§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ That the Committee do consist of Fifteen Members:
§ That Mr. Leo Abse, Miss Betty Boothroyd Mr. Andrew Bowden, Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman. Sir Bernard Braine, Mrs. Joyce Butler, Mr. John Biggs-Davison, Mr. Anthony Fell, Mrs. Helene Hayman, Mr. Kevin McNamara, Dr. M. S. Miller, Sir George Sinclair, Mr. David Steel, Mr. James White, and Mr. Frederick Willey be members of the Committee:
§ That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records; to sit notwithstanding any Adjournment of the House: to adjourn from place to place; to report from time to time: and to report Minutes of Evidence from time to time:
§ That Three be the Quorum of the Committee:
§ That the Minutes of the Evidence taken before the Select Committee on the Abortion (Amendment) Bill in the last Session of Parliament, together with Memoranda laid before them, be referred to the Committee.—[Mr. Walter Harrison.]
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Sir Bernard Braine (Essex. South-East)
Hon. Members will recall that in the debate on the Second Reading of the Abortion (Amendment) Bill on 7th February last year the Minister of State. Department of Health and Social Security gave a firm undertaking that: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."—[Official Report, 7th February 1975; Vol. 885, c. 1794.]The motion now before the House honours that undertaking.
In the event, the Select Committee was unable to complete consideration of the Bill before the end of the Session. Not that it was dilatory in any way; under the guidance of its Chairman, the right hon Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey)—I pay a warm tribute to his skilled, tactful, good-humoured but always firm leadership—the Committee held 23 meetings, took evidence in public on 14 occasions, and, in its Third Special Report to the House, made nine interim recommendations, which the Government accepted in their entirety.
101 As the Select Committee explained in its Report, its recommendations were not exhaustive, and they were made without prejudice to any further recommendations that a re-established Select Committee might wish to make. The Committee added that it was its belief that a re-established Committee should be able to report without delay in the next Session.
I hope to show, therefore, that there is indeed a pressing need for the Select Committee to be re-established so that it may complete the work on which it embarked last year, which was interrupted in the way I have just described.
We are discussing a complex matter, and it may be helpful to the House if I say something about its history. Not long after the Abortion Act became law, it became apparent that, whatever benefits it was conferring, grave abuses were taking place in the private sector. Licence to provide abortions in return for money led to large numbers of foreign women flooding here for the purpose of obtaining abortions that were illegal in their own countries. Apart from anything else, practices detrimental to the interests of those women were occurring.
That growing public anxiety was justified, and that the situation was one that cried to heaven for remedy was confirmed by the Minister of State when, with re-freshing candour, he said, in the Second Reading debate a year ago:I deeply regret that such abuses have been allowed to continue for such a long time. I profoundly wish that my own profession had puts 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."—[Official Report, 7th February 1975; Vol. 885, c. 1806.]The anxieties in some part of the medical profession and the police service, among the wider public and hon. Members had already grown so great by 1971 that the then Government set up the Lane Committee to review the workings of the Act. That Committee took a great deal of expert evidence, made its recommendations and reported in 1974. I make a brief reference now to the Lane Report because it is relevant to the motion.
The Lane Committee found that while the Act had relieved a vast amount of individual suffering it had resulted in a greatly increased number of those seeking legal abortion, had involved a substantial 102 increase in the work load of National Health Service gynaecological departments, and had led to a marked in-equality, over the country as a whole, in the provision of services, and that this in turn had encouraged the growth of a flourishing private sector. The Lane Committee also confirmed what we already knew, namely, that in the private sector there had been gross abuse as a result of the opportunity to make money arising from the great number of foreign women who came to this country to have abortions.
The Lane Committee was convinced that the official figures of such traffic, which it considered were alarming, were not reliable and that abortions were being performed without any certificate being completed or any notification being made. It found that some doctors were interpreting the Abortion Act in a way contrary to the intention of Parliament and contrary to the intention of the author of the Act, the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel). In short, it found that the Act was being interpreted in a way contrary to the intention of Parliament that it should not be lawful to permit abortion on demand.
The Lane Committee considered—in one of those rare references to the fact that abortion is not just another operation but involves the deliberate destruction of an unborn child—that the upper time limit for termination, after which a child is capable of being born alive, should be reduced from 28 weeks to 24 weeks, and it made a number of other recommendations regarding regulation and control.
Inevitably, since Parliament was given no opportunity to discuss the Lane Report and very little was done to implement any of its recommendations, public anxiety, far from abating, grew even greater. That is the background against which we must view the emergence of the Abortion (Amendment) Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White), which led directly to the setting up of the Select Committee last year. That Bill may have had serious defects—I am not arguing about that, because it was a Private Member's Bill and one can understand why it might have had drafting defects—but it was an honest attempt by the hon. Member to force the issue and to get something done.
103 Whatever hon. Members' views may be on the subject of abortion, as such—I suggest that that is not really the issue tonight—I think that the whole House and the country should be grateful to the hon. Member for Pollok for making it possible for Parliament at long last to focus attention on the workings of the 1967 Act. Indeed, the House recognised this when it gave the Bill a Second Reading and accepted the Government's constructive suggestion that the Bill be remitted to a Select Committee. The Minister of State himself told us:The Bill's essential provision is to prevent the abuses which we all know have existed in the private sector I believe that sensible legislation now for the private sector will strengthen, not weaken, the 1967 Act."—[Official Report, 7th February 1975; Vol. 885.c. 1806.]The Bill certainly had the effect of waking up the Department of Health and Social Security. No sooner had the hon. Member for Pollok announced his intention of introducing his Bill—before anyone knew what it contained—than the Department started asking for information about abortion in the private sector—information that it should have obtained long before, certainly after the Lane Report had laid bare what was going on and had said what should be done about it. For example, it was not until mid-January 1975 that Parliament learned that the Department was sending out a questionnaire to private abortion clinics asking such questions as "What care do you provide? Where are your patients referred from? How many foreign patients do you take?"
It was hardly surprising, therefore, that the House gave the Bill a Second Reading and accepted the Minister of State's wise advice that such a delicate and complex subject as this was better suited to the procedures of a Select Committee—which has the power to call for expert witnesses and papers—than for the normal Standing Committee.
§ Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)
Many hon. Members on both sides of the House and on both sides of the controversy would have accepted a Select Committee. If the Bill's sponsors felt so strongly that it should be submitted to a Select Committee, why was a vote forced on the Bill in the previous debate?
§ Sir B. Braine
I have no responsibility for forcing votes. I cannot answer that question, and it is not relevant to the argument before the House. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will pursue that matter later. All I am saying is that the decision that the House took, on the Minister's advice, was wise and sensible, and in the end proved fruitful. It was fruitful because, despite sincere differences among members of the Select Committee, we were able to make nine interim recommendations for action, all of which the Government were able to accept.
I tell the House quite frankly that the majority of members of the Select Committee would not have agreed to those interim recommendations if we had thought there was any likelihood of the Select Committee's not being set up again. It was clear, at least to most of us, that if the intentions of Parliament when it passed the 1967 Act were not to be flouted, there was urgent need for further clarification and improvement of the law.
Moreover, there are other matters which have arisen since 1967, not foreseen at the time, which require either amendment of the existing law or new administrative Regulations, or both. As the Select Committee did not have sufficient time to take evidence on these matters or to discuss them at any length and so to make recommendations, it was unable to complete the task for which it was set up. We were not worried about that because we had been given a solemn pledge by the Minister of State that if we did not complete the business it could be continued in a further Session. I cannot believe, therefore, that the House would be prepared to leave the matter there.
May I give just five examples of what I have in mind? First, the 1967 Act certainly did not intend to provide abortion on demand, as the Lane Committee Report later confirmed. Nevertheless, in paragraph 201 of the Lane Committee Report it asserted thatsome practitioners interpret the Act to mean that…termination is possible in every case".That is still the situation.
Later, in paragraph 603, the Report said that in parts of the private sector patients could have their pregnancies terminated on request, for payment, when 105 there were no lawful grounds for that to be done. To quote directly, it said:in short, in some parts of the private commercial sector the provisions of the Act have been flouted and abortion on request has been the rule".Who, in the face of that, can doubt that the law needs to be clarified and strengthened so that flagrant abuse in return for financial reward is brought to an end?
It would be naïve to think that the Select Committee's interim recommendations concerning the examination of women seeking abortion will eliminate that scandal. Indeed, an assistant under-secretary at the Home Office told the Select Committee:If it is indeed the case that…a doctor can lawfully perform an abortion on the strength of a mere statistical risk, then I am not even sure that you get home by providing that he has got at least to see the woman and examine her.Those last few words
to see the woman and examine herunderline the type of scandalous abuse and disregard of the interests and health of the women concerned that have been going on ever since the Act was passed.
§ Mrs. Helene Hayman (Welwyn and Hatfield)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the whole tenor of his argument so far has been about the enforcement of present legislation and in no way about changing the law? He was been describing the way in which doctors abuse the present Act. We need to enforce the Act. There is no need to change the legislation in the light of anything that the hon. Gentleman has said.
§ Sir B. Braine
I have a great deal of respect for the hon. Lady, who has been a good colleague on the Select Committee. If she will listen to the rest of my argument she will realise that what she said is not so. Let me proceed. If the hon. Lady catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, no doubt she will be able to take up the point.
Nor will our interim recommendation concerning the control of fees be adequate in itself. Dr. Coplans, of the Association of Anaesthetists, told us thatcontrolling the price will not stop people interpreting the Act in a way which you could say was abortion on demand.That is my first example. Clearly, therefore, further consideration must be given to this crucial question.
106 Second, it is necessary—here is the answer to the hon. Lady's point—to bring the upper time limit of 28 weeks for abortion, except in cases where there are serious medical indications, into line with current medical opinion and modern techniques. In any event, the Lane Committee thought that the limit should be reduced to 24 weeks. We are told that the World Health Organisation is considering a period of 22 weeks. Sir John Peel, one of the most distinguished gynaecologists of our time, thinks that the upper limit should be 20 weeks. Indeed, the British Medical Association, commenting on the Lane Report, warned thateven 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 independent of any connection with the mother.Therefore, whatever change is thought to be appropriate—it is clear that whether we accept 24 weeks or 20 weeks as the upper limit, some change is long overdue—it must involve amendment to the Abortion Act combined with the repeal of the 28–week presumption in the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929—the course favoured by the Lane Committee.
The Select Committee's very modest interim recommendation that late termination be restricted to certain places with certain facilities is, in my view, no substitute for such a statutory provision, since that recommendation involves leaving legal time limit as it is. That makes legal nonsense. It is a situation that the House cannot continue to tolerate. For that reason alone there will be an argument for the Select Committee to consider what is the most suitable legislation to be introduced.
Third, there is the disturbing question how far the conscience clause in the 1967 Act protects doctors and nurses who have a genuine conscientious objection to abortion and the extent to which the careers of those who have such objection are damaged.
There is no doubt that discrimination exists and that it causes fear and distress. I do not want to give the House my own opinion. Let me quote the evidence which the Royal College of Obstetricians 107 and Gynaecologists gave to the Lane Committee:…medical members of hospital gynaecological and anaesthetic departments…are fearful that if they show distaste or conscientious objection to terminating pregnancy their position may be prejudiced. This fear is amply justified for we have certain knowledge that when candidates are being interviewed for appointment as registrar, senior registrar or consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology it is now almost the rule for them to be asked their attitude to the implementation of the Abortion Act…we submit that it is quite improper for candidates for posts in obstetrics and gynaecology to be discarded or outruled on the grounds that they have a conscientious objection to performing any particular operation.Discrimination continues. My attention has been drawn recently to two cases—one of a distinguished Royal College Gold Medalist who has been driven out of the country by it, and the other, a general practitioner, who for years sought posts involving gynaecology in different parts of the country and was turned down repeatedly because of his views on abortion. Such evidence should be laid before the Select Committee. We have already taken convincing evidence from the Royal College of Nursing that great distress and anxiety exists in the nursing profession as well.
In recent years Parliament has spent a great deal of time legislating against the evils of discrimination on grounds of race or sex. How can anyone justify discrimination against members of the healing professions who have a conscientious objection to the destruction of life in the womb? Is the House of Commons going to say that it cannot find time to discuss a matter of this importance? That is really what the issue is about—whether time can be found for that matter, among others, to be discussed. It is utterly disgraceful that discrimination of this kind should be practised. Clearly, a reappointed Select Committee should consider the problem and decide whether it can best be overcome by amendment of the 1967 Act or by fresh administrative regulation.
Fourthly, the Select Committee should be given an opportunity to make recommendations on the question whether, in criminal prosecutions, anonymity should be granted to witnesses who have had abortions. The Lane Report commented 108 on the difficulties caused to the police by the present situation which frequently leads to women being unhelpful to the police in their inquiries.
An Assistant Under-Secretary at the Home Office told the Select Committee that, in principle, the Home Office would go along with the idea of anonymity, though possibly at the court's discretion rather than as an absolute right. The Home Office was concerned, however, that this question should also be considered in the context of offences other than abortion.
Since the Select Committee last discussed this question, the Advisory Group on the Law of Rape, under Mrs. Justice Heilbron, has recommended that rape victims be granted anonymity in criminal proceedings. I understand that the Advisory Group's recommendations have had a sympathetic reception from the Home Secretary, and rightly so. 1 submit that a reappointed Select Committee should now consider the question of anonymity in abortion cases in the light, inter alia, of the recommendations of Mrs. Justice Heilbrcn's Advisory Group.
