HC Deb 15 February 1980 vol 978 cc1931-2019


Which amendment was: No. 3, in page 1, line 8, leave out "less than 20 weeks" and insert" 27 weeks or less".

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

9.45 am
Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)

The House will recall that in the previous debate I had just risen after the contribution of the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg). The hon. Gentleman succinctly and vigorously put forward the case for the 22-week amendment.

I said that the House was weary of the debate. It is a joyless subject. I was about to suggest that there must be a well-founded desire to find a solution that is acceptable within a plural society, where compromise is necessary. The House may be aware that that opinion is echoed in other quarters, including, as I observe this morning, by a number of Privy Councillors.

Unhappily, if, in an attempt to still the controversy, we move on the basis of a 24-week amendment, it is almost inevitable that we shall fail. Unlike the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr.Steel), Privy Councillors want to reach a conclusion, as most of us do. The right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles has given bad advice for a long time and contributed largely to the problems in which we find ourselves. If the House listened to the right hon. Gentleman it would find itself in the position of having to start all over again. The Government would then have to be involved. I do not believe that the House should take such advice.

The controversy has continued for so long that the lobbies have become almost institutionalised. I wonder what many of them will do if we ever reach a solution.

I believe it has been suggested by Privy Councillors that the debate has become unseemly. Therefore, why do I reluctantly draw back from the compromise of 24 weeks, which I do not believe will still the controversy?

The House should face two facts that are undisputed except by the most extravagant partisans on both sides of the House. They have both been put forward unequivocally and clearly by the Minister. First, the Minister has clearly indicated that there is no authenticated case of survival earlier than 24 weeks.

The instant response, in a desperate attempt to reach a conclusion, is to ask why we cannot settle on that time limit and be done with the wretched controversy. Alas, it is not so simple. There is another fact, replete with moral problems, that has to be faced. If we do not face it, far from being done with the cacophony of warring views and preparing the path for further compromise in later parts of the Bill we shall almost certainly guarantee further and even more shrill controversy. The awkward fact was frankly brought forward by the Minister in Committee. His remarks have been referred to but not specifically emphasised on Report.

After the Minister expressed his view, he brought forward a letter that he had received from Professor Reynolds. Professor Reynolds is the professor of neonatal paediatrics at University College hospital medical school, which is the main centre in this country for dealing with very young infants. He proceeded to read the letter.

The statistical conclusions have been catalogued to the House and I do not want to repeat them. However, I must say that nobody can read those statistics of how, increasingly over a short period of time, as a result of the dedicated work of all people in that unit, more and more women who cannot carry their children to term are finding that they can have the blessing of parenthood. I emphasise that because there is a mood in some quarters that seeks to devalue and depreciate motherhood to such an extent that certain people seek to prove that life cannot be lived before a certain point. The hopes of so many thousands of women that are concentrated upon the research work of the unit appear to be devalued by assertion after assertion that before a certain time a child cannot be born alive in any circumstances.

The awkward fact that the House must face is, as the Minister saw, the most important fact within the letter. In Committee, when reading the letter, the Minister said: This is the most important part of his —that is, the professor's— letter. I shall read it if the House will bear with me for one paragraph. It says: We occasionally admit babies born at 23 weeks gestation, and while none has yet survived, it is inevitable that one will, sooner or later. Then comes the crucial sentence—the one that everyone must face up to if they stand by the 24-week amendment. The letter says: Infants born at 23 weeks are, incidentally, sometimes very much alive at birth—whatever you may hear to the contrary!"—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 21 November 1979; c. 272.] So that is an awkward fact. The fact is that now—not in some prospective future but now, if we pass the 24-week amendment—we are approving the legality of the destruction of a baby who is brought out of the womb very much alive.

So far, although no 23-week baby has survived for long, the fact is that any 23-week baby can be born alive. If there are hon. Members who are prepared to slay 23-week babies—and in moral terms it matters not whether the baby is inside or outside the womb—surely they must be prepared to put forward the most compelling moral imperatives—

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York) rose

Mr. Abse

I do not intend to give way to anybody except the Minister.

Mr. Lyon rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant God-man Irvine)


Mr. Abse

I do not intend to give way; I intend to develop my argument. Last week the hon. Member for Essex South-East (Sir B. Braine) was so generous in giving way that opponents outside the House said that he unduly prolonged the debate and accused him of filibustering. That occurred because he gave way so many times. I intend to give way to no one except the Minister. There will be plenty of opportunity for every hon. Member to develop his or her own point of view.

To the credit of the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison), who moved the amendment, and most of those who support the 24-week period, faced with this challenge—the fact that they may be slaying a live 23-week baby—they do not simply catalogue the normal reasons given which entitle doctors to carry out abortions under the 1967Act. They recognise that that liberal enactment which enabled an abortion to take place in so many circumstances is obviously not sufficient to justify the killing of a live 23-week baby. They had to deal with other arguments. They advanced them in the belief that they were the most compelling arguments.

Let us examine them. Will these arguments solve the consciences of hon. Members who are seeking to justify the slaying of 23-week old babies? The first argument is that we do not need to be so scrupulous. The Minister will have power, by order, to reduce the age limit when it is shown that a child has survived. That contention quite clearly dodges the issue. Babies are being born alive at 23 weeks now. They are being destroyed now. After all, that argument justifies reducing the limit only from 24 weeks to 23 weeks.

On many occasions I have had the professional duty of defending murderers. So far no murderer, however arrogant, has claimed in his defence that the killing was only a slight anticipation of the inevitability of his victim's death. That is the argument that is being put forward here. It is said that a 23-week old child born alive will die anyhow. So shall we all. That is not a very well-founded argument. Hon. Members will need to have stronger stomachs and more robust consciences than I have to go into the Lobby in support of that. Also, I wonder whether those hon. Members who are considering supporting the 24-week amendment will really want to go into the Lobby with those other hon. Members who believe in abortion on demand.

What other moral imperatives are being claimed to justify an amendment that will give immunity for the slaying of a 23-week baby? The hon. Member for Devizes put his views fluently last week. He said he was concerned about two small groups among the very small numbers seeking late abortion. The group includes the older, more mature woman who, although they are almost six months pregnant, may make the mistake of believing themselves to be menopausal. Does that argument carry enough weight to justify the awesome violation of the principle of the sancity of human life being enshrined in our legislation?

There is a second argument that is more weighty—that is, the hon. Member's understandable concern for very young teenagers. There are very small numbers who, out of ignorance or fear, conceal their pregnancies.

10 am

We are on dangerous ground here. With no joy, the hon. Member for Essex, South-East and I have been involved in this controversy from the beginning. Despite the varying views and different fashions among the doctors who have appeared before us and irrespective of who happened to be in official positions at the time, there is some evidence that we have never heard challenged. It was given by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, not to the Select Committee but to the Lane committee. It said: There is evidence from other countries where legalised abortion has been in operation for many years that sequelae such as sterility, menorrhagea, ecurrentabortion and premature labour are not uncommon amongst women who, in youth, had a pregnancy terminated. I could cite much support for that view from many professors.

The uncomfortable fact is that giving an abortion to a young teenager may appear to be a compassionate way of resolving a current dilemma, but it may be withdrawing from her for ever the right to the blessings of motherhood.

Given the ambiguities and conflicts about the desirability of abortions for the very young, I cannot regard the claim that that special pleading can amount to the moral imperative that would enable us to enshrine in our legislation the right to slay a known, living, human being.

I am trying to find every argument that has been advanced in order to justify the amendment being accepted. The next argument was put by the Minister, and he will have to meet it. He suggested that, after all, perhaps it would not matter very much if the period was 24 weeks, despite the position of the 23-week living human being.

The Minister indicated that if the legislation specifies 24 weeks it may mean that doctors will not go beyond 22 weeks, because they will prefer to work below the upper time limit. Why? Perhaps the Minister will explain. No doubt they want to be certain that they work within the law. I cannot see any other reason, except, obviously, a natural desire not to have late abortions, but if they have come to the conclusion that they want to give an abortion as soon as they can, and there are good grounds for giving it according to the Act, they will go ahead.

Why does the Minister suggest that even if we say that it will be 24 weeks, the problems that I am raising about the 23-week baby will not arise because doctors will not go beyond that time? There is no reason why they should not go right up to the date. They would not be doing anything unlawful.

Indeed, the Minister's argument goes both ways. If, in good faith according to the law—and I am assuming, as is the Minister, their good faith—doctors aborted a 25-week-old child, believing it to be 24 weeks old, they would have committed no offence.

Of course, the scamps who did not act in good faith are a different matter, but the House is dealing with the argument that it can comfortably pass a provision stipulating a period of 24 weeks in the belief that 22 weeks will be the norm. But hon. Members cannot dodge the issue. They have to face the fact that if we provide for 24 weeks it may, in some cases, be more when people have miscalculated the wrong way.

What are we left with on these arguments? The first thing that is clear is that we cannot evade our responsibility by hiding behind the claim that it is a medical issue to be decided by doctors. In a recent article, Hugo Young, the political editor of The Sunday Times was right to chide us, as politicians, for shirking from asserting that abortion is a morally wrong act that can be justified only by a greater moral imperative.

I have sought to adumbrate the arguments and I trust that though I may have over-familiarised the House with those arguments again, the Minister will understand that, whatever accommodation he may wish to give to the medical profession, we are dealing with a matter on which we, as parliamentarians, have to bring our judgment and minds to bear. Whatever the Minister's personal conclusion may be, I trust that in order that there should be no revulsion, as there may be on the part of many people, he will indicate that it is his personal view and that he is making no recommendation to the House.

I am a secular Jew. Unhappily, I can no longer believe in the faith of my fathers, but I remember much that I was taught. The Talmud taught me that the world survives in the breath of little children. I believe that turning life into death is the most reactionary thing that can ever happen. I do not understand those who believe that there is something progressive about such an act. Although we may be a secular society, each year when Christmas comes we celebrate the birth of a Jewish child. That is a concept embedded within our civilisation, and if we breach it we shall be subverting some of the greatest values on which our civilisation rests.

In the last resort, our belief in justice and liberty depends on our respect for the sanctity of life. We are being asked by those acting out of political expediency or misunderstanding to put the 24-week amendment on to the statute book and to be a pace-setter in Europe, declaring that, by legislation, we affront the whole challenge given to us by a Judeo-Christian civilisation and enshrine the idea that a 23-week child, who we know is alive, can by our laws be slain. I ask the House to come with us into the 22-week Lobby.

Mr. John Corrie (Bute and North Ayrshire)

There is no doubt that the issue of the upper time limit is central in the minds of the general public. I have had petitions from more than 100,000 people all over Britain who support the view that the upper time limit should not be above 20 weeks. I have taken note of the statement issued by a number of right hon. Members, a copy of which reached me this morning, but I am not at this stage prepared to compromise as they suggest.

My original intention on the upper time limit was to change the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929, which gives us the present 28-weeks limit, but the DHSS pointed out that it would cause grave legal problems, because the Act does not cover Scotland and because of the different legal system in Scotland. I therefore withdrew the original clauses and put the present drafting in their place.

I am well aware that most medical opinion, including that of the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, is against 20 weeks but would support 24 weeks, but the two bodies which produced the fiercest opposition to the 1967 Act in the first place were the BMA and the RCOG. At that time their advice was not listened to. That is why we now have the 1967 Act, which some of us want to change.

The one thing that is certain is that opinion polls have shown that the public want the upper time limit to be reduced. The Brass Tacks poll in June 1979 showed over 65 per cent. of the population in favour of such a change. The Sunday Times poll, whatever else it said, said that 70 per cent. of the population wanted the upper time limit to be reduced.

However, I accept that that is not necessarily the feeling in the House. So let us look at the amendments. I hope that the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) will seek to withdraw amendment No. 3. If not, I hope that the House will vote against it, because I do not think that there is any support for 27 weeks.

