HC Deb 25 February 1977 vol 926 cc1783-895

Order for Second Reading read.

11.5 a.m.

Mr. W. Benyon (Buckingham)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Before beginning my speech, I apologise to the House on behalf of the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain), who is a sponsor of the Bill and who has had to go to Scotland for the funeral of a close relative. However, she hopes to be back in the Chamber before the end of the debate.

I rise with some trepidation to move the Second Reading of the Bill, which seeks to amend the law on abortion as embodied in the 1967 Act. No hon. Member can be under any illusions about the passions aroused by this subject. Indeed, I confess to having them in some measure myself. I hope that the proposals in the Bill will receive a wide measure of support in the House and outside. I am encouraged in my task by two facts—first by the evidence of the mounting disquiet that there is in the House about the workings of the 1967 Act. That disquiet has steadily increased. In 1967 only 29 hon. Members voted against the Second Reading of that Bill. In 1970, 263 hon. Members called for an official inquiry into abortion. In 1976, 313 hon. Members voted to reappoint the Select Committee on whose recommendations the Bill is based. Those results mirror the disquiet which is found in the country at large.

Secondly, I am seeking to legislate in response to the recommendations of a Select Committee of this House. To remove any ambiguity I say at once that if I have strayed beyond the recommendations of that Select Committee in any respect, that is entirely inadvertent. There may be errors of drafting, but they are not intentional. Any errors can be remedied in Committee.

The House will recollect that the Abortion (Amendment) Bill was introduced by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollock (Mr. White) on 27th November 1974. That Bill received its Second Reading on 7th February 1975 by 203 votes to 88. The Bill was then referred to a Select Committee without a vote. The members of the Committee were nominated by vote on 26th February. The Bill failed to complete all its stages before the end of the Session and therefore lapsed. Following a debate in the House on 9th February 1976, in the last Session, the Committee was re-established with the same membership.

During the Second Reading debate the then Minister of State, the right hon. Member for plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), said: I have said that this is not a delaying device. … The truth is that it is more likely to reach the statute book more quickly through adopting the proposed procedure. Not only is a pre-legislation Select Committee a good principle, but it is a sensible way in which to proceed in a difficult area. When the Select Committee reports, it will be open to hon. Members to put forward legislation in the normal way or for the Government to consider whether they themselves should put forward legislation."—[Official Report, 7th February 1975; Vol. 885, c. 1795.] When winding up the debate and addressing the Minister my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) said: we would not expect nor would we tolerate, any undue delay in the Government's implementing any urgent recommendations the Committee might feel disposed to make to check present abuses."—[Official Report, 7th February 1975, Vol. 885, c. 1853–4.] The Minister indicated assent.

It is said that the Select Committee's Report is biased because certain members refused to take part in its work during the last Session. However, a careful study of its proceedings will show that this is a false charge. The members of the Committee can answer for themselves during today's debate. Personally, I have little sympathy with those who opt out of something and then complain about the result— particularly as the result does not include a recommendation on the grounds for abortion, which, as I understand it, was the principal fear of those particular hon. Members.

I have used my place in the Ballot to introduce the Bill because the Government's current legislative programme—anyway until recently—precluded any consideration of the Select Committee's Report during this Session. I beg leave to doubt whether next Session will be any better, as the General Election approaches. Thus from the time that the hon. Member for Pollok first moved his Bill at the end of 1974, four years would elapse before anything could take place on the recommendations that were included in his Bill.

I feel that I must turn, albeit briefly, to the Secretary of State's statement of 10th February. This was a curious statement, to say the least, because it appeared to pass judgment on my Bill, which had not been published at the time, and on the deliberations of the Select Committee, and in a sense to anticipate the decision to which the House will come today.

When I first announced my intention of bringing in this Bill, I approached the Department of Health and Social Security. I was courteously received by the Minister of State and his officials, who said at that time, quite rightly, that this was a House of Commons matter and that they would reserve their position until the debate took place. I complain that the next thing I heard was a telepone call from The Guardian asking me for a comment on the open letter that the Secretary of State had addressed to the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel).

I must say that I find that statement misleading in a number of respects. First, it is misleading on the abortion figures themselves. The incidence of abortion may have fallen purely in numerical terms, but it has risen as a percentage of live births, which is the true statistic in my view. If I use the exact dates mentioned in the Secretary of State's statement and figures that have been supplied to me by the Library of the House of Commons only three days ago, I find that, overall, abortions per 1,000 live births were 142 in 1972, 175 in 1974, and 177 in both the years 1975 and 1976. That seems to me to be a plateau and not a fall.

When we turn to the younger age groups we find that for the ages of 20 to 24 the rate has risen from 108 in 1972 to 140 in 1975. In the under-20 age group the position is far more dramatic the rate having risen from 257 in 1972 to 391 in 1975. Moreover, the illegitimacy rate, which is also mentioned in the Secretary of State's statement, was 9.1 per cent. in 1975, which is the highest recorded figure ever. I submit that these figures give a totally contrary impression to that contained in the Secretary of State's statement.

Then again, the Secretary of State says that abuses have been "largely eradicated" in the private sector. If even a quarter of what I have been told since I embarked upon this task is true, let alone what the Select Committee was told, there is still a great deal to be done to remedy these abuses.

The Secretary of State also mentions counselling. This is indeed to be recommended and warmly supported. But is it not difficult, to say the least, for counselling to be truly dispassionate on this particular subject when the counsellors themselves may have an interest, financial or otherwise, in the eventual abortion? Surely the important thing is that the woman should be helped to come to the right decision and that she should not be pressurised in any way whatever.

The Secretary of State also says that the conscience clause is working satisfactorily. My evidence and a great deal of the evidence that was given to the Select Committee suggests that that is just not true.

Finally, I must remark to the Minister of State—more in sorrow than in anger— that it appears to take the introduction of a Bill by a private Member or the report of a Select Committee of this House to produce any action on this subject at all. I put it to the House that this does not necessarily prove the need for legislation but it makes a very good case for it. I am extremely doubtful whether administrative measures alone can solve these abuses.

Thus in essence my Bill seeks to remove the worst exploitation of women in the private sector, to afford greater protection to doctors and nurses in the performance of their tasks and to strengthen the law in certain other respects.

One effect of the Bill which may not be so readily appreciated is that it gives the opportunity to the Department to institute better arrangements for the after-care of women both as regards the after-effects of the operation itself and, secondly, in relation to subsequent pregnancies. This is a very important aspect indeed.

During the course of my researches for the Bill I have been particularly struck by the work that has been carried out in this country and abroad on the aftereffects of abortion. The House will remember that the Lane Committee itself was very concerned about this point. Indeed, I know that this concern is shared by even the most devoted advocates of easier abortion. Opinions differ on the work that has already been done, but most are agreed on the importance of after-care and the need for further research.

In this connection it is very significant that countries such as Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania and the Soviet Union—although other countries have liberalised their law in the last 10 years—have tightened up their law in the last 10 years, and they were among those countries in which abortion was most freely available and uncontrolled.

I accept entirely that it is wrong to muddle up this aspect with the more fundamental arguments in connection with abortion itself. All I am saying is that the Bill provides a framework under which after-care can be extended in the private sector, so that, together with the administrative reforms undertaken within the National Health Service, progress can be made towards reducing these highly detrimental effects.

The House will observe that the Select Committee made no recommendations in relation to the criteria or the grounds for abortion. It said simply, in paragraph 26 of its report, a decision must be left to the individual consciences of Members. I must confess that this part of the problem has given me more concern than any other, but I have taken the view, rightly or wrongly, that it would be inappropriate to include the criteria in the Bill, and this was the agreement to which I came with my sponsors. I cannot say—no Member could—how the Bill may be amended in Committee, but if that is the case, then the House will have another opportunity to decide the matter at a later date.

Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (East Grinstead)

Should one of his hon. Friends actually propose such an amendment in Committee, what would my hon. Friend's attitude be?

Mr. Benyon

My attitude would be, in the words of Mr. Asquith, that I should have to wait and see. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"] I think that that is a very fair position to take up, and we should have to see what was proposed.

I now turn to the clauses. Clause 1 sets an upper limit of 20 weeks' gestation for termination of a pregnancy, subject to two conditions: that the child, if born, would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped, or that the treatment is necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman or to prevent grave permanent injury to her physical or mental health.

I interpose here to say that members of the Select Committee have indicated to me that I have departed from their recommendation in relation to the time limit imposed in Clause 1(1) (b). If that is so, it was entirely inadvertent and it arises from my understanding of the Committee's references to the Lane Report in its own report. Anyway, I do not regard this as a very important point, and if I have got it wrong, it can be amended in Committee.

Sir George Sinclair (Dorking)

If my hon. Friend does not regard it as important, will he concede that it might be extremely important to the women who are in trouble at that stage?

Mr. Benyon

Absolutely. All I would say to my hon. Friend is that when I came into the Chamber I was handed the latest Gallup Poll, which covers a sample of 571 gynaecologists. In addition to the evidence that the Select Committee heard, the results of this poll are very marked because they show that the vast majority —I think it is 91 per cent.—of the gynaecologists polled felt that the limit should be not more than 20 weeks.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that I have had a letter from the Chairman of the Royal College of Physicians on behalf of the Society of Gynaecologists urging that we should reject that point of view?

Mr. Benyon

This is something which we can look at in Committee. The members of the Select Committee must answer for this. They received a lot of evidence, including some weighty medical evidence, in favour of this point.

It is generally accepted by now that termination should not be performed after the age at which the child is capable of surviving outside the womb. The present upper limit is 28 weeks. The Select Committee took evidence from a number of bodies and it is generally agreed that the upper limit should be less than 28 weeks but not all agree—I concede this point—on what the time limit should be. I shall not weary the House with the evidence I have, but the recommendations vary between 20 and 24 weeks, with a preference for the former. For these reasons, the Committee accepted 20 weeks as the upper limit subject to the provisions I have mentioned.

The clause includes a subsection which allows the Secretary of State to vary the time limit by order. This is included to meet the position should the World Health Organisation, which is currently discussing the problem, come up with an alternative proposition.

Clause 2 makes it obligatory that At least one of the two registered medical practitioners … authorising the abortion must be a registered medical practitioner of not less than five years' standing. Secondly, neither of the doctors authorising the abortion should be associated with or able to obtain financial benefit from the clinic or nursing home carrying out the abortion.

The weight of medical evidence to the Select Committee came down in favour of a period varying between three to five years for one of the doctors. The Committee was obviously influenced by the qualifications required under the Mental Health Act 1959 and the Cremation Act 1962. I emphasise that this clause does not mean that a woman's doctor who is newly qualified would be prevented from being involved in the decision. If the woman's own doctor were of less than five years' standing it would simply mean that the second doctor would have to have had longer experience.

The Select Committee also formed the opinion that it would give some reassurance over the working of the 1967 Act if provisions were made to ensure that two medical practitioners acted independently of each other. These factors give rise to the provisions of Clause 2.

Abuses of the law will be less likely the more the scope for profit making is reduced and, in particular, the decision whether to abort can be influenced by the prospect of financial gain, direct or indirect.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

Can my hon. Friend tell the House whether it applies to normal general hospitals? This is important, because presumably under Clauses 6 and 7 it does. If that is the case, no consultant, registrar or any doctor working in a general hospital or holding any appointment there—since they would obtain financial benefit from the same place—would be able to give an opinion. Does not that cut out all the consultants whose opinions would ordinarily be canvassed?

Mr. Benyon

I have had a lot of advice about this and I am told that this is not the case.

Ms Maureen Colquhoun (Northampton, North)

It is in the Bill.

Mr. Benyon

Clause 3 requires the person terminating the pregnancy to inform the woman's general practitioner. The Lane Report supported this as good medical practice. The implications for after-care are obvious and as, the House will note, if the patient objects to this information being given to her general practitioner, the surgeon is absolved from this requirement providing that the steps have been taken in accordance with the regulations made by the Secretary of State.

I turn to Clause 4. The Committee's recommendation contained in paragraph 91 of its report has been overtaken by events, namely paragraph 31 of Schedule 6 to the Criminal Law Act, which sets the penalty at £1,000 in any event. I have therefore included only that part of the Committee's recommendation which favoured extending the time limit for summary proceedings to three years from the commission of the offence. The present time limit is six months and is too short in view of the difficulty of the collection and presentation of evidence.

Clause 5 strengthens the position of those who have a conscientious objection to participation in abortion operations. I regard this as a very important clause, although obviously, as the Committee pointed out, this question is largely a matter for administrative action but, as with so much else in this Bill, it is necessary to lay down guidelines. The House will know that a number of doctors and nurses have been placed in positions of considerable difficulty and distress as a result of their beliefs. The clause seeks to emphasise their right to conscientious objection on religious, ethical or other grounds, and that in court proceedings the burden of proof of conscientious objection need not rest upon the person claiming it. During the course of preparation on the Bill, I received more evidence and applications on this point than on any other.

I turn now to what I believe to be the most important clauses of the Bill, Clauses 6 and 7. I remind the House that the Committee stated that legislation should be introduced to require all referral agencies, pregnancy advisory bureaux and pregnancy testing agencies which charge fees to be licensed by the Secretary of State and subsequently legislation should oblige the Secretary of State to make regulations by Statutory Instrument to license and control places used for giving treatment for the termination of pregnancy, referral agencies, pregnancy advisory bureaux and pregnancy testing agencies which charge fees.

It would have been open for me to propose two short clauses giving these powers to the Secretary of State. It is my view, and I hope that I shall carry the House with me, that it would be invidious, both to the Secretary of State and to the House, if no guidance were given to the Secretary of State about the conditions to be imposed for the grant of a licence or for the content of the regulations. I just ask hon. Members to consider the difficulties of questioning a future Secretary of State on this point. That Minister will be perfectly entitled to reply that he had given a licence and that was that. I believe that I have interpreted correctly the Committee's wishes on this point. In the course of the debate we shall be able to make their position clear.

In addition, previous legislation, in particular the Nursing Homes Act 1975, has laid down conditions and it seems sensible to follow that example. The House will recall that the previous Secretary of State—the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle)—accepted an interim recommendation of the Select Committee to provide lists of agencies and bureaux considered satisfactory, and to make approval of places for the purpose of Section 1 of the 1967 Act conditional on their non-acceptance of patients referred by unlisted agencies and bureaux. This list has now been published by the present Secretary of State.

While this was a step in the right direction, the Committee accepted evidence that legislation should be introduced to give the Secretary of State control over these organisations. For the purposes of definition, I have used the same definitions for referral agencies and bureaux as was included in paragraph 451 of the Lane Report and a corresponding definition for pregnancy testing agencies.

Several points have been put to me in connection with the clause. The first is that the present system of indirect control is preferable to the direct control envisaged in the Bill. The Committee was particularly impressed by the evidence from the Department which said, on 14th April 1975: we would welcome legislation to regulate referral and advisory services—the main gap in our powers which was identified by the Lane Committee is in relation to the pregnancy advisory bureaux and the referral agencies, that is an area in which we would welcome legislation. The second point made to me is that these arrangements are far too inflexible and that it is better to leave the matter of licensing entirely to the Secretary of State. This puts the Secretary or State in a difficult and invidious position in carrying out what everyone agrees is a difficult task. It is necessary to be specific in the conditions laid down. Moreover, the Secretary of State would have wide residual powers to impose any additional requirement if he saw fit.

Thirdly, it has been represented to me by the charities operating in this area that the provision in subsection (4) (e) would gravely inhibit their work. The Lane Committee itself recognised that the private sector must be treated as a whole and that registration as a Charity is not an appropriate criterion for assessing the medical aspects of referral or treatment services or any abuses connected therewith. I am convinced that the component parts of these charities, the clinics and the referral agencies, can stand on their own feet financially, particularly in view of the fact that the latter are now undertaking other work in the birth control field. But be that as it may, I believe that it is quite impossible—we have considered this matter very carefully; it may be possible to suggest an amendment in Committee—to divide the various parts of the private sector.

I acknowledge frankly that these two clauses have been the most difficult ones in the Bill to draft and I do not pretend that they are perfect. All I am saying is that they make an attempt to do what the Select Committee asked to be done, and they can of course be further considered in Committee.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Will my hon. Friend note that Clause 7 says: The Secretary of State shall make regulations in relation to the use of premises for any of the purposes to which section 6 above applies, and in relation to places approved by him for the purposes of section 1 of the principal Act."? Section 1 of the principal Act covers National Health Service hospitals. So that means that not only is every doctor in a general hospital prevented by Clause 2 from giving an opinion but so is every general practitioner who has any appointment whatsoever in a general practitioner hospital where abortions take place. Whom does that leave? I suggest that it leaves practically nobody on the medical register.

Mr. Benyon

I do not think that my hon. Friend has read the clause sufficiently carefully. Clause 6(8) says: Nothing in this section shall require premises to be licensed because of the use of those premises—

  1. (a) by a registered medical practitioner for the purposes of his general practice; or
  2. (b) as a hospital vested in the Secretary of State under the National Health Service Acts; or
  3. (c) in accordance with an approval of the Secretary of State under section 1 of the principal Act."
My hon. Friend is a very skilful parliamentarian. He is also very good at drafting legislation. I confess that I am not and I have had to do this myself. My intention, and I am sure it was the intention of the Select Committee, was obviously not to include National Health Service hospitals and I thought I had covered that in that subsection. If I have not, we can always change it. That was my intention.

Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Kinross and West Perthshire)

My hon. Friend said that he was not able to draft a clause which would enable the charities which are operating in this field to survive. Is he saying that that is just bad luck and that the charities will have to stop operating?

Mr. Benyon

I did not say that at all. I said that this was to follow the advice of the Lane Committee and that it was given to me by my legal advisers. Nothing precludes my hon. and learned Friend or anybody else from trying to achieve that in Committee. I shall have to consider it.

Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

Is not my hon. Friend aware that the Department in its evidence to the Select Committee said that it would welcome regulations? My hon. Friend is surely quite correct in saying that he has had to draft this by himself. If that is the wish of the Department, surely at a later stage in the passage of the Bill it should be possible to get the best possible advice to cover the intention which I should have thought my hon. Friend had made perfectly clear to the House.

Mr. Benyon

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)

In view of the hon. Member's mention of Lane, and so that there should be no misunderstanding in the House, does the hon. Member agree that, whatever special consideration may or may not have to be given to charities or those that call themselves charities, the principle of the severance between the counselling service and the clinic was recommended by the Select Committee after careful thought? I think that the House should know that that is the intention of the sponsor, as I understand it.

Mr. Benyon

I am grateful to the hon. Member. That was the intention of the Select Committee and it is the intention that I have tried to write into the legislation.

I turn now to Clauses 8 and 9 which deal with prosecutions which may arise under the principal Act or under this Bill. Clause 8 restricts the publication of the identity of a witness who has had or who has been advised about an abortion and which is the subject of proceedings. The wording of the clause follows exactly the wording of Section 4 of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act which has recently been through Parliament. I do not think I need say anything more about this clause except that all the arguments used on the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act can be applied with equal force to women involved in these proceedings. Additionally, the present law provides a number of remedies to discourage malicious prosecutions.

Clause 9 provides that senior police officers investigating offences under the original Act or this Bill may apply to a judge—I emphasise that word—to inspect and take copies of any entries in registers or other books kept by places undertaking abortion or by the referral agencies. The House will be aware that the 1967 Act has presented the police with very considerable difficulties.

I accept, and the Select Committee accepted, that doctors are especially vulnerable to mischievous and unfounded allegations, but I do not believe that any doctor who is conducting his affairs properly has anything to fear from this particular proposal.

I again emphasise that it is only a senior police officer who can make the application and it must be to a judge. The judge will obviously take into account the prima facies evidence presented to him before he grants a warrant. If the House accepts—this is the crunch—that the effective enforcement of the law is de- sirable, these two clauses are vitally necessary.

It is always necessary to balance any marginal reduction of confidentiality against the exploitation of pregnant women by abortionists who break the law. I believe that this provision is justified by society's overriding interest in ensuring that the law can be effectively enforced.

Mr. Fairbairn

Does my hon. Friend imagine that the Offences Against the Person Act 1961 and the Infant Life Preservation Act 1929 ever did or do now apply to Scotland? If not, does he know what the law of Scotland was before the 1967 Act? How is a person in Scotland going to apply to a judge of the Crown Court—in England?

Mr. Benyon

My knowledge of Scotland is not very great. Again, if we have it wrong I will gladly consider any representation my hon. and learned Friend cares to make, because the last thing I want to do is to offend against anything in Scots law.

Mr. Fairbairn

Exempt Scotland.

Mr. Benyon

I do not think that that will he possible, if I may just continue with this point. Exempting Scotland would mean repealing entirely the Act which was piloted through by the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

My hon. Friend is making a very important point regarding police investigation which he considers, although it is a loss of privacy, to be important to his Bill. Can he tell me whether he does not think that in Clause 9 (b) there should not be inserted later when this is considered, if it gets that far, some protection for the person concerned, namely the woman, the patient? There is no reservation of any protection of privacy for the person who has undergone this very distressing experience. Does he not think that it should be there?

Mr. Benyon

This is a very important point. We will certainly look at that. I emphasise to my hon. Friend that I have simply sought to put into legislative form what the Select Committee recommended. These are exactly the points we shall want to consider in Committee.

Clause 10 is included to make clear that abortion shall include acts done with intent to terminate pregnancy if such exists. The Lane Committee considered this matter in some detail and recommended that the procedure of uterine evacuation should be carried out only by registered medical practitioners and that the Act and regulations should be amended to ensure that the procedure is covered thereby. Because there is some doubt about the effect of the present law on this procedure, the Committee shared the view of the Lane Report and recommended accordingly.

