§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.8 a.m.
§ Mr. James White (Glasgow, Pollok)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I hope that the House will allow me to leave the explanation of the clauses and subsections to my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), who has given me great help and assistance, together with the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine).
The Bill is an amending measure to the principal Act, the Abortion Act 1967, which was sponsored by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel). I do not want to waste the time of the House by going through the small print, because my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool, with his legal knowledge, will do a much better job.
It is fair to state at the outset that had I been a Member of this House in 1967 I would have voted for the original Abortion Bill. I take no hard line on abortion. However, I would have been in that Lobby to get that legislation put on the statute book. Therefore, I want to make it clear that, although there has been some talk about what is intended, I take no hard line on abortion. Until such time as the "New Jerusalem" comes along with no bad housing, no poverty and no alcoholic husbands, I insist that abortion must be made available for women with problems.
I first became aware of the problems of the previous Act in the 1970 election, when, although a Liberal Member had introduced it, the backlash fell upon the Labour Government. The Labour Government have some responsibility for the Act because of their generosity in giving time for it to be debated. What concerns most people is the abuses which have come about because of the Act. This is now a public scandal, especially in Scotland. Since the House was responsible for putting through the Act, it is its duty to see exactly how it is working.
1758 The Act has been working now for seven or eight years and public opinion demands that we look at it again. I recognise that many hon. Members will think that I am not going far enough, and that many people with strong religious beliefs want the Act repealed altogether. I and my fellow sponsors could not agree to that. However, on the other side of the coin, many people want abortion on demand. We hear the shrill voice of The Guardian demanding this, but many people do not want it. We have tried to steer a middle course between the two contending lobbies and to produce a consensus Bill. We can do a great deal to assuage public concern and perhaps end this persistent controversy. I wish to contain it, not to inflame it.
The abuses which cause so much public concern operate largely in the private sector. Most of the profound misgivings in the wider community, whatever view might be held about abortion, relate to late abortions. We must also consider the position of the live foetus or potentially live foetus and how it is disposed of, whether for research or even perhaps for commercial purposes.
The base of commercial operators is the growing number of foreign women who are lured into Britain in the knowledge that for cash a group of doctors will perform illegal abortions on request, totally ignoring the criteria of the Act. I must stress this foreign traffic, not because I am anti-German, anti-French or anti-Italian, but because of one of the comments in the Lane Report. I disagree with a good deal of the report, but I agree with it when it says:It would undoubtedly be more difficult, if not impossible, to ensure their implementation in respect of non-resident women".The reference there is to counselling, after-care and making sure that these women get the attention they should have.
We are not talking here about a marginal number of cases from abroad. The figures show that in 1971 the notified number of foreign women coming here was 30,000; in 1972 it was 49,000 and in 1973 it was 56,000. The House is too sophisticated, I think, to accept those figures. The Lane Committee had no doubt that they were incorrect. In paragraph 126, it said:Because we are convinced that within the private sector some abortions are performed 1759 without any certificate being completed or without notification being given, we recommend that expert advice be taken as to the improvement of forms of certification and notification and as to the recording of these, so that an efficient check upon them may be made.The Minister will no doubt give his views on that important matter, but there is general agreement that the figures for abortions for non-residents represent a gross understatement.
Investigations by the Metropolitan Police, reported in 1973, suggest that these figures represent only half the number of abortions carried out. They believe that the traffic in these clinics is worth £10 million a year. Many of these women are treated worse than cattle. Nine or 10 days ago, when the House debated the slaughter of animals, there was great emotion. I am delighted to see that so many hon. Members have stayed today for this important Bill.
We are not concerned only with foreign women. We want a tighter control on these clinics, to ensure that skilled and ethical medical staff work in them. That is why the Bill would provide for a precondition of approval of clinics by the Secretary of State, with an adviser who was or had been a consultant approved by the Secretary of State and with experience in the National Health Service. This would ensure that someone at a clinic had direct responsibility for supervising clinical procedures and for the appointment of doctors.
Women who go into these clinics are entitled to feel sure that they are properly conducted medically and surgically and that they are within the law. Women are entitled to proper privacy, and to feel sure that they have had a genuine pregnancy test; society is entitled to be satisfied that the clinics are charging proper rates, keeping proper accounts and paying tax. The Bill seeks to ensure that the survelliance and conduct of these private clinics accords with the standards I have mentioned.
Apart from the clinics themselves, the Bill seeks to deal with parasitic pregnancy advising and referral bureaux which have acted as agents for existing private clinics. Many are run by touting taxi drivers, former taxi drivers or spurious charities.
§ Mr. White
Yes, touts. There is evidence that all but two are run by non-medical people. The police have said that criminal gangs are suspected of having an interest. Hijacking by touts and package deals for terminations have been practised by many of these agencies. The Bill does not attempt to abolish them. What it does is make certain that only doctors and bureaux approved by the Secretary of State will be permitted to give advice for payment and it lays down the proper criteria which would be required before approval could be given.
It is, however, useless to seek to ensure the security of women, whether at private clinics or at bureaux, unless we alter the law to overcome the serious enforcement difficulties which at present exist and ensure that the will of the House operates properly in the private sector. There is no hidden intention behind the Bill. The pro-abortion lobby has been talking about clauses of which it is suspicious. I and my fellow sponsors give our word to the House that no tricks are being played. We want to make the 1967 Act work as it was intended to work.
The other overriding aim of the Bill is to end the situation in which it is possible for unborn children to be slain even though they have reached a stage at which modern techniques might enable them to survive. The whole of Scotland was deeply shocked on 19th and 20th January 1969 when we were about to burn a live baby. I can repeat what a jury in the Glasgow High Court unanimously recommended—that in all cases, an infant approaching or of viable age must be subject to resuscitation, and secondly that legislation should be introduced prohibiting abortion when the foetus is approaching or has reached a state of viability. This matter caused great abhorrence in Scotland.
The House will readily agree with me that there should be no abortion after a gestation period of 20 weeks. We have taken this advice from Sir John Peel's report. He presided over a group of distinguished scientists and lawyers who were directing their attention to public concern about experiments on the 1761 foetus or foetus material. The other recommendations made by the Peel Committee we have placed in statutory form in Part III of the Bill, as we believe that it will be the general wish that such sensitive experiments should be carried out under a proper code of conduct.
I recognise that a Bill of this kind put forward by a Private Member is bound to be ambitious, perhaps even over-ambitious. I know, too, that it is important on this occasion that we get amending legislation. If, therefore, I receive what I regard as an appropriate undertaking when the Minister speaks later, it is right that I should tell the House immediately that I have it in mind, at a later stage in the debate, to ask the leave of the House to withdraw the Bill. I am quite sure that the House will agree to this with the promises coming from the Government.
§ Mr. Paul Dean (Somerset, North)
I want to make a friendly intervention, because I support the principles of the hon. Gentleman's Bill. Equally, I feel that there would be considerable advantages in a Select Committee looking at the Bill. Evidence could be given by the interests on either side. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has had an assurance from the Government that if the House accepts a Select Committee, it will not be a device for postponement. Has the hon. Gentleman got a commitment from the Government that, if the House accepts a Select Committee, legislation will be brought forward speedily following the deliberations of that Select Committee, which would help the House—and it would certainly help me—in deciding on its attitude to the Bill?
§ Mr. White
I expect that when the Minister has made his remarks he will have satisfied the whole House. I do not think anyone present today will be under any illusion that there is not very strong feeling on this matter. I am delighted that the Government have offered to set up a Select Committee. The time is long overdue when this country must take another look at the matter. There is an awful lot of talk, scandal and abhorrence about the way in which the Act has been carried out.
I must make it crystal clear, however, that I want my hon. Friend the Minister 1762 to give an assurance that if the Select Committee does not report by the end of this Session, that Select Committee will be carried forward into the next Session. I am sure that the Government will be prepared to give us these assurances.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)
The hon. Gentleman has rather disappointed some of us with his last remarks. If there is to be a Select Committee—I do not oppose that in principle; I am totally with the hon. Gentleman—it must be a Select Committee which meets and conducts its business with considerable dispatch, because neither the House nor the country will tolerate this situation persisting much longer.
§ Mr. White
I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman. I am sure we shall find the Government very accommodating.
The Government have already made some pronouncements on this matter, such as licences for only three months instead of a year. My hon. Friend the Minister remarked two or three weeks ago that the Government were not happy about how the Abortion Act was working out.
I do not want to take any more time as many hon. Members want to speak. I am very grateful to my fellow sponsors of the Bill. I am more obliged than I can tell to my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool and the hon. Member for Essex, South-East. I hope today that we shall get what we are after—a close look at the working of the Abortion Act 1967.
§ Mr. Simon Mahon (Bootle)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In view of what has been said by the sponsor of the Bill—I am a co-sponsor and I have great sympathy with most of what my hon. Friend has said—would it be in order now, following the intervention of the Minister, that we should be able to discuss the Select Committee motion with the motion for Second Reading? Both motions seem to be inextricably tied up.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
I am afraid that it would not be in order to follow that course.
I was about to say, before the point of order, that it will not surprise hon. Members to learn that more than 30 Members 1763 wish to take part in the debate. The debate could continue until 4 o'clock. Nevertheless, it will require a great deal of discipline and restraint on the part of hon. Members if we are to accommodate all those who wish to take part.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not believe you were in the Chair earlier in our proceedings, when I had from the Chair—
§ Mr. Onslow
While the imagination of the House boggles at that thought, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I, without disrespect, go on to say that you would not, therefore, have heard what the Minister said in response to my proposition that if we were not able to have a discussion on the principle or the relevance of the fourth motion on the Order Paper, the whole debate would tend to be rather fortuitous and unconstructive. In response to that, the Minister said that it was his intention to intervene to make a statement in elaboration of the statement made yesterday by the Leader of the House and the thinking underlying the Government's motion.
I hope very much, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you would not rule the Minister out of order if he sought to do that at an early stage in the debate, particularly in view of the importance we attach to this matter in the light of the remarks of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White).
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I apologise to the House. I misunderstood the nature of the point of order. I understood that the hon. Gentleman wanted to dispose of something which would not strictly be in order. But I have no intention of ruling out discussion of both motions.
§ 11.27 a.m.
§ Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)
Whatever the different views may be on the merits of the Bill there will be almost unanimity in the House that we should be grateful to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White), because he has enabled the House at long last to have a full debate 1764 on the working of the Abortion Act 1967. For that reason, and following the spirit in which the hon. Gentleman introduced the Bill and the indication he has given that, subject to what the Minister says, he intends to withdraw it, I do not propose to go through the clauses and criticise the Bill in detail. I hope that the House will allow me a certain amount of indulgence, because I would rather review the working of the Act, having been its original sponsor.
I should like to think, Mr. Deputy Speaker—you may not personally agree—that I have established a reputation for making short speeches and rarely speak for more than 10 minutes. However, I may transgress a little today as there is much to be said on this subject.
First, we should try to get the facts of the situation since 1967 clearly established in our minds. I want to remind the House that one of the main reasons why Parliament passed the 1967 Act was that we were determined as a House to stamp out from this country the scourge of criminal abortion. We can look back over the official figures of deaths of women in this country from abortion. We can see that they have been falling steadily from the high point of 62 in 1960, before the Act, to the very small figure of 12 deaths last year from abortion, of which only six were from criminal abortion.
There is ample evidence from the medical profession that criminal abortion has been virtually eliminated from Britain. Some Members who met members of the medical profession in a room downstairs earlier this week were told of a renal dialysis unit which was set up in a hospital in London just before the 1967 Act specially to deal with the after-effects on women who had taken drugs in an attempt to abort themselves. Happily, that unit is now closed through lack of patients.
We were told of the eye consultant who finds that in his practice he no longer has to deal with the effects on women who have either partially lost or in some cases wholly lost their sight through overdoses of quinine. Such cases no longer come to him. We were told by a general practitioner in North London that in the course of his ordinary practice he used to have four or five patients a year who were tragic cases of sterility or were 1765 suffering from severe physical damage as a result of criminal abortion. He no longer has such cases.
The official Home Office records show that there has been a drastic reduction in the number of criminal prosecutions each year for abortion offences. All of this is on the good side. It is necessary for the House to take a balanced view of the good and the bad in the working of the 1967 Act.
§ Mr. David Steel
I shall give way to the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Jones) because of the great interest he has taken in this matter. However, I point out that I apologised in advance for the great amount I have to say. If I give way a lot, I am afraid I shall make a very lengthy speech.
§ Mr. Steel
I have not any figures or statistics on that subject. No doubt the hon. Member will produce them later.
We should note also the facts on what is the actual physical risk of abortion to women. In 1973 the overall death rate from legal abortion—abortion carried out under the legislation passed by the House—was 4 per 100,000, whereas the maternal mortality in the same year was 11 per 100.000. We must keep these figures in mind when looking at the overall picture following the passage of the 1967 Act.
No doubt there will be many references to the report of the Lane Committee. I quote paragraph 605 of the report:For the reasons we have outlined above, and which are much more fully dealt with in the body of the Report, we are unanimous in supporting the Act and its provisions. We have no doubt that the gains facilitated by the Act have much outweighed any disadvantages for which it has been criticised. The problems which we have identified in its working, and they are admittedly considerable, are problems for which solutions should be sought by administrative and professional action, and by better education of the public. They are not, we believe, indications that the grounds set out in the Act should be amended in a restrictive way. To do so when the number of unwanted pregnancies is increasing and 1766 before comprehensive services are available to all who need them would be to increase the sum of human suffering and ill-health, and probably to drive more women to seek the squalid and dangerous help of the back-street abortionist.Again, we must not overlook that fundamental conclusion of the Lane Committee when we are considering the criticisms which we must make, and I shall come on to make them, of how the Act has been working.
Secondly, it is right that we should look at the level of abortion since the passage of the Act. It is true that as facilities have been improving, both in the National Health Service and among particularly the charitable organisations operating in the private sector, the abortion figures in Britain since 1968 have been on the increase. However, there have been those in the House who in times past have gone on forecasting that these figures are bound to go on increasing all the time and the time will shortly come when we have a quarter of a million abortions a year.
It must, therefore, be with some relief that the House notes that in 1974 we saw the first downturn in the number of abortions under the Act—163,000, a decrease of 3,000—in England and Wales over the year before and that in Scotland in two years running the numbers of abortions have decreased.
It is not only the number of abortions that matters. The House is entitled to look at the figure of abortions in Britain compared with the figures in other countries.
§ Mr. Dempsey
It is a brief point. The hon. Member is giving us very interesting figures about the decrease in the number of abortions over the past few years. Can he give us any figure for the net increase in abortions since the passing of the Act?
§ Mr. Steel
If the hon. Gentleman is asking me to tell the House what was the figure before 1967, he knows as well as I do that no such figures were available. Some people estimate that 100,000 abortions might have been going on in this country; some say 200,000—nobody really knows. It must therefore be an estimate. What we know is that the figure of maternal deaths from abortion has substantially decreased since the operation of the Act and, therefore, the criminal section must have decreased.
I was coming on to say that the House must look at the law in Britain in relation to the law in other countries. The standard method of measurement for this is the number of abortions as a ratio of the number of live births. One then gets a figure for the rate of abortion in Britain compared with the rate of abortion in some other countries.
The latest year for which I have comparative figures—they are taken from an American publication—is 1972, so I concede that the figures may be two years out of date and there may be some slight variation since. In 1972 the figure of abortions in England and Wales was 154 per 1,000 live births. In Norway in the same year it was 186 per 1,000 live births. In Finland it was 337 per 1,000 live births. In Japan it was 375. In California it was 369. In New York it was 650.
If one goes behind the Iron Curtain to countries where there is no proper family planning provision, one finds that in Bulgaria there were 985 abortions per 1,000 live births and in Hungary the extraordinary figure of 1,228 abortions per 1,000 live births. In other words, the rate of abortion there was higher than the number of live births.
Therefore, the point I am making is that for people to use the very simple and attractive slogan "London, the abortion capital of the world" is totally at variance with the facts.
§ Mr. Carol Mather (Esher)
I think that the hon. Gentleman gave the figures for this country and for Finland and other countries as well and also for New York. I do not think he gave the figure for London. Can he give the figure for London?
§ Mr. Steel
I am sorry. The figure that I have is for England and Wales. I have a figure for Scotland, but I do not have a separate figure offhand for London, though I believe that a figure is available and is in a table that I have seen published. However, I do not have that figure handy.
I am simply arguing that any references that we hear to the high rate of abortion in Britain must be set against the overall international picture and then the picture painted of London will be seen not to be correct.
Then the House is entitled to look at what is happening to the state of the abortion law in other parts of the world since we ourselves made changes. I should like to give the House a few examples. In Austria a new abortion law came into force on 1st January of this year. It permits legal abortion at the request of the patient in the first three months of pregnancy. In Denmark since 1973 legal abortion has been available at the request of the patient during the first three months of pregnancy and thereafter on medical indications. In France a new law was approved by the Senate in December and abortion will be available at the request of the patient during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, provided that she has consulted a doctor and a social worker.
In West Germany a new law has just been passed by the Parliament and is now before the Constitutional Court. It makes abortion available at the request of the patient during the first three months of pregnancy. Sweden further liberalised its law last year. Abortion is available at the request of the patient up to 18 weeks and thereafter on medical indications. In New York abortion is available on request up to 24 weeks. In the Netherlands the existing law is now interpreted to permit abortion at the request of the patient up to 12 weeks.
Already there are developments in other countries. In Norway the state of the law is being considered. Norway's existing law is similar to ours and a new Bill is being introduced to make abortion available on request up to three months. In Belgium the Government have agreed in principle to liberalise the abortion law, but the terms of the new Bill have not yet been published. In Italy there is great 1769 controversy over a Bill which was tabled last month, and there is considerable controversy within that country.
While on the subject of Italy, I think it right to draw attention to a report in The Guardian from its correspondent there saying that in Italy it is estimated that, because 2,000 women a year die as a result of illegal abortion, abortion being totally illegal in Italy, there must be something like 2 million criminal abortions a year in that country. Looking round the world in abortion terms, therefore, I think one can say that we are a less hypocritical society with our existing abortion law than one whose law pretends that abortion does not exist but which allows a scandal of that kind to go on.
§ Mr. Bruce Grocott (Lichfield and Tamworth)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the theme of the evidence coming from other countries is very much in terms of a limitation period of 12 weeks or thereabouts as the maximum and that this is one of the crucial points in the Bill before us today, being very different from the law at present?
§ Mr. Steel
I ask the hon. Gentleman to forgive me for not giving way. He is a sponsor of the Bill, and I am sure that he will have an opportunity to catch the eye of the Chair later. I am simply arguing that the House can be justifiably proud of the effects of the 1967 Act in total, whatever criticisms one has of its working in various particulars.
I turn now to the abuses of the 1967 Act, and again I quote from the Lane Report, this time from paragraph 443:Much of the adverse criticism is justified: in consequence of the Abortion Act a situation has arisen in which a very small number, of perhaps about 20 or 30 members, of the medical profession and those associated with them have brought considerable reproach on this country, both at home and abroad.I agree with that conclusion. It was never the intention of the House when we passed the Act that we should have a situation in which commercial referral agencies would establish themselves in association with private clinics, and in which doctors on a moneymaking basis could advertise abroad, bringing people here and paying back-handers to taxi 1770 drivers, in order to make as much money as possible. Whatever varying views may be held in the House on the abortion issue itself, this is a trade which is repulsive and repugnant to public opinion, and it is certainly far from Parliament's intention in the 1967 Act.
§ Mr. Steel
Again, I ask the hon. Gentleman to forgive me. I know that he will try to catch the eye of the Chair later.
While it is the responsibility of the House to decide the ethical basis on which the law should rest, in my view it is the responsibility of the Government, once Parliament decides the ethical basis of the law, to ensure that the law is administered fairly and competently and without abuse.
I think that one can sum up the basic ethical attitude to abortion both in the House and among the public generally in this way. There are, broadly, three views. There are those who equate abortion virtually with murder, who do not accept that abortion should be allowed under the law except to save the life of the woman. That is a view held by a number of hon. Members, and it is reflected in much of the correspondence which we all receive. Next, there is the extreme opposite view which says—particularly in International Women's Year—that abortion should not be a matter controlled or decided by the medical profession but that, up to a certain stage of pregnancy, it should be the right of the individual woman to decide for herself. That also is a view held by some hon. Members and by some people outside.
The view which was embodied in the 1967 Act, however, was neither of those. It was simply the view—it is my personal view too—that abortion is something which should be judged in each individual case, being decided according to the facts in each individual case.
If that remains the view of the House and we wish to project it forward in our law, this is an issue on which the Government should remain neutral. But once the House has affirmed that as its wish and intention, the Government cannot, I believe, remain neutral on the administration of the law.
I have always held that view, and in 1969 I went to see the then Secretary 1771 of State for Social Services, the late Dick Crossman, to discuss the abuses of the Act. I suppose that I might as well get my version of the meeting on record before it appears elsewhere. The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), who was his PPS at the time, was present at the meeting and will, no doubt, correct me if I am wrong.
I put it to Dick Crossman that when the Act was passed in 1967 one of its provisions was that the Minister would approve private clinics for the time being. That was the phrase in the Act. I argued with him that the intention of Parliament was that the Minister should have the right to withdraw approval from any place in respect of which he had reason to suspect that it was being operated against public or parliamentary opinion. He did not have to have any standard of proof. He did not have to have any particular reasons stated. He had total power under the 1967 Act.
