HC Deb 17 January 1978 vol 942 cc254-422

Amendment proposed [11th January], No. 521, in page 48, leave out lines 1 to 4.—[Sir John Gilmour.]

Question again proposed.

The Chairman

I remind the Committee that with this we are taking Amendment No. 545, in page 48, line 3, leave out "Family planning. Abortion.".

3.40 p.m.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

On a point of order, Mr. Murton. It is within the knowledge of some of us that there was a very important meeting this morning at which the Scottish representatives of the British Medical Association met my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland at Dover House to discuss some of their disquiet directly related to this amendment. I wonder whether it would be for the convenience of the Committee if my hon. Friend were to make a statement on the discussions taking place with the BMA.

Sir David Renton (Huntingdonshire)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. In fact, I have the Floor at present, as I was on my feet when the Committee adjourned last Wednesday night. I do not know whether it would be for the convenience of the Committee if I made my brief speech of not more than two or three minutes before the Under-Secretary of State replied. I am entirely in your hands, Mr. Murton, and the hands of the Committee.

The Chairman

I call the right hon. and learned Gentleman to continue his speech.

Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)

On a point of order, Mr. Murton. I shall, naturally, be guided by you. I have a point of order to raise in general terms on the schedule that we are about to debate. If you would prefer to call the Minister first to deal with the matter raised by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), of course that could be done.

The Chairman

I think it would be better if the right hon. Gentleman were to raise his point of order rather later in the proceedings.

Mr. Amery

I should like to do so immediately after my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) sits down.

The Chairman

I think that that would be better.

Sir David Renton

You have just referred, Mr. Murton, to the fact that Amendment No. 521, which was taken last Wednesday with Amendment No. 545, is still selected. It is, indeed, on your notice of provisional selection of amendments. But I think that technically I should draw attention to the fact that Amendment No. 521 is strangely omitted from today's Order Paper. It should have been the first item.

The Chairman

It is in fact on the Order Paper but not on the Notice Paper. It is on the Order Paper itself, at page 3069.

Sir David Renton

For Tuesday 17th January it starts on page 949.

The Chairman

It is on page 3069.

Sir David Renton

I have just obtained my copy from the Vote Office, and it is not there. However, I am glad to be able to tell the Committee that the matter is of somewhat academic interest, because we had a debate of nearly three hours on the two amendments together on Wednesday night.

Although I personally was not satisfied with the replies with regard to Amendment No. 521, I have discussed the matter with my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour), who moved it, and we do not wish to prolong the matter or to ask the Committee to divide upon the amendment.

The position with regard to Amendment No. 545 is quite different. Although it is for my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) to decide, I must say that, speaking for myself, if he decides to press the matter to a Division he will have my support and, I hope, the support of hon. Members on both sides of the Committee who spoke in favour of his amendment the other night.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

On a point of order, Mr. Murton. The sound today is very poor and we cannot hear what is being said. I think, in particular, that the journalists up there—there are very few of them—will find it extremely difficult to hear what is being said. I think that the sound should be in correct working order so that not only we in the House can hear but that the journalists—of whom there are very few—should be able to hear what is going on.

Sir David Renton

Are we not to have a response from the Under-Secretary to the suggestion made by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell)?

Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)

On a point of order, Mr. Murton. Many of us have refrained from rising because we wanted to know whether a statement was being made. It would be most helpful if we knew whether one is to be made.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Harry Ewing)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. If it helps the Committee for me to inform it about the meeting with the Scottish Committee of the BMA this morning I can assure hon. Gentlemen—[Interruption.]—I agree with my hon. Friend that it would be much better if I told the Committee—

Mr. Heffer


Mr. Ewing

Yes. I was agreeing that the sound is much better as well. The question of abortion was not raised. This morning I discussed with the British Medical Association a problem relating to the allocation of what is called "units of medical time" in relation to study and annual leave. The British Medical Association raised with me a concern relating to salaries and conditions of employment in a post-devolution situation. It did not raise—and I hope that the Committee will understand this—the question of abortion.

Mr. Abse


The Chairman

A point of order was raised earlier today by the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery). I will take that first.

Mr. Amery

On a point of order, Mr. Murton. As I said earlier—not on the same topic but on a more general topic—the schedule which we are debating puts us in some difficulty because, as I understand it, it relates among other things to airports and to the devolving of powers now exercised by the Government to the Scottish Executive and. therefore, to the Scottish legislature.

I do not know whether, under the timetable motion, we shall be able to reach the amendment that has been selected but, even if it were reached, I do not quite see how it can be debated sensibly—and this is the point on which I seek your guidance, Mr. Murton—because the powers referred to in the schedule are those currently exercised under the 1971 Act. But the 1971 Act is in the process of being amended by the Civil Aviation Bill which was read a Second time yesterday and which has not yet gone into Committee. So we shall be debating, if at all, the devolving of powers in relation to airports without quite knowing what those powers will be because they were contained in the old 1971 Act which is in the process of being amended simultaneously with the proceeding of the Scotland Bill.

If the Civil Aviation Bill were accepted unamended, this, I understand, would have the effect of transferring international responsibilities of airports to the Scottish Executive and legislature—a major departure from the principle of the Scotland Bill as explained to us and difficult to reconcile with its Long Title.

How are we to proceed without making a farce of the debate, discussing how we would modify the 1971 Act in relation to Scotland, without knowing how the 1971 Act will be amended in Committee? The only possibility that I can see would be for the Government to drop any reference to airports in the present Bill and perhaps reintroduce it on Report.

I seek guidance on this matter. It seems that we are entering into the al- most impossible parliamentary situation of discussing how to amend one measure when that measure is simultaneously being amended in Committee without our knowing what the amendments will be.

The Chairman

There appears to be no direct conflict between the two Bills. We must proceed on the basis of what the Committee has to decide. A ruling was given yesterday that there was no conflict, and we should continue in this Committee to deal with this point in Schedule 10, if and when it is reached.

Mr. Amery

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. As I understand the Long Title, the principles explained to the House would exclude any transfer of the international responsibilities of central Government. Yet the Civil Aviation Bill would provide for such a transfer. Unless I have misunderstood the situation, there seems to be a fairly clear conflict between the Civil Aviation Bill, which was read a Second time yesterday, and the principles and Long Title of this Bill, in so far as they affect Schedule 10 of this Bill. I do not see how we proceed in these circumstances.

Would not it be better if the Government withdrew the references? Is not the only way of conforming to our existing procedures for the Government to withdraw all reference to airports and reintroduce them later, when the matter has been cleared up in the light of the Civil Aviation Bill?

The Chairman

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that that is not excluded from the scope of the Bill. We should continue on the basis of what appears now in Schedule 10.

Mr. Amery

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. How do we debate what is, in effect, an amendment to the 1971 Act when it is already being amended by the 1978 Bill in another Committee? How is it possible for as to pass a judgment on amendments which are now in the process of being made without knowing what they are? How do we amend the 1971 Act in relation to Scotland without knowing how that Act is being amended?

The Chairman

In fact, the other measure has not yet been so amended. We must proceed in this Committee on the basis of what we have before us, and come to our own decisions in this matter.

Mr. Abse


The Chairman

Is the hon. Gentleman rising on a point of order?

Mr. Abse

No, Mr. Murton. I shall speak to the amendment if I am being called.

The Chairman

I shall call the hon. Gentleman in a moment.

Miss Jo Richardson (Barking)

I am glad to have this opportunity for a few minutes to support an Opposition amendment. It is not my wont to do so normally, but in this case I am glad to support Amendment No. 545, in the name of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), which seeks to devolve certain National Health Service functions, such as family planning and abortion.