I know that many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate, and I do not want to delay the House any further. However, the House must be aware that this is a subject that simply will not go away. There is far too much concern throughout the country for that to happen. It is a subject that cannot be lost conveniently in the proceedings of this House and in our parliamentary system. It is not a matter for Governments and Oppositions, or even for political parties. It is a matter for the House of Commons as a whole. The House of Commons appointed the Select Committee and the House must decide on the Committee's recommendations. This Bill simply provides a means for that to happen, and I commend it to the House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

In view of the substantial number of hon. Members wishing to speak, I earnestly appeal for brevity in speeches, otherwise very many will be disappointed. I also ask that interventions should be kept to a minimum and that they should be short.

11.42 a.m.

Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) has made many references to abuse and to a wide range of public opinion supporting the Bill without giving us a shred of evidence for either of those claims. He has not told the House of a single abuse that has occurred since the 1967 Act was introduced and certain measures that were taken by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle). It is not good enough.

He has referred to a Gallup Poll of 500 doctors, but without knowing the questions that were asked it is difficult to know what the result signifies. I notice that he specifically did not mention a letter to the Prime Minister that was signed by no fewer than 1,200 doctors, consultant gynaecologists and professors of gynaecology at many teaching hospitals—

Mr. Benyon

I must intervene on that. Yesterday I received a petition from no fewer than 10,000 doctors and nurses saying that my Bill did not go far enough.

Mrs. Short

That does not surprise me. It is very easy to get 10,000 Catholic doctors and nurses to sign a petition on this subject. In fact it is the easiest thing in the world to send out duplicated letters urging people to write to their Members of Parliament in their own handwriting saying that they are Christians and therefore against abortion. But Christians are divided on abortion just as they are divided on all sorts of issues, such as public ownership, the level of defence expenditure, and just about everything one can think of. It is the easiest thing in the world to whip up that kind of phoney public opinion. I am sorry that hon. Members on both sides of the House are paying too much attention to that.

The significance of the letter to the Prime Minister is that its main signatory is Dame Josephine Barnes, who one could call the doyenne of gynaecology. She was a member of the Lane Committee and is a woman of considerable influence. The letter was also signed by a large number of professors of gynaecology, including two in Glasgow, one in Dundee, and others from teaching hospitals in Oxford, Cambridge and many other parts of the country.

I shall quote from some sections of this letter, particularly those that refer specifically to the Lane Committee: The Lane Committee reported in 1974 after nearly three years of thorough investigation and found that the Abortion Act had proved its value in relieving human suffering. We agree with the findings of this carefully researched report which has never been debated in Parliament. That was one of the major objections to the amending Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White)—it was brought forward before the Lane Committee had reported. That Committee's report contained a great deal of very carefully researched evidence that would have helped hon. Members to arrive at a decision. The letter goes on: Those abuses which occurred shortly after the inception of the Bill have now largely been overcome. Nevertheless we recognise that there are still problems within the working of the Act that require attention. The most important of these concerns the question of regional variations in the availability of abortion facilities within the Health Service … Mr. Benyon's Bill is based on the recommendations of a truncated Select Committee on abortion whose members were widely known to be in favour of restrictive abortion policies. Like the Committee, he does not address himself to the real issues that affect patients and their doctors. His Bill, if ever enacted, would make very much more difficult the work of reputable agencies and particularly the two major charities which have had to shoulder so much of the burden in Birmingham and other cities. The Bill would infringe civil liberties by allowing the police access to confidential medical records for no foreseeable practical gain. Gynaecologists and other doctors would find themselves increasingly harassed and clinical freedom would be threatened. Implementation of this unnecessary Bill would result in the very reverse of what its supporters claim for it. That is the answer to what the hon. Member for Buckingham has said, and I hope that the House will have due regard and give considerable weight to that letter which was received by the Prime Minister only two days ago.

I agree with the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) who pointed out to his hon. Friend that the Bill is badly drafted and that he apparently does not understand the implications of his own Bill. It is badly drafted, it is ill thought out and it will have the most appalling effect if it ever becomes law. It is a denial of the rights of a woman to decide how many children to have and when she will bear them, and the thing that I find equally objectionable is that it displays complete mistrust of the medical profession in a way that is truly astonishing.

The author of the Bill can claim no measure of public support. Since the 1967 Act was introduced there has been no clamour for a measure such as this either among the public as a whole or among doctors. It is based on an unbalanced report from an unbalanced Select Committee composed of hon. Members who were and still are entirely opposed to the 1967 Act. A number of hon. Members, including the sponsors of the 1967 Act and representatives of the two main parties, withdrew from that Select Committee because they were not prepared to be associated with its report.

I assume that the hon. Member had considerable difficulty in drafting his Bill—he admitted as much. That is why the Bill appeared rather late. Also he has been unable to persuade a single leading figure from his own Front Bench to sponsor the Bill. In the notice that he gave in December he had listed the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) as one of the sponsors. But on the list of sponsors printed on the Bill the right hon. Member's name does not appear.

Mr. Benyon

When I gave the list in to the office upstairs I had written in my very bad handwriting "Dr. J. Bray". This had been misread as "Mr. J. Prior".

Mrs. Short

I think that the hon. Member is casting unseemly aspersions on the office upstairs.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

He cannot write either.

Mrs. Short

I see that the name of the former Liberal Chief Whip is included in the sponsors. No doubt he is a great authority on unwanted pregnancies. I also note that a Member of the SNP is a sponsor of the Bill. No doubt the women of Scotland will notice this. In Scotland women who apply for terminations are able to obtain them.

Mr. John Corrie (Bute and North Ayrshire) rose

Mrs. Short

No, I shall not give way. Interventions take up much too much time.

A total of 98 per cent. of abortions carried out in Scotland are conducted in NHS hospitals, and they are fortunate in their gynaecologists. The Bill does nothing at all to deal with the abuse referred to in the doctors' letter—namely, that it constitutes an abuse of the 1967 Act since women in this country do not have the same access to terminations in NHS hospitals. Why should women in the West Midlands, Merseyside and Yorkshire have so much difficulty in obtaining legal abortions on the NHS? Why should reactionary consultants refuse to help women with legal grounds under the Act? This is an abuse, and the hon. Gentleman wants to make it easier for consultants to further that abuse.

Clearly, the Minister should be taking steps to see that enough doctors are appointed in those regions to make it unnecessary for women to have to travel away from home either to areas in the National Health Service or to seek help in the private sector. It is this restriction that drives women into the private sector.

The charitable clinics and nursing homes were set up because of this attitude of the reactionary chauvinist doctors to whom I have referred. Those who deny relief are the very ones who drive women into the private sector. Yet it is the highly responsible skilled and efficient private sector, namely the charitable clinics and advisory bureaux, that this Bill seeks to smother in a welter of crazy bureaucracy, involving umpteen inspectors, police and others to administer its provisions. That is rather extraordinary from a representative of the Conservative Party, most of whose members complain about the level of public expenditure. This Bill will certainly add to that level of expenditure.

To show his impartiality, the hon. Gentleman takes a mighty swipe not only at women but at doctors. He mistrusts them and says that they cannot be trusted if they are working together in general practice or in clinics or nursing homes—and, as the hon. Member for Tiverton pointed out, this would also apply to doctors working together in hospitals.

The hon. Gentleman does not make it clear what he means by his provision dealing with the question of doctors who can authorise abortions. Is he saying that in a hospital the consultant in the department would not be able to get his houseman to sign the certificate?—What does he expect them to do? Is he saying that two doctors in practice together shall not be able to sign the certificate? If he says that, he is implying that there is a great deal of abuse of the Act among reputable members of the medical profession. I do not believe that, nor did the hon. Gentleman bring forward a shred of evidence to show that it is so.

The Bill also provides that at least one of the doctors shall be qualified for at least five years. That is a nonsense. Five years as what? It does not say that such a person should have been working for five years as a gynaecologist or an obstetrician. As the Bill is drafted, it means that a doctor working for five years as a geriatrician, ENT surgeon, a genitourinary surgeon could take part in this procedure. I hope that is not what the hon. Gentleman intends, but that is what his Bill could mean. I do not think the House would wish to support this.

The other objectionable part of the Bill, which again shows the hon. Gentleman's mistrust of members of the medical profession, is that an anonymous witness can lay evidence with the police and the unfortunate doctor could have the threat of legal action hanging over his head for three years. It also means that women could be called to give evidence where they may feel very reluctant to do so because they would not want their own personal details and information brought forward in a court of law. One can see that the clause would put an enormous weapon into the hands of all those who oppose abortions to lay evidence against doctors who they claim had too liberal a view of abortion, to send complaints to the police, and to insist that the procedures were brought against the doctor, thus ruining his reputation and taking away his livelihood.

The other objectionable aspect that I find insupportable is that the Bill would give power to the police to enter nursing homes, advisory bureaux giving advice on abortion procedures, and to enter and take photographic evidence not only of records in connection with a specific complaint in a patient's case involving alleged illegality, but of general records, and thus would be able to obtain information from whole pages of names kept in the clinics. They would be able to use that against the doctor concerned.

That is an infringement of the civil liberties and rights of doctors. It is an infringement of confidentiality between doctors and patients going far beyond anything that obtains in this country at present. That must be objectionable to hon. Members on both sides of the House, whatever their views.

These aspects of the Bill surely are sufficient for us to throw it out. The attempt to question what procedures doctors adopt does not appear in any other area of medical activity. Why should it he laid down in this area when it is usual procedure?

The Select Committee had a great deal of evidence from members of the medical profession. It took evidence from the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Royal College of Pathologists, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh, the Association of Anaesthetists, the Royal College of Midwives, and the Family Planning Association. All without exception support the 1967 Act. All the medical evidence from those weighty professional bodies was against the proposals of the previous Bill which the Select Committee was examining. It was only in a very small degree that the Royal College of Midwives criticised it and suggested that abortion work should be separated from gynaecological departments for various reasons, but it was not opposed to the 1967 Act. Where is the weighty evidence that supports the report of the Select Committee, or the views put forward by the hon. Gentleman?

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the legislation introduced in many countries which, he said, supported his view. The situation is that where any country has introduced legislation in the past few years, certainly since 1966–67, it has always introduced a liberal Act. In Australia, France, Germany and even in Italy, it is now possible—or shortly will be, because the Bill has gone through the Italian Chamber of Deputies—for women to get terminations up to the thirteenth week. What the hon. Gentleman is doing by bringing forward his Bill, is making it more difficult for women to get abortions, and this may drive them abroad to get abortions there. It will be a reverse of the situation in earlier years, because British women may well have to go to Italy for abortions. It is an interesting situation.

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Coventry, South-West)

Provided they can afford it.

Mrs. Short

Yes, provided that they can afford it. That will not be a new position because women who could afford to do so have been obtaining abortions for years. The fact that there was restrictive legislation in this country made no difference at all, because women were able to travel to Holland, Switzerland or anywhere else to obtain their abortions. It was working-class women who suffered then and it will be working-class women in the main who will suffer if, by some misfortune, this Bill receives a Second Reading.

Virtually the whole of Europe has followed our lead in introducing more liberal legislation. I hope that we shall resist the blandishments, not very convincingly put, of the hon. Member for Buckingham, who, with this not-very-well drafted Bill, would have us put back the clock and erect more barriers for women to surmount in seeking a legal abortion. This Bill would condemn women to greater risk, further delay and possibly drive them into seeking unskilled help.

The present procedure is safe and easy if it is done within the first 12 to 13 weeks of pregnancy. Let me show to the House exhibit A. This is the fearsome and terrible instrument with which a legal abortion is carried out up to 12 weeks. It looks like a drinking straw. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) looks frightened to death. This is a tube made of flexible plastic. It is not a fearsome thing that dilates the cervix and causes lacerations. The contents of this would fill about half a teacup at the end of a three-month pregnancy.

I hope that we shall see an expansion of day-care centres where abortions up to the third month can be carried out safely and speedily without red tape. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister of State to bear in mind that there will shortly be published another report from an all-party Committee of this House. This is a Committee whose members have many differing views. It is not the one-sided affair, as was the Select Committee whose report we have been discussing. The Committee of which I speak has brought forward proposals dealing with abortions which are very different from those put forward by the Select Committee. I hope that my hon. Friend will consider them very carefully. I hope, too, that before any new legislation is contemplated there will be the opportunity to debate the major report on the working of the Abortion Act which has never yet been debated in this House.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. If speeches are to last for 20 or 25 minutes—and I make no complaint of that—it means that about 15 or 20 Members will not have an opportunity of taking part in the debate.

12.4 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Mr. Roland Moyle)

I hope that it will be helpful to the House if I intervene now to speak on this Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon). In doing so I am not giving a Government view. As on all other occasions when this subject has been debated in the House, Members are free to vote according to their consciences. My task, as one of the Ministers responsible for the operation of the 1967 Act, is to put before the House the facts which are relevant to the issues being discussed and which are in the possession of the Government.

I am sure that many Members welcome this opportunity for the House as a whole to re-examine the working of the 1967 Act and to hear Members' views on the reports of last Session's Select Committee. In this respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if you could so interpret the rules of order as to allow hon. Members to express their views on the Second Report of the Select Committee, such an interpretation, and any advantage taken of it, would be welcomed by the Government.

This Bill is aimed at implementing the points made in the First Report but I should remind the House that the Second Report consists of a number of recommendations for administrative action by the Government. Obviously, before considering any action arising from the Second Report the Government would hope to get an expression of views from the House. I shall also be referring to the Lane Committee's recommendations in the course of my speech, particularly those urging legislation, and shall be saying what action we have taken in respect of them at appropriate points in my speech.

A number of developments have occurred since the House debated the Second Reading of the last Abortion (Amendment) Bill many of which have been reported to the House. From July 1975 this Government have provided a comprehensive free family planning service within the National Health Service. As a consequence there is now a trend towards fewer abortions performed on women in this country. The number of such abortions, which reached a peak in 1973–74, has since declined.

This decline continues. In 1976 there were just over 100,000 abortions on women resident in England and Wales—a drop of 8 per cent. since 1974. Moreover the decline is common to all age groups, including, for the first time in 1976, girls under 16. Similar changes have occurred in the incidence of illegitimate births and pre-marital pregnancies. Taking a global approach to illegitimate births, pre-marital pregnancies and abortions, there has been a fall of about one fifth between the ages of 16–24 and a stabilisation of numbers in the pre 16 age groups.

Sir Bernard Braine

Would the Minister relate those figures to the statistics for live births, which have also been falling very sharply?

Mr. Moyle

Starting from any baseline one can easily produce the statistics one chooses. It is to be expected that, with a family planning service within the Health Service, there would be a reduction in the number of live births. How many of those would have been babies subject to abortion is anyone's guess.

The number of foreign women coming to this country for abortion has also fallen dramatically. It has halved since 1974. This reflects, to some extent, the passage of legislation in countries such as France and Germany. Nevertheless, it removes the opportunity for abuses talked of earlier.

Mr. Abse

Since it appears that again my hon. Friend's Department has provided him with figures to sooth anxieties instead of stating the facts, may I point out that these statistics are totally misleading and partial? No mention is made of the overall drop in births in England and Wales. I can give the figures. What it means is that the proportion of births which are illegitimate and the ratio of abortions to live births have not changed significantly. Why does the Department yet again give a Minister statistics which are misleading?

Mr. Moyle

I believe that I have answered the point made by my hon. Friend—

Sir Bernard Braine


Mr. Moyle

If there is a family planning service in the NHS, there is bound to be a reduction in the number of live births. That is simple. In any case, I wish that hon. Members who oppose the measure would agree on their statistics. The hon. Member for Buckingham said that there was a plateau. That was the worst that he could put forward.

Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)

What does the Minister say?

Mr. Moyle

The Minister says that there has been a decline in the number of abortions.

Meantime, my Department has progressively tightened and extended its control of the private sector and in this respect my right hon. Friend and myself accept that, if there is to be abortion in the private sector, it is our job to supervise the standards in that sector and to ensure that they are adequate. It is no exaggeration to say that the abuses in the private sector which caused so much concern in the early 1970s—taxi touts, the activities of unscrupulous agencies and nursing homes in exploiting women of this country and from abroad and the unethical behaviour of small numbers of doctors—have been progressively brought under control. The Lane Committee's recommendations on certification and examination were implemented through amending regulations last year, as was its recommendation that the chief medical officers of health should be empowered to disclose to the President of the General Medical Council information furnished under the regulations.

There is now a provision in the Criminal Law Bill in another place—for which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is primarily responsible—for the maximum fine for offences against regulations made under the Act to be increased to £1,000. This implements another of the Lane Committee's recommendations as well as one of the First Report of the Select Committee and is part of an across-the-board exercise to increase fines in line with inflationary pressures since these fines were last reviewed.

Nursing homes are regularly inspected and any evidence of improper conduct promptly investigated. It might help the House if I indicate the range of the undertaking's that private nursing home proprietors must give my right hon. Friend as a condition of his approval under the Abortion Act. This is the first time this information has been given to the House. Briefly, they provide for the maintenance of detailed records, the inspection of premises and records by the Department's officers at any time without notice, the giving of receipts to patients and the retention of copies for inspection, the acceptance of fees only after two doctors have certified that the Act's criteria are met in each case, the number of patients per 24 hours not to exceed the number of beds approved, and for the examination of patients by a doctor before discharge.

The nursing home must also undertake not to advertise abroad, either directly or indirectly, employ touts, or to accept patients who have been diverted from their intended destinations or touted for. The proprietors must have no connection with agencies or persons known to advertise abroad, or to tout for or divert patients.

Proprietors must also, in applying for approval, provide the Department with detailed information about the business arrangements of the companies and individuals involved in the application, all of which is carefully inquired into by the Department's investigators. Medical and nursing arrangements, including staffing, equipment, procedures and accommodation, are checked by the Department's medical and nursing teams.

Nursing homes which concentrate on abortions have had to satisfy my right hon. Friend that the total costs charged to abortion patients treated on their premises are not unreasonable, and must not increase these costs without prior approval. All financial arrangements between nursing homes and doctors, other than payment of fees, and pregnancy advice bureaux must be reported to the Department.

The Lane Committee looked at the effectiveness of the existing arrangements for approving nursing homes and was of the opinion that no statutory requirements for approval should be laid down.

The latest safeguard, announced by my right hon. Friend on 10th February, is the publication of a register of approved pregnancy advice bureaux, following the undertakings he gave to this effect on 5th August last. Nursing homes will be liable to lose their approval if they accept patients referred to them by unregistered bureaux which charge fees. Registered bureaux, like nursing homes, will be subject to regular inspection without notice. The Lane Committee recommended a statutory system for licensing advice bureaux, but we now have a register and, in my view, should have an opportunity to see how well it works.

On counselling—on the more positive side—my Department has circulated draft guidance to the Health Service, professional bodies, and those giving guidance on the arrangements for counselling women who express a wish for termination of pregnancy. We are awaiting replies before issuing it for action. The Lane Committee stressed the importance of such counselling. The standard of counselling arrangements, as well as medical care, was included in the assessment of pregnancy advice bureaux in preparing the register of approved bureaux that my right hon. Friend announced.

An issue which is of great importance to the sponsors of the Bill, and which arouses a great deal of interest in the country, is the question of the period of pregnancy after which termination should not be permitted. This is another area about which there has been great public concern, partly because of allegations that have been made in the past which received widespread and sensational publicity. There has also been concern for staff involved in late terminations.

The Lane Committee recommended that there should be an upper time limit of 24 weeks on the grounds that there were some women who have compelling grounds for termination between the 20th and 24th week of pregnancy, and an upper time limit of 24 weeks would afford appropriate protection for a viable foetus. Following the recommendations of the Select Committee, terminations after the 20th week of pregnancy are permitted only in hospitals or approved nursing homes which have resuscitation equipment and staff trained to use it. The number of abortions carried out after 20 weeks is in fact very small, amounting to less than 1 per cent. of all abortions in the country. Less than a fifth of this 1 per cent. are performed after 24 weeks. This evidence led my predecessor, in giving evidence to the Select Committee on the Abortion (Amendment) Bill, to conclude that the case for legislation was not necessarily very urgent.

Following the Lane Committee's recommendations, all NHS authorities have also been reminded of the code of practice drawn up by the Peel Committee on the use of foetal material for research, and strict arrangements govern nursing homes in the disposal of such material. Information to hand indicates that this code is being observed conscientiously throughout the NHS and the private sector.

There has also been a good deal of criticism, which has been aroused again today, about the pressures on staff not to exercise their right of conscientious objection. To the best of my knowledge, and on the information available, this belief is not well founded. A great deal has been made about the advice given by the chief medical officer of my Department. This guidance was issued at the request of the medical profession to ensure that where a demand for terminations existed which could not otherwise be met in posts to be advertised, it should be made clear in the advertisements to all applicants for the job that such duties were an integral part of the post, and therefore questions on people's conscientious, religious and ethical beliefs could be avoided.

In practice this advice applies to only a small percentage of the advertised posts in the relevant specialties, and there is no evidence that recruitment to the specialties is in any way adversely affected or that anyone has been penalised in following his career as a result. [HON. MEMBERS: "No".] If hon. Members know of any individual cases, or the BMA knows of any individual cases, I shall be happy to go into them.

Sir Bernard Braine rose

Mr. Moyle

I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman. The Deputy Speaker has asked hon. Members to make short speeches and I have a lot of information to give to the House, so I shall proceed as quickly as possible.

Similarly, nurses are also able to exercise a conscientious objection to participation in abortion. I concede quite readily that in the case of small gynaecological units, where there is a small ratio of nurses to gynaecological operations this is a matter that calls for careful planning in order to achieve it.

My right hon. Friend provided the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives with a paper in 1974 explaining nurses' rights of objection and how they exercise them. I am entirely available to discuss these problems further with the professions, should they ever indicate a wish to do so, but so far there has been no general desire to change the present situation.

Another point that the House should consider is the staffing implications of a number of the proposals for my Department. I know that it is the majority wish of the House that there should be restrictions on public expenditure, and my Department is under pressure to make its contribution, particularly on the manpower side, but until now my Department has been able to maintain and extend its work in inspecting premises and investigating possible breaches of assurances at a time when those manpower savings are required. The Bill would extend the responsibilities of my Department into some private consulting rooms and all premises charging fees for pregnancy testing, which include, among others, many dispensing chemists.