Amendment No. 2 says "24 weeks or less". I hope that hon. Members will listen to the argument and think very seriously before supporting that wording. My hon. Friend the Minister for Health said on Second Reading: The reasoning behind the desire for change concerns the viability of the foetus. It may be the view of the House that an upper time limit should be set at a point where there is, in all foreseeable circumstances, no prospect of a child being born as a result of procedure for terminating pregnancy. That is probably the view of the House. My hon. Friend added: I know of only two authenticated cases in this country of a foetus surviving before 26 weeks. One was at 24 weeks and one was at either 24 weeks or 25 weeks. Even at this age a crucial factor is the weight of the child and no child weighing less than 500 grams has been known to survive. Nevertheless, if we are honest with ourselves, the possibility must be said to exist. What hon. Members will do if they support amendment No. 2 is knowingly to go into the Lobby to set an upper time limit at which the Minister has categorically stated a foetus has survived. I thought that the whole aim of having an upper time limit was to set it where that would not happen.

In a letter dated 14 August 1979, Dr. Paintin told me: My own view is that abortion is intended to destroy the foetus and that legal abortion has not been performed if the foetus is born alive. I repeat that my hon. Friend the Minister has told us that he knows of one foetus born at 24 weeks. My hon. Friend also said on Second Reading, when he was talking about the 1 per cent. above 20 weeks: The House will realise that within this area, small though it is, some quite serious doubts have been expressed from many quarters. What crosses my mind is that numbers alone are not the total answer. If even one child is wrongly aborted, that is a fault in the law and something that we shall have to consider."—[Official Report, 13 July 1979; Vol 970, c. 944–6.] My whole argument is that we should not go for an upper time limit where any mistake can be made. To vote for amendment No. 2 would be to vote for a position in some ways no better than the present one. The evidence shows that 24 weeks is too late.

Amendment No. 48, in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) and others, is to insert "22 weeks or less". I listened to my hon. Friend last week, and I listened today to the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). Much as I dislike discarding a limit of less than 20 weeks, I hope that the House will accept amendment No. 48, because it does what is required. It gives patients and doctors time. It also allows for mistakes of up to two weeks. There is at present no chance of a foetus surviving at that age.

10.15 am

I must also tell my hon. Friend the Minister that he obviously thought that the letter from Professor Reynolds was of some importance when he read it out in Committee. He left me and other hon. Members with the impression that at that point he perhaps felt that he could support 22 weeks. I am well aware that points in that letter have been refuted by other doctors since, but the important few lines were read out by the hon. Member for Pontypool. My contention is that a 24-week upper time limit is too high.

May I stress to hon. Members who have not read the Bill that all the exceptions are covered in clause 2. In Committee my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) said to my hon. Friend the Minister: If a time limit of 20 weeks were adopted, does my hon. Friend agree that the exceptions contained in this amendment, and in those that we shall discuss later, cover all the difficult cases that he raised early in his speech, such as the woman with foetal abnormalities, the young girl who does not know she is pregnant and the menopausal woman, and that they would all be able to have abortions under the exemptions that are contained in the amendments?". My hon. Friend the Minister replied: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. That is a very important point. I understand that such women would be able to have abortions."—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 7 November 1979; c. 177.] That equally covers 22 weeks.

Given all that and the realisation that difficulties would undoubtedly arise at 24 weeks, I sincerely hope that hon. Members will support amendment No. 48 and a limit of 22 weeks.

Mr. David Ennals (Norwich, North)

Last Friday I set out at some length the arguments in favour of an upper limit of 24 weeks, and I do not intend to go over that ground again today, except to quote what the Minister said in Standing Committee.

First, there are two points that I want especially to make early in the debate. One concerns whether hon. Members and the people whom we represent wish the House to reach a decision on the Bill. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) was suggesting that those whom we represent did not want us to reach a decision. I totally disagree; I believe that a decision must be reached. The issue has been under debate for more than 10 years. We have had Select Committees, representative or otherwise. We have had attempts by hon. Members on one side or the other to amend the law, and now we have this Bill before us.

I believe that the people of this country want to see an end to the debate. It arouses enormous passion and deep feeling in those who take either side. I do not despise those who take a point of view quite different from my own. I am sure that the tens of thousands of people who have signed petitions and come to the House to make their representations to hon. Members in favour of the "Corrie Bill" have done so sincerely. I do not believe in the sincerity of some of the propagandists who have supported them, but that is another matter.

I equally believe that those who oppose any amendment to the 1967 Act do so with genuine sincerity. If my hon. Friend suggests that in this great debate one side has care for life and the other none, that one side has morality on its side and the other none, that is totally to misrepresent our views and those of our constituents, whatever view we may take.

I am convinced that it would be a tragedy if the Bill were passed in its present form. Equally, it would be a tragedy if, because of the lack of time, the issue remained open and undetermined, waiting for the next Session of Parliament for another Private Member to introduce another Bill and for us to have another year of debate on it. The people of this country, especially the women, believe that Parliament should fulfil its duty and that we should take a decision.

I support very strongly the views expressed in the letter which has been circulated by five right hon. Members of the House. I have been ill for the last two days, but if I had had the opportunity to see the letter in advance it would have been signed by six right hon. Members. What is more, there are many more right hon. Members who would have done the same if they had had the opportunity.

Some right hon. and hon. Members have not seen the letter, and people outside the House are not aware of its contents. For that reason, this short state- ment should be put on the record. I repeat my support for it. It reads: We believe that a wide agreement now exists in the House for a reduction of the time limit to twenty-four weeks. I believe that to be true. It is true of many of those who felt that the 1967 Act required amendment to that extent. Many right hon. and hon. Members who initially supported 20 weeks feel that the Minister used all the right arguments, as did the medical profession.

The letter continues: We know that this will not be totally acceptable to all people"— nothing that this House has ever passed has been totally acceptable to all people— on both sides of the argument. Nevertheless bearing in mind that the Government constantly keeps the working of the existing abortion law under review, we would ask them to support this"— that is, 24 weeks— as a compromise in the best interests of the country and, indeed, the House itself. We would hope in return that the sponsors would be willing to withdraw the other sections of the Bill. We would urge all sides to accept this as a proper and reasonable solution to what could become a protracted, perhaps unseemly, certainly bitter, conflict. We ask that serious consideration be given to this appeal by all sides of the House and on all sides of the argument. Unfortunately, I have forgotten the constituencies of most of the right hon. Members who signed that letter, and I dare not mention their names.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central) rose

Mr. Ennals

I shall gladly give way to my hon. Friend if he can assist me.

Mr. Hamilton

I hope that I have them right. They are my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bottomley), the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann), the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) and the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith).

Mr. Ennals

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. As I say, I am certain that we could add to those names, with a very large number of other right hon. and hon. Members signing the letter if they had had the opportunity to do so. What is more, I suspect that if members of Her Majesty's Government were able to sign declarations such as this, many right hon. and hon. Members on the Treasury Bench would wish to be associated with it, as I, as a former Secretary of State, associate myself with it.

Several important statements are made in the letter. It points out that the Government constantly keep the working of the existing abortion law under review. When the issue was debated two or three years ago, I and my right hon. Friend the then Minister of State took the opportunity to show how the Labour Government had sought to keep it under review. The present Minister, both in Standing Committee and in these debates, has shown again that the Government are alive to these issues and are keeping them under review.

On the subject of 24 weeks, I need not quote too many of the Minister's statements when he dealt with the upper limit on 7 November 1979. In the course of his most outstanding statement, he said that the medical advice which he had received was unanimously in favour of 24 weeks. He said that it had been put to him—and this answers one of the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool— that if 20 weeks were the limit, many doctors would in practice try to work to 17 or 18 weeks. That would, of course, create great problems. Whatever my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool may say, I am sure that that is right. The thought that somehow or other doctors might get away with it if challenged in the courts is not one that most doctors would tolerate. Most doctors are determined to live within the law, and they will not take risks. There would be grave risks, and they were pointed out by the Minister. He made clear in many of his interventions in Committee the consultation that he had had. He said: The medical bodies, particularly the BMA, were opposed to any change in the 1967 Act on the ground that it was working reasonably well."—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 7 November 1979; c. 173–4] But they, too, are prepared to accept 24 weeks. I believe that it is a genuine compromise which would be accepted as fulfilling the wishes of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of this argument.

I was disappointed to hear the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Mr. Corrie) say that he had just seen the letter and did not think that the suggestion was appropriate. This is a major initiative. If it is not, I hope that around the right hon. Members who signed the statement there will be created a major initiative. If we are able to get a major change in what many have felt to be a weakness in the 1967 Act—and I would vote for 24 weeks—it will reflect what has occurred since 1967. The Bill's sponsors will be very unwise if they do not see that they will gain a victory for themselves and the view that they hold if we can get acceptance just on this.

It has been said by many right hon. and hon. Members that if the Bill had stuck to just this issue it would have been through by now and we would not this morning have been discussing it. Instead, we would have been discussing another Private Member's Bill which has been held up by these debates.

I plead with the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire to consider this initiative, to see it as a victory and, in return, to withdraw other parts of the Bill. I assure him that those of us who disagree with the rest of his Bill will fight vigorously, genuinely and sincerely not in an attempt to filibuster or to hold up the processes of the House but simply because we think that the proposals are wrong. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his sponsors will give serious thought to accepting this compromise.

10.30 am

When the previous attempt was made to amend the law, there were informal talks between the two sides. My right hon. Friend the former Minister of State was involved in those initiatives. We sought to find a compromise but it was not possible. I believe that a compromise has now been found. I appeal to the House, and especially to the sponsors, to accept the plea in the declaration by right hon. Members. We would then have taken a decision of which we could be justly proud.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland (Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn): I should like to take this opportunity to advise the House, following the speech of the right hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals) and his plea, that, whatever its merits, the compromise proposed does not make the same change in the law of Scotland as it makes in the law of England. As I understand the law of England, because of the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929, the effect of the 1967 Act is to leave a situation in which the destruction of a foetus after 28 weeks is a crime. In the law of Scotland, neither in the 13 years since 1967 nor in the 13 centuries before has it ever been a crime to destroy a foetus in utero at any stage of pregnancy if it has been done for good medical reasons and according to good medical practice.

Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton North-East)

Lucky Scotland.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland: That has always been the law, and since 1967 there has been no complaint of its operation in Scotland. When my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Mr. Corrie) said that public opinion polls showed a wish to reduce the time limit during which the carrying out of abortion was legitimate in the country, he may unintentionally have misled the House. In Scotland, there cannot be any poll of persons who wish to reduce that limit, since there is not in law, and never has been in law, any time limit.

The law is clearer. I think that it will appeal to the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), because the destruction of a living foetus ex utero at any stage, be it four weeks or 40 weeks, is homicide. The destruction of a foetus in utero, at any stage, is not a crime if done for medical reasons. The compromise proposed to the House would introduce into the law of Scotland a fundamental control and, in my belief, a fundamental change which, in principle, goes against the law of Scotland on this matter as it has always been—oddly enough, without complaint, before the 1967 Act and after it. The reason why there has been no complaint since 1967 is probably that nobody knows, or very few people know, that this is the law of Scotland. Even the sponsor of the Bill has apparently been uninformed of the fact that this is the law of Scotland.

I therefore ask the House to consider carefully before putting on a time limit that would make error a criminal offence.

Mr. Ennals rose

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I shall give way in a moment.

If, de facto, a doctor aborted a foetus in the twenty-fifth week, it would be no defence, as I think the hon. Member for Pontypool suggested, to say that he had done so in good faith. It might be a mitigating factor in the question of penalty, but it would be no defence to the crime, because the period is absolute and is a matter of fact.

Mr. Abse rose

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I shall give way in a moment.