My last example—hon. Members will be able to produce many other examples of cases in which consideration must be given to the question whether legislation is necessary—is that it is clearly unsatisfactory in law and in morality to leave the blacklisting of pregnancy advice bureaux to the indirect means of control proposed in the Select Committee's Third Special Report. That was intended purely as an interim measure indicating to the Government what we thought should be done. Here again, there is need for new statutory controls, which witnesses from the Department of Health and Social Security repeatedly urged on the Select Committee.
Here, then, are five good reasons—there are many others—for reconvening the Select Committee and allowing it to complete the task with which it was entrusted by the House last year. I urge hon. Members to support the motion. It does not commit any hon. Member to one view or another on any of these contentious matters. The final recommendations of the Committee would have to be decided by the House itself. The Select Committee could not determine the matter. It would make recommendations 109 to the House, and the House would then have the opportunity of deciding whether to accept them or not.
I hope that, because of that fact, hon. Members will tonight decide to agree to the motion without a Division, but whatever decision they make it is clear that these grave matters cannot be left where they are. The law must be clarified and amended. What better body than a Select Committee to review what needs to be done in this context?
§ Several Hon. Members rose——
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I must inform the House that in the approximately two and a half hours that remain for the debate, 20 hon. Members wish to speak. I hope that that will be borne in mind.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Mr. James White (Glasgow, Pollok)
I shall be as brief as possible, Mr. Speaker. On 2nd February last year I gave a pledge to the House that I and my fellow-sponsors of the Bill were not playing tricks. Tonight, I again assure the House that we have not shifted ground. Having said that, I want to put paid to a rumour that I and my fellow sponsors brought about our proposed amendments because of the book "Babies for Burning ". That story is utter and complete rubbish, and we challenge any hon. Member to say when any of us have said that.
§ Ms. Maureen Colquhoun (Northampton, North)
Will not my hon. Friend accept that he tried to use it, and that now that it has been discredited he is backing out?
§ Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
But would not the hon. Gentle man agree that none of the allegations made in the book has ever been disproved?
§ Mr. White
I have never at any given moment quoted from that book, either in the House, in the Select Committee or outside the House.
It was the Government who came to us and offered us a Select Committee. We did not go to the Government for it. The Government, in their wisdom, realised that 110 the amount of evidence we had to hear could not be properly heard in a short space of time and that a year would not be enough. We were guaranteed by the Government that the Select Committee would go from Session to Session.
What did the Select Committee achieve? First and foremost, I must pay my respects to the chairman, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey). He was most capable and certainly one of the best chairmen we could have had. Secondly, although at times we in the Committee disagreed and divided, we did not experience the bitterness that arose during the proceedings on the 1967 Act. It was a very nice Committee, and I should be delighted to meet with the same hon. Members in that Committee again.
§ Mr. Robin Corbett (Hemel Hempstead)
This is the second time in the debate that the statement has been made that the Government promised that the Select Committee would go from Session to Session. Will not my hon. Friend acknowledge that the House, and not the Government, appoints Select Committees?
§ Mr. White
Yes, I agree. But had I thought that there was any danger of the Select Committee sitting for only a short time, I would have pressed the Chairman and the Clerk for much more evidence to be called—evidence which I wanted to call and would have called earlier had I thought that there was any doubt about the Committee's continued existence. I still believe that the House is fair, and I believe that in fairness it will give us the majority that we want tonight. I do not see any inbuilt danger.
I want to call certain evidence, for example, from Professor Peter Hunting-ford, who willy-nilly goes about saying that, irrespective of what we say, he will practise abortion on request. He interprets the present law as allowing abortion on demand. I think that he should appear before the Select Committee.
I think that we should hear Professor Hugh McLaren, from Birmingham, who has disagreed very strongly with some of the evidence that the Select Committee has heard. In fairness to all, we should hear the other side. I would be keen to call Professor Ian Donald, from Glasgow, who is in favour of my Bill. I should 111 like to hear Dr. Margaret White, from London. I should like to hear each and every one of these people, two of whom practise abortion.
§ Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)
I am very confused in listening to my hon. Friend. I believe he said on the radio this morning that he was concerned that 1,000 women from Glasgow had come to England to have unwanted pregnancies terminated according to law. Now he says that he wants to call Professor Ian Donald. Is it not Professor Donald's responsibility that these 1,000 women from Glasgow have to come to England because they cannot get their pregnancies terminated in Glasgow according to law?
§ Mr. White
I shall come to the Glasgow situation. I happen to represent a Glasgow constituency. One of the reasons why I brought in the Bill was my total dissatisfaction with the situation in Glasgow. I hope that my hon. Friend will agree with me as she listens.
I should also like to have evidence from behind the Iron Curtain——
§ Mr. James Dempsey (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
Before my hon. Friend leaves the point—[Interruption.] I have not spoken on this subject before. I am no expert. I do not claim to be an expert. I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) should be so insulting. All I want to ask is this. Has the Committee considered taking evidence in Glasgow, from a wide section of interests in the West of Scotland, on this subject—interests which for some time have been producting facts and figures to show the degree of abuse that is taking place in the operation of the existing law?
§ Mr. White
I agree with my hon. Friend that the Committee could well go to Glasgow. Indeed, the majority of my sponsors happen to be Scotsmen. The Committee, in fact, has never been to an abortion clinic. I should also like evidence to be taken from sociologists and others in various parts of the world who claim to be experts on backward babies. I should like evidence to be taken from the woman detective, Chief Inspector Brenda Reeves, who did some 112 fairly full research into the problem on behalf of the police.
What I am really interested in, however, is why ladies must pay to have an abortion. All my life I have been totally opposed to fee-paying for schools and fee-paying for beds in hospitals, and I am bitterly opposed to the idea that one needs to have 60 £1 notes in one's pocket before one can get an abortion. I ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown), how many of his constituents can afford £60, not counting the train fares.
§ Mrs. Hayman
May I give the answer? There is in the 1967 Act a conscience clause, which we all supported, which allows National Health Service practitioners to refuse to do the operation on grounds of conscience. That is why women have to pay £60 a time.
§ Mr. White
I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mrs. Hayman) will join me in doing something about that. That is a good reason for reappointing this Committee to hear all the evidence.
I am opposed to the practice in abortion clinics by which people have to pay the money before they have the operation. That is not the type of abortion centre we ought to have. The proposal for a Select Committee offers a way of ensuring that any future legislation designed to amend the 1967 Act will be soundly based.
I fail to see any reason why this motion should not be supported. A Select Committee cannot legislate. It can only recommend. Nevertheless, I think that everybody will agree that the Committee has done a first-class job and should be allowed the opportunity to carry on and deliberate on what other recommendations ought to be brought before the House.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)
I hope I sound more coherent than I feel, since my recent contact with the medical profession has had more to do with influenza than with abortion.
This motion is without precedent in the House. A point that has been over-looked by the two previous speakers is 113 that the motion invites us to set up a Select Committee to consider a Bill which lapsed in the last Session. It is not the same Committee as that which the Government offered during the debate a year ago, when the suggestion was that the sponsor should withdraw the Bill and that a Select Committee on the working of the Abortion Act should be set up to consider the Lane Committee's Report and the hon. Member's Bill. That suggestion was turned down by the House. The Bill received a Second Reading and was committed to a Select Committee instead of to a Standing Committee.
Although the Government are honouring a moral commitment by moving the motion, I believe it is seriously defective because the Committee will, according to its terms of reference, be restricted to consider matters contained in the Abortion (Amendment) Bill. That is a very important limitation. If the motion empowered us to keep a watchful eye on the working of the Abortion Act generally, on the development of the new day-care facilities or the lack of facilities in the National Health Service in Birmingham or Glasgow, or the difficulties of operating a conscience clause, bearing in mind the evidence given to us by the Royal College of Nursing in favour of setting up specialist units, there would be a case for setting up a committee. But many of the things that we might like to review are not in the hon. Member's Bill and, therefore, are outside our powers of review according to the motion.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
Since the hon. Member's Bill had a Long Title to enable it to be comprehensive, by allowing an amendment to the existing abortion law, what reason does the hon. Member have for suggesting that a Select Committee appointed on these terms would feel any sense of limitation in dealing with all the matters that he has adumbrated?
§ Mr. Steel
The hon. Member is advancing a novel point of view if he thinks that we can go beyond the matters contained in the Bill. There is nothing in the Bill about an extension of National Health Service facilities. The hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B, Braine) made a valid point when he talked about the rule of anonymity. This is referred to in the Bill. But there has been a recommenda- 114 tion from Mr. Justice Lane's Committee, and we have had a recommendation also from Mrs. Justice Heilbron's Committee, and it is our job to stir up the Home Office to do something about this. What is required is action, not more discussion.
To set up a Committee confining itself to reconsidering a Bill that has been wholly rejected by the bulk of the medical profession is a waste of parliamentary time. Much has happened in the year since we last considered this matter. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists voted by 28 to 2 that they were not dissatisfied with the working of the 1967 Act. The British Medical Association voted overwhelmingly, by 360 to 4, to oppose the terms of the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White). Is it seriously suggested that we should take up that matter again as a starting point?
§ Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)
Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the previous Select Committee ruled out certain abuses? Does he not now agree that there are further abuses to be ruled out? Hence the need to set up a Select Committee.
§ Mr. Steel
If the hon. Gentleman will let me make my own speech he will find that I shall be coming to the question of abuses. The situation a year ago was that Parliament was faced with a series of abuses of the abortion law. One could criticise successive Administrations for Lot acting and reporting to the House on what they were doing to check these abuses. It was as a result of questions in the House from Members with different views that the previous Secretary of State for Social Services, the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), set up the Lane Committee in 1971. It reported in March 1974. It came to the conclusion thatthe Act has relieved a vast amount of individual suffering",and that members of the inquiry wereunanimous 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 Committee, however, also said thatMuch of the 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, 115 have brought considerable reproach upon this country.Despite the publication of the Lane Committee's Report, the House had no Government statement on the matter. The Committee had reported but the House was left in the dark. The hon. Member for Pollok has, in a sense, provided a useful service in raising the whole matter and enabling us to get started on our work. The fact that we were able to elicit from the Department for the first time some of the steps that it was already taking—for example, the development of the black list of referral agencies—was of value. They were able to close clinics by using the powers of the Act—powers which had existed all along in the Act but had not been used before. In the wake of the Select Committee's work the Department is to operate stricter controls, such as fees and certification. The Department is taking several important steps, and has begun successfully to end many abuses.
I am not surprised that the House voted overwhelmingly for the Bill of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok. I pay tribute to the Chairman of the Select Committee and to the useful work which was accomplished by the Select Committee in the previous Session. We were able to produce a nine-point series of recommendations that were accepted by the Secretary of State for Social Services. I think they have been useful, doing much to highlight abuses of the Act and to recommend further steps that should be taken.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok mentioned three abuses in his speech last year. He said: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.That was perfectly true. The Minister of State took up the same point and said: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 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."—[Official Report, 7th February 1975; Vol. 885, c. 1758–1805.]That last sentence has turned out, a year later, to be true. As other coun- 116 tries have changed their laws, the picture of abortion in this country has become totally different. The number of women coming from France in 1974 was 36,541, but last year it dropped to 14,809. The breakdown for 1975 shows that 7,400 women came from France in the first quarter, but in the last quarter the number had fallen to 1,411. There has been a similar decline from other countries, such as Germany, as more liberal abortion laws have been introduced. We have broken the back of the problem of importing foreign patients.
Interestingly enough, the number of women from Italy and Spain has increased, for the obvious reason that no abortion law exists in those countries. The number of foreign women coming to this country was down by 37 per cent. in 1975. The total number of abortions was down by 14 per cent. The picture today is very different from what it was a year ago, the figures now being in decline for the first time since the passing of the Act in 1967.
§ Mr. Steel
Partly due to the work of the Select Committee, but mainly but to the action taken by other countries in developing their own legislation.
Another matter that influenced the House a year ago and to which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok referred was the book entitled "Babies for Burning". It is a little late in the day for the hon. Gentleman and his supporters to disclaim that book's influence. It provided headlines in many newspapers, and many respected commentators quoted from it freely. Copies were sent to Members.
When the Committee examined the authors I must say that I had never seen such a pair of charlatans before a Select Committee. I do not wish to go into the claims that were made and the credentials that were offered, as those are all matters that may be before the courts, but in the introduction to the book there appeared this sentence:Every quote we reproduce was tape recorded by us.Yet when we asked for the tapes of the most gruesome parts of the book it was admitted that no tapes existed. We were 117 told that the mechanism was faulty, that the newspapers had lost them, or that the police had possession. There was always some explanation, but by some strange coincidence it was always the most sensational parts of the book for which no tape was available. There were plenty of tapes available to cover the more ordinary parts of the book. The book uncovered many abuses, but the most blatant and gruesome sections were unsubstantiated.
Nor have the authors ceased their activities since appearing before the Committee. In a letter to the Church Times in September, Mr. Lichfield wrote:The Select Committee has some forty hours' playing time of tape recorded evidence from myself and Mrs. Kentish, the co-author. They have tapes of a doctor talking of 'Hitler's progressive thinking' in this matter and the prospects of selective breeding '.The Committee had no such tapes, yet these lies are put forward the whole time. I stress the nature of the book because hon. Members who sponsored the Bill appeared anxious to disclaim any connection with it.
However, the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) reviewed the book in the Spectator only a week or two before the House was asked to make its decision. I shall make two quotations from the hon. Gentleman's review. First, he wrote that the authorscame to the problem as virginal and pristime as only young journalists can be.…".He then wrote:Yet one cannot forbear to pay them tribute …".
