the first of the family planning clinics specialising in vasectomy in Cardiff. They and, in his sagacity throughout, the Clerk of the Public Bill Office, Mr. Ryle, have helped me on my fumbling and ignorant way through the passage of the Bill. It is not always easy for a new Member of Parliament to steer a passage through the intricacies of the procedure of the House.

I regard it as a special privilege in my second Session here to have the good fortune to steer a Private Member's Bill through the House of Commons. I have been sustained by the overwhelming support of hon. Members on both sides of the House, and I thank them all. I salute and thank those hon. Members who have opposed the Bill and, in the confidence that it has the overwhelming support of the country and the House of Commons, I commend it to the House.

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)

Before the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) sits down, since I have exhausted my right to speak on Third Reading, may I interrogatively ask him whether he realises that we who have most strongly disagreed with the Measure appreciate his courtesy and consideration throughout the proceedings?

11.16 a.m.

Dr. Tom Stuttaford (Norwich, South)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead). Throughout the passage of the Bill he has remained courteous and polite and during the proceedings in Committee when other people were irritable he was a model of tact and charm.

The Bill, even in its amended form, is only an amending Bill and is no great revolutionary step forward, but it tends to reflect the opinion of the country and of Parliament. A recent poll taken throughout the country on contraception and family planning showed that even in those areas which are normally opposed to family planning such as Liverpool and parts of the North-West, 67 per cent. of Conservative voters and 65 per cent. of Socialist voters were in favour of the Pill being made available on the National Health Service. There is a desire for an extension of family planning and the Bill extends family planning in one respect a little further.

We are very grateful to the Under-secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison), for all his trouble. Speaking as he does for the Government, he has reflected not only the feeling of the Government but also the feeling of the populace at large.

We understand opposition to the Bill on religious grounds. We are only too prepared to accept other people's religious views. We are not so ready to accept opposition to the Bill when it goes into the realms of medicine. Many of the medical arguments against the Bill are over-stressed if not inaccurate. The Minister's recommendations to local authorities will have put completely at rest the minds of those who were opposing the Bill on medical grounds. A compromise has been reached on where the operation should take place and, if doctors take into account the Department's views, there should be no trouble from this point of view.

In my welfare session last Saturday morning a woman came to see me from one of the poorest and most dreary districts of Norwich. She had seen on television a programme in which the Bill had been discussed. She took the trouble to come in to the centre of the city to see me and she said "I am the mother of six children. How I wish, when I was having my children 10, 15 or 20 years ago, there had been people to get up in Parliament and push family planning as it is being pushed today and that there had been a Government which would listen to them."

I should be surprised if that woman was a Conservative voter, but she took the trouble to come to see me to offer her best wishes for today. She felt—and she was a woman of little education—that the Bill was made for such people as herself so that their families could be planned, that every child should be a wanted child and that conception should be a matter of choice and not chance.

I should like to thank all the people who have done such tremendous background work on the Bill. I end by once again thanking the hon. Member for Derby, North for the way in which he has handled the Bill and, above all, I should thank the Ministers for their co-operation, kindliness and advice which they have given us and for that which in future they will give to local authorities.

11.20 a.m.

Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)

I join in the congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North(Mr. Whitehead) who has steered the Bill through the House. Such a task for a comparatively new Member means that he goes through a period of considerable political maturation and emerges much wiser than when he began.

My hon. Friend has been extremely courteous throughout all stages of his Bill. The House owes a particular debt to the Under-Secretary of State who by his readiness to listen, his accessibility and his elasticity has shown his awareness that we are here dealing with a Bill which impinges on human relationships and which needs to be approached not with ideology but with delicacy.

I hope that just as my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North has achieved political maturation, some of his co-sponsors will also have achieved a similar state in seeing the Bill through to its final form, a form which all will hope will lead to success.

We have heard views expressed with considerable skill and pertinacity by the hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison), and the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell), to whom the House owes a considerable debt of gratitude. Though they have expressed a minority view, such a view must of course be taken into account. The House is aware that we must have regard for all those who in their various ways pay respect to the sanctity of life and who never flinch from that course. At a time when there can be too little reverence for life, it is important that those spokesmen who place great value on it in all circumstances should be listened to and have their views fully considered in terms of the Bill as it has finally emerged.

The Bill in its present and final form, together with the circulars which will be issued both administratively and medically, will make a contribution to family happiness. It is not a Measure which, if we continue to maintain vigilance, will yield to the aberrant masochism which exists in the community, which can express itself in a form that is eccentric and which can lead to self-abasement and against which we must always protect ourselves.

Furthermore the Bill will act as a pilot experiment until the health services are organised within a matter of years. Those who will now have responsibility for working and co-operating with local authorities in implementing the Bill should be aware that they are on trial and on test. Clearly the experiences which emerge from the working of the Bill will shape the opinion of those of us who will be here when the reorganisation of the health services takes place, when it is hoped that there will be an even more comprehensive family planning service available for the nation. If in any way the Ministry circulars are treated too perfunctorily and are insufficiently spelt out so as to cause ambiguity, there may arise cause for public concern. I hope that this will fall short of scandals such as those which followed the Abortion Act since this could express itself in a backlash against the whole family planning services.