Dick Crossman argued that he was advised to the contrary. I think that "advised" is the important expression, in view of what he had had to say about civil servants. He was, he said, advised to the contrary, and his powers were limited to matters such as making sure that the sheets were changed regularly, that there was the right number of beds per room and the like.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
Dick Crossman is dead, and we are alive. I must remind the hon. Gentleman of what was said by both the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) and myself. Before he becomes too self-righteous, will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that what Dick Crossman told him accorded precisely with what the hon. Member for Essex, South-East and I had warned repeatedly in Committee, which the hon. Gentleman himself did not wish to believe?
§ Mr. Steel
I am coming to that. I entirely accept what the hon. Gentleman says, that he argued that the safeguard was insufficient. I do not deny that, but the point I am coming to is that, to judge from the latest letters, there seems to have been a change of view in the Department. I see the Minister nodding, and I am glad that I am about to be 1772 proved right and the hon. Member for Pontypool wrong. The view of the Department now, if I read its letters to clinics aright, seems to be that the Minister may decide to set up a register of referral agencies—this was one of the Lane recommendations—and that he may say to a clinic "If you take patients from agencies other than those on my register, I shall close you down". I can only say that, if that is the Minister's intention now, it would be the sort of action for which the public and the House, I believe, have been waiting, and we shall look forward to seeing what is done.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
If my memory serves me aright, did not Sir George Godber, who also was present, take a roughly similar view at that time?
§ Mr. Steel
Frankly, I cannot remember whether that was his view at the time. If the hon. Gentleman says so I shall accept it, but, of course, Sir George Godber was the person advising the Minister.
I recognise that I must draw my speech to a close, and I turn now to another matter of concern which is covered in the Bill—the hon. Member for Pollok referred to it specifically—namely, the vexed question of the legal definition of viability. There is a great deal of misunderstanding about this. The 1967 Act made no change in the law on this matter. The law of viability is established by the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929. The attention of the medical profession was drawn to that Act and the principle was reasserted in the 1967 Act. However, there is misunderstanding even about what the 1929 Act says.
The Infant Life (Preservation) Act establishes that it is an offence of child destruction and murder to destroy a viable foetus, and it then says that for the purposes of that Act it is assumed that any foetus of 28 weeks' age must by definition be viable. But there is no counter-assumption, there is nothing in the law saying that, therefore, any foetus of less than 28 weeks is assumed to be nonviable. This is an extremely important point. I very much agree here with the 1773 Peel Committee's report and the Lane Committee's report, both of which found that developments in medical science since 1929 obviously made it essential to say that the 28-weeks presumption in the 1929 Act was out of date and that the period must be reduced.
My submission is that that has nothing to do with the Abortion Act. The Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Security must make up their mind what the limit shall be, and this must affect a whole range of matters—abortion, registration of deaths, and so on—but that is a matter for Government decision: and it is not for an inexpert House to decide what is the right limit to lay down. Certainly I am not in disagreement with the hon. Member for Pollok when he says that, in principle, it is time that legislation—it must be by legislation—was introduced dealing with this matter.
Clause 1 of the Bill would be retrogressive. I remind the hon. Member that the adjectives "serious" and "grave" which he seeks to introduce were in the original draft of my Bill when I presented it to the House in 1967. These adjectives did not appear in the Act because of the advice we had during the passage of the Bill. All of that advice was against those words.
I quote from the joint submission of the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists published in the British Medical Journal of 31st December 1966. This influenced the House. This is what it said:Provided the above safeguards are incorporated it is both unnecessary and undesirable to frame the indications for termination too narrowly. The requirements that the risk has to be serious and the injury to health grave in Clause 1(1)(a) are capable of causing considerable difficulties in practice and may mean that terminations carried out on certain medical indications which are accepted under current medical practice would become questionable in future.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick upon Tweed)
Is my hon. Friend satisfied that the intentions which led him to include the word "serious" and "grave" in the original draft of the Bill have been satisfied by the Act as it eventually emerged?
§ Mr. Steel
Yes, if I understand my hon. Friend's question correctly. I do not 1774 believe that it would be right to go back and reinsert those words.
That is not only my opinion. The Lane Committee gave consideration to this matter and said in paragraph 202:We do not consider that any such alterations in the wording would result in a better implementation of the intention of Parliament as we understand it to have been. Prosecution for breaches of the Act based upon an absence of medical 'opinion formed in good faith' would hardly be rendered any less difficult than it is now if other limiting words were substituted. Accordingly, we do not recommend any relevant amendment of the Act.One of the most serious criticisms of the Bill is that the words in Clause 1 have to be read in conjunction with Clause 11. Some hon. Members will have received a memorandum from the Haldane Society of lawyers on this point. It says of Clause 11, and I agree with it:Clause 11 shifts the burden of proof on to a doctor to prove that the statutory requirements have been complied with, once it is proved that he or she has carried out or assisted at an abortion. This breaks the fundamental principle of our law, that it is for the prosecution to prove a defendant's guilt, rather than for a defendant to prove his or her innocence.I must tell the hon. Member for Pollok that what I fear, if the House were to approve the Bill as it stands, is that the combined effect of trying to redefine the grounds set out in the 1967 Act and Clause 11—putting an onus of proof on to the medical practitioner—would be bound to cause a whole new area of uncertainty among the medical profession. It would be bound to cause a substantial reduction in the availability of safe, legal abortions under the National Health Service.
It would be a paradox if the hon. Member's Bill became law and the result was, first, an increase in illegal abortions as people were turned away by the medical profession under the terms of the new Act, and secondly even more ridiculous, if those who had been making money out of the 1967 Act were to turn their trade in reverse and organise flights of women to other countries in Europe where abortion is now more readily available.
It is right that from time to time the House should reassess its view on the state of the law on abortion. It is just as right that it should do this as it was right that we reviewed a few weeks ago our minds and attitudes on the question of 1775 capital punishment. Thereafter, once we have settled the matter and decided what the law is, the responsibility lies with the Government to see that it is administered properly. If the hon. Member decides to seek leave to withdraw his Bill I hope that the House will grant that leave.
I am not at all hostile to the Select Committee proposal. It may well be the right way to proceed. Like another hon. Member who intervened earlier, I want to hear what the Minister has to say and I want to be convinced that there is a real case for a Select Committee as distinct from urgent and immediate departmental action which I believe should be instituted.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I know that hon. Members are anxious to hear the Minister's statement as early as possible in the debate. Perhaps it will be helpful if I indicate that it is my intention to call two back bench speakers and then to ask the Minister to make his statement. I hope that that will be acceptable to the House. I am sure that the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) will be interested to know that he has spoken for 27 minutes. If subsequent speakers take the same length of time, we shall have roughly eight speeches before the reply.
§ Mr. Onslow
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If that is your intention, the House still remains anxious—its anxiety will have been reinforced by what was said by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel)—to hear from the Minister. If, in your wisdom, you are to call two back benchers first, may there be a special plea that they should speak briefly, because we want as much time as possible to consider what the Minister has to say?
§ 11.55 a.m.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
I take the point that has been made about short speeches but I think it is my duty to try to spell out a little some of the principles involved. All hon. Members who have participated, as many of us have, in this abortion controversy over the years are painfully aware that there exist in Britain two highly vocal minorities and two 1776 utterly irreconcilable lobbies. They are ceaselessly importuning public opinion, for ever seeking to influence and manipulate the media and hon. Members.
They have only one feature in common—they both represent only a small proportion of our electors. As has been said, on the one hand a small proportion believes in abortion on demand while on the other a small proportion believes that only a grave risk to the life of the mother can justify any abortion. The view that was confirmed by the Lane Committee, that only a small minority wanted abortion on demand, has yet again been corroborated in the figures proffered to us by Gallup in the past fortnight, when only 18 per cent. declared a belief that abortion should be so available and 12 per cent. declared that it should not be allowed in any circumstances.
Both these minorities are passionately convinced that they are right. The abortionists claim that they are the liberators of women, bringing an extension of their freedom. The opponents of abortion declare that it brings them not freedom but enslavement to the selfishness of a narcissistic lover, fearful of taking steps towards potential parenthood and maturation, even as it enslaves a woman to the husband who treats her as a convenience to be periodically flushed out.
The pro-abortionist speaks of women's rights; the anti-abortionist speaks of women's needs. The abortionist claims concern for the unmarried mother forced to have an unwanted child she cannot tend, while the anti-abortionist challenges that claim and insists that it masks a punitive Victorian attitude, offering an unmarried mother the scalpel and not the social aid she requires.
The abortionist pleads the case of the woman with many children living in intolerable housing conditions, while the opponent says that that establishes a case for better housing or vasectomoy for the husband. When the abortionists assert, as they do, the dignity of a woman's demand that she alone must have the option the anti-abortionist becomes the advocate of the right to life of the unborn child. The abortionist regards the operation as safe and usually as a triviality. The anti-abortionist produces evidence to establish that it is a trauma bringing the threat of subsequent sterility.
1777 Both declare their opponents to be reactionaries. One declares the other adversary to be nostalgically yearning for the old restrictive morality that denied woman her equality. The retort is made that turning life into death is the ultimate hallmark of the reactionary and that a genuine progressive does not yield to defeatism but fights for the creation of a society where every child, whether born in a manger or a palace, can be warmly received.
The abortionist points the finger at the delinquency rate and its link with the unwanted and the deprived child. The anti-abortionist denies the necessity for any child to be unwanted in Britain and draws our attention to the long waiting list of would-be adopters. One insists that without untrammelled access to abortion a woman can be crushed by anxiety and the quality of her personal relationship severely diminished. The other insists that the ease of abortion coarsens our society and undermines respect for the sanctity of life and is the penultimate step to euthanasia and a Hitlerian disregard for the disabled, the weak and the aged.
The partisans on both sides in this issue are highly confident of the justice and morality of their cause. They yield not one inch to the other.
It is my hope that the House will be impatient with those who, however well motivated, seek in this debate to detain the House with yet further rehearsals of all the well-worn and passionately held arguments. Although the Bill inevitably disappoints those at both ends of the abortionist spectrum, the sponsors of the Bill, whatever their personal philosophies, religions or prejudices, have determinedly set out with the objective of eschewing, if possible, the old arguments. We recognise, however, if Gallup is right, that the overwhelming majority of opinion of the nation generally believes that abortion is necessary but necessary only on particular grounds.
The Bill retains the existing grounds for abortion. I shall come to the point made by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel), the sponsor of the 1967 Bill. I assert that the Bill now before the House retains the existing grounds for abortion. In no way does it attack or modify the existing 1778 environmental clause. Its objectives are clear and unmarked. First, it seeks to end abuse by ensuring that Parliament's intentions of 1967 are genuinely carried out. Secondly, it seeks to respond to the repugnancy that comes from the public against the abortion of late pregnancies and to ensure that when experiments are conducted they are not conducted upon what Sir John Peel's committee and most of us would regard as an unborn child.
Of course, there is a gap which must always exist between the intentions behind a Bill and the fulfilment of those intentions in cold print. These dangers increase when a Private Member's Bill is drafted without the sophisticated assistance of the skilled parliamentary draftsmen. Inevitably errors or unintentional interpretations creep in that are often far removed from the wishes of the sponsors. But if there is no other method open to the sponsors they must plod on in the hope that in Committee, as outside bodies make their importunings, a more relevant measure will be able to emerge to the House on Report.
Inevitably, there is always a danger of such a Bill becoming very much an ad hoc affair, as I well know from my own experience. I am sure that the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles will acknowledge that many of the problems we are now dealing with stem not from wicked intentions but from good intentions which have been frustrated. The evils of which we are largely complaining—a large section of the House complains of them—emerge from the interstices of the original Act and from unintended gaps in the clause.
§ Mr. Ken Weetch (Ipswich)
Does my hon. Friend agree that there are parts of the Bill now before the House that are nothing more than a masquerade? While it is the ostensible purpose of the Bill to eradicate what is wrong in terms of the abuses of the present system, is not the hard core purpose to put shackles around the original Act? Does he agree that it would be far better for all concerned if we dropped this subterfuge and debated the honest truth of the proposition?
§ Mr. Abse
My hon. Friend is challenging the motivation of the sponsor and myself. If I wanted to challenge the conditions which exist in the existing Act I 1779 would do so. I am not exactly noted for not being able to come out in the open and declare unequivocally the views which I hold. I am making it abundantly clear to the House that I am acknowledging that there is often a difference between intention and what emerges in print. I am aware of what happened before when similar unintended gaps appeared.
I want to be certain that we have an amending Bill which is free from the marks of improvisation. Like the whole House, I want to see an end to the controversy. I believe that the Government's intervention is prompted—I trust that the Minister will make this unequivocally clear because I am sure that he can feel the opinion within the House—because they recognise that there are abuses in the private sector that must be remedied. I believe it is recognised that the principle that lawfully exists in this country that abortions of 28 weeks can take place should not now continue. I believe that the Government will make it clear that in principle they have no objection to the statutory implementation of the Peel Committee's recommended code of practice governing experiments on foetus and foetus material.
§ Mr. Abse
I have not given any figures. I am certainly not going to give the right statistics to my hon. Friend.
I welcome the Government's move. I believe that it is a bold one. In some senses such a move marks the end of an era when moral issues were regarded—in my view, overmuch—as the terrain of Private Members and something to be eschewed by the Government. I am sure that the overwhelming majority in the House will accept that it is right that the Government should assist by supporting the use of available machinery and for its own Select Committee to be seized of the proposals of this specific Bill. The matter should not be left to an outside commit 1780 tee such as the Lane Committee. However hard-working it may have been, the Lane Committee lacked the exposure to public opinion that we possess and our worldliness. We have no illusions about the inexhaustible ingenuity of the evil men who for private gain will pray upon women in trouble.
§ Mr. Abse
I hope that the Select Committee will consider the private sector in particular when it considers the principles contained in the Bill, and will enable every stone to be upturned. I hope that it will be accepted by those in and outside the House who have campaigned for and supported the Bill that the setting up of the Select Committee by this Government means that the bells have began to toll. Maybe the bells are tolling in the distance, but they are tolling for the avaricious who have sought to create a repugnant industry based on women in difficulty. If the Government had not grasped the nettle it would have been necessary for me to go through the Bill ad seriatim, but in view of developments I would rather pinpoint some of the matters that have aroused great controversy. Some of them have already been identified. Perhaps it will be of some assistance to the Select Committee to be appointed if I do so, because I am sure that all the views that are expressed in this debate will act as a sounding board for those Members upon whom will fall the onerous task of sitting upon the Committee.
I begin with a point raised by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles on Clause 1(a)(ii). He seemed to think that it was material to restrict the existing ground upon which an abortion can be given. That is not the intention. On the contrary, the passage is an attempt to ensure that the existing grounds are observed. At present the risk to the life of a woman or of injury to her physical or mental health has to be measured against the risk which would result if the pregnancy went the full term. That is the provision of the parent Act. That measure was inserted not by the hon. Gentleman but by the House of Lords to assist the courts in deciding whether a criminal abortion had taken place.
1781 Unfortunately, some people have used that insertion to frustrate the will of Parliament. On public platforms a small number of doctors have said that it permits them to give abortion on demand. They have said again this week that the very small statistical risk to the life of a woman in childbirth is slightly higher than the risk to the life of a woman from induced abortion during the first 12 weeks, and they have used that argument to justify abortion on demand in any pregnancy.
The figures of deaths due to childbirth and the figures of death due to medically induced abortion are not comparable, because deaths due to childbirth usually occur in women suffering from disease or other abnormality, whereas deaths due to abortion in the early stages of pregnancy would usually occur in a healthy woman—[An HON. MEMBER: "That is a specious argument."] If it is a specious argument, it shows how important it is that there should be a change. If the statistical argument is correct, it means that we have unwittingly given abortion on demand, and the present position adds considerably to the heavy enforcement difficulties which already exist.
It is no use the hon. Gentleman pointing out how few are the cases of criminal abortion. Cases are not brought because the law, as it stands, cannot be enforced and cases cannot be proceeded with. That is the unsatisfactory feature of the whole procedure. One idiosyncratic professor made clear in the Press conference which was given by the Abortion on Demand Group this week that he has no qualms about interpreting the Act in this statistical manner. He also said that if we altered the Act he would defy the law.
The serious point is not that a way-out professor takes that view but that the fact that the view can be held gives immunity to every shady abortionist doctor who may exist in the private sector. Faced with that strategy to impose upon the House a wish contrary to that laid down, we have ended within the Bill the measuring test and, instead, we have said that the risk to the life of a woman should be grave. The House may not like that but if we leave it as "risk" it is clear that the people who are using 1782 these strategems now will say "any risk". That would mean that we were back to square one. Therefore, we put the view that there should be some qualifying adjective. We suggest that there should be a qualifying word—"serious" "grave", "substantial".
The hon. Gentleman used the phrase "substantial" in his Bill to measure the likelihood of a child being born malformed or maladjusted, and the term "substantial" is used within the Bill governing that aspect. So, whether or not we use that word, the fact is, if we are serious and say that we want to have abortion on certain conditions but not on demand, we are faced, and the Select Committee will be faced, with having to consider not limiting the grounds for abortion but complying with the will of the House, which is that those other grounds should not continue to be frustrated by people who are camouflaging their intentions by saying that they do not want change because they are able to so manipulate the Bill that they can provide abortion on demand—demand with cash.
The intention of Clause 1(b) has been wilfully misrepresented. It surely cannot be satisfactory that private clinics which are defying the law should have no one directly responsible who can be brought before the General Medical Council or be pinpointed as having responsibility for the proper conduct of a clinic. That is necessary not only for law enforcement but for the women who place themselves in the hands of the clinic. It seemed to the sponsors to be perfectly reasonable that a nursing home should have a consultant adviser who is perhaps on a part-time National Health Service contract or retired and who in his private capacity can be under contract with the nursing home to supervise clinical procedures, the appointment of medical staff, and the use of the clinic by other doctors.
Clause 2 was mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. It deals with foreign women who come to this country for the specific purpose of having an abortion. The latest figures, which are well above 50,000, I view with some scepticism. I wonder whether there is growing alarm about this trade as we become more aware of it and public opinion shows its repugnance. Is 1783 that leading to a decrease in notifications rather than a genuine drop? Both the Lane Committee and the Metropolitan Police have made it abundantly clear that they know that the notifications are spurious. Although we can depend upon the genuineness of notifications coming from within the National Health Service, we cannot depend on the figures coming from the private sector, which has one eye on the Inland Revenue and one on the ball. If the police are right, about 100,000 abortions a year may be performed on foreign women who come here for that purpose. Are the sponsors right and is the country right in demanding an end to this trade, or are the complacent or defeatist suggestions of the Lane Committee the last word on the subject? The Select Committee will have to consider this.
The Lane Committee put forward the view—which would not appeal to many of my hon. Friends and fellow-countrymen—that we cannot do anything that would offend against Common Market regulations. That argument no longer stands, and in my judgment it never did as, since the publication of the Lane Report, France has passed a law not much less stringent than the terms of the Bill to deal with women who come into France to have abortions.
Will this trade fade away? The Lane Report suggested that it would if there was legislation less strong than that proposed in Clauses 4 and 5. Would it fade away if advertising were controlled? With such a restriction, would it be more difficult for the agencies which lure women from the Continent to this country? Thirdly, the Lane Committee suggested that the law was changing in other countries and, therefore, we could be reassured that this trade would not continue.
I think that is taking a very complacent view. If we look at the French law on these matters, it makes it abundantly clear that the French authorities will not permit an abortion beyond 10 weeks. Even if this Bill went through, the period in this country would be reduced to 20 weeks, so that there is a huge gap in that respect. Therefore, it is naïve to believe that other countries will pass identical abortion laws to our own. 1784 There are so many different abortion laws being passed that, if we leave the law as it is, people who want to evade the laws in their own country will try to come here.
People who talk glibly about the French introducing much more permissive legislation than ours have never studied the French Act. Under the French legislation a minor is prohibited from having an abortion at all. I do not know whether those who are so anxious to support the private sector and to keep those abortion clinics going ever study the facts. I do not want to see hordes of teenagers coming here from other countries to have abortions—operations which in their own countries would be regarded as improper.
If the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles, instead of merely looking at his brief on this matter, takes a look at the French legislation, he will find that it contains far more stringent requirements. It provides that a woman must go to her doctor to ask for an abortion and will be provided with a dossier which she will have to produce to the social agency. The social agency will consider within that dossier all the alternatives available to the woman. The point I am making is that it is too complacent of people merely to believe that the passing of other abortion laws in other lands will automatically lead to a serious diminution in the number of girls who want to come to the United Kingdom for abortions.
§ Mr. Abse
If there is to be a genuine effort to improve relationships between those countries and other parts of Europe, the hon. Lady should seek to make these 1785 matters clear. The hon. Lady should not support a system under which people from the Soviet countries she so likes have to come to this country to obtain something which they cannot obtain there.