It is a bad principle of law to make, at best, what can only be an informed guess or estimate into the basis for the commission of a criminal offence.

Mr. Ennals

The House is grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for explaining the differences between Scottish and English law. I may be forgiven as an English Member for not knowing that distinction. I am in a different position, perhaps, from the sponsor of the Bill, but the situation need present no problem in the compromise that I have argued. There are later amendments which, if not framed properly, could be so framed as to exclude Scotland and leave the law in Scotland as it is. It could be a law that applies elsewhere but not in Scotland. I presume that the hon. and learned Gentleman is not using as an argument that an issue in England should not be settled on the basis already suggested.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, but I am anxious to save Scotland from the English and the English from themselves. It is important to understand that the compromise would make a fundamental change and turn a mistake into a crime. It is for that reason that the law of Scotland before the 1967 Act was the common law. An abortion was a medical operation carried out with the same information and for the same reason and with the same care and skill as any other medical operation. That was the criterion. It gave rise to no difficulty. It contradicted no principle and it aroused no complaint from any quarter.

Mr. Abse

It has been suggested that an error in the calculation of the weeks would amount to a criminal offence. I do not know the law of Scotland, but the law, as it has been presented, would operate if it were 24 weeks or 22 weeks. If the Bill were amended to 22 or 24 weeks and if doctors carried out an abortion in good faith, the error committed would not be a criminal offence.

Section 1(1) of the Abortion Act 1967 says: if two registered medical practitioners are of the opinion, formed in good faith". The amendment would include that the pregnancy had lasted for 24 or 22 weeks, followed by the exemption.

I therefore challenge the suggestion that an error could mean a criminal offence. Whatever compromise may be reached—24 weeks or 22 weeks—it would not make a criminal offence if doctors acted in error in good faith. I put it to the hon. and learned Gentleman that what he puts forward is a view that he does not want any change in Scotland, but he should not mislead the House into thinking that a criminal offence is taking place.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

The hon. Gentleman has convinced me that it would perhaps be best to restrict the matter to Wales. I must, however, urge upon the House that the law of Scotland was changed by the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) because he had just been elected for a Scottish seat, when it was the law of England whose two statutes had caused the difficulty that required the amendment of the law. Our law rested well then, and it is still different now. To introduce a limit would be a fundamental change in the principle of the law of Scotland.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman recognise that under the law of England to kill a viable foetus born alive is an offence, at whatever time the foetus is born? Therefore, the suggestion in the disgraceful speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) is wrong, because to kill a foetus at any time when it is born and capable of living would also be an offence in English law.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I had presumed that to kill a child ex utero or partly ex utero, at whatever stage of development, was homicide in England. It certainly is in Scotland. In Scotland it is not an offence to terminate a pregnancy at any stage for good medical reasons. That is a principle of law which I should not like to see breached.

Mr. William Hamilton

The whole House—particularly Scottish Members—is grateful for the intervention of the Solicitor-General for Scotland. His personal views on these matters are well known. He is to be complimented on the vehemence with which he expressed them when he was not a Minister, and he never sought to hide those views even after he achieved ministerial office. I hope that in due course he will address the House again, because there are later amendments which seek to exclude Scotland from certain provisions in the Bill for precisely the reasons that he enunciated.

I turn now to the main proposition before the House—the amendments relating to time limits of 20 weeks, 22 weeks, 24 weeks and 27 weeks. Selective quotations have been produced by hon. Members on either side of the argument to support their cause. I do not doubt for a moment the sincerity of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) about the view that he holds, but I object to the arrogant presumption that those who do not take his view are inhumane, immoral or even murderers. That word is constantly hurled at people such as myself who take a different view from those who support the "Corrie Bill" and those who, in effect, have supported successive attempts to repeal the 1967 Act. That is what all these Bills have been about, ever since the 1967 Act was passed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool asserted, I think rightly, that the House probably wants to come to a conclusion. That is right on this occasion. But even if we accept the compromise that has been suggested in the all-party letter from the five Privy Councillors which has been published today, the problem will not go away. Anyone who thinks that had better think again.

The opponents of the 1967 Act want to destroy it by salami tactics—slice by slice. If a time limit of 24 weeks is agreed to, they will then turn their attention to the charities, the criteria and every other conceivable thing until they obtain their objective. There is abundant evidence to suggest that that would be contrary to the broad feeling of public opinion. Whenever there has been a public opinion poll on these matters, it is undeniable that it has shown that the public as a whole want to see the 1967 Act amended in some ways but retained on the statute book, because it has given a large measure of happiness and relief to many families and women.

The hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Mr. Corrie) has suggested a compromise of 22 weeks. That is not good enough, and I think that the House realises that it is not good enough. As the Minister said during our debates in Committee, 22 weeks would be the worst of all worlds. I now turn to the evidence in favour of 24 weeks. As I have said before, I am a layman in these matters and I must take evidence from whatever quarter I can get it. I must weigh it up as best I can and then make my decision. I believe that the evidence in support of 24 weeks far outweighs the evidence for either 22 weeks or for any other period. Parliament would be highly irresponsible if it did not take account of the weight and quality of the evidence in favour of the 24-week limit, including the Royal colleges and the professors of gynaecology in Scotland. They are almost unanimously in favour of this kind of compromise.

10.45 am

Hardly anyone on the Corrie side, to use a shorthand expression, quotes Lane, except selectively if it happens to come down on his side. But the Lane committee, which was authoritative and independent, took evidence right across the board on this and other matters and came down in favour of 24 weeks.

Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East) rose

Mr. Hamilton

No, I shall not give way. I hope that in due course the hon. Gentleman will be capable of a very long speech. The Lane committee, the Royal colleges, the Department of Health and Social Security, the Scottish Office, the British Medical Association and a host of other important, knowledgeable and authoritative organisations have all come down in favour of 24 weeks.

The Minister himself is on record as saying that the medical advice that he had received was unanimously in favour of 24 weeks".—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 7 November 1979; c. 174–75.] According to an answer that I received from the Scottish Office, Most of the medical and nursing bodies…were opposed to…an upper time-limit for abortion of 20 weeks…and six bodies expressed support for a time limit of 24 weeks."—[Official Report, 30 January 1980; Vol. 977, c. 677.] Only one of 13 bodies which have made representations to the Scottish Office during the last six months expressed support for 20 weeks.

Despite the Minister's statement that the earliest authenticated case of survival…is at 24 weeks"—[Official Report Standing Committee C, 7 November 1979; c. 173.), several sensational stories appeared in the press where the foetus was alleged to have lived before 24 weeks, and there have been cases of premature birth when similar allegations have been made of survival before 24 weeks. Six such allegations were made between July 1978 and November 1979. I want to put them on record in a fairly brief comment. The first was the Wanstead case, where the abortion took place in July 1978, although it did not hit the headlines until 25 March 1979. Allegations were made in the press that the gestation period was 20 weeks and that the foetus was live. The subsequent investigation of the area health authority showed that it was a 19-week gestation and that there was no possibility of independent life.

The second was the Whiston hospital case, about which I think one of the hon. Members from Manchester made representations to the Minister. There the abortion took place on 4 January 1979, and it hit the headlines about three or four months later, on 20 April 1979. The allegation was that the foetus was of 22 weeks' gestation and that it struggled for life for two hours. Investigation revealed that the weight of the foetus was 300 grammes and that the gestation age was 18–19 weeks. The Minister said that there was no basis for the allegation.

We then had the Barnsley case, on 26 April 1979. The allegation there was that the foetus was of 23 weeks' gestation, that it had lived for 36 to 38 hours and that it had been left unattended for three and a half hours to five hours. Subsequent investigation showed that the foetus was not of 23 but of 26 weeks' gestation and that the cause of death was immaturity. The consultant pathologist at the Home Office said that permanent survival was not possible.

The fourth case occurred in Glasgow in October 1979, when the abortion was at 24 weeks. The allegation was that the foetus was born live. Professor Macnaughton, who was in charge of the case and of the subsequent inquiry, proved that the foetus was not viable and that there had been strong support for the operation from the mother and the general practitioner.

The next case was at Chertsey, where the child was born prematurely on 11 October 1979. There was some dispute over the age and weight of the foetus. Mr. Norris, the consultant gynaecologist, alleged that the gestation age of the foetus was 23 weeks. It was estimated at University College hospital, to which the child had been transferred, that the period was not 23 weeks, but 24 to 26 weeks. This miracle baby, so described by Mr. Norris, unfortunately died after a five-week struggle.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram) quoted a United States case, reported in the Daily Mail of 6 November 1979. It concerned a child with a gestation age of 23 weeks on United States calculations. By United Kingdom measurements the period was 25 weeks.

Allegations that survival is possible and has occurred before 24 weeks and even at 20 weeks have been repeated.

I quote a letter sent by the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) to her constituents some time ago. I gave her notice that I would raise this today.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster) rose

Mr. Hamilton

I shall give way after I have quoted the letter.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

I have not received notice.

Mr. Hamilton

I sent notice to the hon. Lady yesterday and I also saw her in the House after I had sent it.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

I did not get it.

Mr. Hamilton

The letter was in the post yesterday and the hon. Lady was around long after it had been delivered. I saw her. I quote the letter: It is also to prevent the killing of fully-formed children"— the letter is dealing with the Bill— who are perfectly capable of sustaining life on their own apart from their mothers. At present it is possible to obtain the legal abortion of a baby of 28 weeks which in fact is capable of living on its own for the past eight weeks and indeed"— this is the relevant part of the letter which the hon. Lady sent to her constituents— a large number of aborted foetuses of 20 weeks have been revived and are now alive. The hon. Lady is either ignorant or she is something else. I would be using unparliamentary language if I were to describe that "something else". The hon. Lady is responsible for what she sends out. There is no case in the world—let alone in this country—where a foetus of 20 weeks has survived.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Thehon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) says that he gave me notice. I did not receive it. He has not given me notice. I have had my post and his letter is certainly not in it, otherwise I would have it with me.

We should pay considerable attention to the letter of Professor Reynolds, referred to by the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), in which he said: We occasionally admit babies born at 23 weeks and although in fact they have not survived yet, one will sooner or later. Foetuses born at 23 weeks are sometimes very much alive. We should also pay attention to the evidence given by the Minister himself when he said on 7 November that it was extremely important that there should be a sliding clause because medical progress was advancing all the time and babies who cannot now survive will be able to do so as techniques improve.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

Order. An intervention must be brief.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

With great respect, once having—

Mr. Deputy Speaker


Mr. Hamilton

The hon. Member for Lancaster has discredited her case. Not even Professor Reynolds talks about a foetus being born live and thriving at 20 weeks. The hon. Lady has sent out that letter to innocent constituents, saying that foetuses of 20 weeks have survived and are still thriving. It is a lie, and I leave it at that.

I was coming to the letter from Professor Reynolds, which was quoted by the Minister in Committee. I make no complaint about Professor Reynolds's qualifications or his integrity. Why should I? He is a well-known and eminent expert in this field. The letter has been quoted at length, and if the hon. Member for Lancaster had been here last week she would have heard it quoted then. There is no need for us to put it on the record three or four times, but Professor Reynolds said: None has yet survived at 23 weeks though some infants born at 23 weeks are sometimes very much alive at birth. That is one view in one letter. The professor then came down in favour of 22 weeks. Why does my hon. Fend the Member for Pontypool assume that because one professor has expressed that view the whole of the medical profession ought to fall into line with him?

Dr. M. S. Miller (East Kilbride)

Not only is it impossible for a 23-week foetus to survive, but Professor Reynolds admits that there are only two survivors at 24 to 26 weeks. One is severely mentally retarded and the other suffers from a loss of hearing.

Mr. Hamilton

The kind of selective quoting—

Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East) rose

Mr. Hamilton

No, I cannot give way. I really must get on. I have quite a lot to say.