I trust that those who support the Bill in the local authorities will use its provisions with care. I hope that they will use the Bill fully but will have due regard for the needs of screening and the high physical standards which are required. I hope they will be aware of the needs which both the British Medical Association and the Medical Defence Union have said must be constantly taken into account. I am confident that if the Bill is used in this way with all working in co-operation, it will be a worthy successor to the initial family planning legislation in which I had the opportunity of associating with Edwin Brooks. This will mean that both pieces of legislation will have presaged the comprehensive family planning service, which is concerned with the quality of life and which one must always regard as essential.

My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North has carried out an excellent job in bringing the Bill forward and in sponsoring it in the manner in which he has, together with the efforts of the Under-secretary of State. The House must feel that it has done a job that is worthy of this institution.

11.29 a.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)

I regret that I was not present on the previous occasion when the House debated the Third Reading of the Bill. I read the proceedings with great interest and I give the Bill my warm support.

This is a small, modest, voluntary Measure and it is important that nobody should gain the impression that it will compel anybody to have to accept any form of family planning. It merely widens the opportunities. There is clear public sympathy and support for the Measure. I was told by my two predecessors that the Hampstead constituency and one other constituency have the largest postbags. I average 35 to 40 letters a day, and I have had only one letter expressing opposition to the concept of the Bill. If there was any burning opposition to the Bill, it would have been reflected in my mailbag. Subjects of similar public interest such as conservation have excited a good deal more response. For example, on the importation of whale meat there were more than 20 letters. Clearly there is no burning public opposition to this idea.

The Bill will make its small contribution to our population problems, and they are problems which are pressing on us more and more. It is a better Bill than the original. It now contains a Clause which will give us statistics on which we can base future judgments. Until now everything has been based very much on information supplied by this or that organisation, by this or that lobby or by sheer emotionalism. The Bill will give us the basis of statistics on which we can judge when we come to consider future legislation or when we come to consider this matter in any other way.

I am grateful for what has been said on several occasions by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. I regard ministerial circulars as extremely important. I think I can say to the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) that, in the main, local authorities pay great attention to circulars when they are well drafted, and I am certain at least on this occasion that my hon. Friend will make sure that they are circulars which convey very clearly the feelings of this House about what local authorities should do.

It is a bridging Bill which will take us to the period when we have been told there will be fresh comprehensive legislation dealing fully with the National Health Service and embracing this aspect.

I wish to compliment the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) on all he has done to get us this far. It has not been an easy job. He has managed extremely well. I must also thank my hon. Friends the Members for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) and Yarmouth (Mr. Fell). Certainly they have taught me a great deal about the art of improving legislation while fundamentally disagreeing with it. One respects and sympathises fully with their views.

Having read the report of the debate before Easter, I am equally grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) who has given a clear entry into Scottish debates to hon. Members representing English constituencies. I hope that I shall have his protection whenever I decide to intervene in a Scottish debate, even in the Scottish Grand Committee.

I hope that the House will give the Bill its full approval and send it to another place. I hope too that it will not be long before it is the law of the land.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)

The Question is, That the Bill be read the Third time. As many as are of that opinion says "Aye".

Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

To the contrary "No".

Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)


Mr. Biggs-Davison


Mr. Deputy Speaker

I think the "Ayes" have it.

Mr. Biggs-Davison


Mr. Deputy Speaker

The "Ayes" have it.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

No, no.

Mr. Fell

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I thought it was quite clear that there was a loud cry of "No" on each occasion.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I must apologise to the hon. Gentleman. I did not hear it the second time before I collected the voices.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Something must have gone wrong with the amplification system in the Chamber. I should have thought that the shouts of "No" were sufficiently loud.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

They were on the first occasion. But on the second occasion I am bound to say that I did not hear the voices. However, I am prepared to put the Question again in view

Division No. 124.] AYES [11.35 a.m.
Abse, Leo Garrett, W. E. Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.
Albu, Austen Golding, John Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Roper, John
Allen, Scholefield Hattersley, Roy Rost, Peter
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Hill, James (Southampton, Test) Sinclair, Sir George
Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton) Hunt, John Skinner, Dennis
Blenkinsop, Arthur Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford) Spearing, Nigel
Bray, Ronald Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.) Stallard, A. W.
Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N&M) Kaufman, Gerald Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)
Clark, David (Colne Valley) Knox, David Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Cohen, Stanley Langford-Holt, Sir John Stuttaford, Dr. Tom
Concannon, J. D. Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.) Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Coombs, Derek Lipton, Marcus Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. (Dundee, E.)
Corfield, Rt. Hn. Frederick Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Tugendhat, Christopher
Cormack, Patrick MacArthur, Ian Urwin, T. W.
Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony Mackenzie, Gregor Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Cunningham, G. (Islington, S.W.) McLaren, Martin Watkins, David
Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove) Madel, David Wellbeloved, James
Deakins, Eric Marquand, David White, Roger (Gravesend)
Dean, Paul Molloy, William Whitehead, Phillip
de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey Neave, Airey Whitlock, William
Drayson, G. B. Normanton, Tom Winterton, Nicholas
Emery, Peter Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, Sutton)
English, Michael Peel, John TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Farr, John Pendry, Tom Mr. William Hamling and
Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead) Perry, Ernest G. Mr. Dick Leonard.
Forrester, John
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Mr. Anthony Fell and
Mr. John Biggs-Davison.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time and passed.