I hope I may be allowed to move on much more quickly. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I do not want to deal any further with Clauses 4 and 5. They deal with matters with which the hon. Member for Surrey, North-West (Mr. Grylls) valiantly tried to deal in his Bill. He put before the House in a somewhat different form his proposals as to the way in which this matter should be dealt with. In Clause 6 and in the schedule we have tried to follow the criteria which during the passage of the hon. Gentleman's Bill the Government then indicated were desirable.
Finally, I should like to mention the question of conscience, which is not a matter within the Bill. I do not believe anybody can be at all happy with the present position and all will surely want the matter to be reviewed by the Select Committee. I refer to the situation referred to recently in articles in The Times as a result of correspondence with the Department. The view appears to be coming into existence that if a man is at present in an appointment, that is satisfactory and the conscience clause goes. But it seems to be becoming the practice that the conscience clause is little used. In other words, men or women who apply for appointments find that because they have a genuine conscientious objection they cannot gain appointments within the National Health Service. I believe that this is profoundly disturbing. There are gynaecologists who believe that their rôle is to bring life into this world and who find it too repugnant that their task should include the ending of life.
In previous legislation the onus of proof related to whether a man had a genuine conscientious objection. The onus was on the man who objected. This put a heavy burden on the individual, and I emphasise that a practice is now growing up where a man finds that he cannot obtain an appointment because of conscience. That surely is a situation of which the House cannot approve and it will have to be dealt with by the Select Committee.
§ Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)
My hon. Friend has made a serious allegation. He has a duty to the House not to make those allegations by hearsay but by producing his evidence.
§ Mr. Abse
What I am trying to say is that the correspondence with the Minister, and ventilated by Mr. Ronald Butt, leads many of us to conclude that the situation I have described appears to be happening. Certainly if there is any ambiguity in the situation it should be dealt with by the Select Committee.
I believe that apart from a minority of Members who believe in abortion on demand, or even no abortion, the majority of people want to see a system which is operated in a genuine way. We certainly want to see a law operated in the way intended by the House. The Bill which is now before the House has sought to achieve those objectives. But, since the Government have unequivocally indicated by their motion on the Order Paper that they are prepared to allow a Select Committee to examine the situation, I support my hon. Friend's ultimate intention to ask the leave of the House to withdraw the Bill.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
Why is it necessary to withdraw the Bill? Should we not give the Bill a Second Reading and then agree to a motion under Standing Order 40(2) to commit the Bill to a Select Committee rather than to a Standing Committee?
§ Mr. Abse
I do not doubt that such a course would be open to the House, but I suggest that since the Government have now put the motion on the Order Paper we should allow the situation to go ahead and the subject to be investigated. The sponsors of the Bill do not want these matters to be left at large. We did not want to leave the matter to be decided by a debate in which there will be all sorts of confusion. The situation is that if somebody objects to the motion today it will have to come before the House again on Tuesday, when we can vote upon it. If somebody is so wayward as to object to the motion to-day—[Interruption.] I say "wayward" because I believe that people genuinely want the Act to work in accordance with the spirit and the letter of the 1967 Act. They certainly have nothing to fear 1787 by sending the matter to a Select Committee. The only people who have anything to fear from a Select Committee are those who are attempting to defend all the evils and abuses which at present exist in the private sector.
§ Mr. Ian Percival (Southport)
It is not a question of anybody being afraid of a Select Committee. Under Standing Order No. 40(2), after Second Reading a Bill can be committed to a Select Committee. No notice is even required and any Member may move such a motion. If there is a complete commitment, what has anybody to fear by following such a procedure? It was suggested that that would meet everybody's wishes and provide the necessary safeguards. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, as a prominent sponsor of the Bill, will think seriously before he substitutes for a clear procedure laid down by the House one which seems to me to have no advantages over it and which may have disadvantages.
§ Mr. Abse
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member for his intervention. I have already indicated that if the matter were left at large, as would be the case if the course suggested was taken—because it might not be so committed—it might be that in the confusion of the moment the full implications would not be understood. Why should the House resist the proposal when a copper-bottomed guarantee has been given by the Government, which I am sure the Minister will reaffirm, that the Government will put down the motion again next Tuesday, when the hon. and learned Member will have the full opportunity of discussing it? He is an experienced parliamentarian and he knows that back-bench Members prefer a bird in the bush—
§ Mr. Abse
I frankly state my preference. However, in this case I prefer the bird in the hand to that in the bush.
In the circumstances we would be wise to accept the reaffirmations of the Government. We can be certain that the matter will go to a Select Committee. We shall be able to show the country that we have produced a solution which shows compassion to women in trouble whilst in no 1788 way undermining a belief in the overwhelming importance of the sanctity of life.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) will be interested to know that his short speech lasted 34 minutes.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
In addition to the hon. Member who presented the Bill, there are 11 other sponsors each of whom has received considerable evidence from both sides of the argument. Will you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, give an assurance to the House that you will do your best to call the sponsors of the Bill in the time that remains for this debate?
§ 12.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Grylls (Surrey, North-West)
I trust that I shall reverse the dangerous trend where speeches seem to be getting longer rather than shorter. If my interpretation of your ruling is right, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I wish to reverse the trend. I shall do my best to ensure that that happens. This is a somewhat unusual Friday. My brief experience of Private Members' Bills is that more often we are encouraged to speak longer rather than shorter for certain well-established procedural reasons. However, today is different.
The speech by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) was useful to the House because it gave us a resumé, obviously from his own point of view, of the workings of the Act since 1967. I think it was useful to set the scene for this debate.
I agree with the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) that the abuses known to hon. Members who have taken an interest in the subject must be removed, that that is the demand of public opinion and that the sooner it is done the better. If I may use his analogy, I do not think I shall follow him any further into the bush now.
There is widespread agreement that changes must be made. Since 1967 there have been three attempts at closing one of the particularly unpleasant loopholes which I believe everyone agrees should be closed. My hon. Friend the Member for 1789 Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) introduced his Medical Services (Referral) Bill in 1972 to try to have the referral agencies and bureaux controlled by charitable bodies. He found that he was in difficulties with that Bill.
I tried on two occasions to introduce my own Private Member's Bill to tie up this area more tightly and to bring it within the control of the Secretary of State. I welcome the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White) to the club which is trying to deal with this area, because in Clause 5 of his Bill he makes a very sincere attempt to do so. My only doubts about the Bill concern two clauses. But the hon. Member for Pollok should be congratulated on giving us the opportunity to debate this subject.
There has been a common feeling in the discussions since 1967 on the three Private Members' Bills to deal with this loophole. It may be that in many ways it has been concentrated on because it is a simple one to close. Therefore, I think it is an even greater pity that it was not done before.
In my last Private Member's Bill I managed to obtain support from people on both sides of the argument, from both the pro- and the anti-abortionists. That was perhaps useful. The need to end the scandals going on in this area is a matter about which the House should seek urgent action to be taken quickly.
The fact that totally unscrupulous people, even though probably only a few, are still operating in this area brings into disrepute the whole work done by the referral agencies and the excellent work done by the charitable British Pregnancy Advisory Service, with branches in Liverpool, Brighton, Leamington and in other parts of the country. They have done a great deal of work in helping people, charging a modest fee of £50 for termination, including the stay in hospital. The unscrupulous bodies need to be brought under control quickly. This area has been described as the unacceptable face of the abortion world, and I think the House today wishes to see it dealt with very quickly. I support that.
I note that the hon. Member for Pollok proposes a number of refinements. He has gone a little further than I did in my Private Member's Bill. That is to be 1790 applauded and is a matter at which the House should look. The tragedy is that if only Parliament had passed one of those three Private Members' Bills—it does not matter which, but mine preferably because it brought them all together—those loopholes would have been closed and this unattractive traffic would have been stopped. However, that is past history. We must ensure that we deal with the problem now.
§ Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm which lobby killed his Bill and, therefore, which lobby kept these abuses in being for the past six months?
§ Mr. Grylls
Hon. Members must study the record of the Committee proceedings and make up their own minds. I do not seek to divide the House on this matter. I seek, perhaps undramatically, to bring the House together on the one theme that I believe is common ground. When I started to do something about amending the Abortion Act, I recognised that if we went too far—as perhaps the hon. Member for Pollok will see if his Bill goes forward—we would find ourselves in the most awful muddle and would have to fight the battles of 1967 all over again. Perhaps that would end only in stalemate.
I hope that the House will decide to set up the Select Committee and pay great attention to its report. I hope that the Select Committee will take evidence from the good charitable agencies such as the BPAS, and I hope too that its members will go out and investigate some of the bad aspects. They should see the taxi touts and take evidence on the ground, if they can. Only by going around—as I have found it possible to do—will they see what is happening. This Bill, however, seeks to go a little further, and there are two matters on which I wish to concentrate.
Clause 2 deals with foreigners. When I came to consider what amendments should be made to the Abortion Act, this was an aspect which struck me at the time. Everyone has been worried for a considerable time—certainly worried in the superficial sense—about the fact that our capital city is coming to be known as the abortion centre of the world. However, the more one considers the problem, the more difficult it is to deal with, the more illogicality begins to creep in 1791 and the more we get into what might be described as a cat's cradle situation.
Is there any fairness in saying that British people can have abortions legally in this country but that foreigners cannot? In any event, how do we establish who is a foreigner? As far as I know, doctors do not ask their patients for their passports. The hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin), as a distinguished member of the profession, will confirm, I am sure, that it is not the practice to ask patients for their passports. We do not have identity cards.
Such a provision would throw up immense administrative difficulties. What is more, it would throw an immense burden of enforcement on to the medical profession. Linked with the administrative difficulties there are moral difficulties in deciding whether it is right to say that foreigners can no longer have abortions legally.
Then there are practical linguistic difficulties. A great many foreigners have become naturalised. Many of them from European countries still have guttural accents. With a provision of this kind in the abortion legislation, they would be assumed to be foreigners. If they protested and said that they were naturalised, they would be asked for their papers. That is not the kind of imposition which we want to put upon the medical profession. I understand the views of those who say that there should be such a provision. However, I say that it should be considered in practical and moral terms.
Perhaps the most difficult problem relates to Clause 7. The hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles dealt very well with the difficulties involved in the 20-week upper limit.
We all agree that since the passing of the 1929 Infant Life (Preservation) Act medical science has advanced. Foetuses born very early which in 1929 would have died can now be preserved in an incubator.
The problem is whether we can take a decision of this kind in a Private Member's Bill, and that is one aspect which troubles me slightly. If we had consultations with the medical profession, my guess is that no one would expect any 1792 unanimity of opinion about what the upper limit should be. In any event, such consultations could be undertaken only under the auspices of the Secretary of State for Social Services. When we are dealing with a tricky matter of this kind, I do not think that it is possible for it to be done by a Private Member's Bill. Certainly I would not seek to judge whether it should be 20 weeks or 24 weeks.
In a lay sense, I was convinced by what the Lane Committee said about it. It came down in the end in favour of 24 weeks. But a Select Committee can consider that and call evidence about it, and in the end the Government will have to have consultations. After all, the Government are the doctors' employer. The right hon. Lady can send for the doctors. We cannot. I accept that a Select Committee can do so, and it may be that that would be one of the advantages of adopting the procedure suggested by the Government.
§ Dr. M. S. Miller
On the subject of late abortions, will the hon. Gentleman accept that in 1973 only 0.1 per cent. of abortions were done at 24 weeks?
§ Mr. Grylls
That is a very relevant point, and I have no intention of attempting to shoot it down. It is a matter which has to be considered, and in the end, after the Select Committee has made its contribution, the Government should deal with it.
So what are we to do today? Do we refer these proposals to a Select Committee? I think that this must be right. All of us who want to see the law improved should be grateful to the Government for their proposal.
The problem of giving this Bill a Second Reading is that the Select Committee may recommend much more than the Bill includes. It may go much further. It seems to me that if a Select Committee is to consider the working of the Abortion Act, it will want a pretty wide writ.
When the sponsors of the Bill indicated that they would be prepared to withdraw it on receiving the Government's assurance that early action would follow the report of the Select Committee, my initial impression was that that would be a practical and sensible course of action. However, I do not want to get into the realms of the rules of the House. I content 1793 myself with expressing the view that the Select Committee should look into and take evidence about the proposals in the Bill. If that is done, the abuses referred to by the hon. Member for Pontypool will have a better chance of being sorted out satisfactorily than if we push through this Bill without the evidence that a Select Committee can collect much better than a Committee stage can.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Pollok and I hope that the House will decide to proceed in the way that the Government suggest.
§ 12.47 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Dr. David Owen)
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White) has not only presented the House with a detailed Bill for amending the 1967 Abortion Act. He has also given the House a much needed opportunity to debate the Lane Report.
Abortion is a subject on which there are strongly held and sincerely held views on all sides of the House. It is a subject on which there is no division on party lines. Traditionally, legislation in this sensitive area of human responsibility is decided by a free vote in this House—by individual Members of Parliament exercising their own independent judgments. I stress, therefore, that the Government have no collective view, and Ministers are as free as any other Members to vote as their consciences dictate.
My task as one of the Ministers responsible for the day-to-day administration of the Act is to try to put the facts before the House in a way that will help the House to reach a sensible decision. On the Order Paper, as the House knows, is a motion in the name of my right hon. Friend the Lord President to establish a Select Committee to examine and report on the proposals contained in the Bill presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Pollok, and I shall now give a few of the assurances for which I have been asked. If the motion were objected to, it would be put down again and there would be an opportunity for a full debate.
The right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) was right to refer to the Standing Order procedure. That is a procedure which has been used in the past. The problem is that it happens at 1794 the end of a debate, often without warning. We felt that on a very major issue such as this the House should know what was proposed, that there should be no deals done at four o'clock and that we should put down a motion, having explained that this was our intention. We discussed this procedure with the sponsors of the Bill. However, they felt that there was advantage in having a firm commitment. Their fear was that if we said that we wanted to bring forward a proposal of this kind straight away, there might be a fall-off in their support.
What we have here is a Government commitment and a decision that the best way to proceed on the Bill is to refer it to a Select Committee.
§ Mr. Graham Page
Surely the hon. Gentleman could have put down a motion for committal, using all the language which appears on the Order Paper except the reference to considering the proposals of the Bill. It would have then have been possible to consider the Bill itself.
Why is there this obsession on the part of the Government that no Private Member's Bill shall go through on a Friday? That is what we gather from the Government. Every Friday so far the Government have fought Private Members' Bills. Let the sponsor have his Second Reading and then adopt the normal procedure of the House to commit to a Select Committee.
§ Dr. Owen
This is Private Members' business, and the Government did not impose this solution. They discussed this in a sensible way with the sponsors of the Bill, and for a variety of reasons they decided this was the procedure they wished to adopt. I regard it as a most sensible step.
I have been asked to give other assurances. The House has made known its view. It wants no delay in dealing with this matter. It wants this subject to be dealt with speedily, and what we are proposing is not a delaying tactic. Should the eventuality arise that the House goes into a different Session before the Bill is considered, the Government give the commitment to the sponsors of the Bill that they will re-establish the Select Committee.
§ Mr. Paul Dean
To follow up my earlier intervention, may I say that I am 1795 in favour of the general principle of what is proposed. It is wise to have a Select Committee to consider the matter, but may I have an assurance that this is not a device to delay? May I have an assurance that, following the Select Committee's report on the subject, either the Government themselves will bring forward legislation or they will give a fair wind to a Private Member's Bill?
§ Dr. Owen
I have said that this is not a delaying device. The fact of life is that there are six Private Members' Bills ahead of this one. Hon. Members know the procedure, and they realise that there is a possibility that the Bill will be delayed. The truth is that it is more likely to reach the statute book more quickly through adopting the proposed procedure. Not only is a pre-legislation Select Committee a good principle, but it is a sensible way in which to proceed in a difficult area. When the Select Committee reports, it will be open to hon. Members to put forward legislation in the normal way or for the Government to consider whether they themselves should put forward legislation. A lot depends on the degree of unanimity in the Select Committee and the way in which it expresses the overall view of the House.
§ Mr. Grylls
Dealing with the narrower area on which I concentrated, may I ask whether, if it is so recommended by the Select Committee, the Government will bring in their legislation straight away and not delay in doing so?
§ Dr. Owen
I have given as much of an assurance as I can. The House knows that it is for the Lord President of the Council to decide the priority of Government business. The Government supported the hon. Gentleman when he put forward a Bill as a Private Member. We made our position and support clear then, and it will become clear again as I give the Government's overall position and deal with our general attitude.
We are dealing with a sensitive and complex issue. Private Members, without the drafting expertise of the Government and without the formal process for consulting all the interested professional and other bodies, are often necessarily forced to present a Bill—this measure falls into 1796 this category—which is not, for wholly understandable reasons, in a reasonable and fair state to be referred to a Standing Committee. That is the view of my right hon. and hon. Friends who were consulted, and the Government believe that the Bill should have the benefit of sustained scrutiny by a Select Committee.
It is to the credit of my hon. Friend and his co-sponsors, in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), that when I pointed out to them the many detailed technical and other objections to the drafting and form of the Bill they recognised that a reference to a Select Committee was the best way to proceed. A Select Committee will be able to take evidence from the professions and other interested parties who have not been able to be consulted on a number of these detailed proposals.
The House knows that the Lane Committee made recommendations for legislation. Those recommendations are incorporated in the Bill in one way or another, except the recommendation that the Chief Medical Officer of Health should be empowered to disclose to the President of the General Medical Council information furnished under the regulations and a statutory amendment to the certification procedure so that the notification form is correct and shows the requirement for examination. Both these recommendations can be dealt with by amendment to the regulations.
§ Mr. Percival
I think there is a danger of getting at cross-purposes on the wrong ground. The Minister is saying that he wants this to go to a Select Committee, and I think everybody agrees with that. I have not heard anybody dissent from that proposition. My right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) and I are saying do that by all means, but do it under Standing Order No. 40(2). The Minister says that he does not want any delay, and nor do we. If the procedure laid down in that Standing Order is used there will be no delay. The motion will be moved immediately after the Second Reading, and there will be nothing to delay it. There is a vehicle by which the recommendations of the Select Committee can be pursued without any delay.
If there is any delay—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
Order. Nearly 60 hon. Members wish to take part in the debate, and long interventions which are almost in the nature of a speech are unfair to the rest of the House.
§ Mr. Percival
There is a third thing on which clarification is needed, and I ask your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to get it from the Minister.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. and learned Gentleman made a long intervention in seeking clarification. I hope he will be brief now.
§ Mr. Percival
If the Bill is delayed in the queue of Private Members' business, we shall all wish to do something to speed it up. That is where Government assistance would be helpful.
§ Dr. Owen
I have covered that point. This is Private Members' business, and we have been very honest about the position. We put the matter to the sponsors of the Bill, and what is proposed is their decision.
I have had recent experience of the difficulty of getting Private Members' legislation on complex social issues through the House. This proposal for a Select Committee offers a way of ensuring that any future legislation to amend the 1967 Act will be soundly based.
I now deal with the Lane Committee's report. It was received at the end of 1973, and there has been extensive consultation on many of its recommendations. It is a major report, and it deserves detailed study by the House. The Lane Committee concluded that by facilitating a greatly increased number of abortions the 1967 Act has relieved a vast amount of individual suffering. In the Committee's view the Act has also helped to focus attention on the paramount need for preventive action, for more education in sexual life and its responsibilities and for the widespread provision of contraceptive advice and facilities. I am glad to say that the Government are now embarking on the introduction of a free and comprehensive family planning service—something which I must say to the House in my view is long overdue and should have preceded and not followed the 1967 Act, but that is no fault of the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel).
1798 The Committee has rightly drawn attention to the strain imposed on the National Health Service by the increased number of women seeking legal abortion since the passing of the Act and the marked inequalities over the country in the provision of services, and this worries many hon. Members. The Committee recognised that shortages of resources are only one of the reasons for this and that inequalities in provision cannot be abolished altogether. This is an inevitable feature of legislation that requires the exercise of medical discretion and clinical judgment.
The point about conscience, which my hon. Friend raised, is a serious one. The letters were quoted only in part, and I should be happy to place copies of them in the Library. Discussions have taken place with the medical profession, and we have an agreed procedure. This is a complex issue and it is one of the matters which the Select Committee might wish to examine.
I come now to the immediate issue before the House today, namely, private sector abortions. The Committee acknowledges that the private sector has enabled many patients to have treatment in privacy and with the amenities they want and has compensated to a considerable extent for deficiencies in the provision of services by the NHS. At the same time it points out that the private sector has contributed to the inequalities of which many responsible people complain. It concludes that a small number of doctors and their financial backers have used the Act to make large sums of money, that there have been instances of gross irresponsibility in private medical practice, and that in some parts of the commercial private sector the provisions of the Act have been flouted and abortion on request has been provided. The Committee is convinced that these abuses have been confined to a small number of doctors, but these are serious charges and the Government have taken action on them.
Since taking office my right hon. Friend and I have made a rigorous reappraisal of the whole approval system. We are both convinced that the private sector has not operated in the way that the Act intended. We have already taken action to tighten up on abuses in the private sector, and I shall deal with these in some detail. We will certainly 1799 not rest until all exploitation of patients has been stopped and abuses of the Act curbed. We intend using our existing powers to their utmost to control the activities of the private abortion sector, and we do not intend waiting until any new legislation is recommended by the Select Committee. On the principle of the need to prevent abuse in the private sector, the Government agree with the sponsors of the Bill and are ready to consider legislation.