Mrs. Short

We ought to settle this question of Professor Reynolds's view. His view was quoted last week and has been used and misused today. I should like to read a brief note which I have received from Professor Reynolds: I would still gladly settle for 24 weeks provided the rest of the Bill was thrown out. That indicates Professor Reynolds's view very clearly.

Mr. Hamilton

I am glad that I allowed my hon. Friend to intervene.

Mr. Stanley Cohen (Leeds, South-East)

I shall try to be helpful. If my hon. Friend checks very carefully the letter from Professor Reynolds that was read to the Committee, he will see that it points out that the rate of survival at 24 to 26 weeks of premature babies in his unit is 50 per cent.

Mr. Hamilton

It does not say that.

I want to refer to the evidence on the other side. I have in my possession a horrific piece of glossy, coloured propaganda which is sent to every hon. Member whenever there is an Abortion Bill. Every time an Abortion Bill is introduced this damned brochure is sent out. It was produced in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1971 and has never been amended. It is translated into many languages, including Chinese. If an Abortion Bill is introduced in China, Chinese Members of Parliament will receive this propaganda. The brochure is a comedy of errors. It is designed to horrify and disgust rather than to inform. It is counter-productive. When hon. Members receive it, they should screw it up.

11 am

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

To what does my hon. Friend object in that publication? Does he object to the pictures of children?

Mr. Hamilton

The pictures are fake. Some of them are blown up four times. None of the pictures are identified. No place or time is mentioned. None relate to the British situation. Some of the pictures relate to unnamed American and Canadian hospitals. When the doctor in whose book the pictures appear was asked to identify the hospitals, he was unable to do so. The brochure is a tissue of lies. It is issued on behalf of the Life Organisation each time we debate abortion.

It is important to put that on the record because there is increasing evidence in the House that such vile, lying propaganda is counter-productive. Is it not safer to frame our legislation on more scientific and authoritative evidence than that? Dr. Pembrey, the senior lecturer at the Insttute of Child Health, who wrote to the Minister on 23 November 1979, disputed Professor Reynolds's views. He said: Before 24 weeks there is no evidence to support the view that improvements in neonatal intensive care will make such foetuses independently viable. To clinch the argument, the letter which appeared in The Lancet and which was quoted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals) last week was signed by about 70 of the most eminent doctors, surgeons and professors of obstetrics and gynaecology in the world. Those who signed that letter included Sir George Godber, the former chief medical officer at the Department of Health and Social Security, Sir Richard Doll, professor of medicine at Oxford university, Dame Josephine Barnes, president of the BMA, the presidents of the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Surgeons, GPs, psychiatrists, pathologists and the presidents of the medical and surgical colleges in Scotland. What more evidence could the House have to condemn the Bill, the 22 weeks and all that goes with it?

If I have to listen to advice, I am more than slightly inclined to accept guidance from eminent, world-famous doctors, surgeons, and professors than the advice and guidance of a vociferous tribe of celibate priests and nuns and a simple Scottish fanner. That is how I must weigh the evidence. I prefer the surgeons and the professors.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton)

I am a layman, with no ethical or medical qualifications. I was much influenced by last Friday's debate, particularly by the speech by the right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel). I am attracted by the compromise solution of 24 weeks that has been advocated from all parts of the House. I support amendment No. 2.

I wish to remind the House briefly of some of the reasons why we may regret moving away from the present 28 weeks limit. My ideal solution is to leave the Act exactly as it is. I say that because a reduction in the time limit must increase the chances that the most vulnerable groups will not obtain legal abortions when they need them most. Women, young and not so young, will be faced with the invidious choice of having an unwanted child or an illegal and possibly dangerous abortion.

It is said that only 1 per cent. of women having legal abortions in 1976 were involved. However, the supporters of the Bill have made great play that even if one child is murdered—as they put it—that is unacceptable. I make equal play of the existence of a number of women who need the protection of the law.

A departure from 28 weeks means that there will be an additional bias against some of the women who are likely to need legal abortions most. The tendency of the amendment Bills over the years has been to chip away at a fairly sound and widely accepted Act. As a layman, I am dubious about the moral arguments that are thrown around. There can be no conclusive moral argument attached to one time limit or another. It cannot be more or less ethical to destroy a foetus at 28 weeks than at 24 or 22 weeks. Not even the most cunning theologian could convince me that the soul is present at between 20 and 28 weeks after conception but not at under 20 weeks. The argument about souls and ethics is casuistry. It is worthy of the medieval debates between theologians hundreds of years ago, which we should have left behind.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton (Mr. Forman) seems to assume that the whole question relies on the mother who is bearing the baby and that that is the end of the story. What about the doctors and nurses who may find that they are party to a murder? Is not that a moral issue?

Mr. Forman

That matter will be dealt with when we discuss conscience clauses. I accept that there is a problem for some doctors and nurses. However, I understand that they are allowed to contract out of such work on conscience grounds.

In my humble opinion as a layman, the only sensible definition of the beginning of human life is at the moment of normal birth at the end of a normal, healthy pregnancy. That is the way that we, as practical people, should look at the issue. There is a strong argument for leaving the Act as it is.

In the present circumstances there is obviously a need for some sort of judicious compromise on 24 weeks. That has commanded the widespread support of many hon. Members on both sides of the House and, what is more important, the almost unanimous medical support of those qualified to pronounce on the matter. I urge all right hon. and hon. Members to support amendment No. 2.

Mr. Ian Mikardo (Bethnal Green and Bow)

I am glad to speak after the hon. Member for Carshalton (Mr. Forman) because my attitude to the amendments before us, though not identical to his, follows very closely his argument.

I do not like the clause as it is, and I do not like any of the amendments that have been grouped together for discussion. They impose a limitation on legal abortion. The worry that looms largest in my mind is that the more that legal abortions are limited, the greater will be the increase in illegal abortions. That is the central factor in the argument that has influenced me most in all the time that I have spent studying the subject and right through the long stage of Standing Committee.

If there is an imperative—to steal a word from my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse)—that rests upon us, it is to do everything that we can to reduce the incidence of illegal abortion and, if it can be achieved, to eliminate it altogether.

Illegal abortion is a problem more in deprived areas with low average income standards, bad housing and social deprivation than in other parts of the country. I have seen all that horrible back-street abortion business at first hand. I was brought up in the slum area of a naval dockyard port and lived for long periods in East London, including parts of what is now my constituency, though I did not imagine that it would ever be so.

I lived in Bow almost half a century ago. Within a stone's throw of my home there were four back-street abortionists of whom I knew. Everybody knew of them. I have no doubt that there may have been more of whom I did not know. There was one doctor in the area, a few yards east of Mile End station. He was a lovely old chap. He struggled manfully with what must have been one of the most difficult practices anywhere in the country. He told me that between one-fifth and one-quarter of his work was taken up with cleaning up the septic and other after-effects of either pathetic failed attempts at self-abortion—the knitting needle and the gin bottle—or the back-street abortions.

That was a long time ago. We must consider the up-to-date evidence. There have been many polls on the matter, and the one to which we ought to pay the most attention is that taken recently by the magazine Woman's Own among women of child-bearing age. After all, they are the subject of the legislation that we are discussing. They will have to make the decisions. It is no good my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool talking about a moral imperative unless what he is saying is accepted as an imperative by those who will make the decision.

11.15 am

The most impressive result of the poll—and something that we cannot ignore—is that two-thirds of the women of childbearing age said that if they had an unwanted pregnancy they would seek an abortion. Of that two-thirds, 80 per cent. said that if they could not have a legal abortion they would have an illegal abortion. Eighty per cent. of two-thirds—as hon. Members will calculate quickly—is rather more than half. If those women mean what they say, more than half of those with unwanted pregnancies will have an illegal abortion if they are unable to obtain a legal abortion.

I do not wish to restrict in any way, beyond what is contained in the 1967 Act—which is already restricted, and we have heard that in Scotland it is not progressive but regressive—the possibility of legal aborations, as I do not wish to pile up illegal back-street abortions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool quoted from the Babylonian Talmud. It is possibly the first time that that document has ever been quoted in the House. I would like to swop a quotation with him. I am stretching my memory back 60 years, but I think that he will find a passage in the early pages of the Tractate Bava Metsia which says "We have to deal with life as it is". It is an anti-Utopian passage that says that we live among people and have to deal with them as they are. The women of child-bearing age are having to deal with life as it is. It will not be my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool or I who will face the consequences of any decision that we take today on the limits for abortion. It will be those women. They have made up their minds, and we ought not to force more and more of them to the knitting needle and the back street abortionist.

It is all right for the rich women. They go to Harley Street. They do not have a problem. They did not have a problem before the 1967 Act, they did not have a problem after the Act, and they will not have a problem whatever we do with the Bill.

The hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Mr. Corrie) knows perfectly well that I have no bad feelings towards him. He is a nice chap, who is being used by some people who are not so nice. In Committee I told him that the basic achievement of the Bill will be something that I do not believe he really intends, namely, an increase in the business of the Harley Street and the back-street abortionists.

Dr. M. S. Miller

My hon. Friend said that richer women were not affected and have not been affected. He added that they will not be affected if, unfortunately, the Bill is enacted. I draw his attention to a paper published a few years ago by Professor Lafitte. I took the opportunity of telephoning the professor on Tuesday. I asked him whether there had been any change since he published his paper four years ago. The professor stated that middle-class and better educated women, married or single, tend to get earlier attention than women in the semi-skilled and unskilled classes and receive proper treatment. He contended that the delay generated in the service is longer at every stage and affects a larger proportion of patients the lower their social class and the poorer their education.

Mr. Mikardo

The professor is right. I have great regard for his knowledge and experience, but I do not need his evidence. If we live in working-class areas, we know what happens.

Only last Wednesday I received a letter from more than 100 GPs who practise in the very areas where these issues will become a problem, namely, Tower Ham- lets and Hackney. It is a short letter, and I hope that the House will bear with me if I read an extract from it. The letter states: We are all general practitioners from the health districts of Hackney and Tower Hamlets. From the time that some of us began in practice here in the 1930s up until the Abortion Act became effective, we have seen the misery, ill-health and life threatening effects of back-street abortion. We all feel that the effect of the 1967 Act has been a positive one, and our patients and their families have benefited from this legislation. The changes proposed by Mr. Corrie could be a retrograde step, and if the Tower Hamlets day care abortion service were forced to close the women of this community would lose an important medical facility. The women of Hackney have the agreement of the area health authority to extend the service to their area, but if this Bill is passed their needs may never be met. We urge all MPs who voted for Mr. Corrie's Bill on Second Reading to reconsider this in the light of the weight of medical opinion against the Bill. Those whose constituencies do not share the problems of poverty, unemployment and sickness faced in the East End of London we ask to imagine what the effects of restricting access to abortion would be for the poorest women in this country.' Those are not my words. The letter was not solicited. It came to me as a bolt from the blue. General practitioners are busy chaps. They are not great lobbyists. They do not have much time to be lobbyists. The fact that they wrote such a letter indicates the strength of their feeling.

I have heard only one argument used against the proposition that more restrictions on legal abortions will mean more back-street abortions. That argument appeared in a letter sent to me from a clergyman in my constituency. It is one of the few letters that I have had from constituents in support of the Bill. This worthy and reverend gentleman wrote to me to say, in effect, "I do not understand, Mr. Mikardo, why you argue that if we restrict legal abortions we shall increase illegal back-street abortions. They have recently toughened up the law on abortion in Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Poland, and there has not been any increase in back-street abortions in those countries."

Has the House ever heard anything more naive than that? Can any hon. Member imagine any piece of biased propaganda being more biased than that? It is suggested that we can stop back- street abortion. It is argued that we should do what they do in Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Poland. In effect, it is being said "Let us have informers in all women's organisations, informers in every place where women work, plenty of secret police, Draconian penalties and courts that are not instruments of justice but instruments of the State."