After a short debate last Wednesday night, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland—I hope that he will not mind my saying this—did not seem, in his winding-up speech, to be addressing himself to the criticisms that had been made.

This is a vital point. In case hon. Members on either side feel fearful about it, I say at once that I do not propose to argue the merits or demerits of the abortion issue. That is not necessary in this context. We are talking simply about the question whether it would be proper or beneficial for the two countries possibly to have different abortion policies.

It is my belief that we should have a common policy for the whole United Kingdom, not one policy for England and Wales and another for Scotland. There are many reasons for this. The most obvious was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler) last Wednesday night. He pointed out that by devolving to the Scottish Assembly, policy making on abortion, thereby inviting the possibility that one of the countries would have a more liberal or more restrictive policy, one would create an abortion haven. That is precisely what one would do.

Until a year or two ago, there were many complaints that the abortion law in Britain was under some pressure because of the influx of foreign women who came here to take advantage of our abortion laws, which were more liberal than their own. Are we now to create a similar situation in our own island?

If we allow the Scottish Assembly to decide for itself on abortion, it may very well change the existing law, or we may do so, and then there will be two separate laws. We shall then be confronted with a ridiculous situation. If the Scottish law is better, women in England may go all the way to Scotland to have an abortion, and, vice versa, if the English law is better, Scottish women may come down across the border. There will be a constant toing and froing. This will add to the difficulties not only of women who have to decide whether to have an abortion but of the National Health Service staff in one of the countries.

If there is the existing law or a more liberal law in England and a worse law in Scotland National Health Service hospitals in the north of England may be faced with the possibility of prosecution if they perform operations on people from north of the border.

When a woman arrives for an abortion, how is the hospital to decide? Will it decide on the basis of her accent? My point is the same either way, whether the operation takes place in Glasgow or Edinburgh or in, say, Newcastle. Must the staff say "You have a Scottish accent. Where do you come from? When did you arrive? How long have you been resident?" That would be a ridiculous situation. The subject is much too sensitive to be dealt with piecemeal, as it would be if the proposals in Schedule 10 were accepted.

I am very surprised that the Government made this proposal. When the Minister replied last week, he talked about the differences between Scottish and English divorce law, but the two matters are not on all fours. One cannot relate the principles of abortion, and the possibility of different policies in the two countries, to the principles of divorce. It is the utmost common sense that we should maintain one policy on abortion and family planning for the whole United Kingdom.

I believe that this argument cuts across the feelings both of those who hold strong pro-abortion views and of those who hold strong anti-abortion views. It is not a matter of being for or against. I believe that it is simply a matter of common sense. I hope that the Government will accept the amendment, but if not I hope that the hon. Gentleman will press it to a Division and that we shall defeat the Government on this matter.

4.0 p.m.

Mr. Abse

I never expected that there would be an occasion when I found my-myself involved in a debate where there was a conjunction of devolution and abortion—two subjects that the House may know I approach with less than enthusiasm.

Mr. Heffer

The Bill is a bit of an abortion.

Mr. Abse

With that I am fully in accord. The irony that I have described is not the only irony of this debate. I do not suppose that there is any subject in which Members representing Scottish constituencies have involved themselves more than the subject of abortion. Let us examine its history. After all, in 1967 the whole question of abortion came to the House as a result of the Private Member's Bill introduced by the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel), who insisted at the time that there had to be a uniform law—a law that affected England and Wales as much as Scotland. This involvement of Scots Members in shaping and determining the abortion laws of this country, of the whole kingdom, is a tradition which has been well and truly carried on.

A more recent Bill, which was given its Second Reading, was that of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. White). We know that it had the support of many members of the Scottish National Party, including the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain). We know how much initiative in the shaping of policy for the laws of all the country came from the Leader of the Scottish National Party. The right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) took a prominent part in insisting that the House should refer that Bill to a Select Committee.

I do not believe it to be simply a series of coincidences that there has been this involvement of Scots Members in this vital issue. Certainly I do not complain about it. Whether it was on the Bill introduced by the Leader of the Liberal Party or the Bill put forward by my hon. Friend, I believe that it is to be commended. It is to be expected of people who are passionately concerned about issues of life or death, people who come from a culture in which moral issues are taken with high seriousness, people who represent others who obviously feel involved and put pressure on their Members of Parliament.

It is not surprising that there has consistently been a Scottish involvement in the issue of abortion. No hon. Member ought to complain about it. Whatever their views may be, whether for or against abortion, in the debate on abortion which has continued in this country for a decade the catalysts have largely come from Scotland. It must be that they wanted all the laws to be altered in one way.

When the Leader of the Liberal Party presented his Abortion Bill there were objections from some areas in Scotland, as will be recalled by Scottish Members of Parliament, because they did not want the Bill to affect them. Voices were raised in Aberdeen. They claimed that the administration of the law according to the common law in Scotland was such that they did not want to have this statutory interference in any form. I see Scottish Members nodding assent, because this is within their recollection. At that time there was in practice a considerable difference between Scotland, on the one hand, and England and Wales on the other.

It is to the credit of the Leader of the Liberal Party—I never give him very much credit on this issue—that he saw how essential it was that there should be uniformity in the law on this matter.

I am not surprised that, when a suggestion is made that that uniformity should be ended, there should be an expression of considerable unease by doctors in Scotland. The very existence of such passionate feeling coming from Scotland means that we are talking about something that is not speculative when we put forward the possibility that, if a Scottish Assembly comes into existence, there will be a national debate in Scotland leading to a new Bill. That is not speculation. It is inevitable.

If pressures have come from Scotland—whether from pro- or anti-abortionists does not matter—to make certain that the whole issue of abortion is raised in this place by Scottish Members, how much more likely is it that they will be raised in a Scottish Assembly? I cannot anticipate what a Scottish Assembly will do, but I am certain that it will do something.

A continuing debate is going on about the abortion law in this country. It is well known—it has been heavily canvassed and reported in the Press—that the Government are seeking to act as an honest broker in trying to bring together the various parties and views in an endeavour to get a consensus, if possible, for an abortion Bill affecting the whole of this country.

There are already great differences in the administration of the abortion law. In one part of the country doctors may claim that they wish always to preserve what they believe to be the principle of the sanctity of life, and consequently they have a policy which lays a greater emphasis upon the rights of the unborn child than the wishes of the mother. Others take a contrary view. Therefore, there are differences in the practice.

There is, however, uniformity in the law. There are certain boundaries outside which nobody can stray without coming into conflict with the criminal law. That is the crux of the matter. The Under-Secretary of State has not yet directed his attention to that matter, because there seems to be a suggestion that we are tackling an administrative matter in the Department of Health and Social Security in England and Wales rather than in Scotland. We are doing nothing of the kind.

This matter has much broader implications. We have to face the fact that we are talking about the criminal law. Abortion in this country is a criminal offence. In particular circumstances we have exempted it as an offence, but the basic law of this country is that abortion remains a criminal offence. What we now realise from this debate is that the consequence of dividing legislation in such a way means that criminal laws will come into existence in one part of the kingdom, yet there will be entirely different criminal laws in another part.

Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)

They are different already.

Mr. Abse

The hon. Member says that there are already different criminal laws. Let me explain how laws come into existence, how they are surveyed and how they are substantially married up.