It is, however, fair to point out that in the Lane Committee's view the great majority of the abortions which have been carried out in the NHS and many in the private sector have been fully justified under the Act.
The sponsors of the Bill have seen the prevention of abuse in the private sector as one of their main objectives. Clause 5 of the Bill picks up the main provision of the Private Member's Bill sponsored by the hon. Member for Surrey, North-West (Mr. Grylls), who has just spoken. It adds some other provisions, some of which need to be examined in depth, but the Government supported the previous Bill and it was recommended by the Lane Committee. Apart from some detailed points, the Government support the principle of legislation in the important area of pregnancy advice bureaux. We will see what by administrative means we can do about the matter in the meantime.
Clause 6 lays down statutory conditions for approval of private clinics. This is at present dealt with administratively under Section 1(3) of the Abortion Act. There are some strong arguments for retaining the flexibility that comes with the administrative means, and the Lane Committee recommended continuing with the existing system. But if the Select Committee decided to recommend legislation the Government would be content to have statutory powers, though they would like to retain as much flexibility as possible to respond rapidly to meet changing circumstances and any new potential abuse.
There is, therefore, considerable common ground between the sponsors and the Government and, indeed, the Lane Report on the need for legislation to cover the private sector. From the con 1800 tributions that have already been made, I think that the majority of Members of the House want to see an end to abuse in the private sector, whatever views they take on the 1967 Act. We have, as I have already said, taken vigorous action to toughen up our administrative procedures only recently.
Firstly, we have registered only until 31st March private clinics where abortion is a major aspect of their work. A letter was sent on 3rd January to the 28 nursing homes with six or more beds, or more than 25 per cent. of their total beds, approved under the Abortion Act. The letter asked for information on such matters as the facilities and treatment provided for patients, the fees charged, relationships with pregnancy advisory bureaux, and the intake of foreign patients. Nursing homes were also asked to comment on a list of proposed conditions for pregnancy advisory bureaux. Replies have now been received from all but one of these nursing homes.
On the same day a letter was sent to some 70 bureaux and referral agencies known or believed to be giving advice and aid on obtaining abortions setting out proposed conditions. Less than half of these agencies have replied. Obviously we cannot approve those who have not.
The nursing homes concerned fall into a number of broadly distinct types. Many clinics regard themselves as providing facilities for consultants to treat their private patients, although there may be a fairly small number of such consultants who use the clinics' facilities regularly.
We already have a fairly effective system for keeping medical and surgical facilities and practice under surveillance. In fact we can stop an abortion taking place in a private operating theatre, but we have little power to stop the gastrectomy or another more major surgical operation in the same private operating theatre. This is something which we shall have to look at as part of an overall policy to the private sector of medical care. Fees are an obvious area for exploitation in the private sector, and reports of some fees have been absurdly high.
The Government will now consider, after consulting the medical profession, specifying for each nursing home a fair fee for a termination or for provision 1801 of facilities as a condition for continued approval under the Abortion Act.
We may also decide to go further and require all approved nursing homes to quote a fixed comprehensive fee. This move would help to standardise charges and to ensure that prospective clients know approximately how much an abortion costs. I would naturally wish to discuss such a proposition with the medical profession but I thought that this example would give an indication of the areas and ways in which we could possibly act by administrative means.
In general, the clinics which employ their own medical staff also provide counselling and assessment. The clinics which provide only facilities receive most of their patients from independent consultants. The smaller agencies appear to exist by referring clients to these consultants.
Well-conducted nursing homes would almost universally welcome an approved list of approved bureaux and would be willing to give assurances that they would not accept patients referred by bureaux which were not on this list.
Many of the bureaux which replied to our letter wished to apply for inclusion on an approved list and were prepared to operate under conditions required by the Department. The complete list of conditions has not been finalised, and some points will need further consideration, but we are determined, in any period which will elapse before legislation is enacted, to tighten up considerably on pregnancy advice bureaux. There has been some argument about our powers under administrative means. No doubt interpretation differs but, given the general feeling of the House, it seems that we would be well within our powers in taking these measures.
I come now to perhaps the most controversial aspect of the Abortion Act and the Lane Committee's report—whether or not there should be any restrictive amendments made to the grounds for abortion. This matter is also raised by the present Bill. The Lane Committee, at the end of two and a half years—I think I owe it to the committee to make this quotation, although it has in part been quoted before—concluded:We are unanimous in supporting the Act and its provisions. We have no doubt that the gains 1802 facilitated by the Act have much outweighed any disadvantages for which it has been criticised. The problems which we have identified in its working, and they are admittedly considerable, are problems for which solutions should be sought by administrative and professional action, and by better education of the public. They are not, we believe, indications that the grounds set out in the Act should be amended in a restrictive way. To do so when the number of unwanted pregnancies is increasing and before comprehensive services are available to all who need them would be to increase the sum of human suffering and ill-health, and probably drive more women to seek the squalid and dangerous help of the back-street abortionist.The Committee was unanimous in its conclusion that there should be no restrictive amendment to the grounds for abortion set out in the Act.
My hon. Friend's Bill makes a provision which, if implemented, would remove from the criteria for abortion the balance of risk between pregnancy and termination of pregnancy and qualify the risks as "grave" or "serious".
The effect of the provision is restrictive and is therefore contrary to the central conclusion of the Lane Committee that there should be no restrictive amendment of the grounds for abortion set out in the Act. The Lane Committee reports to this House and legislation is framed in this House. It is right that a serious report recommending legislation should be considered first by a Select Committee and then by this House as a whole.
The full import of this provision is not apparent unless it is read with the provisions of Clause 11 which places upon the doctor the onus of proof that he has complied with the requirements of the Act. The words in Section 1(1)(a) of the present Act,greater than if the pregnancy were terminated",were inserted as a result of an amendment moved by the then Lord Chief Justice, Lord Parker. He argued that, as there was always some risk involved in either terminating a pregnancy or allowing it to go to term, what was needed was some means of balancing those risks. He argued further that, given that this was the test in each case, qualification of risk such as "serious" substantial "or"real" was unnecessary, though he could see a case for the addition of "substantially" before "greater" in his amendment.
1803 Lord Parker also put forward the argument that a particular patient might exhibit, for example, a blood or respiratory condition which might make the risk of termination and pregnancy very great and that in such a case a balance of risks was essential.
At the time of the passage of the present Act there was no statistical evidence as to whether the relative risks involved in pregnancy or termination of pregnancy, without sterilisation, before three months of pregnancy carried less risk of fatality than that of completing the pregnancy.
On the other hand, the risks of fatality from operative methods associated with later terminations are greater than the risk involved in allowing a pregnancy to go to term. Thus it has been argued that for terminations in the first trimester the balance of risk in the present Act has defeated Parliament's purpose as there has been reliance by some doctors on the statistical arguments alone in deciding whether the grounds for abortion are satisfied.
Although the Lane Committee thought this practice unacceptable, it did not consider that the deletion of the words "greater than if the pregnancy were terminated" or that the addition of adjectives describing the risk would result in a better implementation of the intentions of Parliament. The adjectives used in the Bill now before the House are, in the opinion of some lawyers and professional bodies, so vague as to be meaningless. I must stress that I believe this provision needs to be very carefuly examined by the Select Committee. It appears from many comments both today and and at other times—although it is a matter for the House to decide—that the Bill would be far more acceptable if these parts were to be substantially redrafted. I welcome the readiness of the sponsors to consider this aspect of the Bill.
The Lane Committee made a recommendation that an upper time limit for abortion should be set at 24 weeks gestation without exception. This recommendation is directly relevant to Clause 7 of my hon. Friend's Bill. This clause seeks to enact a time limit for abortion of 20 weeks, subject to one qualification, where the limit would be 24 weeks. I 1804 think it is relevant for the House to be aware of the size of the problem in discussing this issue. Later terminations are rare; less than 1 per cent. of all abortions are performed at 20 weeks or more gestation, and less than one-fifth of 1 per cent. at 24 weeks or more.
Views have been put to us by the medical profession both for and against some reduction of the time limit from the present 28 weeks, but we have received no unanimous view as to what should be considered as the minimal gestational age for foetal viability. For example, the Lane Committee, as I have said, recommended an upper time limit of 24 weeks, and the Peel Advisory Group on the use of foetuses and foetal material for research recommended that the minimum limit for viability for human foetuses should be regarded as 20 weeks. In addition, the World Health Organisation is considering setting an international definition of viability. In view of the need for time to consider carefully all the factors involved and the possibility that on the question of the age of viability we may find ourselves out of step with international practice if we take a decision now, the Government's view is that the Select Committee might wish to have evidence on this before reaching a decision on how to legislate in this area.
We do, of course, appreciate and share the concern expressed by many responsible people about late terminations. We are considering whether it is within our administrative powers to go some way to meet this concern, particularly in respect of the private sector. One possibility, for example, that I would wish to discuss with the medical profession is to restrict late terminations—that is, later than 20 weeks—to NHS hospitals where the full obstetrics and gynaecological facilities are always available.
I come finally to the extremely difficult question of restricting abortions for foreign women. Abortions on foreign women are almost always carried out in clinics in London and the South-East in which foreign women form a majority of the patients. These clinics in the main provide facilities for doctors rather than a comprehensive service and are, therefore, uninformative on the routes of referral of such patients. It is within this area that abuses of the 1967 Act undoubtedly do take place, and the introduction of an 1805 approved list of advisory bureaux, together with a requirement that nursing homes provide a comprehensive service at an approved cost, should do something to curtail such abuse. At least, I hope the House will feel that we are doing our best.
Furthermore, the drawing up of this approved list of bureaux, together with a requirement that nursing homes provide terminations at a fixed comprehensive cost, should also do much to standardise the facilities available for women seeking abortion, to reduce the number of small-scale agencies, and to limit the areas of exploitation of patients. The question is, however, whether there should be legislative controls. Clause 2 in conjunction with Clause 7 of my hon. Friend's Bill will prohibit foreign women receiving treatment for abortions in this country. Clause 7 makes the upper time limit for abortion 20 weeks and Clause 2 lays down a residence qualification of 20 weeks.
To ban foreign women coming to this country for abortion was considered by the Lane Committee but on balance was rejected. It would be to single out this form of therapeutical treatment for discrimination whilst allowing foreigners to come here for every other form of medical treatment. Therapeutic abortion, like sterilisation and certain forms of contraception, is regarded as being medical treatment, and doctors consider their first duty to be to the patient, regardless of nationality and, some would say, residence. It would be for the doctor to decide whether or not the person satisfies the residence test—a difficult burden to ask a doctor to attempt to enforce. The Select Committee will almost certainly wish to examine the new French legislation, which envisages some restriction on foreign women but the exact method is not yet clear.
There has been a continuing trend towards the introduction of more liberal abortion laws in some countries, and for the first time since the Abortion Act the number of foreign women here needing abortions fell in 1974. There is clear evidence that once a country passes an abortion law numbers from that country and sometimes surrounding countries appear to fall. France since 1972 has always provided the largest single group of patients: in 1974 it was 36,541. To many people this is a very high figure 1806 which raises serious questions about the need to have a statutory ban, but it may well drop considerably following the introduction of the new laws.
§ Mr. Keith Speed (Ashford)
Could the Minister deal with the point of view expressed by his hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), which I share? Does the Department accept the validity of these figures or does he think, as many hon. Members do, that for various reasons—fiscal, criminal or whatever—the figures are very much an underestimate?
§ Dr. Owen
There are questions about the notification procedure. We rely on that procedure to give us our statistics. I have always been ready to consider any examples of abuse in that procedure and will readily take them up. It is hard to give evidence and to be certain of this, but I know that many hon. Members feel that it is an underestimate. I have no evidence that it is, so I can only work on the evidence I have.
I hope that the Bill will now be studied by a Select Committee. I hope that this will be agreed by the House. The sponsors have generously said that they will wish to withdraw the Bill. The Government have given the House ample warning of their intention to set up a Select Committee.
The Bill's esential provision is to prevent the abuses which we all know have existed in the private sector. Speaking personally, I deeply regret that such abuses have been allowed to continue for such a long time. I profoundly wish that my own profession had put its house in order. I wish that, immediately following the passage of the Act, when the abuses were at their height, successive Governments had used administrative measures to prevent abuse.
However, I believe that sensible legislation now for the private sector will strengthen, not weaken, the 1967 Act and that in time the House and the country will be grateful for the initiative taken by my hon. Friend.
I have not, I fear, dealt with all the issues but I hope I have said enough to indicate that a Select Committee on this Bill has a major task ahead of it. There is, I believe, much common ground in a wish to ensure that the abuses of the 1967 Act in the private sector are 1807 stamped out and that legislation has a part to play. I think that a Select Committee could be invaluable in preparing for such legislation.
§ 1.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
I shall not detain the House long because I recognise that this is a Private Members' day.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White) and his hon. Friends on their initiative in taking advantage of their luck in the draw in this way. The Minister has now made a helpful statement which will certainly make it possible to debate the issues. I am sorry that we could not have got to it rather sooner, but we have it on record. Some of the things he said will call for study and perhaps further probing at a later date.
In saying that, I do not intend to suggest that the hon. Gentleman's statements are not welcome. The House will have been glad to hear the ways in which he is seeking to take action by the administrative means that are open to him and his denunciation of the abuses with which the House and the country have become all too familiar and increasingly disgusted. If those words give him any support, I hope he will derive encouragement from them.
As to the 1967 Act, it has been conceded for some time that administrative action alone will not be enough. The Minister reiterated that point in his closing words. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), who was Secretary of State in 1971, recognised the extent of public concern by his decision to set up the Lane Committee. In our February manifesto last year, we accepted that there should be legislation to implement recommendations of that committee, and we have not moved from that position. But, while we favour legislation without any unnecessary delay, we share the view expressed by the Minister on behalf of the Government that the decision is essentially one which hon. Members must take on a free vote and in the light of their consciences and the opinions which they have formed on the evidence available to them.
I confine my remarks only to testing the efficacy of the procedure which the 1808 Government have now proposed—with one preamble. Much attention has been given, rightly, to articles which Mr. Ronald Butt wrote in The Times recently. In his article of 30th January there is a statement upon which I should be grateful for the Minister's comment. This concerns the reference to the Director of Public Prosecutions of certain allegations in the book "Babies for Burning".
§ Mr. Onslow
It is reported there that an official of the Minister's Department said that such a reference had been made. I hope that I can take it, from the assent which I think the Minister is indicating, that this is so.
§ Mr. Onslow
I am glad to hear that the Minister takes that view, and I entirely concur with him. I am sure that the House will hope that the DPP's investigations will not be prolonged.
We have before us today a Bill which admittedly may have flaws, and they may be flaws of principle as well as of detail. Hon. Members who have spoken in the debate, the Minister among them, have touched upon the question of the 20-weeks' provision which the Bill seeks to substitute for the present 28 weeks. There was certainly some evidence in what the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) was saying that we in this country are somewhat out of line with international practice in going so far over the three-month limit. I know at least one doctor who, having practised in this area for many years, takes the view that 14 weeks should be the normal maximum permitted limit for termination of pregnancy. But this is not a matter on which we, as lay people, should be dogmatic, nor can we form any useful view without hearing a good deal of evidence.
On the question of administrability—[Interruption.] I am not trying to be dogmatic. On the administrability the Bill, particularly the part applying to foreigners, I share some of the doubts about the way in which the provisions could be enforced as they are defined, and 1809 the way in which they could be further refined if that was thought necessary. It may well be that there is something there which would detain any committee which was to consider the proposal—as might the particular proposal concerning the burden of proof. Here there are, as in almost any Bill, matters for debate and discussion which would no doubt take a good deal of time away from the Floor of the House, where we discuss the desirability of the Bill as a whole, into some sort of committee.
But the House must now judge whether the Government's proposition in their motion is the best way of proceeding in the way that we want to move. I thought that the recommendation of this procedure by the Leader of the House yesterday on the ground that it had been found very useful in railway legislation in the nineteenth century was not the strongest I have ever heard. Perhaps there are better precedents. The House will have to make up its mind about this matter. It will also want to know the time scale. We have had an assurance that the Government will find time for debate on Tuesday if objection is taken at the intervening stages today and if the present motion were put down again on Monday. That at least is good news. However, I must press further and ask when the selection of the membership of the Select Committee will be made, and, if objections were taken to that—as is conceivable—would the Government be equally forthcoming with time for a debate?
The House may agree with me that the balance of representation on this relatively small Committee might be a matter of contention and could be thought to have a bearing on the likely unanimity of any report which the Committee might produce, or the time taken to produce it. In that there may also be scope for delay if the Government were not wholly forthcoming, as we hope they might prove to be.
Looking specifically at the Government's motion, I find it possible to find flaws in that, because we are not really left with a clear injunction upon the Committee in terms which all of us would accept as being a reflection of the urgency we attach to this matter. We have had an assurance from the Minister that the Government would be sympathetic to carrying the Committee over into another 1810 Session if that need should arise. I would far sooner see an injunction laid upon the Committee that it should seek to report in this Session. The hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) shakes his head. It may be because he foresees that the Committee could find itself embroiled in taking a very large quantity of evidence. When the Leader of the House commended the Government's motion to the House yesterday, he said that it would be possible for the Roman Catholic Church to give evidence to the Select Committee. This led me to have a look at the evidence which the Lane Committee had taken. I detect that the Catholic interest was represented at very powerful levels in the evidence to that committee. The committee took a mass of evidence, written and verbal. It took a great deal of time—two and a half years, as we have been reminded.
It would be an insult to a Select Committee to suggest that it is as capable, as someone once said of Royal Commissions, of taking minutes and wasting years. But I wonder whether the Government's motion is close enough to the point to reflect the wishes of the House. I should like to see a motion which enabled the Select Committee—if that is the decision of the House—to take account of evidence which has already been given, perhaps even to confine its own further taking of evidence to testing the evidence which has been given, and not to going again over all the ground or inviting a whole number of people to repeat their evidence. I put this point to the House as one which it may want to bear in mind in the decision that it takes.
Again, I wonder whether the Minister is right in his understanding of the likely terms of reference of the Select Committee. He told us that he thought it possible, for instance, that the matter of conscience was one on which the Committee could taken evidence. My understanding is that the scope of the Committee is not so wide. It seems to me that if the Committee is enjoined to report on the proposals in the Bill before us—and there is no mention of the matter of conscience in the Bill—it would be outside the power of the Committee to take evidence or to report on that point. If the Minister thinks that this is an important point—I gather that he does; if so, I share his view—I hope that he 1811 will agree that the Government may need to consider drawing the terms of their motion a little more precisely so that there is no room left for doubt.
The correspondence exchanged between the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) is a matter of considerable importance. I am glad that the whole exchange is to be placed in the Library. I know that the concern it has caused will remain until there has been a further and more detailed probing of the exact state of affairs. But it would be a most unfortunate state if the Select Committee—if it is to be set up—were not able to go over that ground as well.
So I must ask the Minister, or whoever is responsible for putting Government motions on the Order Paper—we see some very odd motions tabled from time to time—whether they might not consider that if they have to return with another motion on Tuesday it should be drawn slightly more widely.
§ Mr. Onslow
That is the advice the Minister gives. Yesterday his right hon. Friend said that the matter of the ability of the Committee to consider the Lane Report, and the Lane evidence thereby, was something on which he would have to take a second opinion. If that was the second opinion, I am sure that the House is grateful for it.
The point I come to now, however, has already been raised, quite understandably, by some of my hon. Friends. That is: why could not the Government have taken over the Bill? That has happened previously. The Standing Orders provide for it, as my hon. Friends have reminded us. The Minister referred to difficulties in getting a Private Member's Bill through by mentioning his own experience. His experience should have taught him that a Private Member can get a long way with help from the Government, because when his Children Bill—which did not reach the statute book 1812 under his name as a back bencher—was going through the House, it is fair to say that he got a considerable amount of assistance. [Interruption.] The Minister says "Not at all", but others, I think, would say that. If the Minister says "None at all", I can only say that we may have to return to that point on another date.
§ Mr. Fell
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I find it extremely irksome and difficult for back benchers to be present for this debate, which has been going on now for some time, which started as a back benchers' day, and in which the Minister had to intervene and in which my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) did not have to intervene, at least until all the back benchers who might be expected to get in had in fact got in. There are at least 10 back benchers who will not have a chance of getting in. I happen to know that I shall succeed in catching the eye of the Chair, so I am not being selfish.
I should have thought that my hon. Friend would have had sufficient regard for back benchers, one of whom he was for long enough, not to go on and on and on.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
I have already rebuked another hon. Member. That is not a point of order. Hon. Members will remember that right at the beginning of this debate I made an appeal that speeches be as brief as possible.
§ Mr. Onslow
I am in sight of my ending. If my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) will contain himself, I may reach the end in three minutes. I will not comment on the length of time for which my hon. Friend has been a back bencher, because I do not regard that kind of coinage as particularly suitable to debate.
I return to the point I had reached. The House will need to be sure of the genuineness of the offers which have been made before it decides how it will vote at the end of the day, whatever proposition the sponsors of the Bill may put before us. I hope that it would be wrong of me to suggest that the reason this procedure, which is unusual, is being brought before the House is that there is 1813 a lack of sympathy within the Department for legislation in this field and legislation soon.