This is in addition to the extra work which would be required to replace the present administrative procedures for controlling the private sector by statutory regulation. With very little prospect of finding additional staff resources to cover all these operations, I am afraid that these provisions would inevitably lead to a much less effective surveillance of those parts of the private sector which are most vulnerable to abuse.

Mr. Dan Jones

The House will have noted that the Minister keeps referring to what his Department will do or has done. I must ask him—it is a fair question—why the promise given to the House that the Government would accept responsibility and bring in a Bill of this description, relieving a private Member of the necessity, has not been met.

Mr. Moyle

Neither my right hon. Friend nor I has ever given such an undertaking.

Mr. Dan Jones

Certainly, yes.

Mr. Moyle


Mr. Dan Jones

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The former Government Chief Whip, my right hon Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), has given me that undertaking this week.

Mr. Moyle

I must tell my hon. Friend that I have looked into the matter as carefully as I can. Although I may have overlooked something, I can find no such undertaking given to the House on behalf of the Government.

Mr. Dan Jones

I shall bring it forward.

Mr. Moyle

It would not be right for me to conclude these general remarks on the Bill without commenting on the provisions affecting the charitable organisations in the private sector. I have read the views of members of the Select Committee who would maintain that there are no truly charitable bodies in the private sector of abortion. But, whatever one's view on abortion, it seems to me difficult not to conclude from the history of the growth of the private sector and its current decline that the charitable organisations, through charging moderate fees and providing a reasonably high standard of in-paient care, have contributed to the improvements which I have mentioned in the private sector generally. The organisations concerned are as closely supervised as are any of the others in the private sector with which my Department deals, and they will obviously be vitally affected by the provisions of the Bill. The House will need to consider whether that would serve the overall objectives of preventing abuse in the private sector.

There are some indications that National Health Service provision for abortion is improving, although I accept that regional variations remain, and I note the criticisms made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short).

Dr. Gerard Vaughan (Reading, South)

What proposals does the Minister have for seeing that facilities ate mote evenly distributed across the country? Secound, does he feel that the regulations which he has announced will be as effective as actual legislation for licensing agencies and private bureaux?

Finally, does the hon. Gentleman intend to sit down and leave the House with a major—indeed, fundamental—difference on the figures which he has given regarding abortion rates and the fall in the birth rate? I regard this as very serious. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the number of women entering the main childbearing years—for example, 20 to 24 years of age—has fallen recently, and that this makes nonsense of his figures?

Mr. Moyle

With respect, I have given the figures which the Government think are most relevant to the matters at issue. I have explained the introduction of the family planning service. Even selecting his own careful figures, the hon. Member for Buckingham could not argue a better case than that there was a plateau. I shall leave it for the House to judge. We have given our figures to the House, and I am willing to stand by them.

I was just coming to the question of provision in the National Health Service. The hon. Member for Reading, South (Dr. Vaughan) seemed to think that I was about to sit down, but I regret to say that it will be a minute or two yet before the House is relieved of my presence at the Dispatch Box. I apologise for taking a little longer than I intended, but I have given way several times.

On the question of administrative control of nursing homes as opposed to regulations, although I had intended to deal with that matter in summing up, as the hon. Gentleman has brought it up, I shall reply now. Yes, we believe that our present administrative arrangements, because they are more flexible, are likely to be more effective than any cumbersome and rather rigid regulations in a situation which has changed quite remarkably over 10 years. Regulations, of course, would have to be subject to amending regulations, whereas administrative control can be subject to regular and fairly quick adjustment to circumstances.

I return now to what I was saying about NHS provision. For example, day-care facilities, which offer an equally high standard of treatment in many cases and more effective use of the available resources, have increased. Unfortunately, I cannot be precise about the increase for abortions specifically since the figures are not collected on that basis, but the use of day-care facilities for gynaecological patients, which include abortion, has increased by over 30 per cent. between 1972 and 1975. Moreover, the mean waiting time for admission to hospital from gynaecological waiting lists for therapeutic abortion has reduced from 12½ days in 1971 to 9½ days in 1974.

I regard that as another improvement in the National Health Service provision. Obviously, there is a great deal more to be done, and I would argue that this is where the resources of the Government and the country should be concentrated in this field.

The outcome of the present debate is not known. If the Bill fails to receive a Second Reading, that will be that, for the time being at any rate. If, however, this Bill finds favour with a majority of the House, my right hon. Friend and I will place the resources of our Department at the disposal of the House with a view to consulting the appropriate professional and other interests involved, and this will provide a comprehensive background of information and views for the use of the Standing Committee which will eventually have to consider the Bill in detail.

As I explained at the outset, my task today is primarily to inform the House of the current position. I have drawn attention to what. I hope. a fair-minded person will regard as the most relevant developments related to this Bill and knowledge of which is held at the Department of Health and Social Security. When I took up my present appointment last September, it was clear that abortion would be on the agenda before long and that the Department had no plans for legislation on the subject.

I must add that, in view of the information which I have given the House today, neither my right hon. Friend nor I, had we been left to our own resources, would have seen the need to introduce legislation, given the administrative action which has been taken. I believe that the hon. Member for Buckingham will be prepared to withdraw his charge that nothing ever happens except when a Bill on abortion is before the House. I believe that I have shown to everyone generally that there is a substantial amount of activity on the part of my Department in between times.

The House will be aware that my right hon. Friend has expressed his view that there is a case for a period of calm while the web of administration which I have described continues to regulate and reduce the problems which gave concern not so long ago. The really important task at the moment is primarily associated with the improvement of the Health Service in this field. That is where we should concentrate.

There is one other point. I have been endeavouring to present some departmental information as dispassionately as possible. I hope that I have succeeded. However, I think that I owe the House one more duty before I conclude, and that is to disclose my own personal bias in order that it may help hon. Members to weigh the importance of what I have said. I shall be voting against the Bill, although on this occasion I shall leave it to others to argue the case.

12.27 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

I intervene briefly, I hope, as Chairman of the Select Committee, and I wish to explain one matter at the outset since my hon. Friend the Minister's predecessor referred to that Committee as a pre-legislation Committee. In fact, it was a Committee which had to take note of the fact that its terms of reference were the Abortion (Amendment) Bill, which Bill had received a Second Reading.

At the end of our first sitting, arising out of our examination of the Bill we made recommendations which could be carried out administratively. My hon. Friend is quite unfair in referring to the action taken by the Department as having been a consequence of the Lane Report. It was a consequence of the recommendations of the Select Committee. We expressed our appreciation of the immediate reaction of the Secretary of State in accepting all those recommendations and putting them into effect.

At that point, at any rate, the Select Committee had acted with universal support. However, in view of some of the observations which have been made. I wish to emphasise that the Committee had in fact examined the provisions of the Bill. What we did was first to examine the provisions of the Bill carefully. We came to tentative conclusions. The House ought to know that those conclusions were unanimous. Only on two points of detail was one dissenting voice recorded.

That was the position on the Bill. Of course, the conclusions were tentative because we had not taken evidence.

Mr. Dan Jones

My right hon. Friend keeps referring to "the Bill".

Mr. Willey

I mean the Abortion (Amendment) Bill which was referred to the Select Committee.

We then took evidence. The evidence having been taken, there was the question of presentation of the draft report by the Chairman. I went to the trouble and care of submitting to the Committee guidelines for that draft report. Those guidelines were accepted unanimously by the full Committee. In fact, we decided to ask leave to sit again, and we did not then present the Committee's report on the Bill.

In the following Session, the Committee was re-established. the hon. Members who resigned—I hope that I am being fair to everyone—did not resign on any point of substance which had been before the Committee. They resigned on the general ground that, in their judgment, legislation was unnecessary or inopportune. That was the point at issue. I considered that, as we had been set up by a vote of the House to do that very task of consideration of legislation, the Committee should proceed with its examination.

We took further evidence. Then came the question of the Chairman's draft report. I accepted that it was my responsibility to present that draft report within the heads of agreement and the guidelines that we had agreed previously during the previous Session's deliberations. That is the position with regard to the report.

I have said that the Committee was set up to examine a Bill that had received a Second Reading. That obviously affected our consideration and the recommendations that we felt able to make, but I assure the House—and this is in all fairness to my colleagues on the Select Committee—that we examined the Bill not only within the guidelines that had been agreed by the previous Committee, but conscious that we should seek as broad a consensus as possible.

What did we do? We made radical and drastic amendments. I remind the House that we removed from the Bill the provisions on criteria consultant medical advisers at the clinics, foreign women, foetuses, foetal material and the onus of proof.

I have referred to the matters that we took out of the Bill, but one has only to compare the two Bills to concede that we also made radical changes in the provisions that we considered should still be recommended to the House. I emphasise that we considered this in the light not only of evidence but of the point that my hon. Friend the Minister of State has made about the action taken by the Department.

May I give an illustration? The first Session's Committee agreed, amongst other things, to propose legislation to deal with the traffic in the abortion of foreign women. That was the agreed conclusion of that Committee. But the second Session's Committee recognised the steps that had been taken administratively and such facts as the Minister of State has put before the House today, and we decided to recommend no legislative action. Equally, the first Committee agreed to recommend back-up legislation on foetuses and foetus material but, again it is clear from the matters to which I have referred that after we had received further evidence, we decided to make no such recommendation.

I now want to turn to the recommendations that we made. It is rarely recognised—although it ought to be—that the unique feature of our abortion law is that the evidence of two registered medical practitioners is required before an abortion can take place. I am all in favour of that. One has only to think of the condition of pregnant women to realise how distressing it is for them in other countries to have to go through the official machinery and to face bureaucracy in seeking abortions. But I emphasise that two registered practitioners, not one, are required under the 1967 Act.

Anyone who is concerned about this subject must also realise how important it is that there should continue to be confidence in the system. The confidence must lie in the fact that two practitioners are required. The Committee recommended that one of the practitioners should have professional standing of some seniority—five years' standing—and this is wanted by the medical practitioners themselves.

Mrs. Renée Short


Mr. Willey

My hon. Friend is on dangerous ground if she is asking that the medical practitioner should have gynaecological qualifications. We have not provided for that in our recommendations, but we have recommended that the two practitioners should be independent and that one of them should have some medical standing. We do not go as far as the earlier Bill, but with the provisions we suggest one can surely rely upon the advice of two medical practitioners.

I turn to the referral agencies and the advisory bureaux. Our recommendation is simply that: legislation be introduced to require all referral agencies, pregnancy advisory bureaux and pregnancy testing agencies which charge fees to be licensed by the Secretaries of State. That is beyond argument. It is no good the Department's saying what has been said by my hon. Friend the Minister this morning. There is really no argument about this. It is what the Lane Committee insisted upon and it is also what was proposed in the Grylls Bill, which the Department accepted. The Department told the Committee that it would welcome legislation. Professor Lafitte told us that he would prefer legislation. He would prefer the direct power to license rather than the indirect temporary approach through the clinics. Who is there, apart from my hon. Friend, who believes, having looked at the evidence, that there is any case for anything except the licensing of these agencies?

I want to be fair about this. I have called Professor Lafitte in aid because it is important that we should pay attention to his point of view. He speaks for the British Pregnancy Advisory Services. It would be unfair to suggest that Professor Lafitte agrees with the opinion expressed by the Select Committee. I refer the House to the opinion that the Select Committee expressed—not a recommendation—because it is quite clear. The Select Committee recorded: In view of the evidence we received about financial abuses and the importance placed by many witnesses on unbiased counselling. Your Committee are of the opinion that it is better to insist upon a severance and not to afford any exemption to charitable advisory services. As a result they would depend upon fees and genuine charitable contributions. Your Committee recognise that due notice would have to be given to allow the charitable agencies affected to make the necessary changes. We should try to achieve maximum consensus.

It is generally agreed that, as far as possible, abortion should be carried out in the public sector, in the National Health Service. Equally, as far as possible, abortion should not be carried out in the private commercial sector. Between these two sectors we have the reputable charitable organisations.

I put to the House the views that the Committee expressed in the light of evidence that it received. Those views are quite firm and definite and, as the hon. Gentleman said, this is a matter that should be borne in mind during the Committee stage. I refer the House to the recommendation that we made and to the opinion that we expressed arising from this.

We carried out exhaustive inquiries in both the First and Second Committees as to whether the licensing of the agencies should be done administratively or by regulation—largely because the Lane Committee, which was not well versed in this field, recommended administrative action. Everything my hon. Friend the Minister said favoured regulations. It is a question of the approval of the clinics and the licensing of the agencies.

I do not want to exaggerate this, but, notwithstanding the welcome administrative action taken, there have been some abuses. We recommended what the Lane Committee said could not be done—the fixing of maximum charges. This has been accepted but it is surely a matter for regulation and not administration. There is an inspectorate at the Department and a whole series of conditions are laid down for the operating of agencies. When we reach that stage, regulations are unavoidable and essential.

British Pregnancy Advisory Services raised with us, when it saw our recommendation, the question of consultation. We made quite clear that regulations enforced consultation. We all know that no Department issues regulations without full consultation with all concerned. What is much more important is that the regulations must come to the House, so those consulted have recourse to the House if they feel that their representations have not been adequately considered.

We have emphasised, and this again is a matter for regulations, that if we go to the limits which we have provided there should be a right of appeal. This again is a matter for regulations. We have pressed the Department to go so far that what is needed is no longer capable of being done administratively. That would be unfair to everyone. One must be fair and above board and do it by regulation.

Undoubtedly legislation is needed on the upper time limit. There is a choice between two periods, or a qualification upon that choice. One can accept Lane and 24 weeks, or Peel, the other report, and 20 weeks. We must bear in mind that Peel has the support of the World Health Organisation and the medical profession. [Interruption.] As far as it has indicated, the WHO's opinion is 20 weeks. We have a choice between 24 weeks and 20 weeks, with the weight of the medical profession behind 20 weeks. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]

I remind the House that Lane recommended that after 24 weeks there should be no abortion, that the only treatment was to induce labour. We do not think that that is very satisfactory in the light of the evidence we received, and we recommend 20 weeks. We say: but provision should be made allowing such treatment"— that is, abortion— where the child would be born with a major disability whether physical or mental or where it is necessary to save the life or to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman; and to provide by regulation an element of flexibility with regard to the time limit. That is a far better recommendation than was made by either Lane or Peel.

Those are the main recommendations of the Select Committee. It is misleading nonsense to say that they can be carried out administratively. They are all matters that depend upon legislation. My hon. Friend can say "I don't like them, and I will not legislate", but he cannot say that the Government can carry out any of these main recommendations without resorting to legislation.

I should like to say something about other recommendations that we have made. I begin with the question of penalties. I remind stalwart supporters of the Lane Committee that what is recommended was that offences should be made indictable and that there should be no time limit. We decided that that was to use a sledgehammer to crack a nut. We said that the obvious thing to do was to extend the time limit for summary proceedings. I say to anyone who calls in aid of the Lane Committee that that is a much more sensible recommendation than it made.

I turn next to the matter of prosecutions. We do not accept the provision in the White Bill to shift the onus of proof, but we were faced with the difficulty of obtaining evidence. That was recognised by the whole medical profession. Abuses are remarkably few, but the whole profession is stigmatised by them. In one of our previous recommendations we said that documents should be made more widely available and should be available to the General Medical Council. This has been done.

We took what I thought—and as Chairman of the all-party Civil Liberties Parliamentary Group I am very sensitive on this issue—was the best course, saying "You have established the need. We are very reluctant to extend powers. You will do this only by application to a High Court judge." All this concerns only bodies and people charging fees for the work they do. It is not an uninvited invasion of privacy but something that we believe to be necessary if we are to get to the heart of the problem of dealing with the handful of offenders who bring the whole profession into disrepute.

We received a good deal of evidence that people were disturbed about the provision for conscientious objection. I have already said that we rejected the argument—whatever its strength—that the onus of proof should be shifted with regard to offences under the 1967 Act or under this Bill. We took the same view about conscientious objection. We removed the placing of the burden of proof on the conscientious objector. We took a very balanced view of the matter.

Dr. Oonagh McDonald (Thurrock) rose

Mr. Willey

I shall not give way, because I have spoken long enough and want to finish my speech quickly.

We accept that it is the common view that as far as possible abortion should be carried out in the National Health Service. We strongly believed that if we strengthened the provision about conscientious objection we should also look at the consequences, so in our Second Report—to which my hon. Friend the Minister referred only incidentally—we recommended recognising that there was an obligation as far as possible to provide facilities for abortion as necessary to implement the 1967 Act in the Health Service. To ensure the widest possible availability, we recommended that there should be special units in the National Health Service to provide abortion in those hospitals where it was shown that women were driven to pay for abortion because they would not otherwise be able to have the facility of abortion at all. I regard that as a recommendation of some importance.

But what disturbs me is that we have had no response from the Government, although we have made specific recommendations concerning the public sector. We are returning to the days when we had no Select Committee. I do not invite the House to set up a permanent Select Committee on abortion, of the kind that we had on race relations, but one might recommend that. I happen to be Chairman of the Select Committee on Race Relations. We did have a response during the past couple of years when that Select Committee was in operation.

I fear, when we have emphasis upon administrative solutions, that within a year or two we shall be in the same difficulties we found before the Select Committee was set up. I am sure that the most effective answer is to recognise the 1967 Act, as the Bill does, and to say that there were matters arising from the operation of that Act which should be attended to, and that the Bill provides an opportunity to do that.

12.49 p.m.

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)

Abortion is not a party political subject, and there has long been a convention that party leaders do not intervene in debates on it, but the House will be sympathetic to my position and will accept that, having been the originator of the 1967 Act, it is only reasonable that I should say a few words about the proposed amendment to it. However, I wish to make clear that I speak entirely for myself and will express my own views and not those of my party. If anyone doubts that, he needs only to note that my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) is a sponsor of the Bill and that hon. Members of my party, as always, have their own views on this subject.

Reference has already been made to the letter sent to the Prime Minister by Dame Josephine Barnes. I should like to quote another paragraph from it: The Lane Committee reported in 1974 after nearly three years of thorough investigation and found that the Abortion Act has proved its value in relieving human suffering. We agree with the findings of this carefully researched report which has never been fully debated in Parliament. That is a fair point.

Mr. James Dempsey (Coatbridge and Airdrie)

After the first year of operation of the abortion law, the number of abortions in Scotland, England and Wales was 53,000, but the figures which I obtained this morning from the Library reveal 106,000 abortions—and they include abortions only up to September last year in Scotland—showing that, since the introduction of the abortion law, the number of abortions in England, Wales and Scotland has doubled.

Mr. Steel

That is true, but what matters is the trend of the abortion figures. Naturally, in the first year of operation of the new legislation the figures were relatively low. Few of the charitable services had got started. The National Health Service was not geared to dealing with the new law. The medical techniques used in abortions have been greatly simplified and improved since the early years. However, in the past two or three years the figures have been coming down, and that should be noted.

The right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) fairly said that the Select Committee, under his controlled chairmanship, particularly in its first sitting, confined its activities to those matters on which those of us who were members of the Select Committee, how- ever different might be our fundamental views, could agree about improving the administration of the Act. Our report was valuable because it was unanimous. We made recommendations which, within a matter of weeks, were accepted by the then Secretary of State for Social Services and they were implemented. It is fair for the right hon. Gentleman to claim that the work of the Select Committee helped to draw attention to the recommendations of the Lane Committee and to prod the Department into action. A couple of years ago we got the improvements which, I believe, have led to a greatly improved administration of the Abortion Act.

I hope that, if we are to be given examples—which we have not yet—of current abuses of the Act, or allegations of abuses of the Act, they will be taken from the past two years. I do not know whether hon. Members heard the radio phone-in programme this morning, but the old stories were trotted out about examples of which we all know and condemn of several years ago as being reasons for supporting the Bill. The administration of the Act, particularly after the taking of the latest steps outlined by the Minister a few minutes ago on pregnancy advice centres and referral agencies, has greatly improved.

One of the useful results of the work of the Select Committee was that Parliament, through the Select Committee, was able to review the recommendations of the Lane Committee. However, the letter sent to the Prime Minister highlighted the chief point of maladministration of the Abortion Act, namely, the regional variation in abortions in the National Health Service. I am told that of the people who obtained abortion in the Birmingham area only 13 per cent. are able to do so under the National Health Service, whereas in the Newcastle area 95 per cent. of abortions are carried out under the National Health Service. Those are the regional extremes, but a variation of from 13 per cent. to 95 per cent. is quite extraordinary.

I should have thought that that was one of the main issues on which we should be pressing the Department. It is one of the problems which the Bill in no way touches and yet it is highlighted in the letter sent to the Prime Minister. There are plenty of examples of abuse of the Abortion Act, in medical and financial terms, over the past three or four years. There has been widespread concern among hon. Members, whether supporters or opponents of the 1967 Act. In particular, we have been concerned about the inflow of foreign patients, to the great lucrative benefit of a small number of members of the medical profession.

However, the picture has changed, and the House should note the publication of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, which shows that, since we legislated in 1967, 33 States have introduced new abortion laws and most of them are more liberal than our 1967 law. Many of them, particularly the more recent statutes of other countries, permit abortion not only after examination by two doctors, as under our law, but at the request of women. There is a campaign to alter the law in that direction in this country.

The result of the change of the law elsewhere, particularly on the Continent, and the tightening of the administration of our Act has been a dramatic fall in the number of patients coming to this country. According to the figures for last year, the number of foreign patients who had abortions in this country was down 50 per cent. on the 1975 figure. No matter how one may play with the statistics, one cannot pretend that this has anything to do with the fall in the birth rate among foreign women in this country. There has been a dramatic fall in the number of abortions.

My attitude to the Bill is this: several of the clauses in the Bill could individually be quite easily defended. Many of them contain measures which could be taken by the Department without the need for legislation, either by way of administrative guidance or by regulation. What worries me is not the effect of each of the proposals but the effect of the Bill as a whole. The Secretary of State, in his letter to me, was right to claim that the Bill would throw the abortion law into fresh confusion just at the time when the administration of the law was settling down in the way that Parliament originally intended.