We are not going to do that, are we? We shall not do that by any means, because none of us wants that. Outside the Draconian approach that I have described, we shall not arrive at a situation in which restrictions on legal abortions do not mean an expansion of illegal abortions. That is my first reason for being unhappy about the amendments. Secondly, I agree with the British Medical Association about the necessity to leave this difficult decision to the unfettered judgment of doctors. Doctors are mortal, fallible human beings like the rest of us. They can make mistakes. That is why we have always insisted that there should be the check of a second doctor. However, the doctor is surely in a position to know the particular case and to take into account, in making his judgment, all the factors in the case, including the gestational age of the foetus.

The doctor will know the woman. He will know her well. He will know her physical shape and her attitudes. He will know the likely effects on her physically and mentally of a termination and the likely effects on her physically and mentally of carrying through to a normal ending of the pregnancy. Thanks to splendid technical advances, doctors know a great deal about the foetus. They know its age within quite narrow limits. They know its weight and they know which way it is lying. They know many things about it. They are able to take into account all those factors and all that knowledge in making their judgment.

Why should we say "We give you liberty to make your judgment, but we shall place one numerical limitation upon your judgment"? We are saying to doctors "You are skilled. You have studied. You know your trade. Please exercise your judgment. However, on this piece of arithmetic you are not allowed to exercise it." That is like saying to the hanging committee of the Royal Academy that selects pictures to be hung at the summer exhibition "You are great artists. You are great connoisseurs of art. You are fully competent to decide which are the best pictures and which pictures should be exhibited. You must exercise your judgment and make your own decision. However, you will not exhibit any picture if it is less than 3ft long and 2 ft wide." That would be silly.

If we are relying on experts to make a judgment, it is silly to place an arithmetical barrier in the way of the free exercise of their judgment.

Mr. Vivien Bendall (Ilford, North) rose

Mr. Mikardo

The supporters of the Bill quoted cases ad nauseam in Committee. It is true that there are a few doctors who are not all that they should be, but there are a few butchers, bakers and candlestick makers, and Members of Parliament, who are not all that they should be. As I said earlier, doctors are fallible and mortal and they make mistakes. Some have made mistakes and instances of those mistakes have been quoted by several hon. Members. Likewise, architects, accountants and Members of Parliament make errors of judgment from time to time.

11.30 am

The overwhelming feeling in the profession as a whole and in all its branches is that it should be allowed to exercise its judgment. One matter that horrified me through the long Committee stage was the almost sizzling contempt with which so many supporters of the Bill spoke continuously of the medical profession. They were not prepared to trust the doctors in any way.

Mr. Bendall rose

Mr. Mikardo

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. If we had listened to the supporters of the Bill alone, without any other knowledge or considerations, we would have come to the conclusion that our doctors are a pretty bad lot. I agree that there are exceptions everywhere, but I do not share the view that doctors as a whole are not to be trusted to make fair judgments. Any judgment that they make must be on the basis of more evidence than anybody else.

Mr. Bendall

The hon. Gentleman said that the best judge was the doctor, because he had seen the woman. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the green form filled in by doctors to allow an abortion contains the question "Have you or have you not seen the patient?" More often than not, the second doctor has never seen the patient.

Mrs. Renée Short

How does the hon. Gentleman know that?

Mr. Mikardo

I shall gladly withdraw what I said if the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall) produces validated statistics indicating the percentage of doctors who have signed without seeing the patient. It amazes me how ready are some adult men to carry on with the childish habit of assuming that what they want to be the case is the case. It is pure wish fulfilment on their part.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

If the second doctor had not seen the patient but certified that he had, he would not be certifying in good faith. Therefore, that would not be covered by the Abortion Act and he would be guilty prima facie of an offence under the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929.

Mr. Mikardo

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He has put the point clearly—he understands these things better than I do. I reacted hastily to the intervention of the hon. Member for Ilford, North because he said something as a fact which he cannot conceivably know unless he has taken all the green forms and asked every doctor whether or not he has seen the patient. He said that "most" of them had never seen the patient. His standard of credibility seems to be on a par with that of the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman).

Mrs. Renée Short

Is my hon. Friend aware that the green form has been changed? In effect, a doctor has to certify that he has seen the patient.

Mr. Mikardo

I was not aware. That seems to be the final nail in the coffin of the hon. Member for Ilford, North.

I should like to refer once more to the problem of the teenage girls—unhappily, these days, not too far on in teenage—who become pregnant. I have seen many of these cases at first hand and I know how distressing they are. I speak as one who has brought up two lovely daughters, both of whom are now married with lovely families. I am distressed to hear of these awful cases of young girls who either cohabit with a man or have a continuing sexual relationship. Sometimes the relationship is with men of about their own age, but not infrequently it is with men much older than themselves. The minute that a girl becomes pregnant, the man disappears—he skives off. The girls are then left in a terrible state. The man whom they thought of as a prop has suddenly gone when he is most needed.

With my own eyes, I have seen kids who said "Of course, I would not tell my parents—my dad would have beaten the living dayights out of me and chucked me out of the house." One case that I know of involved a girl from Northern Ireland who was working in the North of England. She came into this difficulty and she told me that her parents would never let her in if she went back home. Such girls are scared to tell their parents. When they finally pluck up the courage to tell their parents it is often so late that inevitably, if there is an abortion, it is a late one. Research would probably discover that the incidence of late abortions among teenagers is higher than the average.

I suppose that every hon. Member who has or has had children would like to feel—as I felt when my girls were teenagers—that if they got into difficulty the first person they would come to would be their mother, and the second person would be their dad. Manifestly, that is not universally true throughout the community. I am terribly worried about these young girls.

I should prefer to have no limit on abortions, but one thing that has become clear in the debate is that there is no case for a figure below 24 weeks. It has become clear that the Minister was right to say that 22 weeks is the worst of all possible worlds. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) quoted from the letter that she received from Professor Reynolds. That eminent gentleman should have the last word on the matter. He has been quoted by supporters of the Bill in order to establish a case for a limit of less than 24 weeks, yet Professor Reynolds has said in almost identical words to those used by five hon. Members yesterday "I should be happy with 24 weeks." As the five hon. Members said, Professor Reynolds added that he would also be happy to see the rest of the Bill being dropped. If anyone doubted the case for something not less than 24 weeks—

Mr. Corrie rose

Mr. Mikardo

I am right at the end of my speech—I am sorry, I did not appreciate that it was the hon. Gentlman. I gladly give way.

Mr. Corrie

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that we cannot simply have a period of 24 weeks, but that there must be a clause giving exceptions if there is a cut-off point?

Mr. Mikardo

Of course, whatever figure is arrived at there have to be exceptions. There is no doubt about that. One reason why I should prefer to have no figure at all is that the doctors would be able to deal with exceptions much more easily. They would not have to fight to establish the exceptions, but they could use their judgment more freely. However, the hon. Gentleman is quite right in what he says.

Anybody who has argued the case for a period of less than 24 weeks—above all, anybody who has quoted Professor Reynolds in support of that argument—should be finally convinced by what that eminent gentleman wrote to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East that there is no conceivable case for a period of less than 24 weeks.

The Minister for Health (Dr. Gerard Vaughan)

We have had a long and constructive debate. I do not propose to go over the information points that I gave to the Committee. I simply wish to put some points to the House.

First, if we are to avoid children being killed at an age when they might be able to lead an independent existence—from the speeches that we have heard, I believe that that is the widespread view in the House—clearly the upper time limit must be 24 weeks or less.

Secondly, in practice doctors work to two weeks below the legal limit. There- fore, 20 weeks become 18 or even 17 weeks, 22 weeks become 20 weeks, 24 weeks become 22 weeks, 26 weeks become 24 weeks, and so on. They do that partly out of professional caution to be on the right side of the law, partly because dates of conception frequently have an error of about two weeks and partly because at these stages in foetal development the exact age of the foetus, even with the most up-to-date and modern ultra sound and other investigation techniques, cannot be estimated within two weeks. There is an error of one week either way on the date.

Thirdly, a great deal happens between 17 and 24 weeks. All the major investigations for foetal abnormality take place during that period and, as several hon. Members have pointed out, the tests often have to be repeated and that takes a little extra time.

There are also the tragic personal difficulties for young girls who have been too frightened or confused to seek advice earlier and older women who believe that they are menopausal rather than pregnant.

The point is that the medical profession believes that it should have the maximum freedom of discretion over what action to take in the period between 18 and 24 weeks. Doctors see that as an important aspect of dealing properly with individual patients on a personal basis.

Fourthly, the professional groups concerned—I went to great pains last year to inquire of all the recognised professional groups—were overwhelmingly in favour of not having a change in the Abortion Act. Incidentally, the BMA and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recently reaffirmed that opinion. The professional groups also overwhelmingly said that, if there were to be a change, their advice was that the upper time limit should be changed to 24 weeks.

Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Dr. Vaughan

No. We have had a long debate and I sense that it is the wish of the House to come to a conclusion on this matter.

I come now to my fifth and final point.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mrs. Knight

No. My hon. Friend would not give way to me.

Dr. Vaughan

I should like to return briefly to the aspect of viability. There has been no authenticated case below 24 weeks. Various parents have asked me not to go into further details about their children who died. I assure the House that no case below 24 weeks has survived. Therefore, it would be logical to go for 24 weeks, bearing in mind that in practice that will be 23 weeks or 22 weeks.

Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley) rose

Dr. Vaughan

But if there are medical advances, so that the situation changes, should not the House provide for that, bearing in mind the letter that Professor Reynolds sent to me at my request? I thought it right to go to the foremost centre in this country and inquire what its experience was. We should remember that Professor Reynolds's opinion is based on the experience of a unit, which is practically unique in this country, where there are special facilities. Should we provide for a change in medical science? I personally believe that we should. I remind the House that anything below 24 weeks leads into this period of intense investigation and uncertainty.

Three possible solutions have been put forward to meet this situation. The first, as in the Bill now, is to go to 20 weeks, at which age it is impossible for a baby to survive because his lungs are solid. The drawback is that, in practice, that will be 17 or 18 weeks, which is far too early for the whole range of decisions to be taken regarding deformities, to which I have already referred. I am advised that there would be so many exemptions

and doubts in people's minds if there were an upper time limit of 20 weeks that that would be regarded as legally irrelevant and that matters would continue much as they are now. The advice that I have been given is that if the House wishes to change the situation, clearly it should not go for 20 weeks.

The second solution is the one put forward by Professor Reynolds and by my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), which is to move the limit down to 22 weeks, but I suggest that that disregards the problems that would be created over investigations in that period. It would create confusion simply to meet a situation which at the moment lies in the future. That is still hypothetical today.

Mr. Abse

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Vaughan

I am just about to finish. But there is a third solution—to make the upper time limit 24 weeks but to retain the procedure set out in the Bill so that if there is a medical advance the Secretary of State can ask the House to lower the upper time limit.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon rose

Dr. Vaughan

That is the advice that I have been given, and that would be achieved by amendment No. 2.

Mr. W. Benyon (Buckingham) rose in his place and claimed to move, That the question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put: —

The House divided: Ayes 253, Noes 176.