If criminal laws are passed which give distinctions to Scotland, yet not to England and Wales, they are under the surveillance of the House of Commons. No other body can pass criminal laws that affect Scotland but not England and Wales. As a result, there is a constant monitoring and surveillance. The issue raised by this debate is that, for the first time, I believe, powers will be given which will mean that there could be conduct regarded as criminal in England and Wales, which is not so regarded in Scotland, and vice versa. That is a very serious matter. We must recognise that we are not talking merely about havens. We could be talking about fugitives.

I am not surprised that doctors feel uneasy if something done in one part of the kingdom will be criminal yet will be in accordance with the law in another part of the kingdom. Will nurses, too, find themselves being accomplices in a criminal act on one side of the border, but innocent on the other side? That is a serious issue, which has not begun to be dealt with, because we have not tackled the consequences of this wretched devolution Bill as it affects the whole of British criminal law. In this narrow example of what is a broader matter we can easily imagine what will happen if there are large differences between the two sets of laws.

My hon. Friend the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) pertinently pointed out that the consequences of the law in Britain being different from that on the Continent meant that there was an invasion from abroad of women seeking abortions. There are always people ready to take advantage of the difference in the law to exploit women who are in a predicament about their pregnancies. We are only now beginning to try to control the private sector of abortion, which saw that it could feed upon the problems of women from abroad.

What will happen? Will wide gaps in abortion law be allowed to come into existence? Will there be new pregnancy advisory bureaux at Berwick, or clinics established on one side of the border, in the wake of the devolution Bill'? If we do not support the amendment I believe that the consequence will be to re-invite all the opprobrium that was attracted when there was no control over foreign women who came for abortions. What could be more offensive, whether it were English or Welsh women going to Scotland, or Scottish women coming to England, than that an abortion would be determined according to their accents? Clearly there cannot be such an anomaly without attracting all the worst elements, who would immediately play on the differences between the two laws. The consequence revealed by the amendment is only the tip of an iceberg. There are parallels and we should use them when discussing an amendment of this kind.

4.15 p.m.

Let us consider the laws on homosexuality. I want to deal with them as we have a Law Officer here who can take his measure of responsibility for the continuing differences in these laws between Scotland and England and Wales.

We are not exaggerating the significance of this matter. We have determined that, as between consenting adults. a homosexual offence is not a criminal act in England and Wales. It remains—unhappily, in my view—an offence in Scotland. But there have been statements—statements which are offensive to most lawyers—by the Lord Advocate that he will determine that no offences will be brought before the court, even if they are brought to the notice of the authorities, because at his whim, at his caprice, he has decided that such offences shall not be treated as offences. It is not done by the House of Commons. It is not done by altering the laws and bringing about the uniformity that is the present issue. When I put through the Sexual Offences Act, I did not apply it to Scotland, which meant that we had the absurd position that a course of conduct was a criminal offence in Scotland and not here.

Now, thanks to the statement made—this curious form of non-law or administrative law, call it what one will—at the caprice of the prissy Lord Advocate there is a distinction. We do not like it. None of us can like it. Whatever view we may hold about homosexuality, we do not like this distinction. We want uniformity.

We see what has happened with the law on homosexuality. Dilemmas have arisen, and the Government have intervened with their high-handed idea that they will decide by caprice, instead of our legislature deciding. This could occur again and again in respect of criminal laws if we give a legislature in Scotland the right to pass laws.

The Lord Advocate (Mr. Ronald King Murray)

I have no doubt that my hon. Friend would not want to mislead the Committee. He said that the objection which he took to the present difference in the law with regard to homosexuality related to a statement which I made—arbitrarily, he rather indicated—in relation to certain proceedings of the House on one occasion. I should like to correct him on that.

The original statement was made not by me but by my immediate predecessor in a different Administration. He based his statement not upon any arbitrary decision but upon some 50 or 60 years of practice in making decisions about criminal prosecutions in Scotland.

Mr. Abse

I am not surprise that my right hon. and learned Friend wishes to disclaim his responsibility. As a lawyer, he must shrink from having to perpetuate a policy about which he is bound to feel profound unease. But he cannot acquit himself of the responsibility that an opportunity afforded itself in the passage of a Bill by which it would have been possible to put an end to the unhappy situation. No one did more than my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) to try to bring it about, and no one did less to assist him than did the Lord Advocate. He must take his own responsibility.

But I am not having an argument about that. I am using the point illustratively to show what begins to happen when one has two sets of criminal law.

Mr. Russell Johnston

The hon. Gentleman emphasises his view that uniformity in these matters is essential and desirable. It is uniformity—the opposite of the concept of devolution—which implies a recognition of differences if people want them. Yet, in building up his argument, the hon. Gentleman takes the example of homosexuality, on which he himself introduced a Bill that did not have the effect of introducing uniformity within the United Kingdom, presumably because he thought, rightly or wrongly, that it would have a different reaction in Scotland. Indeed, the same was true with regard to the family planning legislation, which was not implemented by the Labour Government in Scotland.

Surely, the whole point of devolution is to allow variation, if a community wishes it, one way or another.

Mr. Abse

First, it is a question not of uniformity but of having effective surveillance to ensure that there is no conflict of laws. Once these powers are put in the hands of another legislature, there is no possibility of monitoring them in such a way as to minimise conflict.

As for the two Acts, of both of which, I am proud to say, I was a sponsor—the National Health Service (Family Planning) Act, with Edwin Brooks, and the Sexual Offences Act—it is correct each did not apply to Scotland. Those of us who presented those Bills explained that we regretted it.

The National Health Service (Family Planning) Act 1967 must be taken as distinct from the other. It was an administrative measure. The original Act, which I brought forward and which has now been absorbed within the Health Services Act, gave permissive powers for local authorities to give freely, or to charge for, advice and or contraceptives. That was an administrative, not a criminal matter. Therefore, I prefer not to pursue that argument because it is not the one that we are developing today.

We promoted the measure on homosexuality beliving not that we were doing the best but that we were doing what was possible. We hoped and believed that because the Scottish law at least required independent corroboration, as the old English law did not, at least it would not be as grim as it would otherwise have been. The measure still left gaps, but it was all that was politically possible at that time.

Those of us who put through that measure, in the climate of 1967, know full well how marginally we succeeded in getting the Bill through the House. I acknowledge that I was a party to Bills which dealt only partially with problems for the United Kingdom as a whole, but that does not mean that the ideal, the goal, should not be to seek to pass a Bill which will affect everybody throughout the United Kingdom.

Happily, common sense has reigned and, although it took a long time, nearly 10 years after my Divorce Reform Act 1969, Scotland also had reform. Although the Scottish Act was substantially the same, there were variations. Nevertheless, it was in such a form that it does not cause conflict. The family planning Act is now absorbed in the comparatively recent relevant national health Act.

All those matters took time, but those of us who were involved knew what we were doing. We were trying to push matters forward. The amendment is trying to prevent the clock being put back. I challenge the Government. It is not only a question of abortion. What thought have they given to the whole question of having developing criminal laws in two different legislatures?

Many matters which are offences in different European countries are not offences in other countries. That situation could begin to develop in this small island. How absurd that is! At a time of maximum mobility, when Scotland, like Wales, is nearer England than it has ever been as a result of technological progress, and at a time when the peoples have never been more mixed up, how absurd it is that the House should say that we are content to have one set of criminal laws passed by ourselves and another set in Scotland. That is what we shall be saying if we do not support the amendment of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West.

The issue has not been raised, and it is time it was. I welcome the fact that he hon. Gentleman has given the Committee an opportunity to dea with the mater by drawing its attention to the whole wider issue.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)

I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to say something before we finish the debate, because I hope that he has had second thoughts since the debate on Wednesday night.