§ Mr. Abse
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will quote more of my remarks. Clearly, it would have been far better if the authors had published the tapes without making any comment. I emphasised that in my article. Why does the hon. Gentleman not quote that? Why does he pretend that we do not have hours and hours of tapes? They are in the possession of the Select Committee. The view has been taken that we have the time in front of us to examine them.
§ Mr. Steel
If the hon. Gentleman wishes me to quote further from his article I shall do so. He wrote:It would have been wise and more effective if the authors had simply left the tapes to speak for themselves: the grim recounting requires no embellishment.118 I agree, but there would not have been a book, because the outrageous tapes did not exist.
I do not pretend that the working of a difficult piece of legislation will be plain sailing from now on; there is bound to be variation within the medical profession. But I take issue with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok on the bonafides of some members of the medical profession who operate within the National Health Service in London. The suggestion is made that there are certain consultants who provide abortions on demand. I met one such consultant recently. Although this consultant did not go along with the mainstream of medical opinion, he had an equally sincere and conscientious regard for his patients. There was no question of merely granting abortions. There was certainly no question of performing abortions without examination, interview and regard to the length of pregnancy. All those matters were taken into account before the consultant made up his mind.
It is totally false to suggest that abortion on demand exists within the National Health Service. However, there is a wide discrepancy of interpretation. That will always exist within the medical profession, on this and other matters. It is our duty to lay down the boundaries of the criminal law. That is what we did in 1967. It is not up to us to judge whether individual abortions should or should not be carried out. As long as the practitioner acts in good faith under the 1967 Act, such judgment should be left to him.
Normal parliamentary checks are open to us. If the House wishes at any time to change the substantive law it should do so by the normal processes and not by hiding behind a Select Committee. I believe that it will be a waste of parliamentary time and resources to set up another Select Committee to operate within narrow terms of reference. I also believe that in the light of the evidence that has accumulated during the past year, and as published in the past month in the British Journal of Psychiatry for the first time, the picture is much clearer. The study of the British Journal of Psychiatry was based on women who had abortions at a London hospital. It is the only study of its kind since the Abortion Act came into force in 1968. The article 119 was written by a number of doctors. No evidence prior to the study had been published in Britain.
The article claims that the evidence provides documentation to the effect that the Abortion Act has led to relief from distress not measurable in statistical terms. It is in that spirit that we should decline to set up the Committee.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Mrs. Joyce Butler (Wood Green)
Although I was one of the Members who helped to put the 1967 Bill on to the statute book by voting for it, I did not take any active part in the proceedings. Abortion has never been one of my main interests, although I have taken a keen interest in many aspects of the National Health Service. Therefore, when I was appointed to the Select Committee I had to study the matter in much greater detail. As a result of that study and of being a member of the Select Committee—I believe that I have a 100 per cent. attendance record—two matters have become clear to me. The first point is not easy to state without appearing to be a female chauvinist, if there is such a thing, but this is how I feel.
It is clear from the comments on the Bill in Committee that it is impossible for many people to understand the totality of involvement in which a woman is caught by an unwanted pregnancy. It is an involvement not only for nine months or for the duration of childhood but for the rest of the woman's life. Because nobody but the woman herself can fully appreciate the totality of this involvement, it must be her decision whether she can cope with that total situation, for whatever reason, and that must be the decisive factor in giving an abortion.
I am not saying that we must not do everything possible, by more effective contraceptive methods and advice, to try to prevent unwanted pregnancies. But if that fails and the woman decides to have an abortion, she should be entitled to have her pregnancy terminated within the law in the safest possible conditions. I stress this factor because there were poignant reminders in written evidence given to the Select Committee by those who had experienced the horrors of backstreet abortion. Relief was expressed by nurses in evidence to the Committee that they no 120 longer had to treat the sickening after-effects of such cases. No woman should be driven to such desperation again by putting back the clock with restrictive provisions such as those referred to by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White). If the Select Committee is re-established with its present membership, however, I believe that that will be the result. There is an imbalance in the Committee's membership in favour of those restrictive provisions.
The Select Committee clarified for me the basic soundness of the 1967 Act. This was made clear by the whole weight of medical evidence and there was a good deal of it ranging from major national bodies, such as the British Medical Association, to individual testimonies by doctors, many of whom work in socially-deprived areas such as that part of North London in which my constituency is situated.
It was clear that if the Committee proceeded with the main provisions of the Bill it would go against the whole of that medical evidence. It was clear from the evidence that many of the abuses stressed by the Bill's sponsors either never existed at all or had been cleared up by administrative action. Nevertheless, there were positive points on which our deeply-divided Committee was able to agree. These were incorporated in the Committee's Third Special Report. That Report was accepted by the Secretary of State, and action is being taken by the Department on all its recommendations.
§ Mr. Ian Campbell (Dunbartonshire. West)
I see that my hon. Friend has the Third Special Report in her hands. Will she read paragraph 5?
§ Mr. Campbell
May I remind my hon. Friend that paragraph 5 contained a unanimous recommendation that the Committee should be re-established in the next Session?
§ Mrs. Butler
I am coming to the point my hon. Friend is seeking to make, which is also contained in the Fourth Special Report.
The Minister of State in his evidence made clear that, in his view, no further legislation was needed on abortion at present. In those circumstances, I felt that the Select Committee would serve no further useful purpose. Accordingly, I moved an amendment to the Fourth Special Report on 10th November as follows:Early in its proceedings it became clear that the Committee was deeply and irreconcilably divided on the main clauses (and purpose) of the Bill.I stress that matter because it has been said that the Bill had defects, but it was the defective purposes of the Bill that worried many of us.
The amendment continued:Despite this, and in order to be constructive, it, therefore, decided to concentrate its deliberations on a number of difficulties in the administration of the 1967 Act on which the members of the Committee could agree, and made recommendations accordingly in its 3rd Special Report. Now that the Secretary of State has accepted and acted upon these recommendations, and time is needed for them to become effective, the Committee believes it can serve no further useful purpose at this time, and accordingly reports the Bill to the House.Unfortunately that amendment was not accepted, but it remains my view and I urge the House to reject the motion to set up a Select Committee again. We need time to see how the Department's administrative action works out. Furthermore, I believe that this House and the country need a breathing space from the controversy and passions that have been aroused by this unfortunate Bill.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Andrew Bowden (Brighton, Kemptown)
I should like to refer to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel), who appeared to rest his case largely on the fact that the terms for re-establishing the Select Committee as set out on the Order Paper are not sufficiently wide.
I cannot recall any time during the Select Committee meetings when any point or subject matter was ruled out of order by our Chairman as being outside the Committee's terms of reference. We discussed every possible angle, report and 122 statement in relation to the subjects we were able to cover in the Committee. One has only to look at the Long Title of the Bill to see how wide it is:To amend the Abortion Act 1967 and to make further provision with respect to the termination of pregnancy and matters consequential thereto.It would be difficult to envisage terms wider than those.
I wish to speak for only a few moments, and I shall concentrate on the essential point of why I believe that the Committee should be re-established. After the Second Reading of the Abortion (Amendment) Bill on 7th February 1975, the House agreed without a vote that the Bill should be committed to a Select Committee. The Minister of State made clear in that debate that the proposal for a Select Committee would ensure that future legislation to amend the 1967 Act would be soundly based. The Select Committee has not yet been able to deal with any possible important changes to the 1967 Act. Indeed, in that debate the Minister went much further and said…the Government believe that the Bill should have the benefit of sustained scrutiny by a Select Committee."—[Official Report, 7th February 1975; Vol. 885, c. 1796.]The Minister is an honourable man and I am sure that when he replies he will admit, openly and frankly, that the Select Committee has not yet had the opportunity to examine the Bill or some of its most important clauses in toto. I am sure he will recommend to the House that we should re-establish the Select Committee tonight. If he does not do so, he will be going against his own view that the Committee should be able to give the Bill sustained scrutiny—something we had no time to do in the last parliamentary Session. Indeed, we were overwhelmed with paper.
Something like 200 major written submissions were sent to the Select Committee. Several thousand letters were sent to the Select Committee. I doubt whether any single member of the Select Committee can claim to have read every single letter that was sent or to have read in great detail every one of over 200 written submissions. We have a great deal of work to do if the Select Committee is re-established.
I should have thought that there are very few Members who have not had a significant amount of correspondence 123 from their constituents on this matter in the last two or three years. Whatever view may have been expressed in that correspondence, it clearly shows that many millions of people in this country are concerned about the operation of the Abortion Act 1967.
The Committee has not discussed the first two clauses in the Bill, which are probably the two most important and key clauses. They relate, in effect, to abortion for social convenience and abortion on demand. These have not even been touched by the Select Committee, because we agreed at the beginning that we would quite openly try to reach agreement in certain areas where there was a possibility of getting a consensus and where there was a possibility of making unanimous recommendations and reports to the House.
On the advice and under the guidance of our outstanding Chairman, we were right, I believe, in doing so and in trying to find the areas on which we could agree, but it is also the duty of this House to re-establish the Select Committee so that it can discuss and argue the areas in which it is unlikely to reach unanimous agreement.
There are very many other areas in which consideration is needed. One can argue very strongly that the police find themselves in an impossible position in relation to the working of the 1967 Act. It is well known that it is almost impossible to get a conviction for an illegal abortion under the 1967 Act in the context of either the National Health Service or, in particular, the private clinics. Yet a prominent gynaecologist has said openly on television, on the radio and in the Press that for all practical purposes he flouts the law of the land. He has said that he has carried out and will continue to carry out abortions on demand. How can any hon. Member say, in the context of that statement, that there is not a great deal of work to be done by the Select Committee?
I beg the House not to be complacent when it reads the latest abortion figures. I am sure that we are all grateful, whatever views we hold, that the number of abortions which took place in 1975 had dropped compared with 1974. But do not let us imagine that it is a substantial drop in the context of women resident 124 in England and Wales. It is only a drop of 22½ per cent. on the 1974 figure. There has been a horrifying increase in the number of abortions carried out on girls under 16 years of age. The increase is 9 per cent. In figures, that is an increase from 3,243 to 3,526. There are no grounds for complacency in that area.
§ Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
Is the hon. Member saying that he would rather that children under 16 carried their babies to term?
§ Mr. Bowden
What I am saying is that the society in which we live at the moment and the conditions which have been created have led to a situation in which an increasing number of girls under 16 are having abortions. The very fact that this is happening proves to me that something is wrong. I want the Select Committee to examine this and find out why it is happening and put recommendations to this House.
There will be grave disappointment, not only in this House but in the country, if the Select Committee is not re-established. I believe that the House wants the Select Committee to continue to probe and question and to think about the fundamental issues involved.
Many of the supporters of the 1967 legislation are far from happy with the operation of the Act in practice. This House has everything to gain by deciding to re-establish the Select Committee tonight.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Miss Jo Richardson (Barking)
It is a year last Friday since the House debated this very contentious measure. During that time, while the Select Committee has been taking evidence—both oral and written—and drawing up its recommendations, its very existence has taken up a disproportionate amount of the time of the members of the Select Committee and Members of this House—time and energy which, I believe, could usefully have been spent on other subjects. I could quite well have done with the time and thought which I have had to put into this question in dealing with other matters of importance to this House. I regret that my energies have been diverted in that way.
It has led to a situation almost of confrontation outside this House in terms of 125 the general public. Many thousands of women have taken—or have, perhaps, been forced into taking—extreme positions. They have had their time taken up with organising demonstrations, and so on, on one side of the argument or the other. In my view this has been an enormous waste of energy.
The hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) has said that the House should be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White) for introducing the subject. I am not grateful for having had to waste this last year on it.
It is ironic, too, that we should have spent so much time in 1975 in considering how to extend the rights of women. We have taken some fairly small steps overall in terms of sex discrimination legislation, and by virtue of some of the provisions of the Employment Protection Act. In this way we have on the one hand been trying to extend women's rights, while, on the other, allowing, by the very existence of this Select Committee, a consideration of the restriction of women's rights. Nevertheless, the Select Committee was set up, and it called a large number of eminent people and eminent bodies to give written and oral evidence. The Select Committee made a number of recommendations. These are now familiar to us and, indeed, are being carried out.
Many of them, as I understand the evidence of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, were already in train before the report was published. That fact should not go unnoticed. Indeed, I suggest that the recommendations could very well have come anyway—and probably would have come anyway—from the Department of Health and Social Security, even if the Select Committee had not considered them. Nevertheless, the Committee has done its job. I hope that will be the end of it, and that the House will vote against the re-establishment of the Select Committee.
The supporters of re-establishing the Select Committee have said that this does not end the story. The hon. Member for Essex, South-East has told us that the Committee must be reappointed in order to complete the work that was entrusted to it in the last Session, but neither he nor any other hon. Member has yet produced a valid reason why this Select 126 Committee should be reconstituted. Names have been bandied about of people who could be called to give evidence. Various arguments have been advanced that the Committee needs to consider amending the existing legislation in order to do this and that. I think that all the supporters of the Select Committee wish to do is to strike at the fundamentals of the Act itself.
What have these people been saying? Who would they now call to give fresh evidence to them in the context of what they are now putting before the House? Would they call representatives of the British Medical Association? The BMA has given evidence already, as have the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Royal College of Pathologists, the Association of Anaesthetists, the Royal College of Pediatricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Midwives and the Health Visitors Association. All these bodies have said that the provisions of the amendment Bill would strike seriously at the fundamentals of the 1967 Act and, as such, should not be tolerated.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
The hon. Lady said that she had not been given one valid reason. Let me give her one. I ask her to consider the provision for the 28 weeks to be reduced to 24. That must involve amendment of the law. It is true that the Select Committee took evidence on this. But witnesses from the Department of Health and Social Security told us that they had no view on it at all——
§ Miss Richardson indicated dissent.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
They did. It is documented. For that reason, I think that it is necessary for the Select Committee to reconvene in order to give the Government clear argument.