That is the burden of the case against the Bill. Moreover, as it will cause legislative confusion, it will cause delay in the administration of abortions in the health service. One of the good results is that in the past 10 years the number of abortions carried out late in pregnancies has been in decline. The majority are now carried out after less than 12 weeks of pregnancy, and fewer than 1 per cent. of the pregnancies are over 20 weeks.

I dare say that other hon. Members have, like myself, been besieged in advance of the Bill, by letters and leaflets on this subject. The two organisations which are campaigning to get their members to write to Members of Parliament asking them to support the Bill stand for the total repeal of the 1967 Act. Their objective is to stop abortion, and they make no bones about it. They are entitled to their view, and I make no complaint about it. But let us not pretend that the purpose of the Bill is to tidy up the administration of the Act. The purpose of the steam behind the Bill is to stop abortion.

If we decide, as we decided in 1967, that we want a civilised and reasonable abortion law within which it will be possible to terminate pregnancy, we should stand by that attitude and reject an attempt to interfere with the Act in such a fundamental way.

I beg to oppose the Bill.

12.59 p.m.

Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

In supporting the Bill, I should like at the outset to make two remarks. First, as a member of the Select Committee, I endorse every word that the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) said in his excellent and utterly convincing speech. He clearly made the case for legislation. Secondly, I should like to make my own position plain, especially in the light of the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel).

Some people wish to alter the 1967 Act in order to make abortion freely available on request. The hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) does not disguise that fact, and she is entitled to her opinion. There are others who wish to make abortion more difficult. Some argue that it is the woman's right to choose, irrespective of the effect upon the infant in the womb. Others take the view that any abortion is a wanton destruction of an unborn child.

I do not hold with these extreme views and nor did Parliament when it enacted the 1967 Act. I do not seek any alteration in the criteria for lawful abortion, nor does the Bill. The Select Committee made plain that this was a matter to be left to the conscience of individual hon. Members.

In general, I agree with the Lane Committee that the 1967 Act has done much to reduce the toll of suffering, ill health and premature death that prevailed under the previous confused state of the law, but it would be a great mistake to believe that the scandal of illegal abortion has ceased under the Act. I concede, too, that it is most unfortunate for those who support the Act that its introduction has not been accompanied by the development of comprehensive facilities within the National Health Service all over the country, with the result that even where the criteria have been satisfied, it has not always been possible for a woman to obtain a lawful abortion.

The inevitable result has been the development of a large and flourishing sector in which, because the motivation was not care of the woman but the making of profit, the "social" clause has been interpreted so freely as to constitute abortion on demand. However, the 1967 Act did not provide statutory control over nursing homes and clinics in the private sector. It has been prodded in that direction only by the House, by the Bill of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White) and the recommendations of the Select Committee.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the Select Committee found that the vast majority of women who sought advice in the private sector had abortions. It was 98 per cent. in the case of at least one major referral agency.

Nor was it surprising that there developed a large and lucrative traffic in abortions for foreign women and that large fortunes were made by unscrupulous operators. The hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) and I predicted in 1967 that, despite the good intentions of Parliament and the noble protestations of the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles, the Act would lead to grave abuse—and it has. The grave public disquiet which resulted led inevitably to the appointment of the Lane Committee.

Sir G. Sinclair

I think that my hon. Friend would wish to make clear that when he speaks of the private sector and the profit motivation throughout it, he would wish to except the charitable groups who are not concerned with profit.

Sir B. Braine

Emphatically not. They are better regulated, but they are the means through which large numbers of doctors are making large fortunes.

Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)


Sir B. Braine

The evidence was given to the Select Committee. If the hon. Lady has not read it, I shall not assist her now.

In considering the Bill, it is important for the House to remember that such was the dilatoriness of the Government that the Lane Report was never debated. That caused the hon. Member for Pollok to introduce his controversial Bill and led subsequently to a concerned and anxious House setting up the Select Committee.

The Minister spelled out a list of administrative actions taken by his Department on bureaux and counselling. It is important for us to remember that virtually no action was taken by the Department to remove the known abuses, condemned by the Lane Committee and by public opinion, until after the Select Committee had made its nine interim recommendations to deal with the appalling and disgusting situation in the private sector. That is the answer to those who argue that the Bill, which seeks to do no more than implement the main recommendations of the Select Committee, is not necessary and that it is safe to leave these matters to the Department. After the Minister's appalling speech, it is clear that it is totally unsafe to leave such matters to the Department and that the House must speak today in a very clear voice.

I respect the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles enormously and I know exactly where he stands on this issue. He challenged us to refer to abuses that have taken place in the past two years. I accept. Let me go to the heart of the matter because no one has referred to it so far.

When the right hon. Gentleman introduced his Bill in 1966 he said that it was not intended to leave a wide open door for abortion on request. Eight years later, the Lane Committee recognised that, contrary to the right hon. Gentleman's intentions, abortion on request was being practised. The Committee's Report said: The criteria for abortion as expressed in the Act are imprecise and can be widely interpreted and that: some practitioners interpret the Act to mean that … termination is possible in every case". What flowed from that imprecision? Strongly associated with the practice of abortion on request has been the prospect of financial gain for those authorising and performing abortions. The financial and vested interests which developed after 1967 included the referral agencies that receive fees, the doctors who perform private sector abortions and the investors with an interest in private clinics. The concern which such vested interests have aroused is caused not simply because profiteering in this area is distasteful but because they have led directly to a blatant disregard for the intentions of Parliament and those of the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles when he introduced his Bill in 1966.

Mrs. Jeger

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that rich women have always had abortion on request and that some of us care about poor women?

Sir B. Braine

I agree that the present arrangements discriminate against the poor. That is wrong, immoral and something that the House should not put up with.

Ms. Colquhoun

Will the hon. Gentleman explain why he is so against profits being made out of abortions when he supports profits in virtually every other matter that comes before the House?

Sir B. Braine

I am pleased to do so. Abortion is not like any other medical procedure. It involves two lives, one of which, of necessity, must be destroyed. That is why it is not a matter which should be the subject of profit making.

It is not surprising that the Lane Committee, in the same paragraph in which it observed that A small number of doctors … have used the Act to make large sums of money pointed out that In some parts of the commercial private sector the provisions of the Act have been flouted and abortion on request has been the rule. I submit that this association of the profit motive with the authorising of abortions outside the spirit of the law is a scandal and that the House should recognise it as such.

My hon. Friend's Bill provides that two doctors authorising an abortion should not be in private practice together or share a mutual financial interest in the same nursing home or agency. That is a perfectly proper provision. The Bill enables the DHSS to license feecharging pregnancy advising bureaux and it would prohibit the granting of a licence to any bureau which has financial connections with a private abortion clinic. These proposals should help to reduce the monetary incentives that exist to approve abortions outside the spirit of the law. Indeed, the general feeling of the Select Committee was that if it were possible for the resources to be made available the whole matter of abortion should be taken out of the hands of the private sector and dealt with within the National Health Service.

It should go without saying that a woman who is facing the agonising decision whether to seek an abortion is entitled to unbiased medical advice of the highest quality. Such advice would have to take into account the interrelation of a number of factors—her age, her previous obstetric history, the duration of pregnancy, her physical and mental health, the availability of skilled help and supporting services, and the risks of termination both long-term and medium-term.

The Select Committee heard evidence that shows that abortion is not as simple as some people believe. Indeed, there is mounting evidence that the effect of an abortion on safe child-bearing later should be researched more deeply. The reluctance of the Department to pay any attention to that or to give it any encouragement caused us concern.

Dr. M. S. Miller (East Kilbride) rose

Sir B. Braine

I am talking about the period of the Select Committee after the hon. Member for East Kilbride (Dr. Miller) had left it.

Dr. M. S. Miller

Can the hon. Member give the House one scrap of reliable medical evidence that there exist problems after an abortion which might not have existed in any case?

Sir B. Braine

It is not for me to read the Select Committee's Report to the House. It has been available for some time. I advise the hon. Member for East Kilbride to examine what we were told. I shall not go into the details now.

Dr. Vaughan

There are a number of relevant papers, for example a paper in the British Medical Journal by John A. Richardson and Geoffrey Dixon which says that there are twice as many deformed children born as a result of a previous abortion and a very high incidence of premature deliveries and miscarriages following abortions.

Sir B. Braine

I was aware of that. I did not wish to underline the stupidity of the intervention by the hon. Member for East Kilbride who is a member of the medical profession and yet walked out of the Select Committee. The hon. Member should have seen what was said in evidence. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, South (Dr. Vaughan) for bringing such information to the attention of the House.

In the interests of good medical practice the Bill also requires that doctors carrying out abortions must notify the woman's general practitioner of the abortion, provided that her consent has been obtained. The Lane Committee said on this point: We have received a number of complaints from general practitioners upon whose patients abortions have been performed without the customary notification to them. We have no desire to encourage in doctors an attitude of possessiveness towards their patients but we consider that those who perform abortions without making every effort to obtain a patient's consent to her general practitioner being informed may be failing in their duty towards her. We regard this as being of great importance because of the need for counselling and after-care. The Lane Committee also pointed out that after an abortion medical after-care may well be needed for conditions such as anaemia, chest infections and episodes of thrombo-embolism; that gynaecological care might be needed to avoid the sepsis which can lead to sterility; that contraceptive care is needed for most women after an abortion; and that considerable time may be needed to ensure an adequate discussion of suitable methods.

The Committee also said that common psychological reactions include guilt feelings and varying degrees of anxiety and depression; and that patients need the opportunity to discuss their reactions and feelings, which may be intense, and that is done ideally in general practice with a doctor whom they know. Clearly a statutory requirement of notification of a woman's general practitioner should help to ensure the availability of these important elements in medical after-care.

The problem of late abortions has caused as much public concern as any other aspect of the abortion controversy. A healthy child born of a healthy mother and given intensive care from birth now has a reasonable chance of living even if it is born a few weeks before the 28th week of pregnancy.

The 20-week limit which, with some qualifications, is proposed in the Bill, would accord much more closely with current medical knowledge and opinion than the present 28-week limit. I refer not only to domestic medical opinion, on which the Select Committee took advice, but also to that of international bodies. Seven years ago the International Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecology recommended that abortion—which implies that life cannot be maintained in the foetus after expulsion from its mother—should be restricted to termination before 20 weeks. In a report published in 1975 a World Health Organisation Scientific Group concluded that infants delivered from the 22nd week onwards have a "survival potential".

I understand that there is often considerable difficulty in calculating gestational age with accuracy and, as the Lane Report observed, many women seeking abortion claim that their pregnancy is at an earlier stage than it is in fact. I suggest that the risk of mistakes in the calculation is a strong argument in itself for bringing forward the upper time limit as the Bill proposes.

In any event it is generally agreed that the risks of an abortion to the mother increase substantially after the first three months of pregnancy. That is reflected in the experience of other countries with long experience of therapeutic abortion—many of which have earlier time limits than we do, particularly for abortions that are carried out for social reasons.

There is another reason why the 1967 Act cannot go unamended. The Act includes a conscience clause. Yet the harsh fact is that from the outset the problems of medical and nursing staff with conscientious objections to abortion have continued unabated. The Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology said in their evidence to the Lane Committee that there was "a very real need" for an inquiry into how far junior doctors are under duress when they engage in operations to terminate pregnancy. Commenting on the fear of such junior doctors that distaste or conscientious objection might prejudice the advancement of their careers, the Royal College said: Their fear is amply justified. Indeed, the Select Committee received numerous complaints and allegations of discrimination, especially about fully-qualified doctors being debarred from appointments.

The nursing profession has also been adversely affected. The Lane Report commented that the Abortion Act had brought unhappiness to many nurses in the National Health Service. The Committee found that trained staff had resigned from their posts because of the Act. It found that many nurses were loath to opt out partly through reluctance to place an extra workload on colleagues and partly through fear that adverse comments might be made in their personal records which would affect their promotion prospects.

The evidence that the Select Committee heard from nursing organisations convinced us that non-Catholic nurses with conscientious objection to abortion faced particular difficulties since in many hospitals the so-called conscience clause is in practice interpreted as allowing religious objections only. The Bill would amend the conscience clause and also delete the provision in the Act that In any legal proceedings the burden of proof of conscientious objection should rest on the person claiming to rely on it. That is only fair.

In conclusion, in my view the Bill would for the first time combat some of the worst abuses of the existing abortion law, would ensure that women receive proper medical advice before abortion and proper medical care afterwards, would give added protection both for the viable foetus and for conscientious objection in the healing professions, and would assist the Department of Health and Social Security and the police in enforcing the law in this very difficult area.

This debate should remind us once again that we are not talking about any ordinary surgical operation, such as the removal of tonsils, but about something that must inevitably involve two lives and the destruction of one of them.

It behoves us, therefore, to see that the shattering experience of abortion for a woman is not a source of profit for the unscrupulous and that it is preceded and followed by the best possible advice and care. For those reasons I shall support the Bill.

1.21 p.m.

Sir George Sinclair (Dorking)

Many of us would wish that women were more fully represented in this Chamber today than they are, because abortion is something which happens to them and they have stronger rights to speak on the subject than many men.

Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

Hear, hear.

Sir G. Sinclair

The sponsors of this restrictive Bill—no one will deny that it is restrictive—have been claiming that it is based strictly on the recommendations of the Select Committee that reported on 12th July last year. That is a false claim, but it will no doubt have misled many people all over the country into supporting the Bill and asking their Members of Parliament to vote for it today.

One important restriction that the Bill seeks to impose is in clause 1(1) (b). That is to make it illegal to terminate a pregnancy that has lasted for 24 weeks even if there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped". I regard that as completely inhumane, and it is not based on any recommendation made in the Select Committee report. I have the Chairman's confirmation, both orally and in writing, that this has gone completely beyond the recommendations in the report, yet it was on the ground that the Bill was based on that report that people were asked to write to their Members of Parliament and ask them to vote for the Bill.

The proposed restriction has not been based on the Select Committee's report. On the contrary, the Chairman has told me that it cuts right across the Committee's purpose in making its two major exceptions. This is not just a detail that can be regarded as a point for the Standing Committee, as my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) suggested. It is a clear indicator of the intention of the sponsors to restrict the basic grounds for abortion set out in the 1967 Act. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I hear cries of "No". This limitation to 24 weeks for a child that will be born severely handicapped is a basic restriction—

Sir Bernard Braine

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Sir G. Sinclair

No. My hon. Friend has made his speech, which was quite long, and he has had a chance to make his own points.

Sir Bernard Braine

Do not make misstatements.

Sir G. Sinclair

In the Bill the sponsors are asking the House of Commons to deny to women in need a basic relief which has been granted to them under the Act, that is, not to have to bear a child against their will if there is a serious risk that it would suffer from such physical and mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.

Another important restriction is contained in Clauses 6 and 7, which my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham has said are among the most important clauses in the Bill. I was listening to the spokesman of the charitable organisation British Pregnancy Advisory Service last night, Professor Lafitte. He said that the BPAS, the London PAS and the Brook Advisory Centres believe that these clauses would disrupt their services. Yet those organisations are charitable organisations that have no motivaton for gain themselves.

Mr. Fairbairn

As a director of Brook Advisory Centres I should like to confirm that the clauses would seriously disrupt the charitable work and medical work of terminating unintended pregnancies.

Sir G. Sinclair

I shall not dwell on the other restrictive features of the Bill, because many other hon. Members are seeking an opportunity to speak. However, when I come to deal with the private sector, I ask hon. Members to remember that it is the view of the chairman of BPAS that these measures in the Bill would greatly restrict and disrupt the operation of their services.

Mrs. Renée Short

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir G. Sinclair

No, I cannot give way any more. Others will not have an opportunity to speak if I do.

Indeed, the whole impact of the Bill would be to restrict and make more difficult the operation of the Act. That, I believe, is the purpose of the sponsors of the Bill, whatever they may say about curbing abuses. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham said that he did not rule out the possibility that in Committee other amendments going further than the Bill would be introduced. In that he discloses to us what he knows already.

I draw the attention of the House to a judgment expressed by the British Medical Association in a letter dated 22nd February this year, in which it says, Mr. William Benyon's Private Member's Bill to amend the 1967 Abortion Act is down for Second Reading on Friday 25th February. We have now had an opportunity to study the Bill and believe that legislation is not desirable at the present time to amend the Act. In our view, time should be allowed to assess the effects of the changes already introduced; further changes which might subsequently become desirable could best be effected by the more flexible system of administrative control. That is signed by the Secretary of the BMA.

I believe that a major thrust of the propaganda put out to support the Bill has been that it will remove abuses. I do not believe that further legislation is required for the removal of abuses. The Secretary of State has powers to impose by administrative measures any controls that may be required to curb abuses. He has recently reaffirmed this in a letter to the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel), and he has confirmed it today in his intervention in the debate.

However, the Department has in the past deserved sharp criticism. That is one of the points on which I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine). My own view is that after the 1967 Act Ministers of successive Governments were far too slow to curb abuses, many of them ante-dating the Act, and those abuses which were rightly disturbing public opinion, and for these failures I attacked them strongly in the Select Committee, because even then they had the powers of control that they needed. They admitted this. Their fault was that they were too slow in using that in the face of the problems, many of which were new.

First, I shall deal with controls in the private sector. The Secretary of State, in consultation with the private sector, has established a series of effective administrative controls. I believe that they will prove more effective and more flexible than the complex legislation which we are now asked to pass, although they will be less likely to interfere with the proper operation of the 1967 Act—which is a far more important consideration. I welcome the Secretary of State's statement on 10th February about this.

It was important that he should confer with the private sector, because since the 1967 Act the private sector has helped to carry out the purpose of the Act, and has provided well over half the services to which women in need are entitled and, indeed, the private sector has pioneered many of those services. Let us remember that it has been providing these services at a time when the National Health Service has been adjusting itself at a very uneven pace to provide those increased services which are part of its responsibility under the law.

Had it not been for the private sector, there would have been far greater strains on the National Health Service and there would have been resort, on a far more serious scale, to the back-street abortionist, especially in those geographical areas where the National Health Service consultants so restricted the abortion service that they drove women in need to seek help elsewhere. In short, the Bill seeks to impose a network of additional legal restrictions on the private sector at a time when the Secretary of State, after consultation with the medical profession, has concluded that these restrictions are not required. In support of that is the letter from the British Medical Association which I have quoted today.

Let us turn now to the public sector—the National Health Service. By far the most serious abuse of the Act, in my view and in the view of many people all over the country, is in the denial by the National Health Service consultants in certain areas of the service to which women in need are entitled by law. This is the abuse that any Select Committee concerned to help women should, as its top priority, have aimed to eliminate.

Sir Bernard Braine

We did.

Sir G. Sinclair

This is the abuse which the House should be considering today, not the petty restrictive measures which the Bill seeks to impose on the National Health Service, the private sector and, above all, on women in real and urgent need of help.

A great deal is made in the Bill of additional legal measures to protect those in the NHS with conscientious objections to performing abortions. Yet the Secretary of State, after consultation with the medical and other health professions, is able to say that the present safeguards for conscience are working satisfactorily. I know that this is contested, but the Minister has repeated it again and again. In some of the areas in which consultants have severely restricted the level of abortion services to as low as one third of that provided by the NHS in the rest of the country I wonder what freedom of conscience can be exercised by members of the junior medical staff who wish to carry out their responsibilities under the law and to provide women in need with the relief to which they have a right.

I am glad to see that the Select Committee, in a later slim report dated 22nd November 1976, has at least got round to describing the disparities in the NHS in these areas. I am sorry that the Chairman of the Select Committee is not now here, but I wish to pay him a generous tribute—I see that he has returned—as I come to this Second Report. It stated: Despite the improvements in some regions in the proportion of total abortions performed in the NHS, the regional disparities criticised by the Lane Committee largely persist. The Committee made an important recommendation that: The Secretaries of State should after full consultation, consider, by financing if necessary, the establishment, on a strictly experimental basis, of units in local hospitals where the availability of facilities is so inadequate, that women, who are entitled to have an abortion under the terms laid down by the Abortion Act 1967, either may not obtain it at all or may be compelled to pay for it. The establishment of any such units would be on an experimental basis only, would be provided with as adequate safeguards as could be devised and would be carefully monitored both with regard to their effectiveness and the efficacy of the safeguards. This recommendation needs no legislation. It could be put into practice by administrative measures, but, in certain areas, it will require additional finance and that, as we all know, is scarcer in the NHS perhaps than in any other social service.

This poses a real dilemma for the Government if they are to provide in the restrictive areas a level of abortion services comparable with that already available under the NHS in most other parts of the country. I think that the Minister responsible here today must be warned that this is a responsibility which must lead to action, otherwise there will be a very strong reaction if it is delayed.

The Government seem to have two courses open. First, they can immediately inquire into the working of the abortion service in NHS hospitals in those areas where levels of abortion services are conspicuously restricted, and they can ensure that there are adequate medical staff and facilities to bring those services up to the national average, without putting too great a strain on other gynaecological services. Any additional staff, especially in the light of this debate, would need to be carefully chosen for this purpose. Secondly, the Government can provide on an experimental basis the special units recommended by the Select Committee in its recent report.

One course—I ask the Minister to pay attention at this moment—which is not open to the Government is for them to do nothing and to allow this serious abuse to continue. I hope that the Minister will confirm that this is not his intention.

Until this major abuse is removed, I cannot see the justification for complicating the legislation governing con- scientious objection. If, as I believe, the Minister is right in claiming that this is now working satisfactorily, the need for change cannot be justified. I hope that the House will reject the Bill and that the Government will decide as soon as possible how best to tackle the abuse and the gross disparities in the level of abortion services of the NHS in various parts of the country. Then a great majority of women will believe that, in this matter at least, Parliament has listened to them and that the Government have got their priorities right.

1.29 p.m.