Division No. 185] AYES [11.45 am
Abse, Leo Boscawen, Hon Robert Canavan, Dennis
Adams, Allen Bowden, Andrew Cant, R. B.
Alexander, Richard Boyson, Dr Rhodes Carlisle, John (Luton West)
Alison, Michael Bradford, Rev. R. Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Alton, David Braine, Sir Bernard Chalker, Mrs Lynda
Ancram, Michael Bray, Dr Jeremy Channon, Paul
Arnold, Tom Bright, Graham Chapman, Sydney
Atkins, Robert (Preston North) Brinton, Tim Churchill, W. S.
Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East) Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)
Banks, Robert Brooke, Hon Peter Clark, Sir William (Croydon South)
Beith, A. J. Brotherton, Michael Clegg, Sir Walter
Bell, Sir Ronald Bruce-Gardyne, John Cohen, Stanley
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon) Buchanan-Smith, Hon Alick Cope, John
Benyon, W. (Buckingham) Budgen, Nick Cormack, Patrick
Berry, Hon Anthony Burden, F. A. Corrie, John
Bevan, David Gilroy Butcher, John Costain, A. P.
Biffen, Rt Hon John Cadbury, Jocelyn Craigen, J. M. (Glasgow, Maryhill)
Blackburn. John Campbell-Savours, Dale Cranborne, Viscount
Cunliffe, Lawrence Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal)
Dalyell, Tam King, Rt Hon Tom Rees-Davies, W. R.
Dean, Paul (North Somerset) Knight, Mrs Jill Renton, Tim
Dempsey, James Lamont, Norman Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Dewar, Donald Lang, Ian Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Dickens, Geoffrey Lawrence, Ivan Robertson, George
Dixon, Donald Lee, John Robinson, Peter (Belfast East)
Douglas, Dick Le Marchant, Spencer Roper, John
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Lester, Jim (Beeston) Ross, Wm. (Londonderry)
Dover, Denshore Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Rossi, Hugh
Dunn, James A. (Liverpool, Kirkdale) Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Rowlands, Ted
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Luce, Richard Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Dunnett, Jack Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon Norman
Dykes, Hugh McCartney, Hugh Sandelson, Neville
Eadie, Alex McCrindle, Robert Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John McElhone, Frank Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge-Br'hills)
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (Pembroke) MacGregor, John Silvester, Fred
Eggar, Timothy McGuire, Michael (Ince) Sims, Roger
Emery, Peter MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Skeet, T. H. H.
English, Michael McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, Central) Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Ewing, Harry McNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury) Smith, Dudley (War. and Leam'ton)
Fairgrieve, Russell McNamara, Kevin Smith, Rt Hon J. (North Lanarkshire)
Fell, Anthony McQuarrie, Albert Speed, Keith
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Magee, Bryan Speller, Tony
Fisher, Sir Nigel Maguire, Frank (Fermanagh) Spicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)
Fitch, Alan Major, John Stanbrook, Ivor
Flit, Gerard Marlow, Tony Steen, Anthony
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Marshall, David (Gl'sgow, Shettles'n) Stewart, Rt Hon Donald (W Isles)
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Fox, Marcus Marten, Nell (Banbury) Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire)
Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) Martin, Michael (Gl'gow, Springb'rn) Stradling Thomas, J.
Fraser, Peter (South Angus) Mather, Carol Taylor, Robert (Croydon NW)
Galbraith, Hon T. G. D. Mawhinney, Dr Brian Tebbit, Norman
Garel-Jones, Tristan Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Thomas, Rt Hon Peter (Hendon S)
Ginsburg, David Mayhew, Patrick Thompson, Donald
Glyn, Dr Alan Mellor, David Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Goodhart, Philip Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Thornton, Malcolm
Gorst, John Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove &Redditch) Tinn, James
Gray, Hamish Mills, Iain (Meriden) Trippier, David
Greenway, Harry Moate, Roger Urwin, Rt Hon Tom
Grieve, Percy Molyneaux, James van Straubenzee, W. R.
Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St Edmunds) Montgomery, Fergus Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Moore, John Viggers, peter
Gummer, John Selwyn Morris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw) Waddington, David
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Hannam, John Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester) Wakeham, John
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Mudd, David Waldegrave, Hon William
Haselhurst, Alan Murphy, Christopher Waller, Gary
Hastings, Stephen Neubert, Michael Walters, Dennis
Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Newton, Tony Ward, John
Hawkins, Paul Ogden, Eric Wells, John (Maidstone)
Hawksley, Warren O'Halloran, Michael White, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)
Hayhoe, Barney Page, John (Harrow, West) White, James (Glasgow, pollok)
Henderson, Barry Page, Rt Hon Sir R. Graham Whitney, Raymond
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Page, Richard (SW Hertfordshire) Wiggin, Jerry
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham) Parkinson, Cecil Wigley, Dafydd
Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire) Parry, Robert Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Holland, Philip (Carlton) Patten, Christopher (Bath) Williams, Delwyn (Montgomery)
Home Robertson, John Patten, John (Oxford) Wilson, Gordon (Dundee East)
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Pawsey, James Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
Hughes, Mark (Durham) Pendry, Tom Winterton, Nicholas
Hunt, David (Wirral) Penhaligon, David Wrigglesworth, Ian
Hurd, Hon Douglas Percival, Sir Ian Young, Sir George (Acton)
Johnson Smith, Geoffrey Pollock, Alexander
Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch (S Down) TELLERS FOR THE AYES
Jones, Barry (East Flint) Price, David (Eastleigh) Mr. Vivian Bendall and
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Raison, Timothy Mr. Ian Campbell.
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Rathbone, Tim
Adley, Robert Brown, Ronald W. (Hackney S) Crouch, David
Allaun, Frank Brown, Ron (Edinburgh, Leith) Crowther, J. S.
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ernest Buchan, Norman Cryer, Bob
Ashton, Joe Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Davies, Ifor (Gower)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Carmichael, Neil Davis, Clinton (Hackney Central)
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) Carter-Jones, Lewis Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Cartwright, John Deakins, Eric
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Dobson, Frank
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Coleman, Donald Dormand, Jack
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Colvin, Michael Douglas-Mann, Bruce
Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West) Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Dubs, Alfred
Bradley, Tom Cook, Robin F. Eastham, Ken
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Cowans, Harry Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Kinnock, Neil Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Ennals, Rt Hon David Knox, David Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Lambie, David Scott, Nicholas
Evans, John (Newton) Lamborn, Harry Sever, John
Fairbairn, Nicholas Leighton, Ronald Sheerman, Barry
Faith, Mrs Sheila Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert (A'ton-u-L)
Field, Frank Lewis, Arthur (Newham North West) Shersby, Michael
Flannery, Martin Litherland, Robert Shore, Rt Hon Peter (Step and Pop)
Fletcher, L. R. (Ilkeston) Lofthouse, Geoffrey Short. Mrs Renée
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Lyon, Alexander (York) Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Lyons, Edward (Bradford West) Silverman, Julius
Forrester, John McDonald, Dr Oonagh Soley, Clive
Foster, Derek McKay, Allen (Penistone) Spearing, Nigel
Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood) McKelvey, William Spriggs, Leslie
Freud, Clement McWilliam, John Stallard, A. W.
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Marks, Kenneth Steel, Rt Hon David
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Marland, Paul Stoddart, David
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Marshall, Jim (Leicester South) Strang, Gavin
George, Bruce Mason, Rt Hon Roy Straw, Jack
Golding, John Maxton, John Temple-Morris, Peter
Gourlay, Harry Maynard, Miss Joan Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Graham, Ted Mikardo, Ian Thomas, Dr Roger (Carmarthen)
Grant, George (Morpeth) Miller, Dr M. S. (East Kilbride) Tilley John
Grant, John (Islington C) Miscampbell, Norman Torney, Tom
Grimond, Rt Hon J. Mitchell Austin (Grimsby) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Hampson, Dr Keith Morris, Michael (Northampton, Sth) Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)
Hardy, Peter Morton, George Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith Moyle, Rt Hon Roland Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Haynes, Frank Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Walker, Rt Hon Harold (Doncaster)
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Nelson, Anthony Weetch, Ken
Heffer, Eric S. Newens, Stanley Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)
Hicks, Robert O'Neill, Martin Welsh, Michael
Holland, Stuart (L'beth, Vauxhall) Orme, Rt Kon Stanley
Homewood, William Palmer, Arthur Wheeler, John
Horam, John Park, George Whitlock, William
Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H) Parker, John Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Howells, Geraint Pavitt, Laurie Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Huckfield, Les Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Winnick, David
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen North) Price, Christopher (Lewisham West) Woodall, Alec
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Race, Reg Woolmer, Kenneth
Janner, Hon Greville Radice, Giles Wright, Sheila
Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds South) Young, David (Bolton East)
John, Brynmor Rhodes James, Robert
Johnson, Walter (Derby South) Richardson, Jo TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rhondda) Roberts, Gwllym (Cannock) Mr. Stan Thorne and
Kilfedder, James A. Rooker, J. W. Mr. William Hamilton.
Kilroy-Silk, Robert

Question accordingly agreed to.

12 noon

Mr. Arthur Lewis (Newham, North West)

On a point of order Mr. Deputy Speaker—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

Order. As a result of the last vote, I must obey the will of the House and put the Question.

Mr. Arthur Lewis rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am bound by the will of the House. I must put the Question.

Question put accordingly, That the amendment be made: —

The House divided: Ayes 120, Noes 298.