§ Miss Richardson
The hon. Member for Essex, South-East, has brought me to my next point. As I have been saying, all these eminent bodies gave evidence to the effect that they were strenuously opposd to the Bill and that they thought that its provisions——
§ Miss Richardson
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will allow me to make my point. All of them said, for example, 127 that they would have great difficulty in defining the words "grave and serious" and that they were words that could not be defined satisfactorily.
To answer the hon. Member for Essex, South-East, the British Medical Association said that to consider reducing the upper limit of 28 weeks would exclude serious maternal conditions occurring between 20 weeks and 28 weeks. I do not think that the Select Committee ought to consider a reduction of the period, and I do not consider that a good and valid reason to reconstitute the Select Committee, if that is what it wants to do.
Much has been said about the nursing profession. The Royal College of Nursing and the Association of Nurse Administrators themselves have serious doubts about the changes proposed in the Bill, that, including the evidence of the Home Office and of the Department of Health and Social Security, the overwhelming weight of opinion offered to the Select Committee was to leave the Act as it now is.
This proposal might have been tenable if the Select Committee had been set up to consider the Report of the Lane Committee, although I have never understood how a Select Committee could be set up to consider the recommendations of another Committee—an eminent and distinguished one at that—which took three years to report. Simply to implement the recommendations of the Lane Committee would have been sufficient, but the motion says that the Select Committee will consider the Abortion (Amendment) Bill. Furthermore, the composition of the Committee is the same as before, so we must assume that the supporters of the Select Committee again want to strike at the foundations of the Act.
What we need, not only in this House but outside it, is a period of calm and to take the whole issue out of this situation of continual confrontation between one side of the argument and the other. Supporters of the Select Committee inside the House have been loud in their wish to frustrate abortion on demand and, in some cases, to frustrate abortion altogether. I hope that they noticed a recent editorial in the Crucible, the official journal of the Church of England Board for Social Responsibility, which 128 took a line in favour of working towards a genuine and responsible response to the considered wishes of the pregnant woman. This is a departure for the Board for Social Responsibility and one which I think hon. Members ought to welcome. I applaud it.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin (Wanstead and Woodford)
The hon. Lady said that it was a departure. However, when it was reviewed in The Times, the reviewer said that it flatly contradicted the Board's own policy and the policy adopted last summer by the General Synod. The editor was speaking only for himself.
§ Miss Richardson
Nevertheless, he was writing in a highly respected journal, and I believe that people who write in journals do so to influence the opinions of those who read it.
To get back to my point about abortion on demand, it was always available before the 1967 Act to women with sufficient funds. The 1967 Act, for which many thousands of women are grateful, has brought within the means of thousands more women the possibility of having safe and proper abortions and has taken them away from the back-street abortions that they had before.
I should be deeply sorry to think that further restrictions, brought about by the setting up again of this Select Committee, would result in a return to that situation. I appeal to the House to give all women the facilities that are required in the present era.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
There is one very good and important reason why the Select Committee should be reconstituted. It is simply that it has not finished its work. My information is that fewer than 10 per cent. of the submissions have so far been heard by the Committee. If any other Committee of this House was set up to examine a question and said that it had finished its work after only 10 per cent. of the submissions to it had been examined, this House would laugh it out of court and certainly not permit it to do so.
This is an issue which cuts right across party lines. Certainly it is one of the most important and basic issues that we face. I am sorry that the hon. Member for 129 Barking (Miss Richardson) regrets the time and energy spent on a matter of this kind, but I must tell her that there is a widespread interest in it among millions of people outside this House and that they look to us to bring some modicum of reason, sense, law and fairness into the situation.
There are several points which the Select Committee must examine more carefully. My information is that it has not yet examined them properly. The first is the new "quickie" lunch-time abortion. How can it possibly be said that this type of abortion falls in with Parliament's will? Despite what the hon. Member for Barking said, Parliament made it clear, as did the sponsor of the original Bill throughout the Committee proceedings, that it was not intended to sanction abortion on demand. That was quite clear. The hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) said this in letters to churchmen, he said it frequently in Committee, and many hon. Members voted for his Bill because of his assurance that it was no part of his intention that Parliament should permit abortion on demand.
§ Mr. David Steel
What has abortion on demand got to do with the new facility which has been introduced for day cate patients? There is no suggestion that the standard of judgment involved as to whether an abortion should be carried out is any different.
§ Mrs. Knight
That is the whole point. How can a doctor go into the question of an abortion for a woman in the necessary depth and with the required care if she slips in at lunch-time and has an abortion in such a short space of time? The Committee should examine whether Parliament's will not to implement abortion on demand is being frustrated by the working of the Act.
Then there is the most important question of the position of doctors and nurses who are jeopardising their careers because they will not carry out abortions. I find it extraordinary that Members of this House are not prepared to give thought and sympathy to doctors who wish to practice their profession in accordance with their conscience. Not for one moment would anyone suggest that people should go to war and fight if they conscientiously objected to it. Why does 130 the House insist that it is perfectly proper for men to be hounded out of their jobs unless they agree to carry out operations which they loathe?
What about the legal protection of the unborn? This House spent some time last Friday debating a Bill brought forward by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Carter). I notice that The Times had a headline "Rights For Some Unborn". I should think it is "some unborn". It seems that the decision as to whether an unborn child shall have rights will rest solely on whether it is a wanted child. How can this House agree that only a wanted person has any rights? It is a total denial of all the things we are here to protect.
There is the question of collusion by racketeering doctors which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White) dealt with in his Bill. The Committee has not touched on this question, which is of importance.
Most important of all, perhaps—and it has not yet been raised—is the question of the care of women and the need for warnings to be given to them about the nature of the operation. I have here a report from Russia. It is interesting to note that many who support abortion are vociferous in their support for the Soviet Union. Dr. Polchanova of the Central Scientific Research Institute for Health Education of the USSR Ministry of Health has written about this. I remind the House that the USSR was the first country to have abortion as a legal operation.
The doctor said:It is one of the most important problems confronting women's clinics to reduce the number of induced abortions and by so doing to reduce gynaecological morbidity and disorders of the reproductive system. The prevention of abortions is an important purpose of health education… The very frequent development of psycho-nervous reactions following an artificial termination, and the extraordinary tenacity and punctillious observance of instructions by women undergoing treatment for sterility, are a convincing indication how necessary it is for a pregnant woman to have a personal interview with a sympathetic doctor who can prevent her making a rash decision.… According to our findings many women assume that provided an abortion is carried out at a hospital all possibility of complications is thereby eliminated. This misconception is due to the comparatively simple way women are admitted to gynaecological wards and their short stay there. 131 We have ascertained that the majority of women are well acquainted only with the comparatively rare complications of an operation for the termination of pregnancy, i.e. perforation and haemorrhage; they are quite inadequately informed about the most prevalent consequences, i.e. gynaecological inflammatory diseases, frequent complications during subsequent pregnancies and confinement, disordered function of the ovaries and so forth. Therefore it is necessary to take more active measures based on up-to-date scientific data to combat the idea so firmly held by the public that an abortion performed in hospital conditions is a perfectly safe and harmless operation.The hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles mentioned a survey which had been carried out involving women who had had an abortion. The difficulty about putting any credence upon the findings of that survey lies in the fact that only 60 patients out of the 360 were followed up at all. When I inquired from those who were informed about this scientific area whether this would be a reasonable sample to work on, I was told that it was not a reasonable sample. I am concerned about the women. As I understand it, before any other voluntary operation a woman or man is warned of the dangers if there are dangers connected with that operation. So far as I am aware, abortion is the only voluntary operation for which there is no legal commitment to warn the person that dangers exist and may well follow the operation.
What are the people who oppose the setting up of the Committee once more so frightened about? The Act is on the statute book. Women are having abortions every day under it. The Committee seeks merely to go further into these important matters. It would be a sad day if this House said that it no longer had the time or energy to debate whether Parliament's will was being carried out, or to talk about men and women who are being prevented from working in their chosen professions, legal protection for the weak and helpless or medical care for women. There is no reason why those who oppose the setting up of the Committee should be so flighty in their opposition. We ask merely that this vital question be examined properly. So far it has not been.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Stanley Cohen (Leeds, South-East)
I wish to refer to the speech of 132 my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson). She spoke or abortion on demand being available, in the past, to those who could afford it. That is a point I accept, as I am sure most hon. Members do. In itself that does not justify abortion on demand. Those of us who are opposed to abortion, or opposed to abortion on demand, would condemn that fact just as much as my hon. Friend does. My hon. Friend referred to a period of calm. If we analyse that, what it really means is a period of standstill, when we do nothing. It also means adopting an ostrich-like attitude when we bury our heads in the sand and hope that the problem will go away. It will not.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) said that abortion was not her main interest. As a father of four I, too, can claim that abortion is not my main interest. Nevertheless, I am concerned about the moral, religious and humanitarian issues involved. Whether we are for or against abortion, I hope that all of us will credit people who take a different view with being sincere in that view. This is an emotive issue, and I hope that we shall discuss it without bitterness or rancour.
The hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) has done himself less than a service. He implied that the Select Committee was a waste of time, and could achieve no purpose. [Interruption.] That was the impression I obtained from what he said. If I am wrong, I apologise. I refer the hon Gentleman to the speech of my hon. Friend the Minister of State on 7th February 1975, when we were discussing the Bill. My hon. Friend said:This proposal for a Select Committee offers a way of ensuring that any future legislation to amend the 1967 Act will be soundly based.Therefore, the outcome of the deliberations of the Select Committee will be of vital importance in any future legislation on abortion. My hon. Friend also said: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."—[Official Report, 7th February 1975; Vol. 885, cc. 1797–1806.]That was the view of those of us who were concerned about the re-establishment of the Select Committee.
133 I wish to make my attitude perfectly clear. In spite of my Jewish name, I am a Roman Catholic and I have very strong views on abortion. I recognise the sincerity of those who disagree with me, and I hope that in this and subsequent debates they will recognise my sincerity.
This subject is of vital importance to all sections of the community, whatever their views may be. We have seen in the Public Gallery tonight the extent to which some people are prepared to go to influence the House. I do not say that in a critical sense. We have all received correspondence from our constituents expressing views for or against abortion. I hope that hon. Members have done the same as I have done and have written to their constituents saying, "Even though we disagree with you, we appreciate your having brought your point of view to our attention."
We must not only consider this question very seriously; it must be seen by the public that we have done so. That is why it is vitally important that the Select Committee should have a full opportunity to consider the mandate placed before it. My hon. Friends have referred to groups and individuals who have been interviewed by a Select Committee. There may be many more who wish to be interviewed and to put their point of view. We should reappoint the same Select Committee, otherwise we shall have to go through the whole business again, and that would not do justice to the decision of the House or to the people who elected us.
The Select Committee has yet not been in existence for a year. The deliberations of the Select Committee on Race Relations, quite rightly, took a long time. Abortion is an equally important issue. On 7th February 1975 my hon. Friend the Minister of State said: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"—I emphasise "re-establish"—the Select Committee.It will ill behove the Government or the House to go back on such a definite commitment. If we do so, in the eyes of the public it will be a reflection not only on the Government but on Parliament itself.
§ Dr, M. S. Miller (East Kilbride)
Does my hon. Friend not accept that what the Minister gave was not a commitment that the Committee would be re-established, because the Government could not give that commitment? What the Government could do was give a commitment that they would table a motion such as this for the House to decide. Therefore, does my hon. Friend not agree that the Government are honouring that commitment by doing that tonight?
§ Mr. Cohen
I beg your pardon, Sir.
The Minister said:.…the Government give the commitment to the sponsors of the Bill that they will reestablish the Select Committee.That is a clear commitment. The Government did not give the commitment to the House particularly but to the sponsors of the Bill and the House accepted that. He went on:…and the Government believe that the Bill should have the benefit of a sustained scrutiny by a Select Committee.To spend less than 12 months on such a vital issue does not amount to a sustained scrutiny. So there is every case for the House to continue——
§ Mr. Abse
On the issue of the commitment, is it not a fact that what the Minister specifically said, in another context from the one quoted by my hon. Friend, is:Should the eventuality arise that the House goes into a different Session before the Bill is considered"—as it has—the Government give the commitment to the sponsors of the Bill that they will re-establish the Select Committee."—[Official Report, 7th February 1975; Vol. 885, c. 1794–86.]That is a commitment which was given. Is it not more casuistry to suggest that it can now be avoided?
§ Mr. Cohen
Yes. That is what I said, actually.
The House has provided the opportunity for some sustained consideration 135 and scrutiny by a Select Committee. I hope that we shall justify the decision and the commitment that we gave the people of this country by giving the Select Committee the opportunity to continue its scrutiny and consideration so that, at the end of the day, we shall be able to consider its recommendations and make our decision.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin (Wanstead and Woodford)
This is one of those rare occasions when the House is obviously deeply divided on an issue which cuts right across the party lines. As such, it is an occasion when each of us individually has to make up his own mind as to how he votes. Therefore, although I am speaking from this Box, my voice, such as it is—I apologise for it—represents no party line, no party or manifesto commitment. I speak only for myself, but I hope that my views may commend themselves to some hon. Members in all parts of the House.
Since I have not spoken in any abortion debate since the Report stage of the Bill of the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) in 1967, perhaps I might start by making it clear where I stand on the main issue. That might help the House to weigh the advice that I may be giving on the point before us.