Mr. James White (Glasgow, Pollok)

I am happy to be able to give my support to the Bill. I shall not speak for long, because nearly all the points that I would have wanted to raise have already been made.

I question whether any fair-minded hon. Member would doubt the intentions of the members of the Select Committee. I am delighted that tribute has been paid to what we on the Select Committee achieved after some of its members walked out and left us. When they walked off the Committee, it was after we had taken part in a debate and in a vote in which they were overwhelmingly defeated. Their action was rather like that of the small boy who picks up his ball and goes off home.

I expect rather better from my Government than we heard today. Like the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon), I was totally shattered when I read that one of our Ministers had written to the Leader of the Liberal Party saying, before the Bill was even published, that there was no need for it. I am a simple type of laddie, but I have a clear memory of what happened a few years ago. That was when the Government offered me a deal. Edward Short, who at that time was Leader of the House, called my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) and myself in and said that the Government, too, were worried about how abortion was going and he offered us a Select Committee. I expect better from a Labour Government than for them to offer me a Select Committee if any report emanating from it is to be left on the shelves to gather dust as the report of the Lane Committee was. I believe that the Lane Committee did a good job, as the Select Committee did a first-class job.

In this debate we have heard much the same speeches as we heard two years ago. It was interesting how fast the then Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), moved on our first recommendations. I want the Report of the Select Committee to be adopted on the Floor of the House and the hon. Member for Buckingham has given us a golden opportunity to achieve this.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) referred to the evidence to which we listened in the Select Committee. I attended every meeting of the Select Committee. We sat for nearly 100 hours and had 43 sittings. We heard witnesses from the Salvation Army, the Church of Scotland, the Catholic Church and the Royal Colleges. The best evidence that we received undoubtedly came from the Royal College of Nursing.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East stands today like a modern Joan of Arc holding a wee bit of tube.

I quote from last January's Lancet: The fetal material was collected from the operating theatre as soon as possible after pregnancy had been terminated and was brought to the tissue bank on ice. Relevant clinical data were recorded. The following organs, amongst others, were identified: Upper limbs 74, Lower limbs 61, Lung 22, Liver 21, Eyeballs 11, Brain 8. and so on.

I do not agree with that sort of thing from medical science, but I suggest that it is not as simple as a half teaspoonful of some fluid. I claim that I am not totally anti-abortion. The right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) talked about outside agencies. I, too, have suffered from them. Some want no abortion. Some want abortion on demand.

I suggest that some hon. Members want abortion on demand. They should bring in a Bill aimed at securing that. The right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles stated categorically that that was not what he was after. I hope that he will give the Bill a good wind today.

1.33 p.m.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short)—I am sorry that she is no longer present—complained that the Select Committee was both truncated and unbalanced. I agree with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White) that members of the Select Committee appointed by the House who chose to chicken out can scarcely quarrel if the report which was published does not entirely reflect their own personal views.

The Select Committee on Abortion, like the Lane Committee before it, was set up, as a result of widespread unease about the working of the Abortion Act 1967 on all sides of the House and in the country at large. As the House well knows, the then Secretary of State accepted—we were grateful for this—some of the recommendations of the Committee's Third Special Report which could be implemented administratively—for example, making sure—it is incredible to relate that this should have been required in the first place—that a woman was actually examined by the doctor before he signed a certificate recommending an abortion.

The Lane Committee in paragraph 201 of its report had strongly condemned as wholly unethical what it described as the growing practice of giving a certificate without even seeing the patient. The regulations were accordingly altered to provide that a certificate should henceforth record both that an examination of the women had been carried out and that the opinion was related to the circumstances of her individual case and not to some statistical evidence.

The Secretary of State also accepted the Committee's recommendation that referral agencies and pregnancy advice bureaux which the Secretary of State considered to be satisfactory should be listed and that the approval of places for the purposes of Section 1 of the Abortion Act 1967 should be conditional on their non-acceptance of patients referred by unlisted agencies and bureaux. That, again, was a plus, but would this have come if we had not had the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok and a Select Committee? All along there has had to be this pushing of the Department before action has been taken.

But the licensing of such bureaux cannot be introduced except by a change in the law, and this we as a Select Committee believed to be absolutely essential.

Far and away the most important thing is to do away with the profiteering in abortion which takes place under the present law. As soon as my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) announced that he intended to bring in a Bill to amend the 1967 Act on lines recommended by the Select Committee, the powerful pro-abortion lobby swung into action. One group of doctors, calling themselves "Doctors for a Woman's Choice on Abortion", who should have known better, without waiting to see what the Bill would contain immediately formed a group to oppose it, on the grounds that it would, they believed, restrict which doctors may authorise an abortion, impose controls on charitable agencies, ensure that a woman's general practitioner is notified, and ban most abortions after 20 weeks.

Let us examine these points as they are treated in the Bill. The Bill does indeed seek to restrict which doctors may authorise an abortion. In Clause 2(1)(a) it provides that at least one of the two registered medical practitioners must be of at least five years' standing. What is wrong with that? Whatever the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East may say, do we really want the law to enable two young, inexperienced doctors fresh from training to take such vital decisions?

Clause 2 also provides that the two doctors should be completely independent of one another and that at least one of the two is not able to obtain financial benefit from the place where the abortion is performed. Again, what is wrong with that? No reputable doctor could reasonably object to this provision, and most would welcome the severing of the link between profit and abortion.

As the Lane Report puts it in paragraph 443— In consequence of the Abortion Act a situation has arisen in which a very small number of perhaps 20 or 30 members of the medical profession and those associated with them have brought considerable reproach upon this country, both a home and abroad. It is not we who mistrust doctors. It is the Lane Committee and ourselves who mistrust only a very small minority who are bringing the profession into disrepute. It is this that the Bill seeks to put right.

Secondly, control on "charitable" organisations. Dr. George Morris said on the radio on Monday morning that the Bill is designed to wreck charitable agencies. This just is not true. It is most interesting to note on this point the opinion of the Lane Committee.

It said that some bureau owners have attempted to obtain an appearance of respectability by registering their services as charitable. These people calling themselves "Doctors for a Woman's Choice on Abortion" can have little idea as to how these so-called charitable agencies operate. Some people seem to think that to attach the word charitable" to a pregnancy advisory bureau or referral agency makes it automatically altruistic and totally uninterested in cash. This is very far from being the case. It is true that technically they do not make a profit. They merely pay vast sums in salaries to their directors and administrators and surgeons, who put up the money in the first place. It is total hypocrisy to pretend that there is anything remotely charitable in the normally accepted sense of the word in the way they behave. Their counselling is normally confined to suggestions to their victims as to how to raise the cash to pay them.

Some advisory bureaux are, in fact, nothing more nor less than a funnel to channel women to abortion clinics under the same ownership and with the same personnel. As the Lane Report pointed out, it is necessary to check the abuses in relation to agencies and advisory bureaux.

There are, of course, many truly charitable organisations often attached to religious bodies whose sole aim is to help and counsel girls and women in distress. These would be in no way harmed by the provisions of the Bill. It is only the sharks that we are after.

As for ensuring that a woman's GP is notified, certainly Clause 3 of the Bill provides that the doctor terminating the pregnancy shall notify the woman's medical practitioner, but only after obtaining the woman's consent to do so. This is a perfectly sensible arrangement to ensure, as far as is possible, that the woman receives any post-operative treatment that may be required and that her doctor is fully in the picture and on the alert for any complications.

The Bill, in the all-important first clause, makes it unlawful to terminate a pregnancy after 20 weeks except in cases where the child would be seriously handicapped mentally or physically or the mother's health would be endangered. This clause may have to be clarified in Committee to draw a clear distinction between terminations to abort the baby, and therapeutic terminations where an early end to the pregnancy is essential not to destroy but to save the life of the baby and mother, as for example in the case of toxaemia. If I had not had a satisfactory therapeutic termination 30 years ago I would not have my twins now. Perhaps in Committee in Clause 1(c) we could insert the words "or baby" so that the clause reads (c) that the treatment is necessary either to save the life of the pregnant woman or baby, or to prevent grave injury to her physical or mental health. This is simply a tidying up operation that can be done in Committee.

In the last 10 years since the 1967 Act, there have been enormous strides in the medical techniques for saving the lives of premature babies, and foetuses which until recently were unviable can now be saved. The old upper limit, under the Infant Life Preservation Act, of 28 weeks has become unrealistic, and a lower limit of 20 weeks is vital.

I notice that the expert opinion of my hon. Friend the Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair) is at variance with that of the President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Sir John Peel. There are many emotive phrases used to press the case for still easier abortion but perhaps the most misleading is "a woman's right to choose". If one has no religious convictions in the matter it is, I suppose, permissible to say that a woman may do as she wishes with her body as far as sexual intercourse is concerned. That is a view with which I personally profoundly disagree but even if one accepts this view, once the woman becomes pregnant that sole right ceases and other rights are created, namely those of the child and the father, who is all too often left out of account altogether.

Nor has anything like enough research been done or publicity given to the resultant morbidity and the very serious psychological effect of an induced abortion. It is simply not true to say, as one abortion pamphlet says, that a teenage girl who has an illegitimate baby has nine-tenths of her life mapped out for her and that most of her options are closed. That may have been so 20 years ago, but it certainly is not so today.

It is still far from easy for a girl, or a widow for that matter, to bring up a child on her own, but if she cannot face this prospect there are hundreds of thousands of childless couples longing for the baby they cannot have who would give it a loving and secure home. Whereas there may well be unwanted pregnancies, there need never be an unwanted child.

People sometimes say "But what would you do if your daughter was in that situation?" Both my daughters are intelligent and university material and should have an interesting and demanding career ahead of them. But if either should find herself in this situation, I hope and believe that our whole family would close ranks and help her to go through with the pregnancy as many thousands of other families have done and will continue to do. But the least I would ask is that if she did decide in favour of an abortion, the decision would be hers and would not be in any way influenced by a pregnancy advisory agency or a doctor—and there are more than a few in our big cities—who had a financial motive in the matter.

These are some of the abuses of the 1967 Act which we seek to remedy and I hope that the House will support us in this attempt.

1.57 p.m.

Ms. Maureen Colquhoun (Northampton, North)

I feel a certain inferiority in following the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) because she acted as if she were involved in some attempt to get into the "Guinness Book of Records" for making a speech at the fastest speed.

We have heard from the Chairman of the Select Committee, who put forward the ludicrous proposition that there should be a permanent Select Committee on abortion. It would be much more appropriate for this House to have a permanent Select Committee on women's rights. We seem to be considering constantly anti-women measures, which preoccupy this male-dominated Chamber. Perhaps I should suggest to the Prime Minister that he appoint a woman Minister with Cabinet rank to guard the rights of women. Then perhaps we should not have the kind of legislation that is constantly cropping up in this House to prevent women from having the right of abortion.

I cannot understand why it is necessary to amend the 1967 Act in a way that will make it more restrictive to women. Why does not someone bring in a Bill to amend the 1967 Act by giving women the right to choose? That is the kind of legislation that we should be debating. If I get the opportunity for a Private Members' Bill, the woman's right to choose will be its subject.

I bitterly resent constantly being forced into the entrenched position of having to hold on to what we have got in the 1967 Act. As a woman and as one of the small minority of women Members, I protest about the legislation that is set out by men. We have had the fundamentally weak Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act, which have been of almost no significance to women when they get down to the nitty-gritty of having to use these laws, which have engendered a hardening attitude towards women. There are constant attempts to change the 1967 legislation in order to make it clear to women that their bodies are definitely not their own. They are the subject of laws to be made in this House, by and large, by the maleocracy. Whichever way one looks at it, the House of Commons is not a democracy but a maleocracy.

A very sad feature of the Bill is that two of its sponsors are women Members. I am glad to see that the Bill has no Labour Party woman as a sponsor. However, to see that two women have allowed their names to be so directly associated with such a fundamentally anti-woman Bill is a cause for concern, and I hope that women outside the House will note that fact.

The Bill now before the House is an anti-woman measure, as was the Bill introuduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White). If the 1967 Act were amended in the way the Bill seeks, women in the lower income groups would suffer far more than those who can afford, and always have been able to afford, a private abortion.

It is time that we said firmly and clearly to the do-gooders in this House—who invoke righteousness, justice, and sometimes even God on their side—that it is time that they accepted the fact that women, and only women, have the right to decide what is to happen to their bodies, and have the right to control them and their own lives. In an age of professional experts, usually men, it ill becomes hon. Members to believe that they can take away that right from women in the way that the Bill deliberately and wickedly seeks to do.

This debate, apart from the technicalities of the law in a House of Commons firmly dominated by male lawyers, should be partly about the need for men to accept the right for women to be people, too. One of the fundamental rights which this Bill will deny them is the right to decide on an abortion.

The House would do well to debate what can be done to help women and to ensure that they never again have to resort to back-street abortionists, or even attempts to abort themselves. This House should be insisting to the Labour Government, who are making enormous cuts in the National Health Service, that they must provide an adequate service through the NHS which carries out only about a third of present abortions. But, instead, the House debates this Bill, which seeks to downgrade women and to deprive them of their rights.

Most people would agree that it is time for free, safe and voluntary abortions for all women who want them to be carried out in properly equipped hospitals or clinics by humane and qualified people, including sympathetic and definite after-care counselling. Yet there is no clause in the Bill which even attempts to put in that kind of recommendation to help women. Instead, it seeks to set up a police State in respect of women, with powers for senior police officers to make checks on what are fundamentally private matters between a woman and her doctor.

Anybody who is seriously concerned about abortion should be anxious about the help that women need over abortions—the need to get over the sometimes dreadful depressions that can afflict women because of an abortion situation. If the do-gooders are the slightest bit interested in giving that help, they appear at present to be overlooking that aspect.

In efforts to change the abortion situation, one runs up against a great many vested interests. First, one has the would-be legislators, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Pollok, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), and now the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon). These are the people who refuse to see the need in human terms and who use their law-making power to make it difficult for women to obtain an abortion, and sometimes even claim they do not want to encourage "promiscuity", as it is called. Secondly, we have some members of the medical profession who find abortions tiresome, who feel threatened by the idea of abortion on request, and who use the law to maintain its power by giving the doctor, usually a man, the privilege of defining the legality of each case—and in private medicine that means charging high prices and making unjustifiable profits from abortions.

One of the myths used by anti-abortionists, and often used in debates in this House, is that abortion violates some age-old and God-given natural law. Yet until 100 years ago almost nobody—not even the Catholic Church—punished abortion in the early stages of pregnancy. The Greek city States and ancient Rome, the foundations of Western civilisation, made abortion the basis of a well-ordered population policy. Thus, in some way or another women have always been the victims of expedience, depriving them of their natural rights.

It was Christianity that infused the foetus with a soul, but during 18 centuries of debate the Church took the conveniently loose view that the foetus became animated by the rational soul, and abortion was therefore a serious crime—at 40 days after conception for a boy, and 80 days for a girl. No methods of sex determination were specified, but here is an early example of sex discrimination. English common law by the thirteenth century settled into a fairly tolerant acceptance of an abortion up until quickening—the unspecific moment, usually in the fifth month, when the women feels the foetus move.

In the United States for a long time the common law inherited from England protected the rights of abortion in early pregnancy. Suddenly in the nineteenth century things tightened up. In 1869 Pope Pius IX eliminated the distinction between an animated and non-animated foetus, and since then the Catholic Church has called all abortion murder and punished it severely. Anti-abortion laws were first passed in Britain in 1803 and became stricter through the century.

There were three main reasons why abortion suddenly became a crime. The first was a decent reason. Abortion until recently was a dangerous operation: crude methods, antiseptics scarce, dirty hospitals. It was in part the mid-nineteenth century wave of humanitarianism that pressed for abortion laws to protect women from the dangers of having an abortion. I would remind those who support this Bill that those reasons do not exist today.

The second motive was less laudable. Biologists in the nineteenth century began to understand conception and women began to practise more effective contraception. Catholic countries, such as France, began "losing" the then population race, and the Church wanted to keep its mothers in the running. So the Church itself turned to biology and used the idea that "life", and therefore soul-infused life, began at fertilisation. This reasoning also spread to England and America. At that time English and American industries needed workers—we did not have the unemployment we have today—the huge farmable territories of the New World needed farmers, and the American Civil War depleted America's labour crop. Abortion laws saw to it that woman took her place outside the other machines of a developing economy.

In Britain we broke away finally from these cruel ideas in 1967. Pressure to do so came from the general public, national medical associations and distinguished doctors, as well as those hon. Members who were fundamentally humanitarian and progressive. Yet today we have this Bill, which represents a threat to millions of women, particularly to millions of working women.

There are no perfect laws to deal with abortion, no tidy situations in such a human condition. How easy it would be if that were the case! How easy it would be if every set of problems could be put through a super computer and the perfect answer provided! If that were the case, there would be no need for Members of Parliament. With abortion we have to balance one sad situation against another, and endeavour, by applying our experience and knowledge, to do what is best.

Women and only women should be supported in the abortion situation—not the unborn. I believe that the Amendment Bill of the hon. Member for Pollok has held up women's right to choose for at least a couple of decades. This Bill seeks to strengthen that situation. As women Members of Parliament we are constantly placed in the situation of having to hold on to what we have got in the 1967 Act, which is now out-dated, rather than making proper progress with women's rights.

It is proper for Christian groups to seek to persuade women that abortion is wrong and to point out that it has mental and medical dangers. The views of such people are sincerely held. I do not doubt that. But it must be said that some of the propaganda from the anti-abortion organisations such as SPUC, some of the things that are said by its supporters in this House, are not only terrifying but, frankly, untrue. They are interested not in rational argument, in women's condition, or in women's rights. Their mind is made up and they use any dreadful propaganda to terrify, but hardly any which might inform.

One of the things which strikes me, as a feminist, is that for all their self-righteous talk of morality there is not one word of sympathy for women from these organisations. Billions of words have been coming out of the printing machines but not one has said that this is a woman's right. There is no woman Member of this House who is pro-abortion. Women are the givers of life. To women abortion is a terrible thing. But sometimes a woman has to make that terrible choice, and I say that that choice should be hers alone.

Those who feel that abortion is wrong in all circumstances are entitled to continue to try to persuade women to accept their views. But they should not expect to use this House and the laws of this land in an anti-woman way. But that is the object of this Bill.

The Bill is bitterly resented by women outside this House, by the TUC, the Labour Party Conference, the Labour Women's Advisory Committtee and, perhaps more importantly, by the women's groupings and progressive pressure groups that would not touch party politics with a barge pole. After listening to abortion debates in this House, it is not difficult to understand why there are not more women Members of Parliament. I hope that women listening to the debate will think it worth while to go through party politics to join us in this House, because when it comes to the vote at 4 o'clock today I fear that there will not be sufficient women to ensure that this dreadful Bill is stopped.

Abortion concerns only women, not men. That is the message of my speech. One of the most fatuous remarks on this issue was uttered in a previous abortion debate by a male Member of Parliament who said that it was no more necessary for a committee on abortion to be comprised entirely of women than it was for the Finance Bill to be considered only by chartered accountants. However, it is possible for anyone to acquire a knowledge of accountancy. It is still impossible for a man, even a Member of Parliament, to have a baby.

This Bill attacks women's abortion rights. I hope that the hon. Member for Buckingham and his hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) and Lancaster who have, with others, produced this Bill will withdraw it. That would be the decent and civilised thing to do.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman


Ms. Colquhoun

I hope that the Labour Government will recognise that they are attacking women's rights on abortion by the cut-backs in the social services. I am certain that as a result of the Government's plans to effect cutbacks in the hospitals the first departments to be closed will be those offering abortion facilities.

In 1977 women are entitled to decide for themselves what to do with their own bodies. They are entitled to decide what to do when struggling with an existing family, when facing a shot-gun marriage with no love in it, what to do as a 16year-old girl faced with the prospect of being involved in a single-parent family when a mere child, what to do about the quality of life of an unwanted child. This is a woman's right alone. What should be done about this Bill is that it should be denied a Second Reading. I hope that the House will agree.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I feel that I must say that I strongly deprecate hon. Members giving the assurance that they will speak for only five minutes and then speaking for 22 minutes.

2.7 p.m.

Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Kinross and West Perthshire)

I shall honour my word to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I might be even briefer than promised. I declare my interest in that I am a director of Brook Advisory Centres Ltd. and I was a founder member of the Brook Clinic in Edinburgh, of which I am currently honourary president.

I went through the faculty of medicine before arts and law and I saw in those three experiences the effects of unintended conception. I saw the effects of abortions and the circumstances in which they had to be carried out. I saw the effect of crime on those who were forced to have more children than they could emotionally, rationally or financially cope with, and I saw the effects on those who had married, not always because they wanted to, but because they happened to have an unintended conception.

I do not care whether abortion is considered right or wrong in or out of marriage. The problem is as big in marriage as it is outside it. It is probably more in the interests of the stability of marriage that that should be recognised. It is natural for men and women to make love. The process which results in a conception is regarded as a natural part of marriage if not a natural part of it outside of marriage. It is also natural for people to make mistakes, however good the precautions are.

The question then arises whether it is wrong to correct those mistakes. No woman wants, and probably no man wants, an unintended conception. We have to accept that there are those who take the view, as a matter of doctrine, that abortion in any circumstances is wrong, just as Christian Scientists take the view, I understand, that surgery in any circumstances is wrong.

While they are entitled to have their view and may accept it as an article of faith to which they adhere, nevertheless I do not believe that they have the right to force that doctrine on anyone else, or to claim that they are taking a higher moral stance than anyone else. I object to those who say—and I regret that they often say it puritanically—"You enjoyed the act, and this is your punishment for indulging in it". That is part of the thinking behind the Bill, and I reject it.

I object to those who will not face the moral responsibility in saying to someone "So you are pregnant—it serves you right. Now go and deal with it." No one wants an unintended conception, but many women have the misfortune to have one.