The fact that the hon. Members for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) and Barking (Miss Richardson) both spoke in support of the amendment makes it absolutely clear that it has nothing to do with the principle of whether we support abortion. The hon. Member for Pontypool supported, as I did, the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon), while the hon. Member for Barking opposed it. We are concerned about whether it will make realistic sense or whether it will create a great shambles of administration and law if we have separate laws on abortion north and south of the border.

I should like to ask the Minister a number of practical questions that I hope he will answer. First, has he taken the opportunity, before this clause and this part of the schedule were introduced—or since last Wednesday—to consult those who could give him guidance as to whether the fears expressed by hon. Members are justified? He must be aware that hon. Members from both sides of the Committee, holding varying views on this delicate issue, expressed the view that this would create a great deal of confusion and injustice and would also be a bit of a shambles. Has he taken the opportunity of consulting the health boards, the BMA, the consultants or, indeed, the Law Officers? Is he willing to tell us whether any of these organisations or individuals expressed a view about whether the fears of hon. Members were justified? There is certainly no doubt in the minds of most of us that if we have separate laws north and south of the border we could create a rather unfortunate and unsavoury traffic in abortion—an abortion haven—which would not be helpful and would not be conducive to respect for law or anything else.

The Minister put forward three arguments in support of retaining his position. First, he said that it would not be practical politics to devolve the whole of this part of the Health Service yet hold on to one aspect of it. I believe that the Minister was referring to the administration of the Health Service. The point that is being made is that we are discussing not the administration of the Health Service but the law on abortion. Although the amendment may be technically defective, it is certainly no part of the argument of those who support the amendment that we should take out of the administration of hospitals that part of the work relating to abortion. We are concerned with the law on abortion. Does it make sense to have a separate law on abortion on either side of the border?

The Minister's second argument is that: Running through the whole argument about whether we ought to devolve abortion matters is clearly a fear in the minds of my hon. Friends and others who are in favour of retaining them that somehow or other there will be a change in the abortion law in Scotland. I come to the question of whether our fears are real or hypothetical. I think hon. Members will agree that this is not a hypothetical question but that there is a real chance of such a difference occurring. There have been two Bills designed to make substantial amendments to the Abortion Act. Both of those Bills have been passed by substantial majorities on Second Reading, the latest one being that introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham.

There certainly appears to be a view in the House of Commons—which after devolution, if it takes place, will pass laws such as this only for England—that the law should be changed. There is a reasonable chance that the House of Commons, in respect of England at least, will make a change in the abortion law. If the Second Reading votes on the amending Bills are any guide, that certainly appears to be the case.

What about Scotland? We have no idea whatever what attitude a Scottish Assembly of 150 people, whom we do not yet know, would take on this matter. The Minister cannot say that this is not a problem that he can reasonably anticipate. There is every possible indication that there will be a change in the law, at least for England, and possibly for Scotland. The third question that the Minister raised was on the important matter of the mobility of people under the Health Service. He said: My hon. Friend said that he had fears about the possibility … that people might not be able to move back and forth between the various health authority areas in the United Kingdom. There is no possibility that they will not be able to do so."—[Official Report, 11th January 1978; Vol. 941, c. 1816.] The Minister gave a categorical assurance that there would be no restrictions on the movement of people from one health board area to another. Therefore, surely the issue is clearer than ever. Reference has been made by the hon. Member for Pontypool to the abortion traffic between this country and the Continent. At one time, 1,000 women a week were coming to Britain for the sole purpose of obtaining an abortion. That was despite the fact that there were quite separate foreign countries. But here we have one United Kingdom in which there is to be no restriction on the movement of people for health purposes from one health board area to another.

4.30 p.m.

The Minister's last argument, which received some cries of "Hear, hear" from hon. Members on the nationalist Bench, was that different laws applied in Scotland and in England. We accept that under the Bill there will be many changes. I am sure that the hon. Member for Pontypool would not be happy if, as is possible, a Scottish Assembly reintroduced capital punishment and England did not. But this is not the same problem. If, for example, anyone committed a murder in Scotland, he could opt to be tried by an English court because it had more liberal laws on hanging.

If one wanted to take advantage of a different divorce law, one would have to establish the residence required. If the Scottish Assembly abolished divorce, while England still had its two years' residence requirement, one could not simply cross the border to take advantage of the law. Abortion is a different matter. There is no legal restriction, and no long period of residence is required. We are talking about a Health Service with no barriers between Scotland and England, even in the event of devolution.

There is no doubt a major problem here. I ask the Minister to give an assurance that he will look carefully into it and consult all those concerned before Report. The most important thing is for him to tell us whether he has taken the opportunity since Wednesday, in view of all the arguments that were advanced, to consult those in the Health Service and in the operation of the law about whether they saw the difficulties.

My view, and I think the general view of Opposition Members, is that, irrespective of the issue of abortion and the details of the Bill and whether one is against or for it, it would be nonsense and a shambles if we had separate abortion laws north and south of the border.

There are those who, as I do, would like to see the law changed for the United Kingdom as a whole, and there are those who would resist such change. But the Minister must accept that if we had separate abortion laws north and south of the border, properly and adequately administered and kept to—unlike what happened with homosexuality—as the hon. Member for Pontypool said—there would be a real danger of the law being brought into disrepute and of an Assembly or a United Kingdom Parliament being unable to apply its own law because of the danger of cross-border traffic.

I hope that the Minister will think about the matter carefully and make a statement about what attempt he has made since our debate on Wednesday to ascertain Scottish medical and legal opinion.

Mr. William Small (Glasgow, Garscadden)

I enter into debate in terms of the Oedipus syndrome.. I do not know the difference between the old Italian school, which relied on the stethoscope, and those who relied on the horoscope. The difference here is this. It is purely auto-suggestion—a kind of Freudian penicillin—that in Scotland, under a devolved Parliament, we should alter the law. There is no suggestion that that is a statutory right. The United Kingdom is going on.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) talks about a haven. I do not know how many homosexuals have come down to London for rescue, and I have no figures to justify such a suggestion. I am like Confucius, who said "Pray silence for the god. Only monkeys chatter".

Dr. M. S. Miller (East Kilbride)

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), with his customary verbosity, is merely confusing a situation which is abundantly clear. It seems to me that the administration of the National Health Service in Scotland approaches much nearer the principles for which that Service was initiated in 1948 than it does in England. I do not think that we should exempt any aspect of administration of the NHS, or any of the facilities available in it, from this consideration. I suspect that the hon. Member for Cathcart—he gave the game away towards the end of his speech—is really interested in getting on to an anti-abortion bandwagon, as he has done in the past.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

I hope that my hon. Friend will not be diverted by the antics, as he put it, of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) in digressing from the central point, which is that as of now from any part of the United Kingdom one can obtain therapy in any other part of the United Kingdom, if the facility is there and not in one's own area. What is the position if there is a change in the law, not necessarily in England but in Scotland? How does that affect the basic principle of availability in any part of the United Kingdom?

Dr. Miller

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his extremely interesting observation. However, I do not visualise any problem between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom when there is devolution of authority and power in the National Health Service to Scotland. I do not see any problem arising in this respect at all. What we are talking about is devolution, not separation.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Legal separation.

Dr. Miller

There are still legal differences between Scotland and England, and we do not seem to have any great difficulties in respect of these legal differences. It may be that Scottish National Party Members would want to see great differences in National Health Service development in Scotland compared with the rest of the United Kingdom in that they want complete separation. But we do not see it that way.