I supported the original Bill on Second Reading and on Third Reading, although on Third Reading with some misgivings. As the record shows, on Report I spoke to amendments which the sponsor felt unable to accept. But I supported the Bill in the end because I thought that there was a great need to define the circumstances in which it was right for a pregnancy to be terminated, that there was a need to take powers to deal with private establishments where the abortions were done and that it was necessary to provide protection to doctors and nurses with conscientious objections. The Bill did all those things and I voted for it.
I have never supported either of the extreme views—on the one hand the view that there could be no abortion or an abortion only if a woman's life was at stake, or on the other hand the view that abortion should be available on request unless there were clear medical 136 contra-indications. I imagine that that view is held by a great many hon. Members. I do not believe that abortion should be confined strictly to medical reasons. The struggling, inadequate mother of six who finds herself pregnant yet again with an unwanted pregnancy seems to present a case where social reasons may well justify terminating the pregnancy.
However, I also believe that the unborn child has a right to life. That is a view which must be given full weight. I cannot accept the doctrine that abortion is a woman's right to choose. Any human life—anyone's life—even life in embryo, is not at anyone's unfettered disposal, not even the mother's.
Therefore, for me this has always been a question of striking a balance. It has been a difficult question and it is one to which the House on this second time has yet to address itself. I hope that the House will forgive that brief personal testament, but it may be helpful and was a way of putting my own credentials before the House.
Within a few months of the 1967 Act becoming law there was growing public concern at the way it operated in practice. It is right to put on record, because it is often forgotten, that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) took a great deal of action to tackle the worst of the abuses as they became apparent. He set up a special investigation branch within his Department. He exercised a rigorous scrutiny, so far as resources allowed, over abortion clinics. Many licences were withdrawn or suspended and steps were taken to deal with the dreadful business of touting at airports and stations.
My right hon. Friend also set up the Lane Committee in February 1971 which was to look more closely at the operation of the Act although it had restricted terms of reference. That Committee reported in April 1974. It provided a mass of information and made a number of useful recommendations. However, the report was not debated until the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White) presented his Bill last year.
However, that did not still public anxieties. When the hon. Member for Pollok presented his Bill many right hon. and hon. Members recognised that the supporters of the original Act had 137 a not insubstantial case to answer. The hon. Gentleman's Bill may not have been the right way to frame that case. Indeed, I am pretty clear that his Bill was not the most appropriate vehicle for reform. There was no doubt about the deep anxiety, which was felt in all parts of the House, about the way in which the original Act was operating. Therefore, there was widespread support—which I shared—that the Bill should go to a Select Committee.
Presumably the assumption which the House made, when it accepted the motion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) that the Bill should be committed to a Select Committee, was that that Select Committee would examine and report on all the matters that were put in issue by the Bill. It was recognised during the debate that that might well take longer than the last Session. The words of the Minister of State, as reported in Hansard on 7th February 1975 at column 1794, have been quoted many times this evening and I shall not weary the House with them again. However, at that stage the Government were committed to re-establishing the Committee. That meant that they were committed to putting a motion before the House and presumably to supporting it.
Therefore, the question is: has the Committee examined and reported to the House on all the issues raised in the Bill presented by the hon. Member for Pollok? The only possible answer must be "No, it has not". The Committee has heard a great deal of evidence and has reported on some of the issues, but it has not reported on all the issues.
The Committee made nine valuable recommendations, all of which were accepted in principle by the right hon. Lady the Secretary of State. When reporting to the House in its Third Special Report, the Committee had this to say:In their Second Special Report Your Committee undertook to make an interim Report. In so doing they deal only with some matters on which they believe they have received sufficient evidence to make recommendations upon which the Government ought to take action now without awaiting any further Report.Paragraph 5 of the Report says,Your Committee emphasise that their recommendations are not exhaustive and are made without prejudice to any Report which 138 the re-established Committee may make on the Bill. Indeed it is for this reason that Your Committee in their present Report have not referred to the provisions of the Bill. It is their belief that the re-established Committee should be able to report without delay in the next Session.If one examines the minutes of the Committee, one finds that there was no dissentient voice to either of those paragraphs. That was in July. Since then the Committee has seen many organisations: the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, the Brook Advisory Centre, the Royal College of Nursing, the Association of Nurse Administrators and the Health Visitors Association, and it has seen the Minister of State. Yet when we came to November, at the final meeting, as the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) has told us, there were some members of that Committee who by then had decided that there was nothing further for them to do.
What has happened? We have some clues now from the speeches in this debate and from the circular sent around by a number of members of the Committee to all hon. Members, I imagine, at the end of last month. The message of the circular was "Because we are unlikely to be able to reach a consensus, therefore no further useful purpose would be served by reconstituting the Committee."
I do not share that view and I do not think that the House as a whole ought to share that view. I have just spent most of the weekend in bed—with a heavy cold—reading a great deal of the evidence tendered to the Committee. It is obvious that much—indeed, most—of the evidence was opposed to the particular provisions of the Bill of the hon. Member for Pollok. However, I think that only a very deeply prejudiced supporter of the original Act of the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles could fail to recognise the genuine voices of concern that all was not well with the operation of that Act.
Nor is it true that the nine measures which the interim Report put to the House represent the full extent of the legitimate areas of concern. There is a whole raft of matters, matters on the day-to-day application of the provisions of the Bill to situations that actually happen in real life and on which a great deal of evidence was heard, on which we 139 till have to have a report from the Select Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) mentioned a number of them, and no doubt other hon. Members will be able to mention others.
For me, there are three matters which seem to be of critical importance in deciding whether the 1967 Act requires to be amended, all of them matters on which evidence was given to the Select Committee and all of them, I suspect, matters on which it ought not to be difficult for the Select Committee, if it is prepared to try to be objective and to exercise some good will and harmony where that can be done—as it has in the past—to be able to reach agreement.
The first matter is the operation of the conscience clause. Freedom of conscience is the very stuff of liberty. Even when we were faced with the full terror of Hitler's tanks and bombers, we recognised the freedom of conscience of individual men and women who were pacifists. Freedom of conscience was written into the 1967 Act, but who can read the evidence tendered by the Royal College of Nursing, or even the evidence tendered on the last day of evidence by the Minister of State, without recognising that not all the intentions of Parliament in 1967 are being met?
Can anyone who reads the Minister of State's long answer to Question No. 1995 on page 374 of the Report—I have no intention of reading it to the House tonight—be in any doubt that willingness to perform abortions is a term of some appointments under the National Health Service? I would find it helpful to have the Committee's view on that, perhaps if necessary even its divided views. The Committee has heard a lot of evidence, but most hon. Members do not have time to real all the evidence. That is what we appoint Select Committees for. This is a matter of great importance.
The second point which is important is a corrollary of the first. It was the intention in the original Act that it should be possible to have therapeutic abortions on the National Health Service, though it was always recognised that there would be a substantial private sector. The evidence both to the Lane Committee and to the Select Committee has shown that there is a huge variation in availability of 140 therapeutic abortions under the National Health Service facilities between different parts of the country.
Again, this is a matter of some importance to the House and to the country. If a patient's condition indicates the desirability of an abortion, if the law does not prevent it and if, as was the intention, termination should be available under the National Health Service but it is not, surely we need to know the Select Committee's view on that and what measures might be necessary to remedy what is a defect.
I am not suggesting that it is remotely possible in the foreseeable future—in the next few years—that the National Health Service could or should become the sole source of therapeutic abortions. My point is that there are enormous variations in the availability of abortions between different parts of the country.
§ Mrs. Audrey Wise (Coventry, South-West)
What the right hon. Gentleman says is true, but he has put to the House two irreconcilable points. He says on the one hand that he objects to the attempt by the National Health Service to ensure that in every part of the country there are doctors and nurses willing to perform abortions. He says that he objects to that because it interferes with the career prospects of some doctors. He says on the other hand that he wants the full availability provided for women in all parts of the country. It seems that he is asking not for a Select Committee, but for a Committee with the judgment of Solomon, or perhaps for the Magic Circle, to reconcile these two irreconcilables.
§ Mr. Jenkin
I do not share the hon. Lady's pessimism. Nevertheless, both those matters are problems and they both fall within the terms of the Bill and within the terms of reference of the Select Committee. They are problems upon which the Select Committee has heard a great deal of evidence. My point is that, faced with this, at least the House might have the benefit of the Select Committee's views on these two problems.
The third problem, which I believe is perhaps the key question of all and, perhaps, the question that lies behind the circular and some of the very bitter opposition to the re-appointment of the Select 141 Committee is: does or does not the Act in practice allow abortions on request to take place?
I accept, as perhaps the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) did not, that it was not the intention of the sponsors of the original Act that it should allow that. The hon. Member for Rox-burgh, Selkirk and Peebles said this:We want to stamp out the back-street abortions, but it is not the intention of the Promoters of the Bill to leave a wide open door for abortion on request."—[Official Report, 22nd July 1976; Vol. 732, c. 1075.]Indeed, if that were not so, why did we spend so many hours, days—and, indeed, nights—and weeks arguing about it all?
Yet it is possible to state that it is on request. Dr. Coplans, the anaesthetist representative on the CCHMS, said this to the Select Committee on 23rd January in answer to Question No. 1006:I believe that some people interpret the present Act as something which allows them to move very far to 'on request' and others do not.One reason—this has been exhaustively examined by the Committee—is the statistical argument. The argument is that if one takes a pregnancy before the twelfth week there is greater risk by letting it run to full term than there is by procuring a termination, and therefore, some people say—on the argument of balance of risk—the right thing would always be termination without any examination of the patient, without taking account of her health or circumstances. That argument has been used not perhaps in the public sector but certainly in the private sector.
Professor Sir Stanley Clayton, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, was perhaps one of the Committee's most important and distinguished witnesses, and his evidence is frequently read as showing that the Royal College was not upset at all by the existing Act and, by a vote of 28 to two was in favour of preserving it. Yet on the question of misuse—the misuse of the intention of Parliament on the balance of risk argument, the so-called statistical argument—Sir Stanley was clear. The hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) put to him—this is Question No. 1216 in the evidence—…there should be a proviso there which would not make it possible for people to use the general statistical argument?142 And Sir Stanley replied:Yes, I would accept that.I have mentioned only three matters, but there are many others on which the Select Committee has still to report to the House.
§ Mr. Jenkin
I shall. It was.I do not seem to meet this argument in practice very often.Of course he does not, because he is a practitioner of the highest and utmost respectability. But, as the hon. Member for Pontypool said, we are dealing here with some of the fringe operators, and it is to those that we are directing the question whether they are misusing the statistical argument in a way which Parliament never intended.
§ Dr. M. S. Miller
Could the right hon. gentleman indicate the number of occasions, when this very argument was brought up, when the medical profession clearly indicated to us that to substitute the words "grave and serious" would have the most devastating effect on the fundamental principle of the Act?
§ Mr. Jenkin
I accept that.
I do not want to go too deeply into the details of the hon. Member for Pollok's Bill. I have already said that I do not like the Bill, and I am satisfied that that is not the right way to deal with the matter. But what the hon. Member for Pontypool was suggesting was some additional words to indicate the original intention of Parliament, so that the statistical argument could not be used in the way I have described.
The hon. Member's Bill has fallen, but it is always open to him or to some other hon. Member to reintroduce it. I believe that that would be a pity, because I am certain that the Bill would create more difficulties than it would solve. I am also satisfied that there is a great weight of medical opinion opposed to it. But, like many hon. Members and a great many of our constituents, I am not yet satisfied that now, with nine years' experience of the 1967 Act behind us, we have got it right. There are grave areas of public concern which go beyond the administrative changes recommended by the Committee and accepted by the Government.
143 If that were all, there might be something to be said for the right hon. Lady's view that we should wait and see how they work. But it is not all. The Committee heard much evidence directed to other issues of wide concern on which it has not yet reported. I believe that our constituents would think it very strange—even a dereliction of duty—if we did not reflect their concern by asking the Committee to complete the task for which it was set up. I shall vote in favour of the motion.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Dr. David Owen)
In intervening in this debate, I do not give a Government view on the question we are debating. The Government have no collective view. This is a moral issue which concerns matters of individual conscience and, as is traditional, voting tonight on the motion will take place on the basis of a free vote in which members of the Government will be voting in different Lobbies. It might, however, be helpful to the House if, as Minister with day-to-day responsibility for the workings of the Abortion Act, I were to bring the House up to date on the present situation.
The House will recall that on Second Reading of the Abortion (Amendment) Bill I suggested, on the basis that the sponsors had agreed to withdraw the Bill, that a Select Committee should be set up to examine the proposals contained in the Bill. At that time it was widely recognised in the House that there were some aspects of the workings of the Abortion Act, particularly the extent of abuse in the private sector, which were causing grave concern to many Members, and I have never hidden from the House my personal concern about these abuses. This concern was unrelated to the views that many hon. Members might have had on the question whether they supported or rejected the Abortion Act itself.
It was felt, I think, by many Members that a dispassionate yet detailed examination by a Select Committee on some of these matters to reinforce those already identified by the Lane Committee in its Report of the Working of the Abortion Act would help the Secretary of State and the Government, who had already embarked on a scrutiny of the working of 144 the Act. At the end of the debate the House decided against establishing a special Select Committee as had been suggested. It decided to commit the Bill itself rather than the proposals to a Select Committee. As a direct result of this decision, under the rules of procedure, the Bill and the Select Committee lapsed at the end of the last Session.