The matter is surrounded with emotion, and there is no better way of demonstrating it, I believe, than this. The law in Scotland before the 1967 Act was the common law, which covered all medical acts. A doctor could perform an abortion just as he could take out a tooth or an appendix, if he thought that it was medically right to operate. That was the law of Scotland, and not one person of any faith ever complained that the law was wrong.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Fairbairn

The law was altered, as the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) is confirming, only when the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) came first in the list for Private Member's Bills at a time when the law in England desperately needed to be changed. He had just won his seat at a by-election, and it would have looked absurd for a Scottish Liberal Member to be amending the law of England only. But nobody of any faith objected to the law as it stood at that time in Scotland, which enabled the civilised, ethical and sensible work of Professor Sir Dugald Baird to be carried on in Aberdeen.

It was because the 1967 Act frustrated a sensible and civilised law that I was first moved to set up birth control clinics to try to prevent unintended conception and also to see what could be done for those people who inevitably got themselves into a situation that they never wanted. Anyone who says that these people should never have had intercourse in the first place is taking a thoroughly unrealistic, unpleasant and impossible stance.

I regret this Bill for various reasons, first, because it does grave damage to the trust of the medical profession. What is a person in my constituency to do, and what will doctors who normally ask their partners for a second opinion do, when under the Bill this will be forbidden? What will happen in a town with only one practice, or in those places where there is only one doctor? Even worse, what will happen in a town that has two practices? People will say to parents "I saw your daughter in the surgery of Dr. So-and-So, but I thought she was with Dr. So-and-So. What was she doing there?"

The pressures on a pregnant girl are appalling. The Bill is thoroughly immoral, irresponsible and unthoughtout, as anyone who has ever had anything to do with these problems would agree. The Bill envisages that a policeman should be able to look at files if he applies to a Crown court judge. I find this offensive.

Anyone who seeks to amend the law should find out what the present law is. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) does not know what the law is in Scotland, because in Scotland we do not have Crown courts. It is very dangerous, when people are trying to change the law and are taking a moral stance that they do not know the law that they are trying to change.

The Bill offends many of the principles in which I believe. It will increase bureaucracy and State interference in private lives. It will frustrate the intended medical benefits and make it more diffi- cult for a girl to get an abortion quickly. The Bill pretends that it does not want abortions to be carried out at a later stage than they are at present, but it makes it inevitable that abortions will be done later or not at all.

Lastly, I think that there is, dressed up in a pretence of doing right, an attempt to try to make it impossible to terminate unintended conceptions. I cannot believe in all morality that it is wrong to terminate unintended conceptions. A Bill that makes it more difficult, more expensive, or impossible to do so will create a major misery.

2.26 p.m.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)

The hon. and learned Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn) has made one of the most powerful speeches of the debate, if not the most powerful, because he knew what he was talking about. I deeply deplore the terms in which the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) spoke because he has clearly neither done his homework nor based the Bill on the evidence in front of him.

We should all understand that whatever we do in the House women will still obtain abortions. It does not matter one hoot what we do. They have always obtained them in the past. It has been easier for richer women to get abortions than for poorer women. That was the basis of the Abortion Law Reform Society, which came into existence precisely because the law as it then stood was a law for the rich. It benefited the rich, and poor women had to go to the back streets to undergo all kinds of bloody surgery at the hands of butchers. The 1967 Act was primarily due to pressure from the Abortion Law Reform Society. The right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles, (Mr. Steel) had the advantage that the Government gave time in the House, for without that on his side that Bill would never have become an Act.

The 1967 Act has been on the statute book for 10 years, but it is premature for the House to say either that it has failed or to claim that the abuses which undoubtedly occurred after the Act was passed have not been removed. There are probably still some abuses taking place, primarily in the private sector. We hear a lot from Conservative Members about the merits of the private sector in cases of all kinds, but on the question of abortion, where life and death are concerned, the medical profesion are making profits out of women's bodies. The hon. Member for Buckingham seeks to pretend that the Bill is out to curb the abuses, but it is doing nothing of the kind.

There are one or two points which I wish to make, but I promise to make a short speech and I shall try to stick to our agreement. I do not think that sufficient emphasis has been put on the letter sent to the Prime Minister by 1,200 doctors, which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short). The importance of that letter is incalculable, not only because of the merit of those who signed it but because of its content. This is what is said: Women would be more likely to seek abortion illegally, commercially or even abroad if the Bill became law.

That is the view of these most eminent gynaecologists and experts in the matter, writing to the Prime Minister. They do not put their names lightly to any letter containing such words. They went on to say—I take this from the report in The Times—that The Bill ignored the main issue and sought merely to increase bureaucratic devices for further restricting access to legal and safe abortion. The implementation of 'this unnecessary Bill' would result in the very reverse of what its supposed supporters claimed for it. It would also infringe civil liberties by allowing police access to confidential medical records. I ask the House to note that. Leading spokesmen of the Tory Party, including Lord Hailsham and the Leader of the Opposition herself, are going about the country saying that personal liberty is at stake under this Government. What about Clause 9 of the Bill? For the first time in our history, I believe, it infringes one of the most sacred of our individual liberties, the right of confidentiality between patient and personal doctor.

The police are to have access to medical records, even on suspicion. Merely even if they have a suspicion, they must have access to the records. How Tory Members can put their names to that sort of provision and then go about the country saying that liberty is at stake under this wicked Labour Government, I do not know. If they wish to adhere to that sort of principle, they had better keep quiet about such things.

I said earlier that rich women have always been able to get abortions. There are people at the highest levels in our land who have access to abortion clinics and have used them. Let no one say, therefore, that this Bill is anything but a class measure designed to penalise ordinary working people, and especially women. For that reason, I hope that all my right hon. and hon. Friends will understand what they are about and will go into the Lobby against it.

2.31 p.m.

Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

In most cases, the arguments about a Bill end when it has completed its passage through Parliament and become an Act. The Abortion Act 1967 has been an exception. Far from ending, the argument has swelled until all parts of the country have seen protests, meetings, rallies and marches involving not hundreds but thousands and thousands of people. There have been debates on television, and there have been articles in newspapers and magazines.

The argument goes on, and there is no doubt that it will not stop until Parliament passes a Bill to amend the 1967 Act. Indeed, it may not stop even then, for that will depend on the content of the amending Act. However, I have no doubt that the pressure outside this place must eventually result in an Act amending the one which the House passed in 1967.

It is not surprising that the argument continues, for we are here dealing with the most basic issue of all—life and death. I strongly repudiate the suggestion that the Bill is either a class measure or a measure introduced because we have some feeling that a girl who has an unplanned pregnancy must be forced to go through with it as some sort of punishment. Not one of us supports the Bill for such reasons. It deals with a matter of life and death. The question is whether one human being has the right to get rid of another simply because that other human being is inconvenient.

I was not a member of the Select Committee, but I have read its reports extremely carefully. In support of what I have just said, the Committee heard evidence of one case where an abortion was sought for no other reason than that the girl who sought it felt that her wedding dress would be too tight if she was not allowed the abortion. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That is in the Committee's report. There was another instance of a mother who wanted her child to start a cookery class and therefore wished her to have an abortion so that she could do so. I myself know of a case where a girl sought an abortion simply because she wanted to play in the local tennis club tournament. [Interruption.] I am sorry if there are hon. Members who do not wish to hear the truth in this matter, and it surprises me that there should be such shrill objection to what is plainly a matter of conscience. I say to the House that it is not sufficient reason to get rid of a child that one simply finds its presence inconvenient.

In company with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White), who introduced the first amending Bill, I do not believe that abortion is wrong in every circumstance. There are some circumstances in which it is permissible. But I do not think it right to seek an abortion because the coming child is inconvenient.

Of course, women have rights. But so do children, even when they are unborn children. We have heard a great deal today about the principle of a woman having a right over her own body. That is fine with me, but she has not a right over anybody else's. Moreover, she has every right not to have a child. I maintain that if she does not want a child she should adopt contraceptive measures.

Mrs. Renée Short

Women do, but the methods are not perfect.

Mrs. Knight

I recently visited an abortion clinic and spoke to each of the 32 women there. I put the same question to each of them: "What form of contraception were you following when you became pregnant?" I cannot believe that there would be support in the House for what the answer showed, for every one of those 32 women told me that she was not following any contraception measures when she became pregnant! It is impossible to support a state of affairs in which abortion is merely another type of contraception.

As I have said, women have their rights. They have the right also to be warned of the possible dangers of abortion. It was said earlier in the debate that there is no documented evidence showing that abortion can be harmful. In fact, there is plenty of documented evidence. I have quite a bit of it here. I refer, for example, to the first report of the British Perinatal Mortality Survey, an entirely reputable survey—

Mrs. Renée Short

Who wrote it?

Mrs. Knight

These are the important words: Any patient who has a previous history of an abortion should be regarded as a risk patient and invariably booked for hospital delivery under consultant care. That is clear enough. Time and again, it has been proved that there is a strong connection between abortion and subsequent pregnancies producing handicapped children. Surely, there can be no more stupid blindness than the blindness which will not recognise the facts and does not even want to inquire into them.

Mrs. Jeger

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Knight

No, I shall not give way. It has been proved also that abortion induces sterility. There are many cases of women who seek an abortion at one stage but wish to have a child at another. They have every right to be told that, if they have an abortion at one stage, it may render them sterile. It certainly increases the incidence of ectopic pregnancy. There is no doubt about that. It has been proved also that a woman is more likely to miscarry if she has had an abortion.

All these things are on record. A woman facing an abortion operation has the right to be told that it is not necessarily a simple "no account" operation, yet in present circumstances she has no such right. [Interruption.] Hon. Members can make as much noise as they like. I will be heard on this matter.

I have not yet touched on the mental anguish which may result from abortion. But this also can be very real. Of course, I do not say that all women who have an abortion will have mental anguish afterwards. Obviously, if a pregnant girl is of rather tough fibre and she says that she is not too worried about the abortion, she will not be harmed by it—or, indeed, by having the child. But the sensitive woman or girl for whom producing an illegitimate child is a truly terrifying thing is the very one who will be most harmed in thinking about it afterwards by the knowledge of what she has done to her child. These are facts. The legislation should allow for a woman who is making up her mind about an abortion to be warned about the risks that exist.

I turn to the Third Report from the Select Committee. It recommended that counselling should be adopted, but I do not see anything about counselling in the Bill. I do not doubt there is great need for professional counselling. There are several bodies who do this voluntarily and they give hope to girls who want to know the alternatives. There is one particular organisation, Lifeline, which has professional, paid counsellors and which exerts no pressure whatsoever. It simply exists to tell the girls, "If you are making up your mind about whether or not you should have an abortion, here is what can be done to help you, here is the possible help with money, accommodation, baby clothes and so on". Such professional counsellors are there to help. We care very deeply about a woman who has a pregnancy that she finds inconvenient. This particular organisation, as I well know, is most anxious to help. The service is free. Already 150 girls a week go to Lifeline either from GPs or sometimes because an advertisement has caught their eye, or sometimes they are referred by social or medical social workers or BPAs or the Brook Advisory Service. These organisations send the girls because they recognise that help should be available.

Mrs. Renée Short

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Knight

No. I am anxious to conclude my remarks as quickly as I can.

There ought to be a body or bodies to which girls can go to get such advice from people who have no possible financial advantage in either encouraging them to have an abortion or encouraging them not to. The advice should be there.

I now want to turn to Clause 1 of the Bill, particularly the point about the time limit. It is entirely wrong that children—and I speak the word "children" advisedly—who can move and breathe and cry should be disposed of after late abortions.

A nurse came to me who had originally never had any objection to abortion. Her job was to dispose of, to get rid of, indeed, to kill, children who had been aborted. She had done this over a long period of time but it suddenly made her think when she had in the premature baby unit of her hospital a six-month gestation baby. She, with the other nurses, was working and helping and trying to bring on the child. Anyone who has spoken to a nurse caring for a premature baby would know that the love for that child is clear in her face. Her job is in trying to save that child. This nurse told me that the child involved, a little boy called Paul, would pull through. At the same time as he was in the incubator she had to deal with an aborted child of six-months' gestation period who looked very much like the child she was trying to save.

She came to me and asked "How can I do everything in my professional competence to save one child at the same time as I am destroying another, for no better reason than that the mother of one child does not want it and that the mother of the other one does?" She could not bring herself to continue in nursing in those circumstances, and who could blame her?

It is all very well for the Secretary of State to say we need not worry, that only 1 per cent. of babies are late abortions. He did say that. It is in his letter and it has been quoted.

Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)

There is no close season on lies in the House. My hon. Friend did not say that.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)


Mrs. Knight

The suggestion is certainly implicit that it is only 1 per cent. and that Parliament ought not to concern itself about that. But 1 per cent. is a thousand babies a year. Good God, if we had 1,000 babies drowned. burned or anything else the whole country would be up in arms. It is not good enough to say that because only a small proportion of children are involved that does not matter.

Mr. Moyle

It was 1 per cent. between the ages of 20 weeks and 24 weeks.

Mrs. Knight

In that case, I take it that there are even more before 24 weeks and 28 weeks.

Mr. Moyle

What I said is that one-fifth of 1 per cent. of abortions take place after 24 weeks.

Mrs. Knight

I take the Minister's point but however many it is, 1 per cent. or ½ per cent. or whatever, we are talking about 1,000 babies. I am shocked to think that there may be some hon. Members of the House who do not care about what happens to 1,000 babies. I do. It is significant that the intention of the Bill to save these babies is entirely without support in some parts of the House.

My final point deals with Clause 5. In Committee I tried to move an amendment on the conscience clause because I was worried about it, as I well might have been. What worries me more than a little—with the greatest respect for my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon)—is that the new conscience clause does not precisely get over my concern about what is happening.

What the conscience clause in the original Bill says is: No person shall be under any duty to participate in any treatment authorised by this Act to which he has a conscientious objection. It is right to draw the attention of the House to the fact that that does not stop authorities from failing to appoint doctors who have conscientious objections. I turn briefly to the first Report from the Select Committee. The evidence there was absolutely overwhelming that people had been denied jobs in gynaecology because of their consciences. The report contains a letter from a doctor who says: I am a Catholic, aged 33, and a medical practitioner with five years post-graduate training in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, and a member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Recently, I have applied for Registrar appointments at three University Teaching Hospitals and have been unsuccess ful. At each interview I have been asked my views on the Abortion Law and have stated my conscientious objection to abortion on demand. At my last appearance before an Appointments Board I was directly asked if my coscientious objection was due to religious conviction. After the interview was over I was recalled by a member of the Committee, himself a Catholic and told that although I was the most senior and well qualified of the group shortlisted I was told that I was not given the job as I was a Catholic. It was considered that to give me the job would be doing me a long term disservice and I was directly told that 'there is now no place for a Catholic Obstetrician or Gynaecologist in the United Kingdom'". That is a terrifying thing.

Mr. Flannery

Who said it?

Mrs. Knight

Hon. Members must read the Select Committee Report on 29th March 1976. If hon. Members are too lazy to read up on what has been said before the debate I am sorry for them. I was not. The doctor goes on: I have personal knowledge of at least six similar cases in which highly trained and well qualified doctors have been forced to leave the United Kingdom because they are Catholics.… I am extremely angry and frustrated …I fully understand and respect those who believe the Abortion Law to be right but I have always thought, perhaps naïvely, that Britain respected all shades of opinion. There is another letter which is from a Shropshire doctor about a practising obstetrician and a non-Catholic telling him: it is impossible for a Catholic to become a gynaecologist in the NHS at present. That is truly alarming.

There have been other instances. A doctor from Dublin who applied for an NHS post in Oxford was not even short listed, although he was an outstanding candidate, a gold-medallist. It turned out that there were on the appointing board two people who would in no circumstances appoint a doctor who would not do abortions. In fact, that doctor was not a Catholic, but there was a down on him from the outset because he came from Dublin. He was not asked whether he was a Catholic, but because he came from Dublin he was not to be given the job. He was not a Catholic.

Anyone who reads the Select Committee Report will see that nurses have similarly been in great difficulty. One witness was directly asked by the Chairman whether there was a danger that men and women of the highest calibre, possessed of the best possible instincts, desirous of entering the healing profession in order to save life, may be deterred from practising gynaecology or obstetrics in these conditions? Is there a danger of that? The answer was: I am sure this is the case. That is a terrible thing to have to read. If people from Kampala, New York or elsewhere were denied jobs because of their place of origin, there would be an outcry, just as there would be an outcry if others were denied jobs because of their convictions. But in this one respect it is supposed to be all right.

I trust that the Bill will be passed. I offer my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham best wishes for its success.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have the difficult problem that 22 hon. Members still want to catch my eye, and the debate ends at four o'clock.

2.51 p.m.

Mr. Robin Hodgson (Walsall, North)

I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) on being lucky enough to secure a high place in the Ballot. I also congratulate him on the cool and dispassionate way in which he covered a topic which arouses strong emotions and feelings from both points of view.

But my congratulations must end there, because I find myself in very nearly fundamental disagreement with the purpose of the Bill and the way in which it is framed. I was not a member of the Select Committee, nor was I a Member of the House when the earlier debates took place. Therefore, my contribution is more concerned with the practical implications of the legislation in the country at large and in the West Midlands in particular.

We have heard today that the Bill will restrict the availability of abortions on three grounds; first, by changing the wording of the provision on eligibility for abortion; secondly, by shortening the period during which abortions may take place; thirdly, by restricting the terms concerning the approvals required from doctors before an abortion can legally be performed.

No doubt the sponsors had worthy and worthwhile motives for introducing the Bill. Certainly, there have been unattractive features of abortion in this country since 1967–the touting for custom at Heathrow Airport, the standards of medical care in certain clinics, the need for an effective conscience clause for doctors and nurses, and above all, the need for pregnant women to receive unbiased and even-handed counselling. But most of those reasons are either of historic interest, because they have already been tackled, or they are being tackled. The Minister of State referred to at least two.

It seems to me that supporters of the Bill have forgotten the extreme difficulty with which women obtain abortions in the National Health Service in some parts of the country, even under the present legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair) referred to this. The Birmingham area, for part of which I have the honour to sit, is notorious in this respect. With only 13 per cent. of total abortions in the NHS, Birmingham has one of the lowest proportions of any area in the country. I wonder why.

My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) referred to the moral suasion for people to participate in abortion activities. I have no doubt that in the Birmingham area the reverse is true. There are a few senior gynaecologists there, led, I regret to say, by the professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at one of the leading teaching hospitals in the area, who are strongly opposed to abortion on any grounds.

Their leader is on record as saying that if a woman is going to have a complicated, difficult pregnancy, he will make a bed available for nine months. It is not for me to quarrel with the good professor's medical views, but his nine months are only the first part of childbearing. There is the birth, and the difficulty of child-rearing. For the first 16 to 20 years of the child's life the mother has to keep the child, often in inadequate housing and financial conditions. The good professor has entirely failed to see the major problem.

Mr. Nick Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

I am concerned about this point, coming as I do from the same part of the West Midlands. Is there any practice by which those doctors who will not participate in any part of the abortion procedure on moral or religious grounds preface their advice to women by saying that they give their advice from that moral standpoint, and advise the women that they may go elsewhere to obtain advice from a different moral standpoint?

Mr. Hodgson

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, but I am rather twixt the devil and the deep blue sea. The Chair wants me to hurry and my hon. Friend is asking me to explain something. Certainly, there is a code of practice, but my point is that young doctors participating in abortion activities find that their careers are being blighted. One of them said that it was not a good thing in the Birmingham area to be seen to be in favour of abortions, because the word goes round and a career is damaged. That is a great shame.

I have already mentioned the low proportion of abortions on the NHS in the Birmingham area, but Birmingham is by no means the worst area. Other areas have the following figures: Sandwell, 12.4 per cent.; Walsall, 11.6 per cent.; Wolverhampton, 9.2 per cent.; Dudley, 7.5 per cent. I have talked to many doctors in the metropolitan borough of Walsall before today's debate, and they say that there is no point in sending a pregnant woman to an NHS hospital for an abortion unless she fulfils one of two criteria. One is that she is under 16 and the other is that she suffers from a chronic illness, such as heart disease or tuberculosis.

Therefore, she must go to the Birmingham Pregnancy Advisory Service, which costs £60. For many women in my constituency that is a great deal of money to find, especially in the short period during which an abortion can be performed. It is true that the BPAS has done a great deal to provide finance for women who have difficulty raising the money required. If the activities of the BPAS are restricted and smothered by new legislation and restrictions, many women in the West Midlands area will be unable to obtain the abortions they earnestly require.

I turn now to the question of post-abortion mental disturbance, which has been very much stressed by the proponents of the Bill. In the current issue of the British Medical Journal there is an article about the incidence of post-abortion psychosis. The study covered 21 consultant psychiatrists in the West Midlands and 1⅓ million people and lasted for 15 months. The incidence of post-abortion psychosis was 0.3 per 1,000 legal abortions. The incidence of puerperal psychosis, which, I understand, is postnatal depression, was 1.7 per 1,000 deliveries. In other words, nearly six times as many women suffer from postnatal depression as suffer from depression after abortion. That was a thorough study which I shall not go into in detail. It covered many people and many psychiatrists.

Therefore, the two main premises advanced for the Bill are not founded in the West Midlands. It is not easy for women to obtain abortions, and the view that women suffer psychologically from abortion is disproved by the fact that women suffer more from childbirth than they do from legalised abortion.

I conclude by referring to two matters which have been mentioned by other speakers. The first is the question of freedom of choice. The woman's position is absolutely critical. She suffers the strain of childbirth and takes prime responsibility for rearing the child. Therefore, her rights and requirements must be taken into account in framing legislation.

Mrs. Knight

What about contraception?

Mr. Hodgson

I am dealing with women who are pregnant. Why they are pregnant does not concern me. There is no point in saying that it is a pity that they became pregnant. They are pregnant, and we must deal with that fact. It is no good saying that we wish they were not pregnant. They are pregnant, and they will go on getting pregnant.