I wish to draw the Committee's attention to something which the hon. Member for Cathcart seems to forget—something which is essential to Scotland having control of health services in the same way as other matters will be devolved to Scotland. I refer to one of the problems we had, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) pointed out, with the abuses which occurred under the 1967 Act. Those abuses were almost entirely confined to England, and particularly to one or two areas in England. I shall be happy to see a situation in which we in Scotland can control the position in the way it has been controlled up till now, without these abuses.

In the two attempts made to alter the 1967 Act, great play was made of the fact that there was, as the hon. Member for Cathcart pointed out, trading in abortion between the Continent of Europe and this country. One has to be much more specific about it. It was not really between the Continent of Europe and this country; it was between the Continent of Europe and London. I shall be pleased to see a situation developing so that Scotland will have control over the National Health Service. I say with pride, incidentally, that in Scotland about 90 per cent. of full-time consultants are in the NHS, compared with under 50 per cent. in the rest of the United Kingdom. I should like to see that development in Scotland.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that if, for example, as is possible under this proposal, one had what might be called a tight abortion law south of the border and what is called a liberal abortion law in Scotland, he could see no major problems arising?

Dr. Miller

The hon. Gentleman is trying to put words in to my mouth. That is not what I said. It is for the Scottish people in their wisdom to decide. I am not saying that I should necessarily be happy about that. But it would be for the Scottish people to decide whether they wanted it.

Mr. Gerry Fowler (The Wrekin)

Would it be for the Scottish people in their wisdom to decide upon public expenditure in England if the situation were that there was a more liberal law in England? That is exactly what my hon. Friend is suggesting by opposing Amendment No. 545. I should be grateful if he would cease to address himself to Amendment No. 521, which has no support on these Benches, and confine himself to Amendment No. 545, on which there is serious concern on these Benches about the Government's attitude.

Dr. Miller

I will not be drawn into arguments to which I am not addressing myself at the moment. I am addressing myself to a situation envisaged by the hon. Member for Cathcart. I do not see arising the problems that he sees. I am very happy that Scotland will have control over this series of facilities, now available in the United Kingdom, and I see no difficulty at all in that for the future.

Mr. Dalyell

With respect to my hon. Friend, who is a doctor himself, I say with some trepidation that the reality here, of course, is not that it is up to the Scots people to decide. The whole nature of this problem lies in the fact that the other part of the country, Scotland or England, is intimately affected. By no stretch of imagination can this be simply a matter for either the Scots or the English to decide by themselves.

I have already spoken in this debate, so I shall be very brief and put forward only two questions—one related to the difficulties on abortion. I refer my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to Hansard of 11th January, when my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise) said: The point about abortion is that a woman can visit, take her problem with her and solve it in one part of the United Kingdom where the law is different. This is the difference between abortion and the law relating to divorce and other matters concerned with child bearing."—[Official Report, 11th January 1978; Vol. 941, c. 1819.] We are told that of course we must keep all the maternal services together, but I should like to hear the Government's answer to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West.

The whole abortion question is very different from the other matters that have been discussed during this debate. Many of us fear—it is far too delicate and serious a subject to jump on any kind of a bandwagon—what would happen if the law were different. This is not a pro-abortion or anti-abortion argument. The root of the matter is that the law in one part of the kingdom may well be different from that in another part.

If the law is different, someone must answer the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). As the House does not have surveillance over the total law, will it be possible to have criminal prosecutions in Scotland but not in England, or vice versa? I put this as a direct question to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. It he prefers that my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate should reply, I shall understand. I think that the Lord Advocate—I am sure that it is not his intention not to do so—should play a very active part in these debates, and we should have an authoritative Law Officer's answer to this legal question, which was first formulated by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool.

Because this matter is so difficult and delicate, I for one—I cannot speak for anyone else—would quite understand if my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary were to say "In the light of what took place on Wednesday night and following this afternoon's discussion, please do not have a vote now. We will take this away, reflect and discuss it." I ask for no commitments. I am not in a position to do so. But I am sure that if he said that it would be in good faith.

Whatever was discussed this morning at the doctors' meeting, I have it on the authority of Dr. Dale Faulkner, the secretary of the Scottish section of the BMA and of Mr. James Cowell, the president and certain other doctors active in that section, that they are deeply concerned about what they call an abortion switch between Scotland and England. In those circumstances, it would be sensible and right if my hon. Friend said "Give us time. We shall reflect on the matter and come back with another answer."

Finally, I wish to refer again to Hansard on a different issue, of the Civil Service and health. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, referring to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) who had raised the question of the Civil Service, said: There is really no problem concerning that, because there will be no question of civil servants or a civil servant working both to the Scottish Assembly and to the Secretary of State. The civil servants will work for one or the other; they will not work for both. It will be a unified Civil Service. They will all be members of the same Civil Service to allow for United Kingdom recruitment, promotion and movement of civil servants. But they will work in Scotland for either the Assembly or the Secretary of State, not both."—[Official Report, 11th January 1978; Vol. 941, c. 1820] 4.45 p.m.

It is my information that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State is right and accurate in what he says. This is certainly confirmed both by Mr. Leslie Christie of the Society of Civil and Public Servants and by Mr. Norman Ellis of the First Division Association. If, however, there is no problem of loyalties, there will be a whale-sized problem of duplication of staff among civil servants. Whereas in the past we have had one set of civil servants, in the future, if the Bill becomes an Act, there will be two sets dealing with any given topic.

Let us take, for example, the subject of health. Are we to have one set of civil servants to advise the Health Minister in the Assembly on, for example, abortion, family planning and related topics, and to deal with the Assembly's committee on health? That will be one set of civil servants, who, by the by, will doubtless set about recruiting their own staff to advise them. The Assembly committee will also want staff. Will there be another set of civil servants advising the Secretary of State, at least until such time as that office, as my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) points out, "withers away", as it certainly will, whatever Ministers say in the year 1978?

My question is therefore a very direct and precise one. Are we right in thinking that instead of the one set of civil servants dealing with any given topic at present, if the Bill becomes an Act there will be two sets of civil servants deciding with precisely the same topics? Could there be cuts on either side? If so, how could such cuts be made? I am told that in practice once one has to have a set of civil servants dealing with a particular topic it becomes difficult to cut down their numbers. I therefore ask the question, are there to be two where before there was one?

Mr. Iain Sproat (Aberdeen, South)

I must admit that I had not intended to take part in this debate, and I shall do so only briefly. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) will recall that I have spent a great deal of time in the Chamber on this Bill and I have a perfect right to make interventions on this or any other schedule or clause.

Mr. Heffer

I doubt that. Where was the hon. Gentleman last week?

Mr. Sproat

The hon. Gentleman has only to look at Hansard to find out. However, no doubt it will cheer him up when I say that I intend to follow the example of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Small) by speaking briefly on this matter.

I decided to intervene because of the remark of the hon. Member for East Kilbride (Dr. Miller), who accused my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), by implication—or perhaps even more directly—of trying to open up this matter as some kind of anti-abortion campaign. I assure him that those of us on the Conservative Benches who will support my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), if he presses his amendment to a Division, but who do not find themselves on the same side of the argument as my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart—including myself, because I am opposed to him on this issue—still find it objectionable that we should be handing over these powers of abortion to a Scottish Assembly.

It is my view that almost every clause in the Bill is a recipe for confusion and chaos. But I think that, above all, to transfer responsibility for abortion legislation would indeed be to cause an administrative shambles. Although we have become used to confusion and chaos, this would add a most unpleasant new dimension to the legislation that we should be transferring.