Some people have criticised or attacked the decision by the Government to put down this motion, arguing that we were not committed to give the House an opportunity to re-establish the Select Committee. I believe that to have refused to put down this motion would have been to shield behind a technicality that would not have been in keeping with the spirit of the previous debate or what I said during that debate, or in keeping with the wishes of the House. Whatever our views—and there are strong views in this House and outside—I think it was the Government's duty to give the House the opportunity of deciding whether or not to re-establish the Select Committee.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) for recognising so fairly in his speech that the Government have honoured the commitment that I gave. That point was reiterated by the hon. Member for Rox-burgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel).
I see my task now as trying as objectively as I can to indicate, first, what the Select Committee has already achieved and what are the issues involved if the House decides to re-establish the Select Committee.
During its sittings last Session, the Select Committee received a formidable amount of written and oral evidence from Government Departments, professional bodies and individuals, including myself. The Select Committee produced several Reports, and in its Third Special Report it unanimously presented to the House a list of nine recommendations clearly designed to reduce the potential for abuse and exploitation of patients and to improve the workings of the Abortion Act. The Secretary of State, in her statement to the House on 21st October 1975, accepted in principle all of the recommendations. I think it will help the House if I summarise the action that has been or will now be taken.
145 New Regulations have been made and laid before the House to implement the recommendations on disclosure of information contained in the abortion notifications to the President of the General Medical Council where serious professional misconduct is suspected, and on the examination of patients prior to certification of abortion. It is proposed that the new Abortion Regulations will come into effect on 1st March, when new forms for the certification and notification of abortions, including these new provisions, will be available for use.
My Department has also undertaken a study on certification and notification procedures and its findings in draft form are now being considered with other Government Departments.
In the private sector, the Secretary of State now controls the total cost charged to patients at all nursing homes that concentrate on abortion. Nursing homes must inform her before they increase charges above the level approved, and they are required to inform patients of the total costs of their treatment before it is carried out. These measures should contribute to preventing the financial exploitation of women who find themselves in this vulnerable, situation. Nursing homes must be able to show my Department's investigators that their financial arrangements with doctors and referral agencies are satisfactory.
My Department is in the process of drawing up a list of approved pregnancy advisory bureaux, in addition to the black list which already exists. Thirty-five bureaux have already applied for approval and their applications are being investigated and their premises and facilities inspected. My Department's special investigators will continue to make unannounced visits to nursing homes and pregnancy advisory bureaux to ensure that they are adhering to these and the other assurances required of them.
Terminations after the twentieth week are now restricted to those nursing homes which have available adequate equipment, including resuscitation equipment. Currently, seven out of the total of 57 homes approved under the Act have been authorised to carry out late terminations. As to the National Health Service, regional medical officers will ensure that all NHS hospitals where terminations 146 after the twentieth week are carried out are equipped with appropriate facilities.
A draft paper on the counselling of patients seeking abortion has been circulated, for consultation, to statutory bodies and organisations. We have also sent it to various voluntary bodies and those known to support and those known to oppose the Act. A revised version of the paper will be prepared in the light of comments that we receive, and the final version will subsequently be issued.
In June 1975, my Department issued a circular reminding health authorities of the Peel Committee's recommendations on the use of foetuses and foetal material for research, and where the Peel code of practice was not already in use they were called on to adopt it. In addition to fulfilling this condition, private sector nursing homes are required by my Department to give an assurance that appropriate arrangements are made for the disposal of abortion foetuses as a condition of approval to carry out terminations.
My Department is currently undertaking an inquiry into the facilities provided by nursing homes which treat foreign patients with a view to ensuring that the reception, counselling and after care of foreign patients meet the high standards expected, and to prevent the exploitation of those foreign women who are most vulnerable because of their language difficulties. I am also obtaining, as a routine feature, quarterly figures of the number of foreign patients treated at all nursing homes.
As I have said, some of these steps were being planned by the Secretary of State or had already been identified in the Lane Committee Report on the Working of the Abortion Act. Nevertheless, the Select Committee's Report gave them an additional impetus and enabled them to be treated collectively as a comprehensive package. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White), my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), and all the other members of the Select Committee for the work they carried out in producing these useful Reports.
§ Mr. Dan Jones
Is my hon. Friend now satisfied that the reports as they 147 stand leave nothing further of use for the nation to be carried out? Is he satisfied that the Select Committee has reached a logical and just end to its deliberations?
§ Dr. Owen
I shall give my personal views later, but there is no secret about them. I gave evidence to the Select Committee as the Minister with day-to-day responsibility for the Act.
There is one important matter concerned with the working of the Act on which there is general agreement, which will require Government action and which is touched on by the Select Committee in its recommendations on abortion after 20 weeks. This concerns an upper time limit for abortion. Various proposals have been made as to what an upper time limit should be. At present, the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929 contains a statutory presumption of viability at 28 weeks' gestation, and this, in practice, has provided an effective upper time limit.
The Lane Committee recommended that there should be a lower limit of 24 weeks, without exception, and this has been generally supported by those consulted on the Lane Report. I told the Select Committee in November that we broadly approved this recommendation, which would require principal legislation.
The Government have tabled this motion to enable the House now to consider, in the light of progress to date, whether it wishes the Select Committee to be re-established to examine more fundamental aspects of this controversial issue. Members of the Select Committee were themselves divided on the question whether the Select Committee should be re-established, voting 5 to 4 in favour, and I think this vote reflects the problems which would confront a reconvened Select Committee in reaching a substantial measure of agreement.
The figures for resident women receiving therapeutic abortion has remained relatively stable for the last three years. The 1975 figures which have just been published show a 3 per cent. fall compared with the previous year. At the same time, there has been a dramatic fall in the number of foreign women being treated in this country in the last 12 months. There has been an overall 148 decrease of 37 per cent.—nearly 20,000 patients—compared with last year.
The fall in the number of foreign women is directly attributable to the new abortion law that has been introduced in France and the changed attitude being taken in some neighbouring countries. I am sure that hon. Members, irrespective of the view they take on legal abortion, will welcome this fall in the number of women seeking treatment.
As for resident women, I am hopeful that the long-overdue free comprehensive family planning arrangements that we have introduced, which became fully operative on 1st July last year, will give all women the opportunity of planning when they wish to become pregnant. I am sure that whatever our attitude on this subject we would all accept that treatment for termination of pregnancy should be a last resort and should be kept to the minimum.
A number of issues relating to abortion have been raised in this debate. The right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin), who spoke with much understanding of the problem, raised two important issues—the question of freedom of conscience and the variations in practice in the National Health Service. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise) was right in her intervention when she raised the question of possible conflict between these two beliefs. Evidence was taken on this matter by the Select Committee, and I was questioned. I think that the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) was right when he said that the principal matter on which no action had been taken in my hon. Friend's Abortion (Amendment) Bill was the proposal to change, and, by the words in the Bill, restrict the grounds on which doctors decide whether women may receive treatment under the Act.
On this issue, as has been testified by many hon. Members who have spoken in the debate and who are members of the Select Committee, there is unlikely to be unanimity in the Select Committee—and there are many differing views outside. The British Medical Association voted 360 to 4 against any change in the grounds for abortion, and the Royal 149 College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists similarly voted, by 28 votes to 2, in favour of retaining the existing provisions. Their President told the Select Committee that he thought theywould gain little by altering the Act.A central unanimous conclusion of the Lane Committee, after studying the working of the Act for two and a half years, was that the grounds set out in the Act should not be amended in a restrictive way. This Select Committee has unanimously produced an important set of recommendations, which should generally improve the working of the Act.
It is not for me to make recommendations to hon. Members as to how they should vote, but as my hon. Friends have asked me directly, and in order that hon. Members may discount any bias that I may have put into my speech—and as the right hon. Member for Wanstead felt that he should tell the House—speaking personally, I believe that what is now needed is not further examination of the provisions of the Act by the Select Committee, which is itself clearly divided, but a period of time to see exactly how its unanimous recommendations, which the Government are implementing, will work out in practice.
There is no secret about my views. Hon. Members can read them in the Select Committee's Report. I told the Select Committee that this was my view when I gave evidence to it on 3rd November 1975. I shall therefore, personally vote against the motion.
In putting down this motion and making time available for debate, the Government are fulfilling the pledge which I gave to the House last February and which was reiterated by my right hon. Friend in her statement to the House on 21st October, giving the House, in the light of the Committee's Reports already published, and of this debate, the opportunity to decide whether the Select Committee should be re-established. We are enabling every Member of the House, on a free vote—as is traditional in these matters—to exercise his or her individual judgment. That is, I think, what the House expects.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Sir George Sinclair (Dorking)
I am glad to be called to speak following the contribution of the Minister of State, 150 who is responsible for the day-to-day working of the abortion legislation.
One feature that should be laid to the credit of the Select Committee is that it spurred the Department into action. I personally believe, as did the Committee, that the Department should have taken earlier action to deal with two factors—first the question of public anxiety, and secondly the Report of the Lane Committee. If that had happened earlier, I believe that there would have been no need to set up a Select Committee to examine the situation.
I accept the Minister's personal view that we should now have a period of calm. The 1967 Act brought great benefits to women in this country, and indeed to women in other countries whose legislators have followed the example of our legislation. Our legislation has been a great refuge for women in times of great trouble for themselves and their families. I believe that women have been under-represented in this House; they have been especially in the consideration of this legislation which mainly affects women.
It was by women that I was asked to help to sponsor the original Bill that led to the 1967 Act. That Act ran for three and a half years before the Lane Committee was set up. It looked at the operation of that Act and made far-reaching recommendations in a report published in 1974. On those recommendations there should have been more action.
The Lane Committee had recommended, among other things, that there should be no change in the grounds of abortion. Four years later the Select Committee took evidence from the medical profession and was given the same story: "Whatever you do, do not interfere with the grounds of abortion or restrict them." In plain language, some of them said "Stop mucking about with this law because we have had to adjust to it. We believe that, for the time being, it is the right measure. If you try to restrict it now, it will put doctors in a quandary and will drive people back to the back-street abortionists."
That is one of the things we wish to avoid. That is why I wish to see a period of calm reflection and an opportunity for the Minister to heed the "kick in the 151 pants" by the Select Committee and get on with the job of curbing abuses.
On 3rd November in the Select Committee I asked the Minister whether he now thought that he had all the powers required to deal with any abuses current or foreseen. His answer was:Yes. We believe that we would, by accepting your own Report and by the action we have taken, have got a comprehensive package to stop as far as is possible abuse in the private sector over abortion.That was the sector with which we were most concerned. I have disagreed with the Minister over many things, but on this matter I find myself in complete agreement with him.
There has been a welcome decline in the number of back-street abortions. It was these that worried people so much that they consented to the passage of the Abortion Bill in 1967. There was evidence from leading medical authorities that the emergency units set up in many of the main hospitals throughout the country had been stood down because the need for them to deal with the results of back-street abortion had lapsed and that, fortunately, they were able to deploy the staff for more useful purposes.
The view of the medical profession has quite clearly been that it does not want a change in the grounds of abortion.
I believe that many people who wish to see the Select Committee reestablished, with the widest possible terms—unconstrained, by the Long Title, from discussing any item at all in the whole area of abortion, as the hon. Member put it—should face the fact that its reestablishment will go on putting the public in doubt and keep the medical profession in doubt.
I do not believe that we should any longer give people the worry that the Government or this House will interfere or restrict the carefully devised grounds for abortion which are enshrined in the 1967 Act, recommended by the Lane Committee and endorsed by all the medical opinion that came before the Select Committee.
For that reason, I shall be among the many people in the House who will vote tonight against a reconstitution of the Select Committee.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Perhaps before I call the next speaker, I should point out that there are eight hon. Members who would like to address the House before ten o'clock. Mr. Abse.
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Leo Abse ( Pontypool)
There are two questions before the House. The first is whether there are still areas which require the adjudication or consideration of a Select Committee, or some other body. Secondly, if it is not to be a Select Committee, can we leave it to the Minister? Are there areas which genuinely need to be examined? If there are, should it be left to the House, through a Select Committee, or should it be left to the Department, at the Elephant and Castle?
The right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) has mentioned three matters which particularly concern him, which have not been fully discussed by the Select Committee or are matters on which the Select Committee has not so far made adequate recommendations.
The hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) has categorised five issues. I shall run through them, and also some others that I think are quite clearly the types of matters that have to be dealt with, and upon which decisions have to be made.
First, there is the need, which was repeatedly stressed by the Department, to give statutory powers directly to license and control pregnancy advice bureaux, rather than—as we tried to do in our recommendations—give indirect powers, which really amount only to a holding measure.
All along, the Ministry has maintained that it requires statutory measures. That is why it supported a previous Private Member's Bill. I ask why it now believes—if it does—that the tentative, negative measures that we have suggested as a holding operation should be regarded as satisfactory. Are they satisfactory?
Secondly, there is a most important matter that has not been dealt with except very elliptically by the Minister—namely, the discrimination against doctors with conscientious objections to abortions. It is a weighty and serious matter. I suspect that it is a matter that 153 can be adequately dealt with and weighed only by a Select Committee.
Thirdly, there is the practice of some doctors to grant abortions virtually on request under the terms of section 1(a) of the original Act. Home Office witnesses suggested to the Committee that even a requirement to examine each patient individually and to consider each case individually would not necessarily eliminate the practice. It is a question of examination by Committee or by an individual to ascertain how we can remedy the problem.
The suggestion was made by the President of the Royal College in oral evidence, that the risk necessary to justify a legal abortion may not have been within the terms of the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White). We shall have to consider whether the matter can be confined so as to overcome the statistical problem mentioned by the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford.
There is the possibility of collusion by doctors in approving abortions outside the spirit of the law through a mutual financial interest in the decision to terminate. That was attempted to be dealt with within the Bill of my hon. Friend. It has not been dealt with so far. It has not been touched upon in any of our recommendations, yet who can doubt that it is a matter upon which some judgment and guidance should be available to the public and the House?