I wish to quote from a letter that I received from the Walsall Area Health Authority in reply to my request concerning the waiting list for abortions. The letter states: There is of course no real waiting list for abortions. These have to be carried out as early as possible in pregnancy and if the abortion is not immediately available in the Walsall area some of these patients will go to wherever the service is available, if they can make the necessary arrangements and find finances, or just have the unwanted baby. If women have to traipse the country or go to Europe for abortions, or bring into the world an unwanted, unloved, uncared for child, that is a sad reflection on us. That is why I shall vote against the Bill.

3.2 p.m.

Miss Jo Richardson (Barking)

The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Hodgson), in an excellent speech said that it was sad that some women, unable to obtain termination of a pregnancy because of the area in which they lived, should have an unwanted baby. I absolutely agree with him. But it is desperately sad that it should be necessary to have this debate at all. Perhaps the most saddening feature of my three years as a Member of the House is that we have had to have three unwanted debates on abortion—unwanted because any abuses have been or are being cleared up by the Department, and the abuses which still exist concern the lack of facilities and geographical spread of those facilities in the National Health Service.

It is terrifying that we should be considering a Bill which does nothing but restrict the right of women to an abortion under the Abortion Act 1967 and at a time when more than 30 other countries are relaxing their abortion laws, going much further than we are even considering going, with the exception of one or two countries in Eastern Europe which are taking retrograde steps. I should have thought that the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) would have felt a little uneasy about welcoming that sort of action by countries which the Opposition normally call illiberal. I would deplore any further illiberality, not only in other respects, but in respect of abortion.

I shall take only a few minutes because so many other hon. Members wish to speak. In this debate and the discussion that preceded it in the country it has been alleged by those who support the Bill that many women get pregnant and have abortions for frivolous reasons. I beg the House to believe that this is not so. I am sure that no woman would deliberately get pregnant on the basis that she could get an abortion quickly.

We have heard the tales of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) who, unfortunately, is no longer here, and the frivolous stories that she said she has heard. I believe that they are frivolous. If the hon. Lady is to be believed and there is a young woman who wants an abortion simply so that she can continue to play tennis, she will no doubt come from a class or area where she can get that abortion, whether it is immediately available or not. The people whom we are seeking to protect are those who need early, safe and legal abortions, as far as possible under the NHS.

I am deeply saddened that the Bill has been brought forward at all. It is a forbidding Bill in the most literal sense of the word and is littered with words such as "punishment", "offence", "guilt", "refuse", "fines" and "convictions". The word "fines" is mentioned 20 times in the eight pages of the 13-clause Bill. It is a forbidding Bill and that is how those of us who want to protect the 1967 Act see it.

The clause which requires a woman to obtain the consent of two doctors from different practices will be most restrictive for many women. London, Birmingham and the great conurbations have been mentioned, but imagine a woman living in a village where there may be only one doctor or a small group practice. If she does not have a sympathetic GP, she will have to go to a second doctor and suffer all the embarrassment and emotional upheaval of explaining again—and this time to a stranger—what has happened and what she wants. The woman will also face the possibility of her family finding out, if they do not know, and her friends knowing what has happened. The clause can do nothing but deter women from seeking abortions when they are needed.

The other particularly dangerous provision is in Clause 9. It is incredible that this House, the so-called bastion of democracy, should be even thinking of giving power to the police to investigate records, take away doctors' files and break that confidential link which has always existed between doctor and patient and which we should jealously preserve. It is monstrous, not only because women and doctors are involved but from the point of view of civil liberties.

When we hear in this country and in others about police interference, we are up in arms about it, but we are now actually considering introducing some kind of law whereby the police may go into clinics and National Health Service hospitals. The Bill is unclear on that point, because it contains so many negatives and double negatives. If the Bill is enacted with this clause the whole tradition of confidentiality between doctor and patient will come to nought. I appeal to the House to throw out the Bill. It is ill-considered and ill-drawn. It is a bad Bill.

I appeal especially to my hon. Friends to remember that a large number of bodies within the Labour movement are on record as wishing to preserve the 1967 Act. The Trade Union Congress, the annual conference of the Labour Party, the annual conference of Labour women, the National Women's Advisory Committee and a large number of individual unions have expressed that wish. The Labour movement will be bitterly disappointed if we vote to support a Bill of this kind which seeks to take away from women the rights that they have now had for 10 years and which the supporters of the 1967 Act wish to see preserved.

3.11 p.m.

Dr. Gerard Vaughan (Reading, South)

I have followed the debate with care. Although I am speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, I give no party line. The issue is a House of Commons matter and I speak only for myself.

It is clear from the debate that the House is still deeply divided on this issue, but today we are not discussing the merits of legal abortion. We decided in favour of legal abortion by passing the 1967 Act. It is important to bear that in mind. Today we are discussing a Bill which is aimed at tightening up the abuses which some people believe to exist under the Abortion Act. I confess to the House, perhaps because of my background as a doctor, that I am always conscious that, however legally justified and however much we may wrap it up in words, we are, of course, discussing the taking of human life.

I vividly recall an eminent gynaecologist saying to me "It is all very well for you to fill in the forms"—and I have had to fill in abortion forms in my time—"but I actually have to do the job." In Shaw's "St. Joan" the prosecutor said how much easier it was to sign a form for execution if one was not the person who had to do the execution itself. But that is not the main point of today's debate.

There is no doubt that there are still very serious abuses of the Act, that there is far too much commercial gain and far too much exploitation of women for private motivation at a time of great anxiety. That is totally wrong. I suggest that there is widespread and genuine disquiet about that in the country. I have had a larger post on this one issue than on any other issue that I can think of in recent years. I am sure that we all want to see these abuses stopped.

The crucial question is whether the Bill could substantially reduce those abuses, without—and this is most important—harming the main intentions of the Abortion Act by making legal abortion more difficult and pushing abortion back into the back streets again. That is the question and the great dilemma before us.

Mr. Tom Litterick (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

If the hon. Gentleman is not opposed to abortion, is he saying that he is opposed to profit-making? It seems that he is putting a very strange interpretation on this relationship, so perhaps he would make it a little clearer to the House. Is he not opposed to abortion, or is it profit-making to which he is opposed? If it is the latter, he is a very strange Tory, indeed.

Dr. Vaughan

The hon. Gentleman has come very late into the debate. Obviously, he has not heard the earlier speeches from both sides of the House. It is the abuses about which we are worried.

I make my own position quite clear. I believe that the Bill could reduce the abuses. The Government have been very seriously at fault in not letting us debate this issue before now. They gave a very firm undertaking at the time of the Select Committee report that we should be given an opportunity to debate it fully. We have been given no such opportunity. The Government cannot now complain, as the Minister seemed to imply earlier, if a Bill is brought forward about which they are unhappy. It was quite wrong for the Government, right at the last minute, before the Bill came to us today, suddenly to say they will pop in regulations which they assure us will do the job of the Bill, and regulations about licensing—which most of us want to see—and the advisory bureaux, which they say will do the job for us. That was quite wrong.

I was very disappointed when the Minister was unable to tell us of any real steps to ensure proper and equal distribution of provision right acoss the country. Also, I am very dubious about the quality of the counselling that is now being given. In my experience, for many girls there is no proper counselling, either before an abortion or afterwards. That is very serious indeed.

Dr. M. S. Miller

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern and the way in which he is trying to make a balance. I first declare an interest. I am a family planning consultant. I assure the hon. Gentleman that very adequate and good counselling is given in every respect in this very emotional and emotive field. However, does the hon. Gentleman accept that if the Bill, were it to be enacted, did not restrict the availability of abortion, the sponsors would not have introduced it? The object of the Bill is to restrict abortion, and the sponsors would not have introduced it otherwise.

Dr. Vaughan

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. As I saw it, the object of the Bill was to stop the abuses. That is what I think the House would want to look at. If the Bill will not stop the abuses, we should not give it a Second Reading. But if it will stop the abuses, we should give it a Second Reading. One way of looking at the matter and the implications of the Bill would be to allow it to go into Standing Committee.

Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham and Heston)

It is a dishonest Bill.

Dr. Vaughan

The House would be very unwise not to give the Bill a Second Reading. However, I must be absolutely clear that personally I would not be prepared to vote for the Bill as it stands on Third Reading. Some very major changes would have to be made before I would vote for the Third Reading.

In view of the time and as many hon. Members wish to speak, I shall not go into all the detail of where the Bill may be faulty.

Mr. Russell Kerr

It is an each-way bet.

Dr. Vaughan

However, I am worried about the 20 weeks' provision. Looking across the European scene, I find it rather strange that every country that has an abortion law—apart from West Germany, where it is 22 weeks—has elected to go for 12 weeks, with very strict regulations after that. This is a subject that I would want to look into in Committee.

I think we should pay much more attention—I referred to this in an earlier intervention —to the after effects of abortion. There are some very disquieting figures for miscarriages and deformities of children in subsequent pregnancies. This is something which the Committee could look at.

Mrs. Jeger

How old are the women and how many pregnancies are involved?

Dr. Vaughan

I am also uneasy about the limit of 24 weeks, because by the time the investigation can be done to show a deformed foetus, we shall be running close to the 24 weeks. This is a matter which can be looked at and discussed in Committee. It was not recommended by the Select Committee.

I do not think that the Minister gave us a satisfactory answer when I asked him whether he really felt that administrative changes or regulations would be as effective as legislation. This, again, is something we would want to look into.

I feel uneasy about Clause 9 which many of us have discussed today. I understand why the British Medical Association has taken the view that it has, but I would suggest to the House that it does not have quite the same perception of the whole problem as we have here. In this respect I think that the BMA is mistaken and wrong. On balance I feel that we should have a full and proper examination of this subject in Committee.

Ms. Colquhoun


Dr. Vaughan

I think that we should have a proper debate on this subject and I believe that the House would be most unwise to reject the Bill today.

3.22 p.m.

Mr. Stanley Cohen (Leeds, South-East)

Without wishing to indulge in the technicalities of the debate, I must congratulate the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) who introduced this Bill.

Mr. Ogden

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. With respect to my hon. Friend, whose interest in the Bill is known throughout the House, I have not seen him in the Chamber very much today, although many of my hon. Friends have been in the Chamber for a very long time.

Mrs. Renée Short

He has been here all day.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The selection of speakers is entirely within the discretion of the Chair.

Mr. Ogden

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I ask you to give some indication how the Chair is selecting the speakers in this debate?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

This is not a matter which is normally dealt with at all, but I can assure the House that the hon. member for Leeds, South-East (Mr. Cohen) has been here a great deal during the day.

Mr. Cohen

I am obliged to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall not reply to my hon. Friend's comments because I have been here throughout the debate or, at least, for most of it.

I am concerned not about technicalities but about the situation which I think most of us as Members face. Most of us have received a degree of correspondence, referred to in previous speeches, which is in excess of that we normally expect to receive on any issue or subject. We have to take account of that fact and I accept that we have to take our consciences into account. I hope that those who are strongly opposed to the Bill will also accept my right to be very much in favour of it. I hope that they will consider this.

I read recently in a weekly paper published in this country—I shall not mention its name—how 2,000 people attended a national rally in support of the Abortion Act as it stands and in opposition to this Bill. This should be borne in mind. I spoke at a rally in Bradford which not 1,000 but 41,000 people attended to express their opposi- tion to the present legislation as it stands. That was one of five rallies held simultaneously. One does not need to be a mathematical genius to calculate that five such rallies would represent about 200,000 people who are opposed to the present legislation. Therefore, the ratio is 100 to 1 against the 2,000 who attended a rally in support of it.

Dr. M. S. Miller

If my hon. Friend is trying to draw conclusions from that, will he say how it is that those figures are not translated into national opinion polls, which continue to show that 70 per cent. of the people and almost 70 per cent. of doctors are in favour of the present Act?

Mr. Cohen

My hon. Friend as a politician should realise how unreliable in many respects national opinion polls are—[Interruption.] Hon. Members can shout at me if they wish. They have made their speeches and I hope that they will do me the courtesy of listening to what I have to say, as I listened to what they said.

Mr. William Hamilton

My hon. Friend has not been here all that time. I know he has not.

Mr. Cohen

I also hope that people will take into account the views that have been expressed. I may not agree with the Bill in totality because it does not go as far as I would like it to go, but at least most people who have spoken in opposition to the Bill have said that they regard the existing legislation as inadequate and subject to abuse. If we are to try to deal with the abuses, we must at least have the opportunity of considering these matters in detail in Standing Committee, where it may well be that the Bill will be amended so that some of the abuses can be dealt with.

For example, most people would accept that the present provision that an abortion can be carried out provided that the pregnancy has lasted for less than 28 weeks allows too long a pregnancy. There are also the commercial abuses which we should seek to deal with. If we reject or delay this Bill as we delayed the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White), and if we allow the situation to continue and decide to accept the present legislation without change, it will be totally wrong. Even though the Bill may emerge from a Standing Committee in a totally different form, I hope that we shall at least make the changes that most of us regard as important.

For that reason, if for no other reason, I hope that the House as a whole will support the Bill and enable it to go to Standing Committee. The Leader of the Liberal Party would be the first to admit that the present legislation has its shortcomings.

Mr. Flannery

When my hon. Friend was not in the Chamber, my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) read out a list of every major medical organisation in the country which agrees with the present legislation and is against the Bill. Will my hon. Friend please take that into account when he plays the numbers game?

Mr. Cohen

I am not playing the numbers game. I will not join my hon. Friend in playing it or even in referring to it. Members of CoHSE and of other unions involved in nursing and other branches of medical care in my area are concerned about the present legislation and would like to see changes made along the lines that the Bill suggests.

There is a strong inference that the only people concerned about abortion are Roman Catholics. Although I am a Catholic I am able to say that the inference is not true. I have today received a letter from the Anglican Bishop of Truro who is chairman of the Church of England Board of Social Responsibility. Several people on that organisation expressed support for the Bill. It is not only Catholics who support it. The amending Bill was moved originally by my hon. Fiend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok, and he is not a Catholic, and it was supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), who is not a Catholic. Another amending Bill was introduced by the hon. Member for Surrey, North-West (Mr. Grylls), who is not a Catholic. That dispels any suggestion that the only people who are concerned about abortion are Catholics.

Those who are concerned about abortion are concerned about life. A number of people who will support abortion at the same time oppose capital punishment. We are concerned about life, and life is important whether it is at the end or at the beginning. If we can introduce any amendment to the existing legislation that permits us to consider the very important question of life, I shall support it and I hope that hon. Members on both sides will do so as well.

3.33 p.m.

Mr. David James (Dorset, North)

I am happy to follow the hon. Member for Leeds, South-East (Mr. Cohen) in supporting the Bill. We have all received a welter of statements about the Bill and many of us have been listening to speeches on it for the past 4½ hours. But to the best of my knowledge it was not until my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) spoke, followed by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Dr. Vaughan) and the hon. Member for Leeds, South-East, that anyone mentioned moral matters as opposed to purely practical considerations.

To the vast majority of Christians and Jews in this country abortion equals the taking of an innocent life, and taking an innocent life is murder. This should be spelled out clearly. To follow that analogy there are such things as self-defence, when the mother's condition is such that she cannot have the baby without risk to her own life, manslaughter, when the foetus is likely to be deformed, and even diminished responsibility. However, I refuse to believe that these reasons cover 1 million abortions over the last 10 years, 90 per cent. of which have been for so-called psychological reasons. I do not wish to impugn the motives of the opponents of the Bill, but I will quote from the February 1977 publication of "Christian Order"; When Professor Jerome Lejeune was being cross-examined by the Royal Commission he said, amongst other things, that, while attending a Paris Press Conference where Catholics, Protestants, Humanists and people of other Beliefs put forward their views; "All of them said what they wanted to say (about abortion) and there was one woman who was a chief of the campaign in France … She said bluntly, 'We are fighting to destroy Judaeo-Christian society and civilization. To destroy it we have to destroy the family, we have to destroy its weakest point, and the weakest point of a family is the unborn child. Hence we are for abortion'." I wish—[HON. MEMBERS: "Come off it."] I do not care whether hon. Members opposite like it or not. That is something that was said to the Royal Commission and it is something that affects a lot of people.

It has been cogently argued by hon. Ladies opposite that women should be masters of their own fates and captains of their own bodies—

Ms Colquhoun


Mr. James

Mistresses then. But I put it to the House that if that had always been accepted as legal doctrine it is doubtful whether any of us would be sitting here today.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I call Mr. Abse.

3.35 p.m.

Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)

We have had a debate in which, as one would expect—

Mr. Ogden

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We have been urged to limit our speeches to five minutes. Is the next speech to be regarded as the winding-up speech, or will there be an opportunity for any of the other 19 Members who still have not contributed to this debate to have an opportunity to do so?

Mr. Flannery

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I can deal with only one point of order at a time. The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) is well aware that I have no control over the amount of time taken by any speaker. I have already indicated that I face great problems in this debate. I have asked for assistance. In some cases I have received it and in others I have not.

Mr. Flannery

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We have heard three contributions, one after the other, advancing the same view. It seems reasonable that we should hear one contribution from this side of the House with a different view from those three speakers.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman noted the fact that I called two Members from the Opposition Benches, one for the Bill and one against it. That was why I was not able to satisfy the request that was made to me earlier in the debate.

Mr. Ogden

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You sought to guide hon. Members into making speeches of five minutes, and I appreciate your difficulties. I am asking whether it is fair in those circumstances to allocate 25 minutes to another speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I have allocated nothing. I have merely called Mr. Abse.

Dr. McDonald

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Some of us have been in the Chamber almost continuously since 11 o'clock this morning in the hope of speaking in this debate. Will you please encourage hon. Members to keep their speeches as brief as possible so as to allow other hon. Members who have waited a long time to make their contributions?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am sure that the hon. Lady half an hour ago heard me say that 22 hon. Members still wished to speak.

Mr. Abse

I have been waiting 10 years for this Bill. Although it would be desirable to hear as many contributors as possible, we must appreciate that the House of Commons moves within a certain framework.

I am not surprised that there is such a clamour to speak on this Bill, which necessarily has aroused, as do all measures on the subject of abortion, a great deal of emotion, since it deals with matters of life and death. I am not surprised, as one is seeking to reconcile the predicament of the woman who is in grave trouble and under great pressure with the wish to preserve the sanctity of life. In endeavouring to resolve such conflicts, inevitably there are bound to be a variety of opinions as to how the conclusion can be reached.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, South (Dr. Vaughan) for bringing the House back to the details of the Bill. It is clear that if, on the one hand, we insist that we wish to have abortion on request and, on the other hand, seek to have the abortion only if the mother's life is in danger, we see a total confrontation between the two sections of opinion. We live in a plural society in which we must take account of both views, but we have to seek legislation—which means that we must reach a consensus as best we can on a matter in which nobody can be fully satisfied.

It is important that we look at this Bill to see whether we can assauge that large section of public opinion that is clearly fiercely opposed to the way the existing Act is operating without trespassing upon the fundamental principles within the 1967 Act. I would rather look at the Bill and see how it attempts to meet that need, and to reach that possible consensus.

The first clause is the test clause, because it says explicitly that late abortions, as late as 20 weeks, should not take place. Is anyone prepared to say that he finds it satisfactory that each year 1,000 unborn children who are capable of living outside the womb—I do not like to use the word "viable"—are slain?

A Session or so ago a Bill of which I was a co-sponsor took the necessary action to ensure that an unborn child which received injuries as a consequence of the negligence of someone was protected. The House was ready to mobilise itself to deal with the problem of thalidomide children, of children who suffered within the womb. Yet it can be extraordinarily complacent when those selfsame children are to be killed. That is not a tenable position. It is not good in moral terms and it is not good for the women concerned.

The Select Committee had abundant evidence telling it of the seriousness of these late abortions. We had abundant evidence from Sir John Peel, President of the Royal College, all of it stressing that there should be a limitation upon the late abortion. There is no civilised country in the world that permits an abortion to take place at 28 weeks. If we are trying to still the abortion controversy and to meet the demands of those who empathise with the unborn child, it is sheer folly to be so inflammatory as to say that the figure is only 1 per cent., as the Minister did. It represents 1,000 children.

The clause attempts to deal with the position revealed by the evidence which the Select Committee took, which made it clear that there was a need for some elasticity to deal with those cases where, until the pregnancy had lasted for 22 weeks or so, it might not be possible accurately to diagnose whether the child had suffered a deformity or disability.

I say to hon. Members whose opinions I respect and who try to say this is a class matter that the children who are being killed belong to every class. They are not exclusive to the wealthy or the poor. For me a child is a child whether he is born in a palace or a manger.

Dr. McDonald

When we say that it is a class matter we are referring to two things. First, it is working-class women who will find it far more difficult to get abortions and who will suffer most if this Bill becomes law. Secondly, if the same working-class women are forced into having back street abortions, it is those future working-class children who will still suffer the consequences of that kind of back-street butchery.

Mr. Abse

I am not encouraged to give way when the interventions deal with basic matters of opinion on different sides of the argument, when we are trying to focus attention on the way to end the existing tension within our society.

Mrs. McDonald rose

Mr. Abse

I shall not give way to the hon. Lady. The question that must be answered and that cannot be avoided is whether hon. Members who believe in abortion on request—never mind the 1967 Act—believe that we should continue to have these late abortions and that 1,000 children a year should be slain. This cannot be dealt with by administrative action. It requires a change in the law. The only way to do it is to have something similar to the provision of the main clause of the Bill.

Mrs. Helene Hayman (Welwyn and Hatfield) rose

Mr. Abse

I shall not give way again. It has been a long debate and I have some ground to cover.

Mrs. Hayman rose

Mr. Abse

My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mrs. Hayman) was on the Committee but she forfeited her opportunity—[Interruption]—to continue on it by resigning.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The House is doing itself no credit by the disorder that is going on.

Mr. Abse

On Clause 2 we should consider whether the doctors authorising an abortion should have been registered for five years or more. To repeat my question, do those who believe in abortion on request believe that it should be a considered decision? Do they believe that the decision should be taken in a cavalier way, or should thought be given to the matter from the very beginning?