It is vital that we have uniformity of treatment on abortion throughout the United Kingdom. As the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) said in an intervention, it is now a fact that in any hospital in any part of the United Kingdom equality of treatment is given, or, if that is not the case, it will have nothing to do with the difference in laws. That is the way it is and that is the way it should be. I foresee that if we reject this amendment we shall, perhaps, be giving rise to a filthy and squalid trade. There will be an extremely degrading trek of pregnant women from one side of the border to the other. I hope that that will be avoided by our carrying this amendment.

Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

The arguments are finely balanced in this debate and it was almost inevitable that they would centre mainly on the question of abortion. On the one hand, arguments which have been put to me from Scottish sources suggest that, since there are many thousands of people in Scotland who object to the situation in our country concerning abortion, the Scots would very much like to have the opportunity to change the law. They see this opportunity arising, provided this amendment is not passed.

On the other side of the argument is the powerful voice which says that it would be impossible legislatively if something which was a crime in one part of the United Kingdom was not regarded as a crime in another part. This point was mentioned by the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse).

I do not know whether there is another act which is classified as a crime in Scotland but not so classified in England. I know that there are many differences in the administration of the law, but I should like to be clear on this issue. Indeed, it would be incredible if we were to accept such a situation, and I agree with all that has been said about people trekking over the border. My view is not arrived at because of my opinion on the abortion issue. I regard the whole question of devolution as being fundamentally so dangerous that I could never support it, because it implies the fragmentation of the United Kingdom. It is for that reason that I must come down on the side of rejecting very strongly any suggestion that such a basic and important issue could be operated in Scotland in a way totally different from what would happen in the rest of the United Kingdom.

It is perfectly true to say that tens of thousands of people in the United Kingdom oppose the abortion laws. No doubt the House of Commons will ensure that there is a change eventually, because there are still occasions when it hearkens to the voice and to the will of the people. But it is not because of that point that I shall direct myself into a particular Lobby this afternoon. It is because I believe it is impossible to over-stress the dangers of devolution and the break-up of the United Kingdom that I shall vote for the amendment.

Mr. John P. Mackintosh (Berwick and East Lothian)

I do not wish to enter into what are important but nevertheless side issues raised by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), who asked whether there would be two sets of civil servants. The answer to that is "No". Nor do I wish to go into the question raised by the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), who I hope will campaign during the referendum campaign in Scotland, because every word he said would drive people to vote for devolution.

There have been two systems of law in Scotland since 1707. Law Commissioners have been set up to ensure that the system of Scottish law is developed along lines of its own. There is not only one correct system of law. There are several legal practices in Scotland which are perhaps, neither better nor worse, but which are different—which we have developed in our own way. But I shall leave these points aside—

Mr. Abse


Mr. Mackintosh

I am willing to debate the legal question with my hon. Friend at any time. This matter was debated last Wednesday night, and there are other important matters to be debated before the guillotine falls. There is only one point that I want to make which has not been adequately covered, namely, that the amendment deals with family planning as well as with abortion.

As someone who, in Scotland, has long been associated with the Family Planning Association, one of the things I find most unhappy about this whole notion is that one can take all aspects of health and care from birth to death and treat them through a health service, but there are certain little sexual aspects which must be pulled out of the treatment of health and put somewhere else, dealt with differently, dealt with specially. I find that most unsatisfactory. The idea that family planning is not something which should be dealt with for the person by his or her GP in his doctoring in the situation in which he lives is entirely wrong. Our Health Service should be planned and organised as a single unit in Scotland.

Mr. Robert Hughes

I am afraid that my hon. Friend has fallen into the same trap as has ensnared many others. We are not talking about administration or about practice and the use of resources; we are speaking about a legislative difference. That is what makes it imperative that these matters keep broadly in line on both sides of the border.

Mr. Mackintosh

That is not the issue, because if one withdrew the legal and administrative control of family planning and abortion from the other authorities controlling a devolved Health Service, one would create an enclave within the Health Service in Scotland which would be different and separate. This would be profundly unsatisfactory. I believe that we want to reach a situation in which abortion, family planning and all aspects of health care for young men and women are regarded as part of the normal operation of the National Health Service. In such circumstances, to make this change would be most unsatisfactory.

The argument for devolution of the Health Service in Scotland is overwhelming. I do not think that anybody challenges that. The best case for it is made succinctly in the Scottish Year Book, where it is said that the new major reorganisation of the centralised Health Service in Scotland has withdrawn it for practical purposes from democratic control. It is now under the control of officials who run the Health Service, and although it is admirably run as a unit it needs to be run under political control for certain decision-making purposes.

That is the case for devolution of the Health Service. Let us not subtract essential areas of treatment within that Health Service and try to deal with them differently.

Mr. Robert Hughes

I am sorry to intervene, but I want briefly to make the point clear. First, there is no argument that, if the Assembly comes into being and there is devolution, the Health Service should be devolved. I do not support Amendment No. 521, which is to remove "health" entirely.

In the second amendment, no one is asking for the administration, the control, the allocation of resources and so on to be removed from the control of the Scottish Assembly. That is not the issue. What is at issue is whether it is right and proper that in Scotland, England and Wales there should be different laws dealing with therapy. It is on therapy that the matter arises—not on havens, trade or anything else but on whether the principle that, whatever the Scottish Assembly may say, anyone in Scotland who requires to come to England to obtain therapy which is not available in Scotland will continue to do so, if that be necessary. Similarly, if anyone in England requires to go to Scotland for therapy not available in his locality, he will still be able to do so.

The question not answered is whether, if the law is different in relation to abortion, therapy will still be available north or south of the border depending on the need of the individual patient. It is that aspect which urgently requires clarification.

If the Under-Secretary is unwilling to look at the substantial points raised and not necessarily to say that he will agree with us—and if he cannot undertake to look at the substantial points raised and consider them in detail, I shall be compelled to vote against him in the Lobby.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. Harry Ewing

I am very tempted to rest my argument on the case put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh), who had it absolutely right, but I feel bound to answer many of the points which have been raised. I will do so as briefly as possible, because, much of the debate that has taken place today—I do not say this in the form of complaint in any sense—is broadly a repeat of many of the things that were said when we debated the subject last week.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) in a sense was arguing against himself. If his argument, as I understand it to be, is that he is deeply concerned about the Assembly's having legislative competence in regard to abortion, it appears to me, in view of the fact that he said that he would not support Amendment No. 521, which deals with the devolution of the Health Service, that the two statements are in conflict. My hon. Friend appears to be quite happy to allow the Scottish Assembly to have legislative competence in every aspect of health care except the one aspect of abortion.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)

Will my hon. Friend give me one other example of therapeutic treatment in regard to which the criminal law applies? It does not apply, for example, to rheumatoid arthritis.

Mr. Mackintosh


Mr. Ewing

I shall be coming to the moral issues involved in the Health Service.

My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler)—

Mr. Gerry Fowler

I was hoping that my hon. Friend would today not use the argument—he did not use it on Wednesday—that there are people here who do not trust the Scots. He knows that I am in favour of devolution. I hope that he will address himself to the two main points, that a change in the law in either country would encourage abortion trafficking and would place an unfair burden of expenditure on the Health Service of one country in serving the needs of the other. Neither seems to have anything to do with the principle of devolution.

Mr. Ewing

If my hon. Friend will allow me to develop my argument, without trying to prejudge it, he will hear what I have to say. I have not said, nor do I intend to say, that people in the House do not trust the Scots, because that would not be true.