There were moments during the Minister's speech, when he spoke of sustained scrutiny and implied that the process must be a lengthy one, when I was inclined to interpret his words as suggesting that this is a matter which will take a year or two yet to resolve. If that is so, it may be that hon. Members on both sides will take the view that they wish to proceed more urgently, that they wish to take the chance that a Bill or parts of a Bill to amend the present law can be hammered out in Standing Committee in the usual way.
This is essentially a matter where the initiative comes from outside the House, and from the back benches on both sides, bringing pressure upon the Government for action. I hope that the Minister is under no misapprehension about that. I hope that in all the ways by which the Government respond to these pressures and the offers they make they are genuinely seeking to get what the hon. Gentleman himself described as sensible legislation now. If that is his objective, it is one that I endorse. I for one have no wish to be party to or to vote for anything which has about it the character of delaying action.
§ 1.33 p.m.
§ Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)
My hon. Friend the Minister rightly described this area as being a very sensitive and complex one. It certainly is, though in some of the speeches by hon. Members who have spoken already there was not very much sensitivity shown to a very sensitive and complex subject.
It is, above all, a subject that concerns women. Practically all the women on this side of the House support the original 1967 Act and oppose this proposed amendment. I am sorry that there are not women on the other side of the House who are apparently anxious to take part in this debate, for this is a matter that concerns women very much indeed.
I speak for women both in the House and outside. When I say "outside" I include the organised women—
§ Mrs. Short
No, of course not. I have not even started.
I was saying that I speak for women in the House and outside. When I speak about women outside the House I refer to women in our own organised movement in the Labour and trade union movement who also support the Act for which the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) was responsible, who are on record as doing so and who very recently welcomed the publication of the Lane Report and supported its proposals.
My hon. Friends are concerned with the abuses in the private sector, as we all know. It is very interesting to see that Conservative Members are now prepared to come out and speak against the private sector. We have not noticed very much enthusiasm for that when we have been urging the Secretary of State to proceed with the elimination of private practice.
We are very concerned that the Government shall have regard for the clearly expressed view of women who are working class women, who are by and large the main beneficiaries of the 1967 Act. This is tremendously important, because it means that since that Act was introduced working-class women are able to get what better-off women have always been able to get. Better-off women have never been inhibited when they have wanted to remove an unwanted pregnancy for frivolous reasons. I do not believe that our women are concerned with ending unwanted pregnancies for frivolous reasons, but better-off women have always been able to do this.
Since the beginning of time women have always been able to rid themselves of unwanted pregnancies, though one would think from listening to the longwinded speeches of the sponsors of the Bill, making their comments both inside the House and outside, that this is a new development since the Act was introduced and that this is an example of the permissive society that the Act has brought about. This is not so and it has no foundation in fact.
The principal sponsor of the Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White), said very little in his introductory speech about his Bill. Perhaps that is not surprising, because not only is it full of drafting failings but it is 1815 very clear that the intention of this amending Bill is to undermine the original Act to such an extent as to make it unworkable and more Draconian for women. That is one of our major reasons for opposing it.
I shall not say anything about page 1, because that was well ventilated by my hon. Friend the Minister. On page 2 my hon. Friend the Member for Pollok seeks to prescribe which consultants shall be involved. He does not clarify the sort of consultant whom he thinks might be able to preside over premises. It could be a geriatrician, I suppose. I wonder whether my hon. Friend would be satisfied with that, because he merely saysa consultant within the National Health Service".Paragraph (c) states:a registered medical practitioner approved by the Secretary of State as being of like status to such a consultant".A consultant is a consultant or he is not a consultant. What is a personof like status to … a consultant"?I do not understand it, and my hon. Friend did not attempt to explain it.
Clause 2 would seem to prohibit foreign women from coming here and having terminations in this country except after a period of 20 weeks had elapsed. That seems to be an extraordinary aim. One of the aims and objectives of a sensible, liberal, safe abortion policy is to have terminations carried out absolutely as soon as possible.
Clause 2, if it were accepted, would mean that a foreign student or au pair girl or a foreign woman of any kind who came to this country, say, 15 weeks pregnant would have to wait another five weeks or more before she could have her pregnancy terminated. She would not be eligible until then. So what would happen to her? Would she then be sent back? How would she be dealt with? How would the doctor examine her credentials—passport, or other documentation—to satisfy himself? Is this a burden which should be placed upon doctors in the carrying out of their professional work?
The hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles has already spoken of the more liberal abortion laws introduced by many countries since 1967. It is the Catholic countries which are supplying 1816 the largest number of women coming to this country for termination of pregnancy. They come from Ireland—in fact, from both parts of Ireland—and above all from France, which last year gave us the largest figure, 36,000 from Spain and from Italy.
Italian women are now pressing for an abortion law themselves, and it may well be that they will get it. They have managed to get divorce law reform. I am sure also that the introduction of the French Act will lead to a reduction in the numbers. Indeed, from all these areas there will, I believe, be a dramatic fall in the numbers coming here by the end of this year.
§ Mr. Winterton
Will not the hon. Lady acknowledge that the very clause which she is now discussing is intended to discourage foreign women from coming to this country to take advantage of our medical services, which, I am sure she agrees, are thoroughly overstretched, and it will at the same time prevent their being tempted by the very private clinics to which she is so much opposed?
§ Mrs. Short
It is not clear whether the hon. Gentleman is concerned about the private clinics or about the overstretching of National Health Service hospital resources. In fact, none of the foreign women are treated in NHS hospitals; they all go to the private sector.
§ Mrs. Short
No, I want to get on and make my speech in my own way.
The overwhelming majority of terminations today take place before the thirteenth week of pregnancy. This is why the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) was so utterly misleading, as is a great deal of the literature sent to Members of Parliament during the past few weeks. Over 80 per cent. of terminations in all sectors take place before the thirteenth week. This is a development which we should all welcome, since it means that the terminations can be carried out fairly simply, by new and simpler methods, without the risks attached to termination at a later stage.
Only less than 1 per cent. of the total number of terminations take place after the twentieth week—between the 1817 twentieth and the twenty-eighth week. So what are we making such heavy weather about?
§ Mrs. Short
What! Pontypool? I treat Pontypool as Pontypool treated me.
As I say, this is a development which can be greatly welcomed, and that is why Clause 2 is so unacceptable.
I am concerned also about Clause 5(2), a provision which could well interfere with the work of the charitable trusts, which all, I believe, accept as filling the need which ought to be met by the National Health Service. Only because of the shortcomings of the health service are private clinics able to function. Because of the abuses in the private sector, the expensive sector, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, for example, set up its clinics and nursing homes. These services are helping a large number of women who have legal grounds for termination. I emphasise that. They are women with legal grounds under the Act who are unable to have termination carried out in the National Health Service because of the religious objections or other objections of the consultant gynaecologist in charge.
The figures given by the Registrar-General are illuminating. If nothing else, they show my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State where she ought to be taking urgent action if she is to send the Bill to a Select Committee to look into all aspects of the Lane Report and this proposed measure. She cannot do that without looking at the deficiencies in her Department and the service which it provides.
I take first the Birmingham figures. In 1973, in the Birmingham region only 2,300 women had a termination in a National Health Service hospital, and twice that number had to go into the private sector in the region, which meant that they went probably to the BPAS or to private clinics in the region. But the same number again, nearly 5,000, had to go into the private sector outside the region altogether. That is a pattern which one sees repeated throughout all the regional hospital board areas as they then were.
Liverpool is very low on the list because of the attitude of Professor 1818 Jeffcoate, a well known anti-abortionist. In Liverpool itself in 1973 there were only 1,450 terminations, and 559 of those were done in NHS hospitals in the region, while a much larger number, 629, had to be done in non-NHS hospitals, and almost another 300 women had to go out of the region for termination in the private sector elsewhere.
I note the figures for my own area, and I note also the interesting record for Brighton. In the Brighton area there were 535 terminations, only 108 being done in NHS hospitals and 414 being done in the private sector.
The deficiencies in the National Health Service provision, for which my right hon. Friend is responsible, are driving women into the private sector. They may go into the private charitable sector, where they are well treated and where the fees are waived for a woman who cannot afford to pay, the maximum fee being about £50, which is nothing in comparison with Harley Street and Wimpole Street fees. They are being driven also into those sectors of private medicine about which we are most concerned and in which the major abuses occur. I repeat that the Secretary of State and the House itself ought to give urgent consideration to the provision being made within the National Health Service.
Next, I add my voice to the protests already made about Clause 11, which would put an unwelcome burden of proof on the consultant, coupled with the proposal that any anonymous person could lay charges against a doctor who might well be acting within the terms of the Act and carrying out an entirely legal termination. Such a person would not have to have his or her name disclosed.
That is quite appalling. A confirmed anti-abortionist could crucify a gynaecologist who carried out a perfectly legal operation under the Act. We all know that actions for libel or slander are a very expensive business, and a doctor's whole reputation would be put at risk.
There are, therefore, serious objections to this amending Bill, and there are many matters which will have to be considered if the matter goes to a Select Committee.
I refer now to the enormous amount of extraordinary material with which 1819 Members of Parliament have been inundated of late, material which gives very distorted pictures of foetuses and which paints in lurid language the effect of termination on the foetus or on the woman in relation to her future health and psychological condition.
It is well to bear in mind, if we are talking about terminations before the thirteenth week—and about 80 per cent. of terminations in this country take place before then—that the size of the foetus is 6 cm or 2⅜ in. If termination takes place at 16 weeks, which is the point when quickening occurs, the foetus is 4¾ in. It is important to keep these matters in perspective. At 12 weeks the foetus weight ½ oz.
Let us have no more lurid propaganda about babies crying on the way to the incinerator, as was mentioned in that disgusting little book by two gutter journalists, using methods that everyone must condemn. The results have been checked and checked again and found to be absolutely false. Let us have no more propaganda about foetuses lying on the slab waiting to be killed. This is disgraceful. Members of Parliament are not to be taken in and deluded by this kind of disgusting, ill-founded and unscientific propaganda.
§ 1.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)
I hope that the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) will forgive me if I do not follow her argument in detail. In the last part of her speech she spoke about propaganda. I hate to think about the propaganda in which she and her hon. Friends have engaged over the past 20 or 30 years. The misery and the suffering which that has caused is beyond description.
I am conscious of the fact that there are a number of hon. Members who support this Bill and who probably will not get the chance to take part in today's debate. I shall therefore be brief.
May I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White) on presenting the Bill and on his speech today. I am sorry that the Bill has apparently now disappeared and that a Private Members' day has been altered into a Government day. I have been in this House long 1820 enough—[Interruption.] A dear friend of mine on the Opposition Front Bench says that I have been a back bencher too long. That may well be due to one of two causes. One may be that I have stuck by my principles ever since I have been here and another may be that one or two of my friends in high places were stupid enough to leave me on the back benches. That does not really matter.
There are two points I wish to raise. First I want to talk about the conscience clause, which does not appear in this Bill. I regret that. I admit that it is an infinitely difficult matter to put into words and to avoid the dreadful things that are now happening in the hospitals and the National Health Service because there is no protection for people who cannot, in conscience, do things that they believe are disgusting, sad, dreadful and immoral. There is no protection for them.
It has been fashionable to read parts of the Lane Report today. One piece was so fashionable that it was read twice. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) has left the Chamber, because he used the extract in question. Then it was read again by the Minister, who made a charming contribution. I want to read a different part, which deals with the question of conscience.
Paragraph 607 says:There is of course another decision for the individual conscience and that is whether or not to take any part in abortion work. No doctor or nurse is required to participate in the treatment authorised by the Act, if he or she has a conscientious objection to it on religious or ethical grounds. This is entirely proper, it is a traditional freedom which must be jealously guarded, and we have found that generally it is being very well respected.I draw attention to "jealously guarded". What is said later shows that the Committee has no idea how to guard that.
It goe on to say:Where there is disagreement between what the individual wishes to avoid and has to do, it is far more often that he has been driven by his own feelings of loyalty and fairness to his colleagues, and by a perception of the patients' needs, into conflict with his sense of the wrongness of abortion than because he has been under any duress from seniors to take part in the work.I wish I could take that completely at its face value and believe that there are not large numbers of nurses, more nurses 1821 than doctors perhaps, who abhor the work they have to carry out.
The report goes on to say:should priority be given to the individual's claim for religious tolerance and his right conscientiously to refuse to take part in abortion work, or to the obligation of the N.H.S. to provide a service for its patients who need abortion? We have stated the view that sometimes the needs of the many must take priority and that inevitably some who refuse this work may not obtain a particular appointment: but we came to this conclusion with great reluctance and hope that the occasions for such a decision will be rare.May I ask the Minister, who was kind enough to say to me that he could not stay, to look at this whole matter deeply and carefully when the Bill is referred to the Select Committee? I believe it is something that is greatly troubling some of the most conscientious nurses and doctors in the entire profession. The profession cannot afford to lose people who have a strong moral opinion on the work they do.
§ Mr. Mahon
The hon. Gentleman has referred to the Lane Committee. He will recall that I asked the then Minister, the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) if, when the Lane Committee was set up, it would include all kinds of opinion, representing medical and social views. Later, that promise was broken. Perhaps the reference to the conscience clause might have been clearer if the Minister had adhered to his original promise.
§ Mr. Fell
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his help. I trust that he will use every endeavour, as I am sure he will, to get this matter most carefully considered. I do not trust Governments. I have been here, as the Opposition Front Bench reminded me, a rather long time. That has not led me to have complete trust in the promises of Government Front Benches. With the best will in the world the Minister of State and his right hon. Friend cannot make guarantees. Something may occur which removes both of them. I hope that that will not be the case. Some 1822 thing might happen that will remove them and their good will towards the Bill or, shall we say, the spirit of the Bill.
I hope that the promise of further administrative help to rectify the serious situation which now faces the country on abortion will be carried out. I am grateful for the administrative work that has been carried out as a direct result of publication of the Bill. We can only pray that the Select Committee which is to be set up will work for us and that when it has completed its discussions and reported there will be substance in the Government's implied promise that a Bill will be presented to the House in the form of the Bill now before us. Perhaps it will be a little better drafted as a result of the work of the Select Committee.
I end by saying again how grateful the House must be to the hon. Member for Pollock and his hon. Friends for introducing this Private Member's Bill.
§ 2.1 p.m.
§ Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)
I shall not take up in detail the speech of the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell). I am sorry for his sake that there was no one on the Opposition Front Bench to hear what he had to say. We are having a debate of the utmost gravity affecting a large part of the female sex of this country, yet the Opposition Front Bench is completely empty. That shows a frivolity and indifference that should not be tolerated.
We must deal with this subject unemotionally and objectively. We must disregard most of the literature which has been flooding our post during the past week or two. There are probably two main types of objectors to the 1967 Act. There are those who think that abortion legislation should be of a punitive nature to reduce immorality or sexual activity. I think most of us feel some impatience with that attitude. Obviously, the time to influence such matters is by appropriate education, long before pregnancy takes place. On the other hand, there are many people who regard the rights of the unborn child as deserving much more attention than they now receive. Many of us here, too, feel strongly about this, although it is a difficult subject. We are particularly indebted to my hon. Friend the Member 1823 for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White) for bringing forward this Bill and enabling us to discuss what has been becoming in many ways a scandalous situation.
I am worried about my hon. Friend's Bill because parts of it seem totally impracticable. Further, it goes well beyond the recommendations of the Lane Committee. The Lane Committee sat from 1971 to the end of 1973. It was presided over by a lady of exceptional intelligence, experience and humanity. It was staffed by top people in the gynaecology specialty, by distinguished lawyers and by distinguished members of the nursing profession. This House should give more attention to the Lane Committee's recommendations than is indicated in the Bill now before us.
It is accepted by everyone that there is now a wide range of reasons for abortion which are agreed by the medical profession. There is no hope of putting back the clock and of putting abortion in the same situation as it was in before the 1967 Act. However, there have been some serious abuses of the 1967 Act about which we are all concerned and to which the Select Committee must give careful consideration.
The first abuse which I deal with is, I believe, due to a failure on the part of the Department of Health and Social Security. I do not often agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short), but there is no doubt that it is scandalous that there should be such an uneven distribution of abortion facilities throughout the country. This is one of the difficulties about the conscience situation. It is an absurd situation, for example, that in Newcastle there should be twice as many abortions performed as in Birmingham. It is monstrous that in some hospitals abortions are a rarity. Such hospitals are flouting the intention of the 1967 Act. I suggest that that is a matter which the Department should consider carefully. If the Act is to be applied it should be applied justly and evenly throughout the country. It cannot be said that it is now being applied in such a way.
That is one of the first abuses that could be changed forthwith by administrative action by the Department. It 1824 could deal with the conscience clause referred to by the hon. Member for Yarmouth by making supplementary appointments so that those gynaecologists whose consciences do not permit them to perform abortions may be supplemented by colleagues who do not have the same conscience problem.
We have talked about foreign traffic. We have heard from my hon. Friend the Minister of State that there are difficulties about ending that traffic. I believe that the difficulties can be overcome. It would not be all that difficult to ensure that people who are reasonably suspected of being foreigners should at least provide passports or some evidence that they are British before being entitled to receive an abortion under the National Health Service or privately.
The most important matter before us is the failure to recognise the rights of the unborn child. This is the great objection that so many people on both sides of the House rightly have. The Bill does an excellent service in providing legislation for stopping abortions after 24 weeks and putting serious impediments in their way in terms of professional co-operation after 20 weeks. At that stage one is very close to infanticide.
On the other hand, we must be careful in weighing up the rights of the unborn child against the rights of the mother and the rights of the rest of the family in the early stages of pregnancy. There is no escaping from the fact that the foetus in the early stages of pregnancy bears no resemblance to a human being. It is no use pretending that it is a human being. It is only a potential human being. One of the curious laws of nature is that human beings in reproduction reproduce the development of the human being in evolution. As in evolution human beings develop from being worm-like, fish-like and monkey-like animals. Exactly the same thing happens inside the female uterus.
One has to have a sense of proportion in interpreting the rights of the unborn child when it is merely a potential child, and its interests have to be weighed against those of a real live mother and a real family. The matter must be considered carefully. It is a difficult subject on which I do not pretend to have final opinions.
1825 The real abuse of the 1967 Act is the rather too free interpretation of the words "injury to mental health". That leaves a wide scope. It is possible for unscrupulous or irresponsible doctors to interpret that phrase so widely that, in effect, patients have abortion on demand, as happens so much in the private sector.
How can legislation overcome that problem? Assessing injury done to mental health is a complex professional matter. There are many psychiatric criteria of what a given pregnancy can do to a person's mental health. It is impossible for any legislative assembly to lay down strict rules about that. It must be a matter for the decision of the doctors concerned. It is impossible to legislate to ensure that doctors adhere to defined psychiatric criteria.
In common sense terms we have to face the fact that if a woman is determined to get rid of her unborn child there is no way of stopping her. It is ridiculous to think that legislation will achieve that. If she is rich she can do it more easily, but I am not so concerned about rich women. I remember when I was a young surgeon responsible for emergency operations the number of young women who were brought to me desperately ill and harassed to the point of nervous breakdown because they had stuck a knitting needle or some other infected instrument into themselves. That was a common occurrence. We do not want that situation ever to happen again. It would certainly happen again if we had too strict criteria for termination pregnancy.
Abortion must be largely a matter of medical judgment. It is unwise to attempt to give detailed instructions, or even any clinical instructions, to doctors in terms of the Bill. The Bill mentions "grave risk to life". How is that to be interpreted? The Bill mentions—risk of serious injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant women … or her family".The insertion of such adjectives seriously interferes with the clinical freedom of the doctors concerned and leads to immense difficulties.
§ Mr. Andrew Bowden (Brighton, Kemptown)
The House listens with great respect to the hon. Gentleman's views, but if this matter is to be left 1826 entirely to the doctor's judgment is there not bound to be abortion on demand, because there will always be some doctor who will take the view that an abortion should be performed?
§ Mr. Cronin
We have to accept that anyone who wants to get rid of her unborn child will do so. In effect, there has always been abortion on demand. We want to ensure that it is not done in the disagreeable way in which it was done prior to the 1967 Act.
§ Mr. Dan Jones
My hon. Friend must take into consideration the variation of opinion within the medical profession. There are eminent gynaecologists who are very much opposed to the opinions advanced by my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Cronin
I accept that, but we must remember that a woman can go to the medical adviser she wishes to go to. It is absurd to try to inflict uniformity on medical opinion.
§ Mr. Cronin
I must chide my hon. Friend, who is also a personal friend, for not having listened to my speech. I have already said that this traffic from abroad should be stopped as soon as possible by appropriate legislative action.
The Bill attempts to divide doctors into groups. Clause 1 refers to doctors who have been registered for not less than five years. A doctor is a doctor. What can be more absurd than to have special categories of doctors in circumstances like this? As soon as a man is registered he become responsible for affairs of life and death every week, every day, yet for the purposes of the termination of pregnancy he has to have a five years' registration. An attempt to divide the medical profession in that way is completely impractical. I suggest that the Select Committee should remember that.