In the 1967 Act this decision, affecting life or death, was believed by the House to be one that should be adjudicated upon not by one doctor but by two. Now, faced as we are—and as the Select Committee has been—with the representations that came from the Royal College of Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Pathologists proposing that one of the doctors certifying the abortion should have been registered for not less than five years, should we, as laymen, refuse to accept the views of those who have to take these fateful decisions, whose organisations have importuned us in this way?

It astonishes me that some hon. Members do not agree that if there is a genuine desire to assist women in difficulty at least she should have the benefit of proper advice. This advice should be given by more mature doctors. The BMA stated that it did not want newly qualified doctors to be taking these decisions. If that was its opinion, why should the House or anyone else resist that view when the clear intention was to help women, not hinder them?

I do not understand the views of those of my hon. Friends who, above everybody else, should be concerned to ensure that a profit should not be made from abortion if at all possible. I do not understand why they object to a clause stating that the two doctors authorising an abortion should not be in private practice together or share any financial interest in the private nursing home or agency concerned.

Is it not desirable that we establish a state of affairs in which, if a judgment has to be made on an abortion, that judgment is reached for genuine and not for mercenary reasons. Should not the House do everything it can to exclude from what should be an objective judg- ment the possibility of its being clouded by the idea of profit or gain? What possible objection can there be to a clause designed and seriously intended to meet that need?

Mr. Robin Corbett (Hemel Hempstead)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I appreciate your difficulty in that, once an hon. Member is on his or her feet, you have no control over the length of the speech, but do you not feel that it would help if you were to remind my hon. Friend who is now on his feet that many of us who have been sitting here for most of the day, who have not taken part in any of the debates on the matter and who may have changed our minds, should have three or four minutes' opportunity before 4 o'clock?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I think that the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) has been long enough in the House for him to be aware of all those considerations.

Mr. Abse

Let me now go—[HON MEMBERS: "Too long."]Hon. Members know that I am winding up the debate, and they ought to accept the situation with the same respect as I showed to others, many of whom spoke at length.

Mr. Flannery

Who says that my hon. Friend is winding up.

Mrs. Millie Miller (Ilford, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Mr. Cohen) sat down and my hon. Friend now on his feet rose to speak, you were asked whether you accepted that this was the winding-up speech. You said that you were not responsible for the length of speeches, and, in fact, you denied knowledge that it was a winding-up speech. I wonder by what right my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) decides that he has the right to wind up when there are so many of us on this side still waiting to speak, having waited since 11 o'clock this morning.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Lady is in exactly the same situation as I am. I am not aware of the position.

Mr. Abse

I do not understand—or perhaps I do—why hon. Members seem so concerned to see that I am not permitted to make a 20-minute speech. [Interruption.] Let me go now to Clause 3. I put the question to those hon. Members who purport to be concerned about women.

Clause 3 has as its object that doctors who carry out abortions should notify a woman's general practitioner of an abortion if he is not already involved, provided—and provided only—that consent has been obtained. In the light of all that has been rightly said about the sequelae which can follow an abortion, ranging from physical sequelae but to depression and much else, what possible objection can there be to an attempt to ensure that there shall be the follow-up and after-care which the hon. Member for Reading, South and others emphasised as necessary?

I am endeavouring to focus the attention of the House upon the Bill, not upon requests for abortion on demand or demands that there shall be restrictions, but upon the Bill and the benefits which could accrue.

Mrs. Renée Short

Another red herring, as usual.

Mr. Abse

Since time is pressing, let me turn now to the conscience clause. Are not all those concerned with civil liberty troubled that the existing law is causing difficulties and that in legal proceedings an onus of proof can be put upon those who claim to have conscientious objection? Is it satisfactory at present that the conscience clause should be restricted only to those who claim to have religious objections? Is it not possible that there are doctors who are secular in their approach, as I am, but who nevertheless in many cases, if not always,have profound objection to participating in an operation?

What is the objective here? We are trying genuinely to create a new balance within our abortion law so that those who have deep ethical, religious or other repugnance to the law as it stands at present cannot claim, as they now are claiming, that their opinion is totally unheard.

I want to refer to another important clause, Clause 6. I am surprised that the Secretary of State should have pleaded in his letters—on the basis that he has recently announced an indirect system of control, which was one of the early Select Committee recommendations—that legislation is not necessary. It was his own Department that stressed repeatedly under questioning before the Select Committee that: The main gap in our powers which was identified by the Lane Committee is in relation to pregnancy advisory bureaux and the referral agencies". That is the area in which the Department said that it would welcome legislation.

What has caused my right hon. Friend to change his mind? I know his personal view. I know that he opposed the reappointment of the Select Committee. Naturally, he is entitled to his personal view, but it was disgraceful to overrule and override the evidence of his own Department and try—without any courtesy to the Chairman of the Select Committee—to pre-empt this debate by writing to the Leader of the Liberal Party in defiance of what his own Department had said was an absolute necessity. That is almost unforgivable.

The Secretary of State for Social Services (Mr. David Ennals)

I hope that my hon. Friend accepts that it is the Secretary of State who determines the Department's policy and that in my statement I indicated the action that had already been taken by my Department and that, I should have thought, would satisfy the Select Committee.

Mr. Abse

My right hon. Friend's Department made it clear that it was not satisfactory. Of course, I accept that the Secretary of State—

Mrs. Wise

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As one who has sat here silently all day, may I bring to your attention a serious matter and ask for your guidance? There is a clause—Clause 10—that has not yet been discussed at all and that, I believe, can have the effect, whether intended or not, of changing—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is not a point of order.

Mr. Abse

It is clear—

Mrs. Wise rose

Mr. Abse

—that an attempt is being made by spurious points of order—

Mrs. Wise rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Unless the House is a little calmer, I shall not even be able to hear what the hon. Lady is saying. I am not sure whether the hon. Lady is on a point of order or is going on with the non-point of order.

Mrs. Wise

Is it not a genuine point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that an item in the Bill may change the definition of abortion—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is not possible for the Chair to arrange what is discussed on Second Reading.

Mr. Benyon rose in his place, and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The Question is—

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Ogden

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is within your knowledge that a few minutes ago—[Interruption.] I have the Floor. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It is impossible for any business to be done if I cannot hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying.

Mr. Ogden

I think, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you gave me the Floor. Let the House listen to the advice of the Chair as well as others.

It is within your knowledge, Mr. Deputy Speaker—

Mr. Deputy Speaker


Question put, That the Question be now put:—

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Ogden

You gave me the Floor, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on a point of order.

The House proceeded to a Division

Mr. Ogden (seated and covered)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You gave me the Floor on a point of order to raise a matter of some importance to those who have been here since 11 o'clock. You then allowed that point of order to be interrupted and allowed a decision to be taken, when you yourself had said that there were 21 more hon. Members waiting to speak.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have accepted the motion, "That the Question be now put". It is the custom that it is put at the time at which it was put. I accepted it in accordance with the custom.

Mr. Ogden (seated and covered)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Only half an hour ago you said that 21 hon. Members still wished to speak, and only recently the Chair refused to accept the closure after 10 hours of debate.

The House having divided: Ayes 176, Noes 123.

Division No. 80.] AYES [3.58 p.m.
Abse, Leo Channon, Paul Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W)
Alison, Michael Churchill, W. S. Fookes, Miss Janet
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Clark, William (Croydon S) Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.
Awdry, Daniel Clegg, Walter Glyn, Dr Alan
Bain, Mrs Margaret Clemitson, Ivor Godber, Rt Hon Joseph
Banks, Robert Cockcroft, John Goodhew, Victor
Beith, A. J. Cohen, Stanley Gorst, John
Bell, Ronald Cope, John Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay) Cormack, Patrick Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)
Benyon, W. Corrie, John Griffiths, Eldon
Berry, Hon Anthony Costain, A. P. Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Biggs-Davison, John Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
Bishop, E. S. Craigen, Jim (Maryhill) Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss
Blaker, Peter Crouch, David Havers, Sir Michael
Boscawen, Hon Robert Dalyell, Tam Hayhoe, Barney
Bottomley, Peter Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Hordern, Peter
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Dempsey, James Hunt, David (Wirral)
Braine, Sir Bernard Dodsworth, Geoffrey Hunter, Adam
Bray, Dr Jeremy Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Hurd, Douglas
Brotherton, Michael Duffy, A. E. P. Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Dunn, James A. James, David
Buchanan, Richard Durant, Tony Jessel, Toby
Buck, Antony Dykes, Hugh Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)
Budgen, Nick Eadie, Alex Jones, Arthur (Daventry)
Burden, F. A. English, Michael Jones, Dan (Burnley)
Canavan, Dennis Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Carter-Jones, Lewis Fell, Anthony Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Knight, Mrs Jill Oppenheim, Mrs Sally Stokes, John
Lamond, James Padley, Walter Stradling Thomas, J.
Latham, Michael (Melton) Page, John (Harrow West) Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)
Lawrence, Ivan Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Le Marchant, Spencer Parry, Robert Tebbit, Norman
Lester, Jim (Beeston) Pattie, Geoffrey Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
Loveridge, John Percival, Ian Thompson, George
Luce, Richard Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch Tinn, James
Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson Price, David (Eastleigh) van Straubenzee, W. R.
McAdden, Sir Stephen Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal) Vaughan, Dr Gerard
McElhone, Frank Rees-Davies, W. R. Viggers, Peter
McGuire, Michael (Ince) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Wakeham, John
MacKenzie, Gregor Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey Walder, David (Clitheroe)
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW) Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock) Wall, Patrick
McNamara, Kevin Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey) Warren, Kenneth
Maguire, Frank (Fermanagh) St. John-Stevas, Norman Weatherill, Bernard
Mason, Rt Hon Roy Scott-Hopkins, James Wells, John
Mates, Michael Shelton, William (Streatham) White, James (Pollok)
Mather, Carol Silvester, Fred Wiggin, Jerry
Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Sims, Roger Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Meyer, Sir Anthony Skeet, T. H. H. Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Small, William Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Moate, Roger Smith, John (N Lanarkshire) Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Montgomery, Fergus Speed, Keith Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Spicer, Jim (W Dorset) Winterton, Nicholas
Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester) Spriggs, Leslie Wood, Rt Hon Richard
Neubert, Michael Stainton, Keith Woof, Robert
Noble, Mike Stanbrook, Ivor
Oakes, Gordon Steen, Anthony (Wavertree) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
O'Halloran, Michael Stewart, Rt Hon Donald Mr. Cyril Smith and
Onslow, Cranley Stewart, Ian (Hitchin) Mr. Ian Campbell.
Allaun, Frank Gardiner, George (Reigate) Parker, John
Armstrong, Ernest Garrett, John (Norwich S) Pavitt, Laurie
Ashley, Jack Gould, Bryan Prescott, John
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Graham, Ted Radice, Giles
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Grant, John (Islington C) Rhodes James, R.
Bates, Alf Grist, Ian Richardson, Miss Jo
Bean, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Ridley, Hon Nicholas
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Hayman, Mrs Helene Rooker, J. W.
Bidwell, Sydney Hodgson, Robin Roper, John
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Sandelson, Neville
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Hunt, John (Bromley) Scott, Nicholas
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Sedgemore, Brian
Brown, Ronald (Hackney S) Jeger, Mrs Lena Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Carmichael, Neil Kelley, Richard Shersby, Michael
Cartwright, John Kerr, Russell Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Kilroy-Silk, Robert Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Kinnock, Neil Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael Lamborn, Harry Sinclair, Sir George
Colquhoun, Ms Maureen Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Skinner, Dennis
Crawshaw, Richard Leadbitter, Ted Snape, Peter
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) Lipton, Marcus Spearing, Nigel
Cryer, Bob Litterick, Tom Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Loyden, Eddie Stoddart, David
Davidson, Arthur Lyon, Alexander (York) Strang, Gavin
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) McDonald, Dr Oonagh Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Deakins, Eric MacFarquhar, Roderick Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Madden, Max Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Magee, Bryan Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Edge, Geoff Mendelson, John Townsend, Cyril D.
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Mikardo, Ian Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)
Ennals, David Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Ward, Michael
Evans, John (Newton) Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N) Watkins, David
Flannery, Martin Molloy, William Weetch, Ken
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Moyle, Roland Whitehead, Phillip
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Newens, Stanley Wise, Mrs Audrey
Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Ogden, Eric
Freeson, Reginald Orme, Rt Hon Stanley TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Freud, Clement Ovenden, John Mr. Robin Corbett and
Mr. G. B. Drayson.
Question accordingly agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 170, Noes 132.

Division No. 81.] AYES [4.10 p.m.
Abse, Leo Godber, Rt Hon Joseph Parry, Robert
Alison, Michael Goodhew, Victor Pattie, Geoffrey
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Gorst, John Percival, Ian
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch
Bain, Mrs Margaret Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Price, David (Eastleigh)
Banks, Robert Griffiths, Eldon Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)
Beith, A. J. Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Rees-Davies, W. R.
Bell, Ronald Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay) Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Benyon, W. Havers, Sir Michael Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Berry, Hon Anthony Hayhoe, Barney Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Biggs-Davison, John Hordern, Peter Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Bishop, E. S. Hunt, David (Wirral) St. John-Stevas, Norman
Blaker, Peter Hunter, Adam Scott-Hopkins, James
Boscawen, Hon Robert Hurd, Douglas Shelton, William (Streatham)
Bottomley, Peter James, David Shersby, Michael
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Jessel, Toby Silvester, Fred
Braine, Sir Bernard Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead) Sims, Roger
Bray, Dr Jeremy Jones, Arthur (Daventry) Skeet, T. H. H.
Brotherton, Michael Jones, Dan (Burnley) Small, William
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Buchanan, Richard Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Speed, Keith
Budgen, Nick Knight, Mrs Jill Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Burden, F. A. Lamond, James Spriggs, Leslie
Canavan, Denn's Latham, Michael (Melton) Stainton, Keith
Carter-Jones, Lewis Lawrence, Ivan Stanbrook, Ivor
Channon, Paul Le Marchant, Spencer Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Churchill, W. S. Lester, Jim (Beeston) Stewart, Rt Hon Donald
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Loveridge, John Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Clark, William (Croydon S) Luce, Richard Stradling Thomas, J.
Clegg, Walter Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)
Clemitson, Ivor McAdden, Sir Stephen Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Cockcroft, John McElhone, Frank Tebbit, Norman
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael McGuire, Michael (Ince) Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
Cohen, Stanley MacKenzie, Gregor Thompson, George
Cope, John McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Tinn, James
Cormack, Patrick McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) van Straubenzee, W. R.
Corrie, John McNamara, Kevin Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Costain, A. P. Maguire, Frank (Fermanagh) Wakeham, John
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Mason, Rt Hon Roy Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Craigen, Jim (Maryhill) Mather, Carol Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Dalyell, Tam Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Wall, Patrick
Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Meyer, Sir Anthony Warren, Kenneth
Dempsey, James Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Weatherill, Bernard
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Moate, Roger Wells, John
Duffy, A. E. P. Montgomery, Fergus White, James (Pollok)
Dunn, James A. Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Wiggin, Jerry
Durant, Tony Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester) Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Dykes, Hugh Neubert, Michael Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Eadie, Alex Newton, Tony Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
English, Michael Noble, Mike Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Oakes, Gordon Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W) O'Halloran, Michael Winterton, Nicholas
Fell, Anthony Onslow, Cranley Wood,Rt Hon Richard
Fookes, Miss Janet Oppenheim, Mrs Sally
Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) Padley, Walter TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Galbraith, Hon T. G. D. Page, John (Harrow West) Mr. Cyril Smith and
Glyn, Dr Alan Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Mr. Ian Campbell.
Adley, Robert Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Allaun, Frank Carmichael, Neil Edge, Geoff
Armstrong, Ernest Cartwright, John Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)
Ashley, Jack Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Ennals, David
Awdry, Daniel Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Evans, John (Newton)
Baker, Kenneth Colquhoun, Ms Maureen Flannery, Martin
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Crawshaw, Richard Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Crouch, David Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Bates, Alf Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Cryer, Bob Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Freeson, Reginald
Bidwell, Sydney Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Freud, Clement
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Deakins, Eric Garrett, John (Norwich S)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Gould, Bryan
Brown, Ronald (Hackney S) Dodsworth, Geoffrey Graham, Ted
Buck, Antony Douglas-Mann, Bruce Grant, John (Islington C)
Grist, Ian Mikardo, Ian Skinner, Dennis
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Snape, Peter
Hayman, Mrs Helene Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N) Spearing, Nigel
Hodgson, Robin Molloy, William Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Moyle, Roland Stoddart, David
Hunt, John (Bromley) Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Strang, Gavin
Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Newens, Stanley Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.
Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Ogden, Eric Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Jeger, Mrs Lena Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Ovenden, John Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Kelley, Richard Parker, John Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Kerr, Russell Pavitt, Laurie Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Prescott, John Townsend, Cyril D.
Kinnock, Neil Radice, Giles Viggers, Peter
Lamborn, Harry Rhodes James, R. Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)
Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Richardson, Miss Jo Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Leadbitter, Ted Ridley, Hon Nicholas Ward, Michael
Lipton, Marcus Rooker, J. W. Watkins, David
Litterick, Tom Roper, John Weetch, Ken
Loyden, Eddie Sandelson, Neville Whitehead, Phillip
Lyon, Alexander (York) Scott, Nicholas Whitlock, William
Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Sedgemore, Brian Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South) Wise, Mrs Audrey
MacFarquhar, Roderick Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Madden, Max Shore, Rt Hon Peter TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Magee, Bryan Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
Mates, Michael Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford) Mr. Robin Corbett and
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich) Mr. G. B. Drayson.
Mendelson, John Sinclair, Sir George
Question accordingly agreed to.
Bill read a Second time.
Motion made, and Question put, That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Ogden.]:—
The House divided: Ayes 109, Noes 137.
Division No. 82.] AYES [4.20 p.m.
Adley, Robert Grant, John (Islington C) Radice, Giles
Allaun, Frank Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Rhodes James, R.
Armstrong, Ernest Hayman, Mrs Helene Richardson, Miss Jo
Ashley, Jack Hodgson, Robin Ridley, Hon Nicholas
Baker, Kenneth Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Rooker, J. W.
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Hunt, John (Bromley) Roper, John
Bates, Alf Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Sandelson, Neville
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Scott, Nicholas
Bidwell, Sydney Jeger, Mrs Lena Sedgemore, Brian
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Kelley, Richard Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Kerr, Russell Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
Brown, Ronald (Hackney S) Kilroy-Silk, Robert Sinclair, Sir George
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Kinnock, Neil Skinner, Dennis
Carmichael, Neil Lamborn, Harry Snape, Peter
Cartwright, John Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Spearing, Nigel
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Lipton, Marcus Stallard, A. W.
Colquhoun, Ms Maureen Litterick, Tom Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Corbett, Robin Loyden, Eddie Stoddart, David
Crouch, David McCartney, Hugh Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.
Cryer, Bob McDonald, Dr Oonagh Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) MacFarquhar, Roderick Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Madden, Max Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Magee, Bryan Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Deakins, Eric Mates, Michael Townsend, Cyril D.
de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Viggers, Peter
Dodsworth, Geoffrey Mendelson, John Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Mikardo, Ian Ward, Michael
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N) Watkins, David
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Molloy, William Weetch, Ken
Ennals, David Moyle, Roland Whitehead, Phillip
Flannery, Martin Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Newens, Stanley Wise, Mrs Audrey
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Newton, Tony
Freeson, Reginald Orme, Rt Hon Stanley TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Freud, Clement Ovenden, John Mr. Eric Ogden and
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Parker, John Mr. G. B. Drayson.
Graham, Ted Pavitt, Laurie
Abse, Leo Godber, Rt Hon Joseph Price, David (Eastleigh)
Alison, Michael Goodhew, Victor Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Bain, Mrs Margaret Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Banks, Robert Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Beith, A. J. Havers, Sir Michael Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Bell, Ronald Hayhoe, Barney St. John-Stevas, Norman
Benyon, W. Hunter, Adam Shelton, William (Streatham)
Berry, Hon Anthony Hurd, Douglas Shersby, Michael
Biggs-Davison, John James, David Silvester, Fred
Bishop, E. S. Jessel, Toby Sims, Roger
Blaker, Peter Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead) Skeet, T. H. H.
Boscawen, Hon Robert Jones, Arthur (Daventry) Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Bottomley, Peter Jones, Dan (Burnley) Speed, Keith
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Braine, Sir Bernard Knight, Mrs Jill Spriggs, Leslie
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Latham, Michael (Melton) Stainton, Keith
Buchanan, Richard Lawrence, Ivan Stanbrook, Ivor
Buck, Antony Le Marchant, Spencer Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Burden, F. A. Lester, Jim (Beeston) Stewart, Rt Hon Donald
Canavan, Dennis Loveridge, John Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Channon, Paul Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson Stradling Thomas, J.
Churchill, W. S. McAdden, Sir Stephen Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) McElhone, Frank Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Clark, William (Croydon S) McGuire, Michael (Ince) Tebbit, Norman
Clemitson, Ivor MacKenzie, Gregor Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
Cockcroft, John McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Thompson, George
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Tinn, James
Cohen, Stanley McNamara, Kevin van Straubenzee, W. R.
Cormack, Patrick Maguire, Frank (Fermanagh) Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Mason, Rt Hon Roy Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Craigen, Jim (Maryhill) Mather, Carol Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Dalyell, Tam Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Wall, Patrick
Dempsey, James Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Warren, Kenneth
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Moate, Roger Weatherill, Bernard
Duffy, A. E. P. Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester) Wells, John
Dunn, James A. Neubert, Michael Wiggin, Jerry
Durant, Tony Noble, Mike Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Eadie, Alex Oakes, Gordon Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
English, Michael O'Halloran, Michael Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Onslow, Cranley Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Fell, Anthony Padley, Walter Winterton, Nicholas
Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W) Page, John (Harrow West)
Fookes, Miss Janet Parry, Robert TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Pattie, Geoffrey Mr. James White and
Galbraith, Hon T. G. D. Percival, Ian Mr. Ian Campbell.
Glyn, Dr Alan Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch

Question accordingly negatived.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).