Division No. 186] AYES [12.05 pm
Adley, Robert Davis, Clinton (Hackney Central) Garrett, John (Norwich S)
Allaun, Frank Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford) Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)
Ashton, Joe Deakins, Eric George, Bruce
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Graham, Ted
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Dobson, Frank Grant, George (Morpeth)
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Dormand, Jack Grant, John (Islington C)
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Dubs, Alfred Haynes, Frank
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) Holland, Stuart (L'beth, Vauxhall)
Bradley, Tom Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Homewood, William
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Evans, John (Newton) Hooley, Frank
Brown, Ronald W. (Hackney S) Fairbairn, Nicholas Howells, Geraint
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh, Leith) Flannery, Martin Huckfield, Les
Cant, R. B. Fletcher, L. R. (Ilkeston) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen North)
Cartwright, John Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Janner, Hon Greville
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Foot, Rt Hon Michael Jay, Rt Hon Douglas
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Forman, Nigel Johnson, Walter (Derby South)
Cowans, Harry Forrester, John Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rhondda)
Crowther, J. S. Foster, Derek Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Cryer, Bob Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood) Kerr, Russell
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Gardiner, George (Reigate) Kilfedder, James A.
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Newens, Stanley Spriggs, Leslie
Kinnock, Neil O'Neill, Martin Stallard, A. W.
Lamborn, Harry Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Stoddart, David
Leighton, Ronald Palmer, Arthur Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Lewis, Arthur (Newham North West) Park, George Thomas, Dr Roger (Carmarthen)
Litherland, Robert Parker, John Tilley, John
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Pavitt, Laurie Torney, Tom
Lyon, Alexander (York) Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Townend, John (Bridlington)
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Price, Christopher (Lewisham West) Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Race, Reg Walker, Rt Hon Harold (Doncaster)
McKelvey, William Radice, Giles Weetch, Ken
McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest) Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn Leeds South) Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)
McWilliam, John Richardson, Jo Welsh, Michael
Magee, Bryan Roberts, Allan (Bootle) Wheeler, John
Marland, Paul Rooker, J. w. Whitlock, William
Marshall, Jim (Leicester South) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Maynard, Miss Joan Sever, John Winnick, David
Mikardo, Ian Sheerman, Barry
Miller, Dr M. S. (East Kilbride) Short, Mrs Renée TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Morton, George Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford) Mr. Stan Thorne and
Moyle, Rt Hon Roland Soley, Clive Mr. William Hamilton
Nelson, Anthony
Abse, Leo Costain, A. P. Hannam, John
Adams, Allen Craigen, J. M. (Glasgow, Maryhill) Hardy, Peter
Alexander, Richard Cranborne, Viscount Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Alison, Michael Crouch, David Haselhurst, Alan
Alton, David Cunliffe, Lawrence Hastings, Stephen
Ancram, Michael Dalyell, Tam Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Davies, Ifor (Gower) Hawkins, Paul
Arnold, Tom Dean, Paul (North Somerset) Hawksley, Warren
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Dempsey, James Hayhoe, Barney
Atkins, Robert (Preston North) Dewar, Donald Heath, Rt Hon Edward
Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East) Dickens, Geoffrey Henderson, Barry
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) Dixon, Donald Hicks, Robert
Banks, Robert Douglas, Dick Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham)
Beith, A. J. Douglas-Mann, Bruce Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire)
Bell, Sir Ronald Dover, Denshore Holland, Philip (Carlton)
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon) Dunn, James A. (Liverpool, Kirkdale) Home Robertson, John
Benyon, W. (Buckingham) Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)
Berry, Hon Anthony Dunnett, Jack Hughes, Mark (Durham)
Bevan, David Gilroy Dykes, Hugh Hunt, David (Wirral)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Eadie, Alex Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Blackburn, John Eastham, Ken Hurd, Hon Douglas
Boscawen, Hon Robert Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Jessel, Toby
Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West) Edwards, Rt Hon N. (Pembroke) Johnson Smith, Geoffrey
Bowden, Andrew Eggar, Timothy Johnston, Russell (Inverness)
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Jones, Barry (East Flint)
Bradford, Rev. R. Emery, Peter Jones, Dan (Burnley)
Braine, Sir Bernard English, Michael Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Bray, Dr Jeremy Ewing, Harry Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Bright, Graham Faith, Mrs Sheila Kershaw, Anthony
Brinton, Tim Fell, Anthony King, Rt Hon Tom
Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Fenner, Mrs Peggy Knight, Mrs Jill
Brooks, Hon Peter Field, Frank Knox, David
Brotherton, Michael Fisher, Sir Nigel Lambie, David
Bruce-Gardyne, John Fitch, Alan Lang, Ian
Buchanan-Smith, Hon Alick Fitt, Gerard Lawrence, Ivan
Budgen, Nick Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Lee, John
Burden, F. A. Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Le Marchant, Spencer
Butcher, John Fox, Marcus Lester, Jim (Beeston)
Cadbury, Jocelyn Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Fraser, Peter (South Angus) Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Freud, Clement Mabon Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson
Canavan, Dennis Galbraith, Hon T. G. D. McCartney, Hugh
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Garel-Jones, Tristan McCrindle, Robert
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Ginsburg, David McElhone, Frank
Carter-Jones, Lewis Glyn, Dr Alan MacGregor, John
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Golding, John McGuire, Michael (Ince)
Channon, Paul Goodhart, Philip MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Chapman, Sydney Gorst, John McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, Central)
Churchill, W. S. Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) McNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury)
Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Gray, Hamish McNamara, Kevin
Clark, Sir William (Croydon South) Greenway, Harry McQuarrie, Albert
Clegg, Sir Walter Grieve, Percy Madel, David
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St Edmunds) Maguire, Frank (Fermanagh)
Cohen, Stanley Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Major, John
Colvin, Michael Grimond, Rt Hon J. Marlow, Tony
Cook, Robin F. Grist, Ian Marshall, David (Gl'sgow, Shettles'n)
Cope, John Gummer, John Selwyn Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)
Cormack, Patrick Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Marten, Neil (Banbury)
Corrie John Hampson, Dr Keith Martin, Michael (Gl'gow, Springb'rn)
Mason, Rt Hon Roy Raison, Timothy Temple-Morris, Peter
Mather, Carol Rathbone, Tim Thomas, Rt Hon Peter (Hendon S)
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal) Thompson, Donald
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Rees-Davies, W. R. Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Mayhew, Patrick Renton, Tim Thornton, Malcolm
Mellor, David Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Tinn, James
Meyer, Sir Anthony Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Robertson, George Trippier, David
Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch) Robinson, Peter (Belfast East) Urwin, Rt Hon Tom
Mills, Iain (Meriden) Roper, John van Straubenzee, W. R.
Mills, Peter (West Devon) Ross, Wm. (Londonderry) Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Miscampbell, Norman Rossi, Hugh Viggers, Peter
Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby) Rowlands, Ted Waddington, David
Moate, Roger Sainsbury, Hon Timothy Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Molyneaux, James St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon Norman Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Montgomery, Fergus Sandelson, Neville Wakeham, John
Moore, John Shaw, Michael (Scarborough) Waldegrave, Hon William
Morris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert (A'ton-u-L) Waller, Gary
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon) Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge-Br'hills) Walters, Dennis
Morris, Michael (Northampton, Sth) Shersby, Michael Ward, John
Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester) Silvester, Fred Watson, John
Mudd, David Sims, Roger Wells, John (Maidstone)
Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Skeet, T. H. H. White, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)
Murphy, Christopher Smith, Cyril (Rochdale) White, James (Glasgow, pollok)
Neubert, Michael Smith, Dudley (War. and Leam'ton) Whitney, Raymond
Newton, Tony Smith, Rt Hon J. (North Lanarkshire) Wiggin, Jerry
O'Halloran, Michael Spearing, Nigel Wigley, Dafydd
Page, John (Harrow, West) Speed, Keith Wilkinson, John
Page, Rt Hon Sir R. Graham Speller, Tony Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Page, Richard (SW Hertfordshire) Spicer, Michael (s Worcestershire) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Parkinson, Cecil Squire, Robin Wilson, Gordon (Dundee East)
Parry, Robert Stanbrook, Ivor Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
Patten, Christopher (Bath) Steel, Rt Hon David Winterton, Nicholas
Patten, John (Oxford) Steen, Anthony Woodall, Alec
Pawsey, James Stewart, Rt Hon Donald (W Isles) Wrigglesworth, Ian
Pendry, Tom Stewart, Ian (Hitchin) Young, David (Bolton East)
Penhaligon, David Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire)
Percival, Sir Ian Stradling Thomas, J. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Pollock, Alexander Straw, Jack Mr. Vivian Bendall and
Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch (S Down) Taylor, Robert (Croydon NW) Mr. Ian Campbell.
Price, David (Eastleigh) Tebbit, Norman

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. During the Division on the closure, two problems appeared to arise. First, it seemed that there were insufficient sheets to record the names of hon. Members who wished to vote in the Aye Lobby. Secondly, the doors were left unlocked for nine and a half minutes rather than eight minutes.

You will appreciate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that because there were insufficient sheets, some confusion could have been caused in the Aye Lobby, and, more seriously, the fact that the doors were left open for nine and a half minutes could have affected the result of the vote. [Interruption.] There is a gooddeal of noise in various parts of the House, but it is surely self-evident that if the doors were left open for nine and a half minutes instead of eight minutes it gave hon. Members one and a half minutes more to reach the Lobby, and that could have influenced the vote.

I should like your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because the matter has a relevance that is wider than merely the Bill. [Interruption.] I shall make my point of order. It does not matter how much thuggery and shouting takes place on the Conseravtive Benches;my point of order is relevant and important, and I intend to make it.

It seems that it is within the discretion of the Chair to decide how long hon. Members are given to get into the Division Lobbies. Many hon. Members were not aware of that fact. Some hon. Members were in the Norman Shaw building, and it is well known that—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am prepared to hear anything that the hon. Gentleman has to say that is relevant to the incident that has just taken place, but the hon. Gentleman is now going a little wide.

Mr. Stoddart

Can you give me guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on the question whether the Chair has absolute discretion to vary the time that an hon. Member has to get from where he happens to be into the Division Lobby? Can the Chair vary it from eight minutes to nine and half minutes, or from eight minutes to seven minutes or six minutes? I should very much appreciate your guidance.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman mentioned two incidents. The first was the cause of the second. If the hon. Gentleman will be good enough to look at Standing Order No. 34(3), he will see that the Chair is directed only to see that at least six minutes have elapsed. At present we work normally on the basis of eight minutes, but on this occasion I exercise your discretion at the lower end cause of the incident that had been reported to me. If there is any matter that the hon. Gentleman wishes to pursue as a result, he knows of the channels through which he can pursue it.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I point out that if you exercise your discretion at the lower end, and give only six minutes, it is extremely difficult for those who are in the Norman Shaw building to get here in time for a Division.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Arrangements have already been made for that. A period of eight minutes is allowed on each

occasion so there is no difficulty about the Norman Shaw building.

Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham and Heston)

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am confident that the recent exchanges—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It would be helpful if I could hear what the hon. Gentleman was saying.

Mr. Kerr

Oddly enough, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I was about to make precisely the same complaint about the exchange that took place at your end of the Chamber. Could you please ask any hon. Member who wishes to raise exotic points of order to speak up, in order that we, too, can be stimulated?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is always helpful if we can hear what is being said.

Amendment proposed: No. 2, in page 1, line 8, leave out less than 20 weeks' and insert 24 weeks or less'.—[Mr. Mikardo.]

Question put, That the amendment be made: —

The House divided: Ayes 275, Noes 172.