There is the desirability or otherwise of statutory restrictions on the qualifications and experience of the medical practitioners undertaking or approving abortion operations. Should they have been in practice for a number of years? That is a matter upon which the BMA and the other medical organisations hold varying opinions. No decision has yet been taken, and judgment has not been weighed. The Select Committee believed all along that it would have ample time, and it has not engaged itself upon matters that are urgent and upon which unanimity is necessary.
We have heard once more of the confusion that exists about the need to bring the upper time limit for abortions into line with current world medical opinion, merely doing as we have recommended. The Minister has indicated that our 154 recommendation will be fulfilled. But we have not made a judgment on the important question of how late an abortion can take place. It has been indicated by the hon. Member for Essex,South-East that we have not dealt with the need that is generally regarded as necessary to provide anonymity for witnesses who have undergone abortions and who are involved in criminal proceedings. No judgment has been made. A problem faced by the police, as the evidence clearly revealed, is the virtual impossibility of proving lack of good faith on the part of the doctor. There is also the difficulty of gaining access to patients' registers at approved places.
Many matters have been raised in our discussions with the Home Office, but they have been left unattended. There is the important difficulty that is caused by the six-months' limitation within which prosecutions can be brought under the Abortion Act. There is the paltry minimum fine provided for breach of certification and notification regulations. We have not dealt with the issue. We have not engaged ourselves upon those matters. But they are not issues on which the Committee could not reach some consensus, given the good will
The point has been rightly made about the inconsistencies that exist between one area and another in terms of the availability of abortion under the National Health Service. It is an important issue. Has it arisen because in certain areas there are people who are being excessively restrictive, or has it come about because in some areas there are people like Professor Huntingford, who have taken the view, despite the will of the House, that there should be abortion on demand? Do both factors apply? Surely there is a necessity for some recommendation to come from a Committee which would lay down guidelines and amount to something more like a standard medical practice than exists today.
Again, there are the conditions relating to the licensing of clinics or blanket pregnancy advisory bureaux. These cannot be left now, as has been suggested, merely to men in the Elephant and Castle. I speak as a lawyer. Justice requires that there should be an appellate jurisdiction. Does this mean the creation of machinery by legislation? This has not been dealt with.
155 We should ask again—who can deny that it is not necessary to ask—whether there should not be a special screening of first-pregnancy abortions. We may argue how high is the incidence of risk, but everyone agrees that there is a significant risk when a first pregnancy is aborted. All the medical evidence, including that from Russia, Hungary and Czechoslovakia in recent months, indicates that this is not a matter to be put on one side, and that it can have very serious consequences. I know of nothing more dangerous and sad than that an ill-considered decision taken by a woman when she is young can mean that she is rendered sterile, and never able to have the blessings of parenthood. I know there are women who put forward the view that motherhood is a curse and not a blessing, but that is not the view held by the majority of women in this country. I believe that it is necessary that the House should know the evidence and, in the light of the evidence that the Select Committee can collect, be able to make its own decision whether we should give, in some form, special consideration to a woman in that position.
This becomes more important when we find that since we have reported the suggestion has been made—it has not come from the Committee and has not been examined by the Committee—that there should be day clinics for what have been pejoratively described as "lunch-time" abortions, and that the Ministry, without and review by the Select Committee, will give these experiments into the hands of so-called charities. I say "so-called" charities, because the evidence that came before the Committee showed that the doctors who work for these charities, as abortionists, are capable of earning £25,000 a year. That is a charity, and it is one of the two charities to which the Minister is prepared to give this experiment, which may have merit and which may have to be done, but which, if it were done, I should prefer to see done in the National Health Service than by a charity of this kind.
§ Mrs. Renée Short
Is my hon. Friend suggesting that any new techniques introduced should be first brought to this inexpert Committee for vetting before the Minister grants approval for certain respected charitable clinics—I repeat, 156 "charitable clinics"—to carry out now what they have been doing on a 12-months' experimental basis?
§ Mr. Abse
The figures are there. Well over 90 per cent. of these charities give abortions to those who go to them. It may be that my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) believes in abortion on request, and it may be that that is a view which can be respectably argued. But it is not the law of the land. It is not what this House has passed.
I have considerable misgivings when I find that this new and serious experiment, on which there are arguments between the so-called charities as to which is the right technique, should be given to what is effectively the private sector. It is to be done without any surveillance. This is the first real initiative to have come from the Department other than as a result of repeated promptings by way of questions, motions or requests from Select Committees.
If I look back upon the history of the workings of this Act I realise that it is only as a result of pressure from this House, following what has happened outside, that any changes have come about. The truth is that the Department, in successive Administrations, has limped and lagged behind the expression of opinion in this House. At the beginning we were told, in the memorandum presented to the Select Committee by the Department, that the Department's view was that it had limited powers. It felt that it could do nothing to control any clinic other than by way of approving its physical accoutrements. Provided that, physically, it had the necessary equipment to be classified as a nursing home, nothing more could be done. In its evidence the Department made it clear that it believed it could not go further.
It took years before the Department took the appropriate legal advice which eventually brought it to the conclusion that it could take action as far-reaching as that now to be implemented by the 157 Minister on the recommendation of the Select Committee. It would be curious if the House were now asked to trust the men at the Elephant and Castle. If they came here with a good record, having shown themselves ready to take the initiative, that would be a heavy argument. But the hon. Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair) has expressed his opinion of how febrile the activities of the men at the Department have been for years. Is he now asking us to place all confidence in the Department? Ministers come and go, but the men at the Department continue. The House would be wrong if, even with the best will in the world, it decided to put this matter to rest in the cradle inside the Elephant and Castle.
The truth is that however we interpret the undertaking given by the Minister on behalf of the Government—whatever casuistry may be attempted to be brought in to suggest that a commitment eras not given to the House and the country that the Select Committee would have the full opportunity to review matters and continue its work in another Session—the undertaking was given. I saw that this would happen, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok. We asked for an undertaking from the Government when we agreed that we would support the idea that the Bill should go to the Select Committee. We anticipated the situation. We knew that if the House was to do justice to this issue we would have to carry on as a Committee.
We asked for the undertaking and it was given in specific terms. We sometimes have to explain to people outside that this is a pluralist society and that no one can have his own way totally on an issue of this kind, in this highly opinionated society. We who have taken people with us would be placed in a great difficulty. It would be regarded as a betrayal, even if that were not intended, if we decided to shirk the issue and pass it back to the Ministry. I hope that as a matter of political wisdom my hon. Friends will join with me. In my view it is hon. Members on the Labour Benches who have a responsibility, because the Government will be regarded by many as having given an undertaking.
I do not understand what the fear is. The Select Committee will try to reach unanimity. Every sensible man or woman 158 knows that what we are aiming at is a consensus that will stretch out its hand to women in trouble while at the same time striving to maintain the sanctity of life and a cessation of the corrosion of our values. That is the aim, and it is difficult, but surely possible, for legislators to make the attempt.
I hope that the House will enable us to have another look at the possibilities which I hope will bring about a consensus and a lasting healing—not a sense of frustration or betrayal—because that is what every sensible man and woman wants.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ Mr. G. B. Drayson (Skipton)
We are asked to approve the setting up of a Select Committee to consider matters contained in the Abortion (Amendment) Bill, which seeks to amend the Abortion Act 1967. We have already had the benefit of three years of inquiry by the Lane Committee into the workings of the 1967 Act. There has been a year's deliberation by the Select Committee which is the subject of the motion. I agree with the Minister of State that it is time that we allowed this matter to settle down and for the medical profession to operate the Bill with any additional guidance which it receives from the Minister from time to time.
Until the passing of the 1967 Act there had been no legislation on this subject since 1861. The battle lasted for over 100 years and was eventually won by those in favour of reform. However, the opposers of the 1967 Act will not accept defeat and, therefore, they have proposed the Abortion (Amendment) Bill.
I was asked to take an interest in the proposal that the Select Committee should be reconstituted, and I had so many letters couched in exactly the same phraseology that I became suspicious. They all asked that the Select Committee should be set up with exactly the same constitution. I wondered what was so special about the Committee that it should not be altered to the extent of one or perhaps two members. I should have thought that some hon. Members were perhaps tired of discussing the subject for a year and would wish to be relieved of their membership of the Committee.
I therefore considered the constitution of the Select Committee, and I discovered 159 that only four of its 15 members were women. Abortion is a matter of vital importance to women. I should have thought that half the members of the Committee at least should be women instead of barely one-third. After all, half of the population in this country are women.
The Committee of Selection bears a large measure of responsibility for the way in which the Select Committee was constituted. That is one reason why I would not vote for the Committee to be set up: it is wrongly constituted. That is my greatest criticism of the motion.
Religion and morality have been brought into the debate. One or two hon. Members have declared their religious affiliations.
§ Mr. Drayson
I should like to do so, but it has been introduced.
The composition of the Select Committee is unsatisfactory and biased on religious grounds. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] I shall not say why. Hon. Members can refer to the book in the Library setting out the religious affiliations of hon. Members. They can decide whether the bias against women in the composition of the Committee also applies to the question of religious denominations.
There is far too much dogma on this question. I should like to see a little more compassion and humility for women confronted with unwanted pregnancies, especially against the background of the medical and scientific progress of recent years. Is it not possible that the hand of the Almighty guided those who developed the pill and those who have now perfected quick and safe methods of abortion?
I congratulate the Secretary of State on her recent moves in connection with same-day abortions by the vacuum aspiration method. My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) told us about the increase in juvenile abortions, of girls under the age of 16. I look forward to the time when this apparatus is standard equipment in the first-aid centres of all our large comprehensive schools——
§ Mr. Drayson
Of course I am serious. I said that I look forward to the time. We should be looking forward in this debate, not back over the last 100 years. I would go even further. When the abortions take place, if they have to, they should be entirely at the wish of the young person concerned without any parental interference. This is a decision that they should be allowed to make for themselves.
We have heard a good deal about whether the period should be reduced from 24 to 20 weeks. I see developing in the correspondence that I have received an unhealthy cult which I can only refer to as the adoration of the foetus. It is time that we put that whole matter into perspective.
In this debate, which will end with a free vote, I have said what I sincerely feel about this subject, just as many of my hon. Friends have expressed their points of view. I was glad when the 1967 Act was passed. I agree that it wants watching, but I see developments not in the way of restricting its activities but in broadening them until we reach a time when women will be in control of their own destiny, when any uncertainty which exists in the Act is removed and the medical profession can settle down to a long period of useful work under that Act.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)
The House has heard a number of emotional speeches tonight from those who are known to be anti-abortion, deliberately attempting to mislead right hon. and hon. Members about the evidence taken by the Select Committee. Those hon. Members who heard my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) will understand how some of the witnesses before the Committee felt when they realised that there were more words from him in attempts to persuade them to accept his view than they were allowed in putting their views.
161 I am concerned that so little regard has been paid to the needs of women who are in difficulty through having too many pregnancies, for whatever reason, and who are entitled under the law as it is—I defend the 1967 Act, in spite of what my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool wants to put into my mouth—but who are refused a legal termination of pregnancy.
It so happens that the figures that were given by my hon. Friend the Minister of State in Hansard a week ago indicate the unfairness of the way in which the Act operates. This is because of the abuse of the conscience clause which is written into it.
In the West Midlands the women have the lowest number of abortions per 100 live births. The figure in the West Midlands is 3.7 per 100 live births. That is a scandalous situation. Yet we find that, according to the number of abortions per thousand women in the childbearing age from 16 to 49, taken according to residence in hospital areas, the highest number of abortions, apart from those in the London area, is carried out in the West Midlands. By contrast, in the North, which includes the old Newcastle Regional Hospital Board area, there is the highest number of abortions in the National Health Service but the lowest number per thousand women of child-bearing age.
The conclusions are clear. The fact that there is an area in which the availability of abortion is restricted because of the conscience clause, about which so many anti-abortionists have made a great deal of play tonight, does not prevent women from seeking and obtaining terminations under the law. They are precisely the women who are driven to the private sector. That is another issue about which many anti-abortionists have made a great deal of weather.
Fewer women have had abortions in areas where abortions are available under the National Health Service than in areas where abortions are restricted under the National Health Service. A clear lesson is to be learnt from this. It so happens that, in areas where the consultants have a reasonable view towards pregnant women, they also have a reasonable view towards the availability of contraceptives, and contraceptives are made freely available by them in co-operation with health visitors and the social services. Very few 162 anti-abortionists have asked that contraceptives should be made more freely available. They want it all ways and will never be satisfied. They ask for the Select Committee to be set up again. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) said, the Select Committee will have the contrary aim and objective to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool. It will seek to undermine the 1967 Act because the Bill is a wrecking Bill. The Committee has a built-in majority, as the hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Drayson) said, of those who are fundamentally opposed to the 1967 Act. Their aim and objective has always been to undermine that Act. They do not mind what will happen to the unfortunate women who now have a legal right under the Act to the termination of an unwanted pregnancy.
We have heard a great deal, again from the anti-abortionists, about the need to take account of public opinion. What public opinion is it of which they want us to take account? Even before the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White) introduced his Bill there was a determined, well-organised and well-financed campaign against the 1967 Act by a minority. That minority has written letters, sent deputations and held demonstrations in London. Its supporters have come to London in their coach-loads. However, the Committee has also taken evidence from a united medical profession—from general practitioners to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the men who operate the 1967 Act. Without exception, all have condemned the Bill. Without exception, all have said that they want the Act to remain unamended.