I feel that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North has brought some conflict into his own argument on the question of legislative competence. It seems to me that what is being said is that it is perfectly all right and that there is no danger at all as long as the Scottish Assembly has legislative competence in every aspect of health care, but for goodness' sake not in regard to abortion. With great respect there is some contradiction in that kind of argument.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) referred to prosecutions in Scotland being on a different basis from those in England, should the law be changed. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) also dwelt at length on the criminal law. I do not propose to deal with the criminal law, because that will arise in a later schedule to the Bill, but the fact is that the criminal law is a devolved matter. It will be devolved if the House so wills it. The answer to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian is that if there were a change in the law on abortion in Scotland there would be bound to be prosecutions on a different basis.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) said recently that if he were in a position to do so he would reintroduce capital punishment in Scotland, whether England, Wales and Northern Ireland wanted it or not. I have already said that the criminal law is a devolved matter, and it is as simple as that. These legal matters will in any event be dealt with by my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate when we come to that section of the Bill.

As to the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian concerning the Civil Service, I do not know what I have to do to convince him. I thought I had convinced him last Wednesday evening, and that my convincing arguments were reinforced by the two senior civil servants to whom my hon. Friend spoke, no doubt in the hope that he would obtain some contradiction from them. What he obtained, in fact, was complete support for everything I said but, lo and behold, he comes back today and asks for further reassurances. In all honesty, I have really given my hon. Friend and the House all the assurances I can and all the explanation I can on the question of the Civil Service. I do not want to be unkind, but I cannot go beyond what I said on Wednesday, when I though that my explanation, backed up by the Civil Service unions, was quite clear, concise and understandable.

Mr. Dalyell

Of course, on the issue of double loyalty, I accept what the civil servants have said. But they added—my hon. Friend can check this—that the system would lead to great duplication. On the double loyalty question, therefore, I am convinced, but on the question of duplication I am not convinced.

Mr. Ewing

I do not want to get involved in that argument again, because it would really sidetrack us from the main issue, and no doubt other opportunities will arise to discuss it, but I seek again to convince my hon. Friend that there would be neither duplication nor double loyalty. I hope that my hon. Friend will be prepared to accept that assurance.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride (Dr. Miller)—speaking, I imagine, as a constituency Member and as a doctor—brought his own experience to bear on the question. The fact that we are debating it in a very calm atmosphere speaks volumes for the House. I think that the House should pay careful heed to what my hon. Friend said in support of the Government's position on this question, and against the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton).

Mr. Abse

I listened to my hon. Friend's suggestion that what I said was more relevant to another part of the Bill. I do not believe that it is any less relevant for that reason but, now that we have my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council here, will he give an assurance that we shall discuss the whole issue of the devolution of crime, which is dealt with on page 50 of the Bill, in Group 26? It seems obvious to me that there will be absolutely no opportunity whatsoever. Similarly, does not my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate feel that, while we are having a debate on this issue, which indicates the problems of conflicts of criminal law between the countries, he has a duty to say far more than he has done, especially in view of the guillotine which has been imposed on the initiative of the Lord President?

Mr. Ewing

My hon. Friend is aware, as a Member of long experience, that I have no control over these matters, and neither, in a sense, has my right hon. Friend the Lord President. The House has decided that a timetable motion should be applied. No one on the Government Front Bench has any control over the length of speeches made by Back Benchers or by anyone who wishes to support or object to any particular amendment on the Notice Paper. The kind of assurance that my hon. Friend is seeking cannot possibly be given.

The hon. Member for Cathcart asked me three questions. The first was whether I had any consultations since last Wednesday. I have certainly consulted the Law Officers on this point, and they are firmly of the view that we ought to devolve the law on abortion. There is no doubt in their minds about that. The Law Officers envisage some difficulty if we do not devolve the law on abortion. The hon. Gentleman having asked the question, I have sought to answer it.

I had a meeting this morning with representatives of the British Medical Association from Scotland. The purpose of the meeting—I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian will accept this—was not related to the question that we are discussing this afternoon, nor was that question raised. I explained to the House, when I intervened much earlier, the nature of the two matters that were raised.

The hon. Member for Cathcart asked whether I was suggesting that the fears were real or hypothetical. It appears that the worry that is being expressed is that there might be a change of law, not necessarily in Scotland but in England, involving a difference in the law. It appears that the view which the hon. Member for Cathcart wishes to prevail is the view held in this part of the United Kingdom. My view is that in this matter, as in all others, the Scottish Assembly will act responsibly. This is a matter in which the Whips have never been applied down the years, because it has been governed by conscience. Just as the House of Commons yields to public opinion, public pressure and to the will of our constituents, so will the Scottish Assembly be subject to the same pressures and have to decide its own view on this matter and others.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

The Minister says that the Law Officers are strongly of the opinion that abortion should be a devolved matter. Since the Lord Advocate is sitting on the Government Front Bench, should he not be expected to explain to the Committee why that is so?

Mr. Ewing

No, not necessarily. The Lord Advocate is quite content to leave this matter in my capable hands. The hon. Gentleman should make an arrangement with his Whips to allow him to serve on some of our Scottish Committees. He would see that such Committees are usually made up of two groups of Members. On the one hand, there are lawyers and, on the other hand, there are those of us who bring common sense to bear on these matters.

Mrs. Knight

Will the Committee take it from me, as an English Member who once served on a Scottish Committee, that as an English Member one courts extreme unpopularity if one seeks to raise one's voice in a Scottish Committee.

Mr. Ewing

I once remember the hon. Lady not being inhibited from speaking on such an occasion when she quoted, much to my amazement, two lines of the Selkirk Grace when I had complained bitterly about the price of meat under a Tory Administration. I hope that she will pass on her knowledge of service on Scottish Committees to her hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow).

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Will the Minister give the Committee an assurance that before Report he will consult and seek the views of Scottish health boards, the BMA, consultants and nurses and other bodies on whether this proposal would produce problems?

Mr. Ewing

The hon. Gentleman should realise that the BMA has already made representations, following publication of the White Paper in November 1975. I am sure that body is content to rest on those representations. We consulted the Law Officers and their advice was that, however difficult it may be—and I accept the difficulties—we should devolve this part of the Health Service along with every other aspect of health care that we are devolving to Scotland.

I wish now to deal with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson). In that context I also wish to deal with the point raised in an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan). I accept that nobody on this occasion is seeking to argue the rights or wrongs of abortion, or whether indeed abortion should be allowed. I accept that the debate concerns the question whether there should be a uniform United Kingdom policy on abortion and not issues involving abortion itself. I want there to be no misunderstanding on that aspect.

5.15 p.m.

In reply to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West, I agree that this is a moral issue. There is no shadow of doubt of that, and I am sure that there will be no disagreement in the Committee on that score. However, it seems strange that the Committee is suggesting that this moral issue involving health matters should be treated any differently from other moral issues touching health matters. I remind the Committee that there are other matters. They include genetic councelling, screen- ing for congenital abnormalities, proof of life, and even euthanasia. The Committee will accept that there are other moral issues involved. My opinion—and this is only a matter of opinion and my hon. Friend the Member for Barking is entitled to her opinion as I am entitled to mine—is that it strikes me that the reason we are dwelling so heavily on the issue of abortion arises from the publicity which this matter has been given.

Mr. Heffer

Does my hon. Friend agree that we are debating an amendment on abortion? If we were debating an amendment on euthanasia, I know what my position would be. If we were debating other moral issues of that kind, I also know what my attitude would be. But we are now debating this problem. My hon. Friend is trying to draw a red herring across the trail. We have only this amendment before us. If we were talking about hanging, I wish to tell the Minister bluntly that my attention would be the same as that which I adopt on this matter.