There should be no harassment of doctors. Doctors in the National Health Service do not like terminating pregnancies. It is regarded as a detestable chore. No doubt other considerations apply in 1827 the private sector. A young registrar in a gynaecological department who is faced with the termination of a pregnancy has to be certain that there is a grave risk to the life of the pregnant woman if the pregnancy is not terminated. If someone informs against him the onus of proof is on him that he has not committed an offence which will bring him up to six months' imprisonment or a fine of £1,000. I can imagine no more absurd situation and no more serious restriction of clinical freedom, particularly among young doctors. This is one of the most absurd parts of the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East suggested that there are doctors in the private sector who make vast profits. We must face the fact that that is because the National Health Service is letting the patients down because of inadequate facilities. There would be no booming private sector in abortions if there were at least reasonable facilities in the National Health Service—which there are not.
I hope that the Select Committee when it investigates this matter will recognise its own limitations in forming opinions on delicate and complex professional matters. I hope that it will adhere to the Lane Report as much as possible. The Lane Committee is the most authoritative body of opinion we could possibly have. Finally, the Select Committee must remember that, although this is a difficult and serious social problem, there are grave limitations to what can be done by legislation. Legislation might well produce much more harm than good.
§ 2.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)
I always listen with respect to the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) on this subject, but I disagree with what he said about the disparity in the number of abortions performed in various parts of the country. If the doctors concerned decide that an abortion is not necessary I cannot see how they can be flouting the law, because the 1967 Act clearly gives them that discretion.
I join in congratulations to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White) on bringing forward the Bill. There are few causes more worthy of support. I am sorry that I was unable to attend his 1828 meeting to discuss the Select Committee, but after listening to the Minister I am happier than I was when I first heard the proposal to set it up.
I shall make my objection to abortion on one fundamental ground. I believe that it is a grave sin, and I do not think that statistics one way or the other affect my viewpoint in any way.
I wish to refer to two sentences from an article written by Malcolm Muggeridge in the Sunday Times last week which go to the root of the matter:Either we go on with the process of shaping our own destiny without reference to any higher being than Man, deciding ourselves how many children shall be born, when and in what varieties, which lives are worth continuing and which should be put out. … Or we draw back, seeking to understand and fall in with our Creator's purpose for us rather than to pursue our own; in true humility praying, as the founder of our religion and our civilisation taught us: Thy will be done. This is what the abortion controversy is about, and what the euthenasia controversy will be about when, as must inevitably happen soon, it arises.I welcome the Bill. I think that in some degree it will remove the abuses of the 1967 Act—and nearly all contributors to this debate have agreed that there are abuses. After the Select Committee has met and reported, we shall have an obligation to see that the legislation passes through the House as quickly as possible.
§ 2.22 p.m.
§ Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
The discipline of brevity must lie heavily on us all, tempting though it is to look back over the history of this subject in Parliament and to remember battles of long ago. It is certainly much easier for Parliament to be able to discuss these very important matters than it was when some of us were pioneering to have a rational public debate on this subject.
I was much impressed with the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin). He spoke from the point of view of the doctor. I speak as a doctor's wife, and my husband used to work in a very poor part of the East End of London. One of the most satisfactory transformations in the social life of the people who were his patients has been the new 1829 attitude towards the termination of pregnancy. In those days women would come into his surgery with their calendars and obviously they had suffered dread month after month.
My hon. Friend was quite right to emphasise the awful decision which faced doctors in the days before the law was changed. I am sure that we never had any reliable statistics on this topic. It is said that there is a great increase in the number of abortions. I submit that nobody can say that there is an increase, because nobody knew how many there were before. I remember that my husband hardly ever put "abortion" on a death certificate because it always shamed the family, quite apart from the husband. It would be "septicaemia" or some other replacement. So we cannot say that there are now more abortions than there were.
I remember my husband being called out to see a girl who had undergone an abortion and who had interfered with herself in a horrible way. My husband got the girl into hospital and she died there. The next thing that happened was that a policeman arrived and said to my husband "You sent her into hospital and were the last doctor to see her". My husband replied "I can only say that if I had carried out the operation it would not have gone septic". But it was days before that cloud was lifted from the family. I am sure that the amending legislation which is before the House will re-create that situation and will make it difficult for a doctor to give an abortion to which a woman is entitled because he might be afraid of being caught by the legislation.
Of course there are abuses in the private sector, and I wish that some of my friends in the medical profession were more alert to the total abuse and overcharging in the private sector as a whole. It is not only in this speciality that there is abuse.
I should like to say a word about the situation of the foreign woman as affected by this legislation. A doctor has not only to be satisfied on the difficult judgment of grave injury and serious risk and so on but has to find out about the woman's nationality. How does he police that task? The woman may say "I speak in an odd way because I come from Southern Ireland", or she may say "I do not speak 1830 English very well because I am German but married to an English husband." Has the doctor to obtain the husband's birth certificate or passport? [An HON. MEMBER: "Her own passport."] It is certainly a new situation and I hope that the BMA will pronounce on the desirability of patients having to take passports to their doctor.
In case I cannot persuade the House of these arguments, I should like to quote from a letter which I received from a distinguished gynaecologist who is a constituent. He said:Any national has always been able to seek medical and surgical help in the UK and increasing numbers … come here for this purpose because we have such good medical ability. This being so, why should women seeking abortion be singled out in this way? I need hardly point out that a doctor should see and attend anyone with a total disregard of nationality; race; colour; creed or social position. It is entirely contrary to medical ethics and honour to make discriminaitons.The words of that doctor put the dilemma very fairly indeed.
We have heard a lot of statistics today. I sometimes wonder whether we are talking about women at all. Perhaps if there had been more women Members of Parliament present today on the Opposition benches, we might have heard a wider variety of contribution. I must remind the House that this is International Women's Year.
§ Mrs. Jeger
I hear what my hon. Friend says, but one would almost think that references to foreign women bring some strangely polluting element to Parliament.
I submit that it is an extremely traumatic experience for a woman to have to go through an abortion at all, and she must be particularly desperate to have to come to this country to have it carried out. She is in need of help and compassion. It is astonishing that we in the House of Commons should seek to celebrate International Women's Year by making this differentiation. If a foreign gentleman comes to London to have his prostate fixed, he does not get sent home. How can we divide the specialities of medicine? How can we try to single out one element in the practice of medicine and ascribe to it a different branch 1831 of legislation, under which the authority of the Mother of Parliaments takes the view "You are foreign women, you are not our sisters, you do not belong to humanity. Keep your problem at home."
§ Mr. David James (North Dorset)
Is the hon. Lady saying that the male prostate gland is human life in the same way as a foetus?
§ Mrs. Jeger
I suggest that for the hon. Gentleman it might very well feel as though it is.
I shall finish on a serious note. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse)—incidentally, he has not been to my house but I have been to his—referred to way-out professors who were opposed to the Bill. I have had a letter from a way-in professor. I refer to Professor Fairweather, head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University College Hospital, London, one of the most famous departments in the world on this subject. I am sure that everybody agrees that that is a very good hospital.
Professor Fairweather wrote to me in very strong terms to make sure that I was in my place today to vote against this amending legislation. The professor said in his letter that this legislation will make the doctor's life more difficult, and he continued:… the effect of the Bill would be to restrict the availability of abortion and, in fact, would be quite contrary to the suggestions made as a result of the Lane Commission.He is concerned, as are other doctors working with him, about what the House might do today. I gather that the House will not do what this distinguished professor was afraid it might do. However, it is a pity that we are not holding a debate on the report of the Lane Committee instead of on a Bill which is harmful to the cause that many of us have at heart.
§ 2.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)
I came to the House hoping to vote in support of the Abortion (Amendment) Bill because I believed it to be a good Bill. I regret that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White), who introduced the Bill so well, has been persuaded to with 1832 draw it. However, that being the case, those of us who would have supported the Bill have little option but to support putting it before a Select Committee. Therefore, I shall support that proposal.
I listened with interest to the moving speech made by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Jeger), who spoke about the international traffic in abortions. She spoke with great force and she undoubtedly had a point. However, I should like to read to the House a directly relevant extract from the German magazine Der Spiegel, which has a wide circulation in Germany. The extract comes from the issue dated 27th January and has been translated for me by the Library.
It reads:An 'International Pregnancy Advisory Service' in Twickenham, Middlesex, England, is sending German doctors vouchers, on production of which patients are to be refunded 25 per cent. of their travel costs.The undertaking from the doctors is as follows:Pregnancies can be interrupted up to 24 weeks if necessary. Should your patient have difficulties … she can be certain that she has not been driven to the right address.I have obtained from the paper the address, which is in my constituency. I shall send it to the Minister, because I think that the matter should be investigated. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not publish it?"] I do not propose to publish the address by giving it to the House, because I believe that by publishing it I should be boosting this trade, and that is just what I do not want to happen.
I do not believe that this trade and traffic is in accordance with either the will of the House or the intention of the House as expressed in 1967, although I was not then a Member. The case I have mentioned is not an isolated case in my constituency. Being near to Heathrow, the trade undoubtedly gives offence to a considerable number of people. I hope that the Select Committee will examine the situation very carefully and critically so that the abuses can be abolished.
§ Dr. M. S. Miller
Why does not the hon. Gentleman spell it out that there is a section of the medical profession 1833 whose practices in this respect are despicable and that the medical profession should put its house in order? Why does not the hon. Gentleman say that?
§ Mr. Jessel
If the medical profession does not put its own house in order or show itself capable of doing so, I believe that this House has a duty to legislate. The medical profession has had plenty of time. It is a great and wonderful profession with many very fine people in it. If it will not put its own house in order, I believe that the House must act.
My second point relates to the rights of unborn children. I agree with the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) that their rights must be considered alongside those of women with unwanted pregnancies and not totally disregarded. Many people were born after unwanted pregnancies. Were we able to identify such people and ascertain whether they wished they had never been born, I am sure we should receive an overwhelming straight, negative answer.
There are grounds for believing that there is a shortage of children for adoption. I have been approached by would-be parents in my constituency who have the utmost difficulty in finding children to adopt. The adoption agencies are in a position to be very careful about whom they accept as parents, and it is right that they should be careful. However, it is not necessarily right that there should be an artificial shortage.
§ Mrs. Helene Hayman (Welwyn and Hatfield)
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that the woman with an unwanted pregnancy, who is convinced that she will not be able to care for the child, should go through the trauma of bearing and giving birth to that child so that others may be able to adopt it?
§ Mr. Jessel
The hon. Lady seems to be concerned entirely with the needs and wishes of the mother and not at all with the rights of the unborn child. I believe that both should be considered. The position relating to the shortage of babies for adoption by potential, good adoptive parents should be considered by the Select Committee.
§ 2.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)
I intend to be brief. I sat through 28-odd Committee sittings, two long Report nights and many other discussions of the 1967 Abortion Act, and I think that some of us who saw the opposition there was in the House to any woman having any sort of abortion in those days should say a word on this occasion.
I counsel a degree of humility in the House in the way we approach this problem. I believe that it is not certain that amendments to the law are the best way to deal with this problem. The Lane Committee very sensibly spelt out the abuses it thought should be cleared up by professional and administrative action. The hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) mentioned the Crossman doctrine—Mr. Crossman had only very restricted grounds on which he could tighten up all clinics—which has now been proved wrong, and there may be a completely new attitude from the Department of Health in tidying up the private sector.
I agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) when he said that we should keep our feet on the ground. We are not in a position where, simply by passing laws, we can decide whether women have abortions. What we shall tend to decide is whether women have safe or unsafe abortions. If we restrict the law, the tendency will be to force the women to have unsafe abortions.
The second reason why, as a man, I think that we should be very careful to preserve a decent humility is the prospect of 600-odd men, some of them very elderly and others deep into the menopause, attempting to lay down to half of the population, which is scandalously under-represented in the House anyway, how that half of the population should deal with a matter which is absolutely crucial and personal to them. Looked at objectively, that prospect is a little grotesque.
I am not saying that we should not pass laws. All I say is that we should do so with a decent humility. Let me take the example of foreign women. There will be a number of foreign women who have arrived in Britain only recently, not hav 1835 ing come especially for abortions. But they will ask for abortions. If they are to be denied them, it could be brutally unfair since many of the will have probably been impregnated by Englishmen. Simply to take the national status of the women as an absolute blanket reason for stopping them having abortions is a heartless act which this House would not wish to go in for.
I am extremely pleased that the Government and the Minister of State have at least agreed to take substantial responsibility themselves for dealing with these matters. In 1976, if I may say so—and the Minister of State was then a backbench member of the Committee—the Government did not take nearly enough responsibility for clearing up these problems. If the introduction of the Bill has done anything, it has forced the Government to deal with the private sector in this regard—and I hope in other regards as well—and allowed us to accept the recommendation of the Lane Report that the Abortion Act, apart from these specific abuses, is working and should remain in force as it is at the moment.
§ 2.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)
In his very interesting speech, the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) described some of the proposals in this Bill as "heartless". He described the motive of those who support it in much the same way. I put to him the possibility, which I hope he and others will reflect upon, that the Abortion Act 1967 and a number of social measures passed at the same time were also of an extremely heartless nature in that they created a situation and a moral climate which resulted in immeasurable unhappiness to a great many of our people. I say "immeasurable" because it cannot be measured by statistics and it cannot be checked by referring to a Government report. We have no idea of the mental agonies suffered by mothers who have had abortions. We shall never know the statistics. I suggest that that is a matter which should be reflected upon and thought about.
The sponsors of the Bill are a mixed bag. I am one of them. We have all approached it in different ways. The 1836 reason why I agreed to sponsor it and why I support what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White) has done is precisely to deal with the point which was made so ably by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Jeger) and by the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin). They pointed out how difficult it was to draw a legal distinction between a situation of having abortion on demand and a situation of having no abortion at all.
The hon. Member for Loughborough said that if we put into the subsection the word "grave" it would be difficult to decide how to allow doctors to make a decision. He said that he did not want a situation where in, say, Newcastle it was more permissive whereas in Birmingham it was less. He also said that we must give doctors total discretion. However, it is impossible to have both uniformity of practice and total freedom or discretion for the medical profession.
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South spoke about women coming to this country. She pointed out the difficulty of trying to draw a distinction between having complete abortion on demand and no abortion at all. This is the difficulty which has been partly created by the 1967 Act. Although the hon. Member for Loughborough can see difficulty in the use of the word "grave", for the medical profession in some areas it is difficult to draw a distinction in terms of the 1967 Act. The only argument of the hon. Member for Loughborough is that, if we have the 1967 Act, those doctors who wish to interpret it as being a situation of abortion on demand do not need to fear the consequences. I fear that the Act can be interpreted as meaning virtually abortion on demand and that those who practise abortion on demand, for whatever purposes, have no fears from the Act.
The hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) pointed out in his excellent speech that there had been more liberalisation in some parts of the world. What he did not say was that those who were amongst the first to liberalise have been seen to go into reverse. He spoke of the situation behind the Iron Curtain. I remind him of the present situation in Romania, which was one of the first pioneers of abortion on 1837 demand. In that country in 1965 there were four abortions for every live birth. Romania has now totally reversed its policy. It is forbidden for any woman under the age of 45 to have an abortion other than for therapeutic reasons. There is a warning there for us.
§ Mr. David Steel
Surely the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that there is any comparison between a country which reached the ridiculous figure of four abortions for every live birth and a country with only about 15 per cent.
§ Mr. Taylor
I was not trying to do that. I was saying that the hon. Gentleman had drawn attention to the situation in two Iron Courtain countries and to other countries which were moving towards more liberalisation, going much beyond what we have in this country. I was pointing out that another country has altered course and is now moving in the other direction.
We have been told that the Act is necessary because of mothers with six, seven or eight children. But what are the facts? We have figures for England and Wales in 1973 which show that 52,000 women who had abortions had no previous live children, that 12,000 had one live child and that 20,000 had two live children. Only 6,000 had five live children, and only 2,000 had six.
I fear that unless we bring forward a measure to restrict the present situation we shall move to one in which we have abortion on demand and in which there are many more people to whom abortion has never been anything other than a form of birth control.
There are many right hon. and hon. Members who support this Bill for different motives. I voted against the 1967 Act. I do not like the principle of it. I am opposed to abortion, although I appreciate that there are major social problems which have to be dealt with in some way. But if we are not to move to a situation where we have abortion on demand and made use of as a form of birth control, we must tighten the law. I appreciate that any situation between abortion on demand and no abortion at all will lead to anomalies and difficulties, but I believe that the time has come to ask ourselves whether we were right in the 1960s to undermine the moral 1838 climate which has been the strength of our country for so many years.
§ 2.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)
Because so many hon. Members still hope to intervene in the debate, I shall limit my contribution to six or seven minutes.
I do not suppose that I have ever before risen to speak in this Chamber knowing that so many right hon and hon. Members were aware of precisely where I stood and why. During the past three weeks I have been canvassing hon. Members seeking support for what I might call the James White Bill. I have been surprised and disappointed at the number of responsible hon. Members who have attempted to say that the James White Amendment Bill was some kind of Roman Catholic conspiracy.
I have heard that said in the country but I did not expect to hear it in this House. It is not only untrue. It is very unfair to the Church because it obscures the truth. The fact is that over the past three weeks my mail has been overwhelmingly in support of the Bill.
§ Mr. Dempsey
I can confirm what my hon. Friend says. At a very large meeting of more than 600 people in my constituency—and I am told that nearly 300 had to be turned away—various denominations were represented and unanimously approved the Bill.
§ Mr. Jones
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for that assistance. His experience is similar to mine.
On 21st December last, representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England and Nonconformist churches and chapels held a peaceful demonstration, led by the Bishop of Burnley. It is wrong to think that the argument about the destruction of baby life is inspired by the Roman Catholic Church. It is that Church which has taken the lead in this matter, and in my opinion, for what it is worth, it deserves full marks for so doing.
One must take heed of what the other Churches are doing. I have been sent a statement by Paul Cavadino, an Oxford graduate who is involved in social work at a beggarly salary on behalf of the likes of people for whom we should all have due regard. A joint statement on the 1839 Lane Report was issued by the Board for Social Responsibility of the Church of England and the Division of Social Responsibility of the Methodist Church. It said:It is all the more regrettable that the Committee"—that is, the Lane Committee—were prevented from considering changes in the conditions for legal abortion, since the conditions as laid down in the 1967 Act, and particularly the social clause, have attracted widespread criticism. A judgment on the abortion law must include an assessment of the moral and legal principles underlying it, and this the Committee were precluded from doing".That is a fair judgment, and when my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) was speaking I intervened to say that the terms of reference of the Lane Committee were totally inadequate. It is nonsense for certain hon. Members to say that the Lane Committee's report is adequate. It could not be, and it had no right to be.
Remembering my promise to be brief I now come to my second and final point but, before enlarging on it perhaps I may tell the House that Paul Cavadino has made a realistic survey of the situation and that had time been at my disposal I should have liked to make the report to the House that he has made to me.
It grieves me very much that young girls of 14, 15, 16 and 17 are having abortions in the manner that we know. [Interruption.] Interruptions do not bother me. I do not care whether I am alone in this view. I truly believe that the care of our young people is a responsibility of this House of Commons.
The Act as it is now operated makes a positive contribution to the permissive society in which we live. On several occasions I have asked how anyone here would like it if his or her daughter, at the tender age of, say, 15, came home and said that she was in this condition. Who could truthfully say "I do not really mind"?
There is a strong bingo element in our society today, and there has been a considerable decline in the Christian pattern of discipline. I do not think anyone can deny that the influence of the home, which should be transcendent, has decreased alarmingly, and the influence of 1840 the Church has decreased with it. Those two factors go together, and there is no doubt that we in this House should be aware of them. We should attempt to circumvent the circumstances that prevail by seeing to it that, as responsible members of society, we face the challenges confronting us, which is what I believe we are doing now.
I compliment my hon. Friend the Minister of State on taking this matter on board. The difficult situation facing us should be dealt with by a Bill which at the end of the day should be the responsibility of a responsible State. I am pleased to note that the Minister has taken the matter on board in the manner that he described to the House.
§ 2.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Jones) on his refreshing and heartfelt contribution to the debate. Many of my hon. Friends share his views on the permissive society, and it is perhaps because of this permissive society that we find ourselves, as a country, in such a difficult situation today.
The hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) began his contribution to the debate by saying that all hon. Members had received a lot of information through the post from various bodies concerned about abortion, both those for and those against it. He went on to say that he disregarded all this information. That was an unfortunate comment, because it is my view that we should pay heed to the information that we receive from people, whether or not we agree with their views, and that any decision we reach should be taken after considering all that information.
I hope that I shall be speaking for that great body of public opinion—not just the 18 per cent. who support abortion, or the 12 per cent. who would not support it for any reason whatsoever—who feel that there have been severe and appalling abuses of the 1967 Act.
The hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) made a brief but positive contribution to the debate. I, too, believe in the sanctity of marriage, and I believe also in planned parent-hood. It is my view that children are a blessing. The hon. Lady the Member 1841 for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) does not seem to realise that there is a shortage of babies for adoption by couples who, unfortunately, cannot have children of their own. I am not bringing racial considerations into this. The hon. Lady commented on there being plenty of coloured babies awaiting adoption. That is irrelevant.
Having served in local government as well as in this House, I know from experience that there are many couples who desperately want to adopt a child. I believe that many of these unwanted babies—unwanted, that is, by their mother—can bring great happiness to these childless couples.
§ Mr. Winterton
I promised to be brief, and I shall not give way.