In the face of that united medical opinion, what have we got? The anti-abortionists on both sides of the House—even the right hon. Member for Wan-stead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin), forgetting what his leader said yesterday about choice—say that women shall not have the choice, even though they are entitled to it.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin
As there may be a number of hon. Members who were not present to hear what I said, I should like to say that I hope that the hon. Lady will recognise that I said it was always a question of balance and that a woman 163 did not have the unfettered choice, because a child has a right to live. This is a question of balance, and that is what I said.
§ Mrs. Short
The balance, however, is provided for very clearly in the Act, because no woman in Britain gets abortion on demand under that Act. Let us be absolutely clear about that. She first has to be referred by her general practitioner to the consultant gynaecologist in the hospital, and two doctors have to approve the operation. That is a fact. It is irrefutable. The right hon. Gentleman really needs to understand what exactly his position is. I think that he is very confused.
We have the united expression of medical opinion in Britain. On any other issue I challenge any right hon. or hon. Member on either side of the House to indicate where he would oppose such united medical opinion. Right hon. and hon. Members would not dare, and yet on this issue they have the temerity, because it is something that affects women and not men, to put themselves up against the united, skilled, expert opinion in Britain. They are very brave men indeed.
I am absolutely sure that had our reproductive processes been distributed differently, had it been men who became pregnant, there would have been a free
§ availability of abortion for men hundreds of years ago—in fact, the availability that existed for women up to 1803. That was changed not for any spurious regard for any unripe foetus. But for the danger to women who were undergoing very dangerous operations to rid themselves of unripe foetuses, it would never have been changed.
§ We have the united medical opinion. I believe that public opinion polls show that for the mass of people in Britain, including the Methodist Church, the Liverpool Diocesan Conference and the Social Board of Responsibility—to which my hon. Friend the Member for Barking referred, in the current issue of the Crucible—there has been a dramatic shift of opinion the last decade since we passed the Act.
§ I call upon the House to vote against the appointment of the Select Committee and to stand behind public opinion and medical opinion in this country.
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 313, Noes 172.167
|Division No. 56.]||AYES||[10 00 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Buchanan, Richard||Doig, Peter|
|Alison, Michael||Budgen, Nick||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||du Cann, Rt Hon Edward|
|Anderson, Donald||Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Duffy, A. E. P.|
|Arnold, Tom||Canavan, Dennis||Dunn, James A.|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Carlisle, Mark||Dunnett, Jack|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Carter-Jones, Lewis||Durant, Tony|
|Awdry, Daniel||Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Eadie, Alex|
|Bain, Mrs Margaret||Channon, Paul||Eden, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Banks, Robert||Churchill, W. S.||Elliott, Sir William|
|Bell, Ronald||Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay)||Clark, William (Croydon S)||English, Michael|
|Benyon, W.||Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)|
|Berry, Hon Anthony||Clegg, Walter||Ewing, Harry (Stirling)|
|Biffen, John||Clemitson, Ivor||Eyre, Reginald|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Cohen, Stanley||Farr, John|
|Bishop, E. S.||Coleman, Donald||Faulds, Andrew|
|Blaker, Peter||Cordle, John H.||Fernyhough, Rt Hn E.|
|Boardman, H.||Cormack, Patrick||Finsberg, Geoffrey|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Corrie, John||Fitch, Alan (Wigan)|
|Bottomley, Peter||Costain, A. P.||Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N)|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)||Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)||Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Crawford, Douglas||Ford, Ben|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Dalyell, Tam||Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)|
|Brittan, Leon||Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)||Fox, Marcus|
|Brotherton, Michael||Dean, Paul (N Somerset)||Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Delargy, Hugh||Fry, Peter|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Dempsey, James||Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Dodsworth, Geoffrey||Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)|
|Ginsburg, David||MacCormick, Iain||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||McCrindle, Robert||Roper, John|
|Goodhart, Philip||McElhone, Frank||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)|
|Goodhew, Victor||Macfarlane, Neil||Rossl, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Goodlad, Alastair||McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)|
|Gourlay, Harry||Mackenzie, Gregor||Rowlands, Ted|
|Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Mackintosh. John P.||Royle, Sir Anthony|
|Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)||Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Graham, Ted||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Shersby, Michael|
|Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)||McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)||Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)|
|Gray, Hamish||McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)||Silvester, Fred|
|Griffiths, Eldon||McNamara, Kevin||Sims, Roger|
|Grocott, Bruce||Madel, David||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Hall, Sir John||Mahon, Simon||Small, William|
|Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Smith, Dudley (Warwick)|
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Marten, Neil||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Hannam, John||Mason, Rt Hon Roy||Speed, Keith|
|Hardy, Peter||Mather, Carol||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Maude, Angus||Sproat, Iain|
|Hastings, Stephen||Mawby, Ray||Stainton, Keith|
|Hawkins, Paul||Mayhew, Patrick||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Hayhoe, Barney||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Stanley, John|
|Henderson, Douglas||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)|
|Hicks, Robert||Millan, Bruce||Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)|
|Higgins, Terence L.||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Horam, John||Mills, Peter||Stott, Roger|
|Hordern, Peter||Miscampbell, Norman||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Moate, Roger||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Howell, David (Guildford)||Molyneaux, James||Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)|
|Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)||Monro, Hector||Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)|
|Hunter, Adam||Montgomery, Fergus||Tebbit, Norman|
|Hurd, Douglas||Moore, John (Croydon C)||Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret|
|Hutchison, Michael Clark||More, Jasper (Ludlow)||Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)|
|Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)||Morgan, Geraint||Thompson, George|
|Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Tierney, Sydney|
|Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Tinn, James|
|Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Tomney, Frank|
|James, David||Morris, Michael (Northampton S)||Townsend, Cyril D.|
|Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd)||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||Tuck, Raphael|
|Jessel, Toby||Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)||Urwin, T. W.|
|Johnson, James (Hull West)||Mudd, David||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Johnson, Walter (Derby S)||Neave, Airey||Vaughan, Dr Gerard|
|Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)||Neubert, Michael||Viggers, Peter|
|Jones, Arthur (Daventry)||Newton, Tony||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Noble, Mike||Wakeham, John|
|Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Nott, John||Welder, David (Clitheroe)|
|Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith||Oakes, Gordon||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Judd, Frank||Ogden, Eric||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Kaberry, Sir Donald||O'Halloran, Michael||Wall, Patrick|
|Kaufman, Gerald||O'Malley, Rt Hon Brian||Walters, Dennis|
|Kershaw, Anthony||Onslow, Cranley||Warren, Kenneth|
|Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Oppenheim, Mrs Sally||Watkinson, John|
|King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Padley, Walter||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Kitson, Sir Timothy||Page, John (Harrow West)||Wells, John|
|Knight, Mrs Jill||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Knox, David||Parkinson, Cecil||White, James (Pollok)|
|Lamond, James||Pattie, Geoffrey||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Lamont, Norman||Peart, Rt Hon Fred||Whitelaw, Rt Hon William|
|Lane, David||Pendry, Tom||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Langford-Holt, Sir John||Percival, Ian||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Latham, Michael (Melton)||Perry, Ernest||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch||Williams, Alan (Swansea W)|
|Lawson, Nigel||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Price, William (Rugby)||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Le Marchant, Spencer||Pym, Rt Hon Francis||Wilson, Rt Hon H. (Huyton)|
|Lever, Rt Hon Harold||Raison, Timothy||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Wood, Rt Hon Richard|
|Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)||Woodall, Alec|
|Lloyd, Ian||Rees-Davies, W. R.||Woof, Robert|
|Loveridge, John||Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Luce, Richard||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Mabon, Dr J. Dickson||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|McAdden, Sir Stephen||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|McCartney, Hugh||Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)||Mr. Ian Campbell and|
|Roberts, Wyn (Conway)||Mr. Anthony Fell.|
|Allaun, Frank||Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Bidwell, Sydney|
|Archer, Peter||Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)||Blenkinsop, Arthur|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Bates, Alf||Booth, Albert|
|Ashton, Joe||Bean, R. E.||Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)|
|Atkinson, Norman||Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)|
|Bagler, Gordon A. T.||Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Buck, Antony|
|Carmichael, Neil||Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)||Parker, John|
|Carter, Ray||Harper, Joseph||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Cartwright, John||Hart, Rt Hon Judith||Phipps, Dr Colin|
|Castle, Rt Hon Barbara||Hayman, Mrs Helene||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Cockcroft, John||Heffter, Eric S.||Prescott, John|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)||Holland, Philip||Price, C. (Lewisham W)|
|Colquhoun, Mrs Maureen||Hooley, Frank||Rathbone, Tim|
|Concannon, J. D.||Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)||Richardson, Miss Jo|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Huckfield, Les||Ridley, Hon Nicholas|
|Cope, John||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Rodgers, William (Stockton)|
|Corbett, Robin||Hunt, John||Rooker, J. W.|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Rose, Paul B.|
|Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony||Janner, Greville||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Cryer, Bob||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Sandelson, Neville|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Jeger, Mrs Lena||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Shaw, Arnold (llford South)|
|Davidson, Arthur||Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Stechford)||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||John, Brynmor||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford)||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Kerr, Russell||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)|
|Deakins, Eric||Kinnock, Neil||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Lamborn, Harry||Silverman, Julius|
|de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Latham, Arthur (Paddington)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Dell, Rt Hon Edmund||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)||Snape, Peter|
|Dormand, J. D.||Lipton, Marcus||Spearing, Nigel|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Litterick, Tom||Spence, John|
|Drayson, Burnaby||Loyden, Eddie||Stallard, A. W.|
|Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||Luard, Evan||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Edge, Geoff||Lyon, Alexander (York)||Stoddart, David|
|Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)||Strang, Gavin|
|Ennals, David||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.|
|Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)||Maclennan, Robert||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)||Madden, Max||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Evans, John (Newton)||Mallalieu, J. P. W.||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)|
|Flannery, Martin||Marks, Kenneth||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Marquand, David||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Tomlinson, John|
|Forrester, John||Maynard, Miss Joan||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Mendelson, John||Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)|
|Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||Mikardo, Ian||Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)|
|Freeson, Reginald||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||Ward, Michael|
|Freud, Clement||Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N)||Watt, Hamish|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Molloy, William||Weetch, Ken|
|Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick||Wellbeloved, James|
|George, Bruce||Nelson, Anthony||Whitlock, William|
|Gilbert, Dr John||Newens, Stanley||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Golding, John||Orbach, Maurice||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Gould, Bryan||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Grant, George (Morpeth)||Ovenden, John|
|Grant, John (Islington C)||Owen, Dr David||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Grylls, Michael||Palmer, Arthur||Mrs. Joyce Butler and|
|Park, George||Sir George Sinclair.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ That the Committee do consist of Fifteen Members:
§ That Mr. Leo Abse, Miss Betty Boothroyd, Mr. Andrew Bowden, Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman, Sir Bernard Braine, Mrs. Joyce Butler, Mr. John Biggs-Davison, Mr. Anthony Fell, Mrs. Helene Hayman, Mr. Kevin McNamara, Dr. M. S. Miller, Sir George Sinclair, Mr. David Steel, Mr. James White, and Mr. Frederick Willey be members of the Committee:
§ That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records; to sit notwithstanding any Adjournment of the House; to adjourn from place to place; to report from time to time; and to report Minutes of Evidence from time to time:168
§ That Three be the Quorum of the Committee:
§ That the Minutes of the Evidence taken before the Select Committee on the Abortion (Amendment) Bill in the last Session of Parliament, together with Memoranda laid before them, be referred to the Committee.
§ Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I raise with you the important question of just what Question the House has just decided? As I understand the situation, what the House has just passed is merely the motionThat a Select Committee be appointed to consider the matters contained in the Abortion (Amendment) Bill committed to a Select Committee in the last Session of Parliamentand not the remainder of the words which appear on the Order Paper in the separate motions.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I was at great pains to say to the House that I was putting the whole of the motion. I put it within the hearing of the House, and that is what the House has decided upon.
§ Mr. Cunningham
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I, too, was at great pains to take note of the words you said. Indeed, I wrote down your words which were "I shall put the whole motion"—"motion" in the singular. You then said "The Question is, That the motion"—in the singular—"is as it stands on the Order Paper".
I do not claim to be expert in these matters, but, as I understand it, the separate paragraphs, if I may so call them, which appear on the Order Paper on these occasions are technically separate motions and technically, therefore, separate Questions. It is not only known to the House but is perfectly common for the House to take separate votes and sometimes to pass the setting up of a Committee but then, on a separate Question, to consider the composition of the Committee.
I suggest to you for your consideration that technically the House has had before it one motion and one Question which it has now decided and which is contained in the first two lines which appear on the Order Paper under the name Government Deputy Chief Whip. If the House wanted to address itself in one vote to all six motions before the House, 170 it would have been necessary for that to be made absolutely clear to the House by saying that the House was to consider together the six motions standing in the name of the Government Deputy Chief Whip and to have one vote upon them.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The time when the hon. Gentleman should have raised this question, if he desired a number of votes, was when I said to the House that I was going to put the whole motion. My ruling is that I have submitted the whole of the motion as it appears on the Order Paper.
§ Mr. Cunningham
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The question seems to resolve itself into this. Are all the lines appearing under the heading "Abortion" on the Order Paper one motion or six motions? According to "Erskine May" and to the expertise of the House, if they are one motion my point falls. If, however, they are six motions, I suggest that, by saying as you did that you were putting the whole motion to the House, that could only mean the first motion on the Order Paper.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I must say to the hon. Gentleman and to the House that I think that, if he had it in mind, I cannot for the life of me understand why he did not rise in his place when I put the Question. I have given my ruling and I fear that that must be the end of the matter.