Mr. Ewing

I am not seeking to draw a red herring across the debate. I am merely seeking to emphasise why this moral issue out of all the others has been selected for amendment. It has been highlighted and extracted in this way from the rest of the provisions. If this amendment is carried, I suggest that the only moral issue that will be highlighted is that of abortion. I hope that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West will carefully consider whether to divide on this matter. I also hope that the Committee will consider the position into which we are getting ourselves when considering nether to devolve the matter of abortion. I advise the Committee—the Committee is entitled to make up its own mind—to reject the amendment, because it will place us in considerable difficulty in regard to the Health Service if it is carried.

I conclude by saying that the Committee should consider the situation most seriously in respect of future control over these matters by the Scottish Assembly. Is it correct to exclude this matter from all the other health care issues? I accept that I am unable to convince some hon. Members on this matter, because of the strong feelings that exist, but I hope that before any hon. Member goes into the Division Lobby he will give careful consideration to what he is doing. If the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West persists in pushing this matter to a vote, I ask the Committee to reject the amendment.

Sir John Gilmour (Fife, East)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: No. 545, in Schedule 10, page 48, line 3, leave out "Family planning. Abortion."—[Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 162, Noes 179.

Division No. 61] AYES [5.20 p.m.
Abse, Leo Glyn, Dr Alan Molyneaux, James
Allaun, Frank Goodhew, Victor Montgomery, Fergus
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Goodlad, Alastair Moonman, Eric
Arnold, Tom Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Gray, Hamish Morris, Michael (Northampton S)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Grieve, Percy Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)
Bell, Ronald Griffiths, Eldon Neave, Airey
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Grist, Ian Neubert, Michael
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay) Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Newens, Stanley
Benyon, W. Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss Newton, Tony
Berry, Hon Anthony Hastings, Stephen Ogden, Eric
Biggs-Davison, John Hayhoe, Barney Onslow, Cranley
Blaker, Peter Heffer, Eric S. Orbach, Maurice
Boscawen, Hon Robert Hodgson, Robin Ovenden, John
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Holland, Philip Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)
Braine, Sir Bernard Hordern, Peter Page, Richard (Workington)
Brittan, Leon Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Palmer, Arthur
Buchan Norman Hughes, Roy (Newport) Parker, John
Buck, Antony Hurd, Douglas Pavitt, Laurie
Budgen, Nick James, David Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch
Bulmer, Esmond Jeger, Mrs Lena Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead) Rathbone, Tim
Carmichael, Neil Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)
Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Kaberry, Sir Donald Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Kerr, Russell Richardson, Miss Jo
Channon, Paul Kilroy-Silk, Robert Robinson, Geoffrey
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Kinnock, Neil Roderick, Caerwyn
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Knight, Mrs Jill Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Clegg, Walter Lamond, James Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Clemitson, Ivor Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Ryman, John
Cockroft, John Lawrence, Ivan Sedgemore, Brian
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Lee, John Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Corbett, Robin Le Marchant, Spencer Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Cowans, Harry Lester, Jim (Beeston) Shepherd, Colin
Crawshaw, Richard Litterick, Tom Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
Dalyell, Tam Loyden, Eddie Skinner, Dennis
Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford) McCrindle, Robert Spearing, Nigel
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Macfarlane, Neil Spriggs, Leslie
Douglas-Mann, Bruce MacKay, Andrew (Stechford) Sproat, Iain
Drayson, Burnaby Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham) Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Durant, Tony McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Stradling Thomas, J.
Dykes, Hugh Madden, Max Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Edge, Geoff Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Tebbit, Norman
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Marten, Neil Temple-Morris, Peter
Ellis John (Brigg & Scun) Mather, Carol Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Eyre, Reginald Mayhew, Patrick Trotter, Neville
Fairgrieve, Russell Maynard, Miss Joan Weatherill, Bernard
Flannery, Martin Mendelson, John Wells, John
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N) Meyer, Sir Anthony Wise, Mrs Audrey
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Mikardo, Ian Younger, Hon George
Ford, Ben Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Moate, Roger Lord James Douglas-Hamilton and
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Molloy, William Sir John Gilmour.
Garrett. W. E.(Wallsend)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Beith, A. J. Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)
Armstrong, Ernest Bidwell, Sydney Buchanan, Richard
Atkinson, Norman Bishop, Rt Hon Edward Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Boardman, H. Campbell, Ian
Bain, Mrs Margaret Booth, Rt Hon Albert Canavan, Dennis
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Boyden, James (Bish Auck) Cant, R. B.
Bates, Alf Bray, Dr Jeremy Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)
Bean, R. E. Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Cohen, Stanley
Coleman, Donald John, Brynmor Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Johnson, James (Hull West) Sillars, James
Craigen, Jim (Maryhill) Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Silverman, Julius
Crawford, Douglas Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Skeet, T. H. H
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Small, William
Cryer, Bob Jones, Barry (East Flint) Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Jones, Dan (Burnley) Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Davidson, Arthur Kaufman, Gerald Snape, Peter
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil Kelley. Richard Stallard, A. W.
Dames, Ifor (Gower) Kilfedder, James Steel, Rt Hon David
Deakins, Eric Lambie, David Stewart, Rt Hon Donald
Dempsey, James Lamborn, Harry Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Doig, Peter Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Stoddart, David
Dormand, J, D. Lipton, Marcus Stott, Roger
Dunnett, Jack Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Strang, Gavin
Eadie, Alex McCartney, Hugh Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
English, Michael MacCormick, Iain Swain, Thomas
Ennals, Rt Hon David McElhone, Frank Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) McGuire, Michael (Ince) Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Thompson, George
Faulds, Andrew Mackintosh, John P. Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
Fell, Anthony Maclennan, Robert Tierney, Sydney
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Magee, Bryan Tinn, James
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Mallalieu, J. P. W. Tomlinson, John
Forrester, John Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Mawby, Ray Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Greud, Clement Meacher, Michael Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
George, Bruce Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Ward, Michael
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Mitchell, Austin Watkins, David
Ginsburg, David Monro, Hector Watkinson, John
Golding, John Morris, Rt Hon Charles R. Watt, Hamish
Gould, Bryan Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Wellbeloved, James
Gourlay, Harry Moyle, Roland Welsh, Andrew
Grant, George (Morpeth) Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King White, Frank R. (Bury)
Grant, John (Islington C) Noble, Mike White, James (Pollok)
Grimond, Rt Hon J. Oakes, Gordon Whitlock, William
Grocott, Bruce O'Halloran, Michael Wigley, Dafydd
Hardy, Peter Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Park, George Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Parry, Robert Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Henderson, Douglas Penhaligon, David Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
Hooley, Frank Perry, Ernest Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Horam, John Radice, Giles Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Reid, George Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Huckfield, Les Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Woodall, Alec
Hunter, Adam Roper, John Woof, Robert
Irving. Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Rose, Paul B. Wrigglesworth, Ian
Jackson, Colin (Brighouse) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Young, David (Bolton E)
Jackson. Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Janner, Greville Sandelson, Neville TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Sever, John Mr. James Hamilton and
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Shore, Rt Hon Peter Mr Ted Graham.

Question accordingly negatived.

5.30 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Crawford (Perth and East Perthshire)

I beg to move—[HON. MEMBERS; "Speak up."] I am enjoying listening to the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan).—[Interruption.]

The Chairman

Order. Will those right hon. and hon. Members who do not wish to hear the next amendment moved kindly leave the Chamber quietly?

Mr. Crawford

I beg to move Amendment No. 465, in Schedule 10, page 48, line 4, at end insert:

  1. GROUP 1A (Finance) 44,178 words, 2 divisions
  2. c413
  4. cc413-22
  5. MR. PAUL BRAMWELL 3,519 words