Abortion should not be used as a long-stop to contraception, which is what it is becoming. We are having abortion on demand because people for one reason or another did not use any form of contraceptive device or whatever it might be. There are so many forms of contraception today that I should not care to name them all in this House.
More education on sex, yes, more education on family planning, yes, a greater availability of contraceptive advice and appliances, yes, but not abortion on demand.
The contribution made by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) was positive and useful. I hope that the Department will take action when it gets the information that he possesses as it highlights appalling abuses of the 1967 Act.
The debate is about a very personal, sensitive and complex matter. I admit openly in this Chamber that I support the objectives of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child. However, what we are debating transcends all party political barriers. I believe that conscience and personal principle and morals are paramount. I fully support the objectives of the Bill and congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollock (Mr. White) on having the courage to bring it in.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Delargy (Thurrock)
It is late. Therefore, the House will not be privileged to hear the wonderful speech that I prepared. Instead, speaking slightly at a tangent to the Bill, I should like to address a few words with respect and good will to all hon. Members, whether pro- or anti-abortionists.
To the first group I suggest that if anyone objects to this or, indeed, any amending Bill to the 1967 Abortion Act, he is in effect saying two things. The first is that the 1967 Act is absolutely perfect and not susceptible of change or amendment. The second is that that perfect Act, that most ideal piece of legislation ever made in the history of mankind has been scrupulously and perfectly observed and that it cannot be amended.
We all know that that is not true. There are many abuses under the Act. My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Jeger), for whom I have the greatest respect, asked one hon. Member to produce the evidence of these abuses. I have not got chapter and verse, but I assure my hon. Friend that there have been many abuses. For example, I do not believe that the conscience clause has been observed. I think that we all know that gynaecologists and nurses have been victimised in their own professions for not carrying out abortions. I will not go into all these lurid allusions. I want to see an end to all private clinics which charge extortionate fees, and so on.
I suggest to those who are against the Bill that all these matters can be dealt with in Committee. They are all Committee points. They do not militate against the principle that the 1967 Act is capable of being, and certainly ought to be, amended.
I voted against the 1967 Bill—I had not the slightest compunction in doing so—and would again. However, I suggest to those who, like me, are in favour of this Bill that they should be more careful. I could make a powerful theological case against all abortion. I could prove—it would take me until well after 4 o'clock—that the foetus is alive, is individual and distinct, is human, is a person, and, being a person, has the right to live. I believe that this right to live is 1843 not derived from any human agency—not even from the parents—but is God-given. But what is the use of pressing those arguments on people who do not share my theology? Therefore, I believe that in a public debate in a pluralistic society people should not develop those arguments.
Similarly, we should be careful about the language that we use. Language sometimes makes it impossible for people who disagree with one's views to listen to them. We should not talk about mass murder, genocide, the slaughter of the innocents, or even make a reference to Belsen or Auschwitz. That cannot convince those who do not agree with us. Indeed, they will stop their ears and become indignant. Why should they not? I do not believe that any hon. Member would dream for a moment of wishing to terminate life. These are not the arguments that we should use.
I should also like to hear from those who have such great respect for life in the womb what respect they have for life elsewhere, for life in the slums, for example, or in degrading conditions at work or in the motorway folly. I should like to hear their views on the H-bomb, which is no great respecter of life. On both sides of the House we should be careful of our language, whether we are for or against the Bill.
This is why I am glad that the Government intend to set up a Select Committee. I had it in mind, as had many other hon. Members, to come here specifically to vote for the Bill. Perhaps they feel disappointed that they will not now be given the chance to do so. [HON. MEMBERS: "How do you know?"] I was about to say that they might be tempted to vote against the withdrawal of the Bill. I think that that would be wrong on practical grounds. If the Bill goes into a Standing Committee, God alone knows when it will be discussed. I can speak of this matter with some authority because I am the Chairman of the Committee of Selection and I know that six or eight other Bills are already well ahead of this one.
What we should do is take up the Government's offer to send the Bill to a Select Committee. But I repeat: let us all 1844 give one another the credit for being sincere in our views.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
The Rev.—No, I am sorry: it is the Rev. Alan Clark, I am afraid. [Laughter.]
§ 3.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Alan Clark (Plymouth, Sutton)
I am particularly grateful that you have elevated me to holy orders, Mr. Deputy Speaker, since I fear that in comparison with the speech of the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy), which was statesmanlike and contained many felicitous phrases which must have pleased almost everyone in the House, what I have to say may not have such a universal appeal. It is for that reason that I am happy to shelter under the cloth which you have awarded me.
I was not in the House when the 1967 Act was passed, but I welcome the opportunity to speak on it in general terms as I know that my constituents would wish me to do. Those of us who argue against the practice of indiscriminate abortion face the fact that we do so when the climate of opinion, the abundance of statistics, much of the articulacy of argument—I do not have in mind the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short)—is against us.
None the less, although our arguments are sometimes stigmatised as emotive, which I take to be a pejorative word for "emotional", and there is no harm in emotion, or specious, which I take to be an adjective which is simply applied to an argument which convinces one but which one does not like. I feel that they echo a deep opinion in the people of this country.
Of course, the case that the unborn child is, so to speak, the property of the mother has a superficial credibility because she conceived it. It must be admitted, however, that the act which leads to conception can take place on a very great number of occasions without conception occurring. I would agree with the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) that there is no denying the fact that an enormous number of people, not necessarily of the Catholic faith, believe that conception is the gift of God, and that what God gives only God can take 1845 away. One of the curious paradoxes of fashionable argument these days is that so many people who argue against capital punishment, for example, on the ground that man cannot set himself up as a surrogate of God are none the less only to ready to assume that status when it comes to terminating pregnancies at a late stage.
Before becoming a Member of the House I was on the governing body of one of the largest groups of teaching hospitals in the country. I had direct personal experience of the great distaste which is felt by large numbers of medical staff and nurses at having, day in and day out, to undertake these tasks, which the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) described as a disgusting chore. I know also of the effect on recruitment for the nursing profession that these obligations have had.
I believe also that the House should look very carefully at the question of what happens to the foetuses. Over 60,000 foetuses a year have to be disposed of, and some are in a very advanced and well-formed state. I was present in the House a few days ago when a very unsatisfactory, as I thought, answer was given on the question of medical experiments on foetuses. A curious word was introduced by the Minister when he spoke of the "viability" of the foetus. No one seemed to know what that meant. It is certainly not a medical term. It is part of the "new speak" which is affecting the whole of this subject. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East would not use the word "abortion", or she tended to avoid it whenever she could. She used the word "termination", which is slightly longer and more cumbersome and does not give rise to the curious chill of horror which the word "abortion" rightly arouses in so many people, even at this time.
There is another point that we must consider which is of fundamental importance. Where an unborn baby is over a certain age, we have to ask ourselves about its feelings, its identity and its receptivity. I am not concerned with its legal status, but we are here on the murky frontiers of medical knowledge. Can anyone really assert that an unborn baby of 28 weeks has a smaller life force than a paralysed octogenarian in a wheelchair? Cannot the two be compared? May not 1846 the day come when they will be compared?
I support the Bill. Not only are its detailed provisions desirable, but may it be the first stage in a process which will ultimately revise an Act which many people in this country regard as profoundly corrupt and evil.
§ 3.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Campbell (Dunbartonshire, West)
I say straight away that I agree with all that was said by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark), particularly the points he made on pre-birth, capital punishment and euthanasia.
The sanctity of human life is involved in this whole debate. It is not often that the House takes time to debate a measure which has the eyes of the country upon it. Ears everywhere are listening to what we are saying today. Finance Bills and subjects such as unemployment can be discussed, but at the end of the day it boils down to some form of legislative measure.
Today we are talking about a subject which all ordinary people know about—pregnancies, babies and family life. Many hon. Members are married and have families. It has been said that many of the men in the House are perhaps suffering from the menopause. I did not know that that medical term applied to men. I am sure that most male Members would deny that the menopause was upon them.
I am as happily married as any Member can be. I have five children, whom, incidentally, I had before I entered the House. I am sure that all Members who have families would not be without one of their children. It is not always pleasant, perhaps, when the wife approaches one and says "I have something to tell you. I am pregnant again." However, the husband and wife then look forward to the baby's arrival. It is welcomed into the family. This is what the Bill is all about.
I, in common with many other hon. Members now in the House, would never have supported the 1967 Act. I would have voted against it on moral grounds and because of the warnings given in Committee, which resulted in the small number who opposed the Bill on Second 1847 Reading increasing to such a large number on Third Reading that there was a very close result at that stage.
Some hon. Members have stampeded round the country campaigning, talking to the Council of Labour Women and saying that this Bill would completely abolish the social clause. This Bill was denigrated long before it was published.
I will now mention the support that this measure has throughout the country. I have a letter here from the Secretary of the Church of Scotland Moral Welfare Committee. He encloses copies of the thinking on the issue of abortion and a copy of the submission on the Lane Report. He then says:From this you will see that we are not at all happy about the way in which the Act has operated.The position of the Church of Scotland changed from 1967 at each deliverance before the General Assembly right up until the last assembly. I believe that the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) quoted in his speech on the Second Reading of his measure from part of the first deliverance to the Church of Scotland. The council has seen the way the Act is working out and, in common with other people, is worried about the abuses which have already become so apparent.
Next, I have a letter here which comes on behalf of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. Can one get higher than that in that establishment? The letter says:they … welcome the opportunity which Parliament will have this Friday of examining proposals for removing abuses in the administration of the abortion law. …In making this decision the Presidents have consulted the Bishop of Leicester, Chairman of the Board for Social Responsibility. Although he has not been able to consult the Board, he wishes personally to associate himself with their welcome to Mr. White's Bill.
§ Mr. Robin Corbett (Hemel Hempstead)
Will my hon. Friend make clear whether the authors of those letters had seen the terms of the Bill before they wrote those letters, or were the letters written in the expectation of what the Bill might contain?
§ Mr. Campbell
They knew that the purpose was to get rid of the abuses. 1848 In the main, the Bill is a measure to get rid of the abuses, and for that reason we are prepared to retain what I call the social clauses of the 1967 Act, while acting in the knowledge that they have been used in a way different entirely from what the House intended at that time.
We all know the position of the Catholic Church on this matter, and references have been made also to the campaign of the Methodists and the Salvation Army. In fact, all Christian opinion in this country is ready to stand up and be counted on the need to get rid of the abuses.
§ Mr. Campbell
I have a letter here also from the Royal College of Nursing, which, while evincing some worries about certain provisions in the Bill, gives it general support. The Department of Health has already made its attitude clear through its action during the Christmas Recess and the answer to a Question on 28th January. I have no time to go into that now, but what we heard from my hon. Friend the Minister of State today shows that the Department is most concerned about what has been going on.
I welcome for two reasons the proposal that a Select Committee of the House should look into the whole matter. Such a Select Committee will be able to examine what has been going on in a much broader picture. What is more, as a sponsor of the Bill I believe that the way in which the Department has taken this matter on board may well mean that some legislation will reach the statute book, legislation which might otherwise have fallen because of the difficult timetable in which it would have to be fitted. But the House has a right to demand of the Government that they act quickly on the findings of the Select Committee, treating the subject seriously and not pigeon-holing it so that it is lost for two or three years.
I promised to sit down two minutes before this, so I shall not discuss the detail of the Bill, that ground having been well covered already. Although there are parts of the Bill which not everyone can accept, I am sure that there is a lot of general ground which people can readily 1849 accept, the sort of material which, if the Bill were to go to a Standing Committee, could be examined from that point of view in debate on amendments.
I end on this note. In 1967 the Act was introduced in good faith by a fellow Scot. I hope that as a result of the decision of the House today and what happens thereafter we shall be able to improve it, removing the abuses, and I am glad to think that this will be made possible by the courage of another of my fellow countrymen north of the border.
§ 3.23 p.m.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
I shall keep to my promise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and be as brief as possible. I was glad to hear what was said by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Campbell), with whom I am largely in agreement, as I was with the remarks of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark).
This whole subject has to be approached with a great measure of compassion. All who are implicated in the matters covered by the Bill need the compassion of every hon. Member. It is easy to come down severely on one side or the other, but it should be remembered by all that the mother has an opportunity to state her case and to express her intense feelings in this matter but that the unborn child has no opportunity to speak. That child cannot put forth its viewpoint. It is only right that we should try to see this matter in the light of the sanctity of human life.
While in this pluralistic society we will not convince anyone who takes a different view on a particular theological or moral issue, it has to be acknowledged that the child must have feelings and those feelings must be respected. I am with those who raise their voices in the House today in condemnation of what has taken place under the present abortion laws.
I would have liked to have seen this Bill voted on. It seems a great pity that at the last minute the Government have suggested that it should go to a Select Committee. We must, however, be realistic. It is quite probable that the Select Committee will be able to put forward its recommendations in a shorter time than would be necessary for the Bill to go through all its stages. I feel that the decision to refer the subject to the 1850 Select Committee will at least give everyone who has strong convictions on the subject an opportunity to voice them and to ensure that something will be done.
I hope that the Committee will be set up speedily and will get down to its task quickly and that the House will be able to debate its findings this Session. I urge upon the Minister the necessity for a stricter administration of the present laws. I urge upon him the necessity to tighten up the Act. Where he has the power, I trust that he will use it so that the abuses of which we have heard will be brought to a speedy end.
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Roderick MacFarquhar (Belper)
This has been a deeply serious debate on a subject on which most hon. Members feel strongly. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White) on bringing forward his Bill and giving us the opportunity to debate it and the Lane Report at the same time. At this crucial stage of the debate, may I remind the House what the Bill is about and what it is not about, in the terms stressed by my hon. Friends, the main sponsors of the Bill.
The Bill does not deal with the merits of abortion per se. It does not suggest that abortion is wrong. There is thus no challenge intended to the principles underlying the 1967 Act. The Bill does not deny the right of a woman to have an abortion in certain circumstances. Opponents of the Bill, such as myself, have to accept the good faith of the sponsors.
Equally, the sponsors have to accept that the debate is not about abortion on demand, as it seemed to be at one point. The 1967 Act does not sanction abortion. Any allegations by the sponsors to this effect have to do with the workings of the Act and not with the Act itself. I was delighted to hear the Minister say that he believes it is possible to strengthen the workings of the Act by administrative means. What the Bill and the debate are about are, first, whether the allegations of abuses and defects in the 1967 Act are well founded and, secondly, if they are well-founded, whether this Bill is the best way to deal with them. The allegations of abuses and defects have been gone into at great length and it is clear that on all sides there is general 1851 agreement that certainly in the private sector there have been abuses. No one would deny that. The Minister has indicated how he thinks it is possible to take action and that he is already trying by administrative means to do something about abuses.
A second abuse, if that is the correct term, is the influx of foreign women. As has been already pointed out, they are mainly women from continental Catholic countries. They have been the principle victims of exploitation by unscrupulous British clinics and doctors. That is an abuse that must be tackled. But in so far as Britain, especially London and the South-East, has been able to provide relief where justified for thousands of foreign women with unwanted pregnancies with all the suffering that unwanted pregnancies would involve, and in so far as the continental countries are now modifying their laws or introducing new laws and giving similar facilities to their women, I think that rather than continually harping on the terrible abuses which we all know take place—"London, the abortion capital of the world"—we must take modest satisfaction in the thought that where justified we have helped to give a lead to ending the misery that has been felt by women in all countries and at all times because of unwanted pregnancies.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) seems to think that the new laws will not materially alter the numbers of foreign women coming into this country because of the different stage at which abortion can be carried out. That is not the view of the Derby Chapter of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. I believe that its views are correct.
My hon. Friend was reminded by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) that the majority of pregnancies are terminated within 13 weeks.
If my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool considers the statistics in the Lane Report, he will see in Vol. II, at page 77, that over 50 per cent. of women in social classes I and II tend to have abortions in 10 weeks or less. The operative figure in the new French Act 1852 is 10 weeks. If we assume that most of the foreign girls who come or who have come to Britain for an abortion are reasonably well off and come from families corresponding roughly to our social classes I and II—only those girls can afford to come and pay the fees that the clinics are charging—I suggest that the new continental laws, in particular the new French law, France being the country from which most of the foreign girls seeking abortions here originate, will greatly reduce the number of foreign girls coming to this country and also the opportunity for exploitation.
Another alleged defect of the 1967 Act is that women can have abortions in this country up to 28 weeks. That is something that the Bill seeks to amend by instituting a limit of 20 weeks. As the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) has said, the figure of 28 weeks appears not in the 1967 Act but in the totally different Act of 1929. As the Minister has explained, that Act has ramifications beyond abortion.
I accept—I am sure that many hon. Members who are opposed to the Bill also accept—that the advances of medical science since 1929 demand a hard look at the age at which a foetus becomes viable. I agree, incidentally, with those who express some repugnance at the word "viable". The Lane Committee suggested that we should have a period of 24 weeks. It is important that all the medical and legal implications of the 1929 Act should be considered together by the Select Committee and that they should not be put forward as they appear in the Bill. This is a highly technical matter which is difficult for us to settle on the Floor of the House here and now.
Finally, and most importantly, there is the question of the addition of the words "grave" and "serious" to the definition in the 1967 Act. It is generally agreed by all hon Members that Bills have two effects, legal and declaratory. The sponsors of the Bill will have to admit that whatever their legal intentions, the declaratory effect of this amending Bill, coupled with its other internal restrictions, will be to deter the great bulk of practitioners from carrying out the great bulk of abortions.
1853 I do not want to bandy figures. I do not know whether the suggestions is correct which was reported in The Times yesterday—it was a suggestion made by a medical specialist—that abortions among British women would be reduced from 100,000 to 20,000. However, I believe that there would be a substantial reduction.
We all know who will be the sufferers. They will not be the richer women who obtained abortions legally and safely even before 1967. They will be the poor, the young, the under-educated and all the underprivileged people whom my hon. Friends the Members for Pollok and for Pontypool try particularly to help. As before, they will have to resort to self-inflicted or back-street abortions, with all the physical dangers and mental traumas that those methods imply. I am sure that no hon. Member on either side of the House would want to vote for legislation which would have that kind of class impact.
For all those reasons, I am glad that the sponsors have agreed to withdraw the Bill and I hope that their wishes will be respected by all hon. Members. If they withdraw the Bill. I, for one and, I am sure, many hon. Members who have doubts about it will be prepared to support the Government's motion for the setting up of a Select Committee.
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)
I feel privileged to have been asked by the sponsors of the Bill to wind up this important debate. Perhaps I might begin by affirming at the outset, as did the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White), that I welcome the Government's recognition that the subject of abortion is one of such deep public concern and of such complexity that they consider that the Bill's proposals should be remitted forthwith to a Select Committee. I for one was much easier in my mind after the Minister had addressed the House.
Let me qualify that welcome, however, by saying that, as the Select Committee will have power to report to the House from time to time, we would not expect, nor would we tolerate, any undue delay in the Government's implementing any urgent recommendations the Committee 1854 might feel disposed to make to check present abuses.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
I will give way to the Minister if he will confirm that that is the Government's intention.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
I am glad to hear that. Abortion is a difficult and emotive subject for us all, concerned as it is with questions of life and death, religion, morals, ethics and medical science. It is bound to arouse deep feelings and they have been evident in the many good and sometimes moving speeches that we have heard.
§ Mr. Onslow
Did what the Minister said imply that the motion which is on the Order Paper is not to be moved by the Government but is to be withdrawn and a different motion put down for debate on Tuesday? May this be clarified?
§ Sir Bernard Braine
That was not my understanding. The Minister nodded his assent to the proposition I put before he rose to his feet, and I accept in good faith what he told us.
As the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) reminded us in an eloquent speech, there are those, who take up positions on the extremes of the argument, for whom the issue is very clear. On the one hand, there are those who see abortion as the cold-blooded murder of an unborn child, a hideous crime not to be justified in any circumstances, save perhaps where the mother's life is in danger. On the other hand, there are those who see it as a woman's basic right not to bear an unwanted child—in a sense, an act of liberation.
In considering this Bill, however, we are not concerned with the extremes of the argument. The Bill does not seek to limit the existing grounds for a lawful abortion. It does not seek in any way to limit the "social" subsection in the 1855 1967 Act. The Bill's purpose is to improve and strengthen the Act in the sense that Parliament originally intended.
It has two main aims. The first aim is to end abuses in the private sector which have caused deep public concern and anxiety to the medical profession. The second aim is to implement the Peel Report, which recommended a code of practice to govern research on foetuses.
The House was indebted to the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) for his review of the working of the 1967 Act. That Act rightly sought to end the chaos and uncertainty that had prevailed previously in the law on abortion. Its purpose was to end the terrible toll of suffering and misery caused by illegal abortions. It sought to spell out the grounds on which it would be lawful to terminate a pregnancy. What it did not set out to provide was legalisation of abortion on demand. Whatever may have been said in the House today on that subject, the authors of the 1967 Act made that very plain at the time.
Indeed the Lane Committee, whose members were unanimously in favour of the 1967 Act, confirmed in paragraph 189 of its report:It would be contrary to the conditions for abortion laid down in the Act that it should be obtainable solely at the wish of the woman.…That is the present legal position and nobody has suggested otherwise.
It is, however, a measure of the weakness of the 1967 Act that the Committee went on to say that the criteria for abortion as expressed in the Act were imprecise and could be widely interpreted and that some practitioners interpret the Act to mean that termination is possible in every case. In fact, some doctors, relying on the statistical argument to which I shall refer in a moment, sometimes agree to an abortion without even seeing the patient. The Lane Committee condemned that practice as wholly unethical. That being so, it is not surprising, when considering abortion in the commercial private sector, as it has been allowed to develop under the 1967 Act, that in some parts of that sector the Lane Committee found that the legislation had been flouted and that abortion on request had been the rule.
1856 The hon. Member for Pontypool and I said in 1967 that this was precisely what would happen. Our fears have been fully realised. The fact is that many foreign women who come to Great Britain do so from countries where abortion is unlawful. But much more to the point—and this goes to the root of the Bill—is that they are obtaining abortions here for money on a basis which the 1967 Act never intended.
My own view is that it was singularly unfortunate that the Lane Committee, having heard all the evidence, could not bring itself to recommend that abuses, which it recognised and put on record, should be remedied by amending legislation. An evil recognised and not dealt with is an evil compounded. At least the Bill recognises the evil and seeks to do something about it. Clearly, if the Lane Committee was correct that there was abuse—and all the evidence supports that view—Parliament cannot be indifferent to the way in which its intentions have been flouted, and are being flouted, and Parliament must do something about it.
The question is "How?". The Minister thought that the Bill was wrong in Clause 1 to qualify the words "risk to … life" and "injury to … health" as criteria for abortion. The hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin), in a most interesting and moving speech, supported that view.
I concede that the argument is finely balanced, but the reality is that pro-abortion doctors are openly boasting that the 1967 Act is drawn in such a way that abortion on demand is quite possible. Let me quote, for example, one leading gynaecologist who said publicly that he was certain that… abortion on demand does not contravene the Abortion Act … the Act allowed abortion when the risk of permitting that pregnancy to continue was greater than the risk of abortion—I ask hon. Members to ponder those words—when an abortion is carried out in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy it is safer than allowing the pregnancy to go to term.Those words are crucial to an understanding of the problem.
Now Section 1(1)(a) refers to the risk to a woman's life and health being greater than if the pregnancy were terminated. 1857 And it is true that there is a small statistical risk to the life of a woman in childbirth which is slightly higher than the statistical risk to the life of a woman from induced abortion during the first 12 weeks. However, I ask the House to consider where that leads us and where it has led the country. We are asked to believe that statistically it is safer for a woman to have an abortion than to have a baby. On that basis the Act can be used, and is being used, to justify abortion on request.
It is, however, a false argument, because the deaths due to childbirth and those due to medically induced abortion are not comparable. I am advised that the first usually occurs in women suffering from disease or some other abnormality, while the second occurs in perfectly healthy women who would not have died had they not undergone the operation.
Clearly, those who have used that statistical basis to justify what they do are flouting the law. They know what they are doing; they are flouting the intentions of the 1967 Act. Indeed, the Lane Committee said, in paragraph 201 of its report, that it was quite wrong for the statistical view to be taken. I submit, however, that as long as that situation stands uncorrected it is almost certain that no prosecution can be brought under the Act, for the doctor can shelter behind its ambiguities.
More than once the police have reported that it is impossible to enforce the provisions of the Act, for this reason. Woman Detective Chief Inspector Brenda Reeve writing in the 1973 edition of the Police College Magazine said:I feel that the incidence of illegal abortions by medical practitioners since April 1968 has increased quite considerably. An estimation, albeit a guess but based on evidence acquired in investigations, is that the actual number of abortions carried out by doctors is in fact twice the number quoted in the national statistics.… Further, many that are notified are in fact unlawful for the reason that they do not fall strictly within the terms of Section 1 of the 1967 Act.That is the reality. The conclusion of that officer was that… unless the law is amended such enforcement of the Act will remain virtually impossible.The purpose of Clause 1(1)(b) of this Bill is to remedy that situation by removing uncertainty.
1858 Frankly, I see no reason or excuse for not providing statutory controls and more effective surveillance of what goes on in private abortion clinics. The Minister thinks that this can be done by regulation. The provisions in the Bill ensure that the woman seeking a termination will have proper medical advice and treatment from the outset from persons who, if they close their eyes and ears to illegal and unethical procedures, can be summoned before the General Medical Council. That is not a situation which obtains now.
It is not sufficient to say that this matter can be dealt with by administrative action. It is necessary to write safeguards into the law. The Minister told us that he had made inquiries, leading him to draw up regulations to govern private clinics. Such regulations have long been required. Why was action left until January 1975. The abuses have been known for a long time. The Lane Committee said that there was a need for a proper licensing system for pregnancy advisory and referral bureaux. The Bill provides such a system. The Lane Committee admitted that a scandalous situation existed but proposed no legislative action. The Minister has admitted that a scandalous situation exists and promises to deal with it through administrative means.
I submit that there is a strong argument against administrative and in favour of statutory action. The Minister's heart is in the right place, and I do not doubt the sincerity of what he said today. But Ministers come and go. In view of the deep public concern on the subject, we think it right to insist that a licensing system is governed by statute.
I turn briefly to two further matters which have been causing concern, especially to the medical profession. I refer first to the upper limit for safe abortion. Earlier today the Minister had some reservations about the provision in Clause 7 which puts an end to abortion at a very late stage of pregnancy—a practice which has attracted very high fees to abortion clinics in the commercial private sector.
I do not believe that anyone wants to adopt a dogmatic position on this, especially as the matter is likely to be referred to a Select Committee. But the Peel Committee recommended that, unless 1859 there was grave risk to the life or health of the mother, a gestation period of 20 weeks should be regarded as the safe limit. That was done because many people view with horror the deliberate killing of unborn children who have reached a stage where, with modern techniques which are being improved constantly, they are capable of survival. That is the point, and it is one to which some of the most distinguished gynaecologists in the land have given careful thought.
No one in the medical world believes that the upper limit of 28 weeks which obtains at present is right. The Lane Committee thought that it should be reduced to 24 weeks, and it is relevant to remind the House that the British Medical Association said in its comments on the Lane Report:even with the reduction from 28 to 24 weeks, however, the position still exists that owing to an error in the calculation of dates a foetus intended for destruction could be born alive and be capable of functioning as a self-sustaining whole independently of any connection with the mother.That is the considered view of the British Medical Association. Accordingly, we urge in the Bill that the law should reflect that sound medical advice.
Secondly, I wish to refer to the question of experiment on aborted foetuses which may be alive and capable of independent existence. Clause 8 deals with experiments on a foetus. It implements the code of practice recommended by the Peel Committee, which the Lane Committee supported.
A number of hon. Members have spoken with justifiable anger about what is happening in this connection in the private sector. It is impossible to measure the disgust which is felt about what is happening in some of these private abortion clinics. One advantage of setting up a Select Committee is that it can do what a Standing Committee of this House cannot do. It will be able to send for the tapes of some of the recorded conversations of these so-called doctors. It will be able to send for evidence over the widest possible area in order that these terrible practices may be judged properly. I feel sure that the whole House will agree that it is right that the law should be tightened up in this respect.
1860 It is all very well saying that this is a matter that can be left to administrative regulation. The trouble about that is that the police are convinced that it is impossible to get a conviction against those who are abusing the 1967 Act unless women who have had an abortion know that their identity will not be revealed. To the best of my knowledge—perhaps the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—no doctor has been convicted under the Act. In any event, how does one get witnesses in cases where a private abortion clinic caters almost solely for foreign women who are here today and gone tomorrow? Indeed, it is difficult to think of an area of wrongdoing in which there is greater justification for providing safeguards of this kind.
I can understand the misgivings of the hon. Members for Loughborough and for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles about the onus of proof. The relevant provision in the Bill does not mean that a person is in peril if he can show that he acted in good faith. Only those flouting the law are in danger. This, however, is a matter on which it would be proper for the Select Committee to have the views of the medical profession, the Home Office, the police, and so on.
It is of the utmost importance that the safeguards should be there to protect women who in some cases come from a long way off in fear and in a state of anxiety. Whatever the outcome of her journey—it may be an abortion—a woman in this condition needs the best possible advice, care and treatment, and that is the purpose of the Bill.
I end—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I have been here all day, and I have listened carefully to a range of excellent and moving speeches on a subject which is of the greatest possible concern to all our constituents. I hope, therefore, that the House will take this matter very seriously indeed.
I end, as I began, by saying that the Bill does not interfere with the central purpose of the 1967 Act. Rather does it seek to strengthen that purpose, to put beyond doubt the original intention of Parliament and to put an end to the evils that prevail in certain parts of the private sector. No doubt the Bill can be improved. It may be that the best 1861 course is to send it to a Select Committee. But of one thing I am certain. Public opinion on this subject is now so aroused that it will not tolerate any further long drawn-out delay in correcting a shameful and corrupt situation. I commend the purpose of the Bill to the House.
§ Mr. James White
In view of the assurances that we have received from the Government, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Bill.
§ Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second Time:—
§ The House proceeded to a Division—1862
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. It was before four o'clock that I put the Question, so, if hon. Members will take their places, I shall call the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) to speak on the Bill. Miss Richardson.
§ Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question put, That the Question be now put:
§ The House divided: Ayes 218, Noes 45.1863
|Division No. 88.]||AYES||[4.00 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Eadie, Alex||Lloyd, Ian|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Elliott, Sir William||Loyden, Eddie|
|Anderson, Donald||English, Michael||Lyon, Alexander (York)|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Evans, John (Newton)||Mabon, Dr J. Dickson|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||McAdden, Sir Stephen|
|Bain, Mrs Margaret||Eyre, Reginald||MacCormick, Iain|
|Banks, Robert||Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||McElhone, Frank|
|Barnett, Rt Hon Joel||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Macfarlane, Neil|
|Beith, A. J.||Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)||McGuire, Michael (Ince)|
|Bell, Ronald||Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)||Mackenzie, Gregor|
|Benyon, W.||Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)|
|Boardman, H.||Fry, Peter||McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)||Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.||McNamara, Kevin|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)||Gardner, Edward (S. Fylde)||Maguire, Frank (Fermanagh)|
|Bradford, Rev Robert||Goodhew, Victor||Mahon, Simon|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Gorst, John||Marks, Kenneth|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Gray, Hamish||Marquand, David|
|Brittan, Leon||Grieve, Percy||Mason, Rt Hon Roy|
|Brotherton, Michael||Grocott, Bruce||Mather, Carol|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Grylls, Michael||Maude, Angus|
|Buchanan, Richard||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Meacher, Michael|
|Buck, Antony||Hampson, Dr Keith||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert|
|Burden, F. A.||Hardy, Peter||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Millan, Bruce|
|Campbell, Ian||Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)|
|Canavan, Dennis||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)|
|Carmichael, Neil||Hatton, Frank||Monro, Hector|
|Carr, Rt Hon Robert||Hayhoe, Barney||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Holland, Philip||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Horam, John||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)|
|Channon, Paul||Hughes, Mark (Durham)||Morrison, Peter (Chester)|
|Churchill, W. S.||Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Moyle, Roland|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Hunter, Adam||Nelson, Anthony|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)||Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)||Neubert, Michael|
|Cohen, Stanley||Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||Noble, Mike|
|Coleman, Donald||Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)||Normanton, Tom|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||James, David||Oakes, Gordon|
|Cordle, John H.||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||O'Halloran, Michael|
|Cormack, Patrick||Jessel, Toby||Padley, Walter|
|Costain, A. P.||Johnson, James (Hull West)||Page, John (Harrow West)|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)|
|Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Paisley, Rev Ian|
|Dalyell, Tam||Kershaw, Anthony||Park, George|
|Delargy, Hugh||King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Parkinson, Cecil|
|Dempsey, James||Kirk, Peter||Parry, Robert|
|Doig, Peter||Kitson, Sir Timothy||Pattie, Geoffrey|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Lamond, James||Peart, Rt Hon Fred|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Lawrence, Ivan||Pendry, Tom|
|Dunn, James A.||Leadbitter, Ted||Percival, Ian|
|Durant, Tony||Le Merchant, Spencer||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Dykes, Hugh||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Small, William||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Reid, George||Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)||Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)|
|Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)||Smith, Dudley (Warwick)||Walder, David (Clitheroe)|
|Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Ridsdale, Julian||Speed, Keith||Walters, Dennis|
|Rifkind, Malcolm||Spriggs, Leslie||Warren, Kenneth|
|Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)||Stainton, Keith||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Robertson, John (Paisley)||Stanbrook, Ivor||Welsh, Andrew|
|Rodgers, George (Chorley)||Stanley, John||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)||Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)||White, James (Pollok)|
|Rose, Paul B.||Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Stott, Roger||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Ross, William (Londonderry)||Strang, Gavin||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)||Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Rowlands, Ted||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Ryman, John||Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)||Woodall, Alec|
|St. John-Stevas, Norman||Tebbit, Norman||Woof, Robert|
|Sandelson, Neville||Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Shelton, William (Streatham)||Thompson, George||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Shersby, Michael||Tinn, James||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Sillars, James||Townsend, Cyril D.||Mr. John Biggs-Davison and|
|Silvester, Fred||Urwin, T. W.||Mr. Anthony Fell.|
|Sims, Roger||Vaughan, Dr Gerard|
|Archer, Peter||Freeson, Reginald||Richardson, Miss Jo|
|Atkinson, Norman||Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Roper, John|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Graham, Ted||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Hunt, John||Skinner, Dennis|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Booth, Albert||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Colquhoun, Mrs Maureen||Kerr, Russell||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Cronin, John||Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Ward, Michael|
|Cryer, Bob||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)||Weetch, Ken|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Lipton, Marcus||Weitzman, David|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Litterick, Tom||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)|
|Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||MacFarquhar, Roderick||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Flannery, Martin||Newens, Stanley||Mr. Leslie Huckfield and|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Parker, John||Mr. William Hamling.|
|Forrester, John||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Price, C. (Lewisham W)|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I will take the point of order, though strictly speaking I should immediately put the Question.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am deeply grateful for all this help. The hon. Gentleman will be very brief, I hope.
§ Mr. Whitehead
It is a genuine point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and not a facetious one. It is whether it is now in order to have a vote upon the Second Reading of the Bill, since the motion "That the Question be now put" was actually moved after the stroke of four o'clock.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The motion was moved before four o'clock and before the red flashes occurred in front of the Chair.
§ Question' put accordingly, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 203, Noes 88.1867
|Division No. 89.]||AYES||[4.12 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Boardman, H.||Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)||Campbell, Ian|
|Anderson, Donald||Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)||Canavan, Dennis|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Bradford, Rev Robert||Carr, Rt Hon Robert|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Braine, Sir Bernard||Carter-Jones, Lewis|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Bray, Dr Jeremy||Chalker, Mrs Lynda|
|Bain, Mrs Margaret||Brittan, Leon||Channon, Paul|
|Banks, Robert||Brotherton, Michael||Churchill, W. S.|
|Barnett, Rt Hon Joel||Buchanan, Richard||Clemitson, Ivor|
|Beith, A. J.||Buck, Antony||Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)|
|Benyon, W.||Burden, F. A.||Cohen, Stanley|
|Coleman, Donald||Leadbitter, Ted||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|Cordle, John H.||Le Marchant, Spencer||Rose, Paul B.|
|Cormack, Patrick||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Costain, A. P.||Lloyd, Ian||Ross, William (Londonderry)|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Loyden, Eddie||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)||Mabon, Dr J. Dickson||Rowlands, Ted|
|Dalyell, Tam||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Ryman, John|
|Delargy, Hugh||MacCormick, Iain||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Dempsey, James||McElhone, Frank||Sandelson, Neville|
|Doig, Peter||Macfarlane, Neil||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Shersby, Michael|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Mackenzie, Gregor||Sillars, James|
|Dunn, James A.||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Silvester, Fred|
|Durant, Tony||McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)||Sims, Roger|
|Dykes, Hugh||McNamara, Kevin||Small, William|
|Eadie, Alex||Maguire, Frank (Fermanagh)||Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)|
|Elliott, Sir William||Mahon, Simon||Smith, Dudley (Warwick)|
|English, Michael||Marks, Kenneth||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Evans, John (Newton)||Mason, Rt Hon Roy||Speed, Keith|
|Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Mather, Carol||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Eyre, Reginald||Maude, Angus||Stainton, Keith|
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Stanley, John|
|Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)||Millan, Bruce||Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)|
|Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)||Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)|
|Fry, Peter||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||Stoddart, David|
|Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.||Monro, Hector||Stott, Roger|
|Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral||Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)|
|Goodhew, Victor||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Tebbit, Norman|
|Gorst, John||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)|
|Gray, Hamish||Morrison, Peter (Chester)||Thompson, George|
|Grieve, Percy||Neubert, Michael||Tinn, James|
|Grocott, Bruce||Noble, Mike||Townsend, Cyril D.|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Normanton, Tom||Urwin, T. W.|
|Hardy, Peter||Oakes, Gordon||Vaughan, Dr Gerard|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||O'Halloran, Michael||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss||Onslow, Cranley||Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Padley, Walter||Walder, David (Clitheroe)|
|Hatton, Frank||Page, John (Harrow West)||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Hayhoe, Barney||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)||Walters, Dennis|
|Holland, Philip||Paisley, Rev Ian||Warren, Kenneth|
|Horam, John||Parkinson, Cecil||Watkins, David|
|Hughes, Mark (Durham)||Parry, Robert||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Pattie, Geoffrey||Welsh, Andrew|
|Hunter, Adam||Peart, Rt Hon Fred||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)||Pendry, Tom||White, James (Pollok)|
|Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||Percival, Ian||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|James, David||Price, William (Rugby)||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Jessel, Toby||Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Johnson, James (Hull West)||Reid, George||Woodall, Alec|
|Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)||Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)||Woof, Robert|
|Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Kershaw, Anthony||Ridsdale, Julian||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Rifkind, Malcolm||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Kitson, Sir Timothy||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)||Mr. Anthony Fell and|
|Lamond, James||Robertson, John (Paisley)||Mr. Biggs Davison|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Rodgers, George (Chorley)|
|Archer, Peter||Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||Kilroy-Silk, Robert|
|Atkinson, Norman||Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||Lipton, Marcus|
|Bates, Alf||Flannery, Martin||Litterick, Tom|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N||Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Lyon, Alexander (York)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Forrester, John||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)|
|Booth, Albert||Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||MacFarquhar, Roderick|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||Marquand, David|
|Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)||Freeson, Reginald||Meacher, Michael|
|Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)||Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Mendelson, John|
|Carmichael, Neil||Gilbert, Dr John||Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N)|
|Colquhoun, Mrs Maureen||Graham, Ted||Moyle, Roland|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Grylls, Michael||Nelson, Anthony|
|Corbett, Robin||Hayman, Mrs Helene||Newens, Stanley|
|Cronin, John||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N)||Ogden, Eric|
|Crouch, David||Hunt, John||Pardoe, John|
|Cryer, Bob||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Park, George|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Parker, John|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Jeger, Mrs Lena||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Deakins, Eric||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Price C. (Lewisham W)|
|de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Stechford)||Radice, Giles|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Kerr, Russell||Richardson, Miss Jo|
|Roper, John||Strang, Gavin||Weitzman, David|
|Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)||Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Shore, Rt Hon Peter||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)|
|Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Skinner, Dennis||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)||Mr. Leslie Huckfield and|
|Spearing, Nigel||Ward, Michael||Mr. William Hamling.|
|Steel, David (Roxburgh)||Weetch, Ken|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Mr. Whitehead
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and further to the point of order which I raised a few minutes ago, may I seek your guidance on behalf of the many hon. Members who wish to see the Bill go to a Select Committee? I am somewhat confused by our proceedings. Am I right in thinking that now, because the Second Reading of the Bill has been passed, it will automatically go to a Standing Committee under Standing Order No. 40 unless the sponsors indicate that they wish to refer it to a Select Committee, apart from the motion standing on the Order Paper in the name of the Lord President?
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Robert Mellish)
May I try to be of help, Mr. Deputy Speaker? As I am advised, the Bill, having had a Second Reading, will automatically be committed to Standing Committee C, although there are several Bills before it so that it will not reach that stage immediately. On the assumption that a Select Committee has been appointed by the time the Bill reaches Standing Committee C, what will happen then is that it will be open to the Standing Committee to decide that, as the matter is already being considered by a Select Committee, it will proceed no further.
In that way, the whole thing will be regularised. There is no complication. The Bill, having had a Second Reading, will be committed to a Standing Committee, but there will also be the Select Committee, and matters will be equalled out in that way.
§ Mr. Graham Page
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. At the moment when the point of order was raised, I was rising to my feet to move that the Bill be committed to a Select Committee. This would clearly be the procedure after Second Reading when the House desires the matter to go direct to a Select Committee. I see no reason 1868 why the matter should wait to go to a Standing Committee, which would only postpone it. At this moment, the House could commit it to a Select Committee.
§ Mr. Mellish
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If the Government motion is carried, the Bill will go to a Select Committee, and only when eventually the Bill reached Standing Committee C would the procedure that I have outlined be established. There is no question of delay in this matter. I assure the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) that he need not be worried about that.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
May I now join in, further to the point of order? If I may say so with every respect, I have never found the usual channels so helpful. If the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) wishes to move his motion, I am obliged by Standing Orders to accept it. Does he wish to do so?
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly committed to a Select Committee.