Division No. 187] AYES [12.25 pm
Adley, Robert Chalker, Mrs Lynda Faith, Mrs Sheila
Alexander, Richard Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Field, Frank
Allaun, Frank Coleman, Donald Flannery, Martin
Anderson, Donald Colvin, Michael Fletcher, L. R. (Ilkeston)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ernest Cook, Robin F. Fool, Rt Hon Michael
Arnold, Tom Cope, John Forman, Nigel
Ashton, Joe Costain, A. P. Forrester, John
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Cowans, Harry Foster, Derek
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Crouch, David Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) Crowther, J. S. Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Cryer, Bob Freud, Clement
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Davies, Ifor (Gower) Garrett, John (Norwich S)
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Davis, Clinton (Hackney Central) Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon) Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford) George, Bruce
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Deakins, Eric Ginsburg, David
Boscawen, Hon Robert Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Glyn, Dr Alan
Bradley, Tom Dewar, Donald Golding, John
Brinton, Tim Dobson, Frank Gorst, John
Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Dormand, Jack Gourlay, Harry
Brooke, Hon Peter Douglas-Mann, Bruce Graham, Ted
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Dubs, Alfred Grant, George (Morpeth)
Brown, Ronald W. (Hackney S) Dykes, Hugh Grant, John (Islington C)
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh, Leith) Eadie, Alex Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St Edmunds)
Bruce-Gardyne, John Eastham, Ken Grimond, Rt Hon J.
Buchan, Norman Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Grist, Ian
Buchanan-Smith, Hon Alick Edwards, Rt Hon N. (Pembroke) Hampson, Dr Keith
Budgen, Nick Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) Hannam, John
Burden, F. A. Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Hardy, Peter
Cadbury, Jocelyn Emery, Peter Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) English, Michael Haselhurst, Alan
Cant, R. B. Ennals, Rt Hon David Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Hawkins, Paul
Carmichael, Neil Evans, John (Newton) Haynes, Frank
Carter-Jones, Lewis Ewing, Harry Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Cartwright, John Fairbairn, Nicholas Heffer, Eric S.
Hicks, Robert Mason, Rt Hon Roy Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire) Maxton, John Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Holland, Philip (Carlton) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Silverman, Julius
Holland, Stuart (L'beth, Vauxhall) Mayhew, Patrick Sims, Roger
Homewood, William Maynard, Miss Joan Smith, Dudley (War. and Leam'ton)
Hooley, Frank Mikardo, Ian Soley, Clive
Horam, John Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Spearing, Nigel
Hordern, Peter Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch) Spicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)
Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H) Miller, Dr M. S. (East Kilbride) Spriggs, Leslie
Howells, Geraint Miscampbell, Norman Squire, Robin
Huckfield, Les Morris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw) Stallard, A. W.
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen North) Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon) Steel, Rt Hon David
Hunt, David (Wirral) Morris, Michael (Northampton, Sth) Steen, Anthony
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Morton, George Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Janner, Hon Greville Moyle, Rt Hon Roland Stoddart, David
Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Stradling Thomas, J.
John, Brynmor Nelson, Anthony Strang, Gavin
Johnson, Waller (Derby South) Newens, Stanley Straw, Jack
Johnson Smith, Geoffrey Newton, Tony Temple-Morris, Peter
Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rhondda) Ogden, Eric Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael O'Neill, Martin Thomas, Mike (Newcastle East)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Thomas, Dr Roger (Carmarthen)
Kerr, Russell Palmer, Arthur Thornton, Malcolm
Kershaw, Anthony Park, George Tilley, John
Kilfedder, James A. Parker, John Torney, Tom
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Parkinson, Cecil Townend, John (Bridlington)
King, Rt Hon Tom Pavitt, Laurie Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)
Kinnock, Neil Pendry, Tom Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Knox, David Penhaligon, David Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Lambie, David Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Lamborn, Harry Price, Christopher (Lewisham West) Wakeham, John
Lamont, Norman Race, Reg Walker, Rt Hon Harold (Doncaster)
Lawrence, Ivan Radice, Giles Ward, John
Leighton, Ronald Raison, Timothy Weetch, Ken
Lester, Jim (Beeston) Rathbone, Tim Wellbeloved, James
Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds South) Wells, John (Maidstone)
Lewis, Arthur (Newham North West) Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal) Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Renton, Tim Welsh, Michael
Litherland, Robert Rhodes James, Robert Wheeler, John
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Richardson, Jo Whitlock, William
Lyon, Alexander (York) Roberts, Allan (Bootle) Whitney, Raymond
Lyons, Edward (Bradford West) Robertson, George Wiggin, Jerry
McCartney, Hugh Rodgers, Rt Hon William Wilkinson, John
McCrindle, Robert Rooker, J. W. Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Roper, John Williams, Delwyn (Montgomery)
MacGregor, John Ross, Ernest (Dundee West) Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Winnick, David
McKelvey, William Sandelson, Neville Woodall, Alec
McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New forest) Scott, Nicholas Woolmer, Kenneth
McWilliam, John Sever, John Wright, Sheila
Madel, David Shaw, Michael (Scarborough) Young, David (Bolton East)
Magee, Bryan Sheerman, Barry Young, Sir George (Acton)
Major, John Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert (A'ton-u-L)
Marks, Kenneth Shersby, Michael TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Marland, Paul Shore, Rt Hon Peter (Step and Pop) Mr. William Hamilton and`
Marshall, Jim (Leicester South) Short, Mrs Renée Mr. Stan Thorne
Abse, Leo Carlisle, John (Luton West) Fell, Anthony
Adams, Allen Channon, Paul Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Alison, Michael Chapman, Sydney Fisher, Sir Nigel
Alton, David Churchill, W. S. Fitch, Alan
Ancram, Michael Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Fitt, Gerard
Atkins, Robert (Preston North) Clark, Sir William (Croydon South) Fletcher-Cooke, Charles
Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East) Clegg, Sir Walter Fox, Marcus
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)
Banks, Robert Cohen, Stanley Fraser. Peter (South Angus)
Beith, A. J. Cormack, Patrick Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.
Bell, Sir Ronald Corrie, John Garel-Jones, Tristan
Benyon, W. (Buckingham) Craigen, J. M. (Glasgow, Maryhill) Goodhart, Philip
Berry, Hon Anthony Cranborne, Viscount Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)
Bevan, David Gilroy Cunliffe, Lawrence Gray, Hamish
Blackburn, John Dalyell, Tam Greenway, Harry
Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West) Dean, Paul (North Somerset) Grieve, Percy
Bowden, Andrew Dempsey, James Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Dickens, Geoffrey Gummer, John Selwyn
Bradford, Rev. R. Dixon, Donald Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Braine, Sir Bernard Douglas, Dick Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Bray, Dr Jeremy Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Hastings, Stephen
Bright, Graham Dover, Denshore Hawksley, Warren
Brotherton, Michael Dunn, James A. (Liverpool, Kirkdale) Hayhoe, Barney
Butcher, John Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Campbell-Savours, Dale Dunnett, Jack Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham)
Canavan, Dennis Eggar, Timothy Home Robertson, John
Hughes, Mark (Durham) Moore, John Stainton, Keith
Hurd, Hon Douglas Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester) Stanbrook, Ivor
Jessel, Toby Mudd, David Stewart, Rt Hon Donald (W Isles)
Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Murphy, Christopher Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire)
Jones, Barry (East Flint) Neubert, Michael Taylor, Robert (Croydon NW)
Jones, Dan (Burnley) O'Halloran, Michael Tebbit, Norman
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Page, John (Harrow, West) Thomas, Rt Hon Peter (Hendon S)
Knight, Mrs Jill Page, Rt Hon Sir R. Graham Thompson, Donald
Lang, Ian Page, Richard (SW Hertfordshire) Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Lee, John Paisley, Rev Ian Tinn, James
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Parry, Robert Trippier, David
Lyell, Nicholas Patten, Christopher (Bath) Urwin, Rt Hon Tom
Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson Patten, John (Oxford) van Straubenzee, W. R.
McElhone, Frank Pawsey, James Viggers, peter
McGuire, Michael (Ince) Percival, Sir Ian Waddington, David
MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Pollock, Alexander Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, Central) Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch (SDown) Waldegrave, Hon William
McNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury) Price, David (Eastleigh) Waller, Gary
McNamara, Kevin Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Walters, Dennis
McQuarrie, Albert Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey Watson, John
Maguire, Frank (Fermanagh) Robinson, Peter (Belfast East) White, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)
Marlow, Tony Ross, Wm. (Londonderry) White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Marshall, David (Gl'sgow, Shettles'n) Rossi, Hugh Wigley, Dafydd
Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Rowlands, Ted Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Marten, Neil (Banbury) Sainsbury, Hon Timothy Wilson, Gordon (Dundee East)
Martin, Michael (Gl'gow, Springb'rn) St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon Norman Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
Mather, Carol Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge-Br'hills) Winterton, Nicholas
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Silvester, Fred Wrigglesworth, Ian
Mellor, David Skeet, T. H. H.
Meyer, Sir Anthony Smith, Cyril (Rochdale) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mills, Iain (Meriden) Smith, Rt Hon J. (North Lanarkshire) Mr. Vivian Bendall and
Mills, Peter (West Devon) Speed, Keith Mr. Ian Campbell
Molyneaux, James Speller, Tony

Question accordingly agreed to.

Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance on a matter that arises further to your ruling upon Standing Order No. 34. You gave a very clear ruling indicating the discretion that Mr. Speaker has to order that the doors be locked at some period, which must be at least six minutes but may be longer, after the direction has been given. The difficulty that occurs to me is that if it is a matter of seconds more than the six minutes it may not matter, but if it is a matter of a minute, a minute and a half, or even more, hon. Members will not know in advance that that will be the decision of the Chair unless some announcement is made that throughout a debate a specific time will be allowed, and hon. Members not having that knowledge in advance are likely to be at some disadvantage because they will assume that the minimum time will be the time allowed. Can you advise us how that problem can be cured? Can it be cured, for example, by the Chair announcing that throughout the debate on a specific matter a particular time will be allowed?

Mr. Stoddart

Further to that point of order—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I shall deal with one point of order at a time.

The Chair is the servant of the House and is bound by Standing Orders. The Standing Order simply says that at least six minutes must elapse. If it is the will of the House that it should be more clearly defined, there are the usual methods of dealing with that matter. I should add that when the right hon. and learned Gentleman says that it would be convenient to know what is in the mind of the Chair before the decision is made, that could apply throughout most days of most Sessions. I am not able to help.

Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Mitcham and Morden)

Can some distinction be made in the time allowed when the House is sitting in the daytime, especially on a Friday? Many of us have offices in Dean's Yard or at a distance from the Chamber. It is easy to get to the House—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is not a point of order for me. I have indicated ways in which the matter can be dealt with.

Mr. Stoddart

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is an important point not only for this debate but for debates in the future. There seems to be a distinction that the Chair should take into consideration, namely, the happening inside the Lobby and the happening outside the Lobby.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have done my best to give a ruling on that matter. If the Standing Orders are not satisfactory, it is not for the Chair to alter them.

Mr. Stoddart

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My point of order does not involve the Standing Orders; it involves the exercise of the Standing Orders by the Chair. This is a serious point—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That comes back to the discretion of the Chair. It is a matter that I exercise to the best of my ability. I do not think that I can define it more clearly than is done in Standing Orders.

Mrs. Renée Short

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. At the beginning of the proceedings this morning, a letter was circulated from a number of Privy Councillors from both sides of the House asking that the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill should withdraw it and support the 24 weeks amendment. That amendment has been carried by the House. It removes one of the major clauses of the Bill. During the morning's discussion, numbers of the hon. Gentleman's fellow sponsors and hon. Friends were clearly debating what should be done about the Privy Councillors' letter. I wonder, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether the sponsor of the Bill would now indicate to the House what action he intends to take on the letter.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The only point for me is that I should now call Amendment No. 4, with which it will be convenient to take Amendments Nos. 6 and 14. Mr. Peter Archer.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like to ask you, on the question of the locking of the doors, whether you will bear in mind—[HON. MEMBERS: "Not again."] Yes, again, and again, and again, and again. I am not speaking to hon. Members; I am addressing Mr. Deputy Speaker. I appreciate the difficulty with which the Chair is confronted. I make no complaint of the fact that the Chair, probably rightly, with the knowledge it had, gave an extra one and a half minutes. In that instance, it was because the register in the Aye Lobby was missing or was not there. That did not interfere with the vote or with persons getting into the Lobby.

It is right that some hon. Members have to come from the Norman Shaw building. If they know that the time has expired, they turn back. Immediately following your decision this morning, Mr. Deputy Speaker, five hon. Members came from the funeral of the late Lord Murray. They were coming to vote. They realised the time had expired, so they did not arrive in time. [HON. MEMBERS: "Boring."] Had they known that the extra one and a half minutes had been granted, they could have voted. There should surely be some system whereby hon. Members—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Standing Orders may not be to the satisfaction of the hon. Member, but the Chair is bound by them.

12.45 pm
Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether you could indicate to the House the precedent for the decision that you have taken, that on this occasion the doors should be open for more than the stipulated six minutes. I accept that the Standing Order is so drafted that you could indicate that it gave you an area of discretion. But surely that discretion must have occurred to Speakers or Deputy Speakers in the past. I was wondering on what precedent you were acting and whether you would indicate to the House on what basis—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I had a discretion that I exercised to the best of my ability.

Mr. Lyon

With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, everyone is aware that there is a time factor in relation to the Bill, but you foreclosed the debate on the earlier group of amendments at a stage when hon. Members were getting to their feet on the basis, no doubt, that you wanted the discussion to move to a close. You then kept the doors open for longer than the normal period. That seems to suggest that there ought to be a precedent to indicate why, on this occasion, the doors were allowed to remain open for more than six minutes.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown (Glasgow, Provan)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) has claimed that it was a put-up job to take away a sheet and to delay the proceedings.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Chair has no control over what is happening in a Lobby.

Mr. Brown

My understanding, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is that you are to protect the procedures and the rights of hon. Members in the House. I am asking this question because I am concerned. A serious allegation has been made that someone has been up to something underhand at the vote. I think there is general agreement that the vote was not influenced one way or the other. But there is a rumour going round—I put it no higher. If there is a rumour going round that someone was up to something, I suggest, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that there is an obligation on you to carry out an inquiry in the future about what actually happened and to report to the House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have given my ruling on the facts as known to me. I have nothing to add.

Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am trying to save the time of the House, not waste it. On the last vote, according to the general consensus of opinion, as I understand it, it would be helpful if the principal proposer of the Bill could give guidance about the future progress of the Bill.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That has nothing to do with the Chair.

Mr. Ogden

It is a point of order to ask whether the hon. Gentleman has asked permission to intervene—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Mr. Cryer.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The general question has been raised about the length of time for the Division. While Standing Order 34(3) is clear that there shall be a minimum of six minutes, I recall Mr. Speaker making a statement to the House, on the opening of the Norman Shaw North building, in which he said specifically that no closure of doors would take place in less than eight minutes, giving an additional two minutes.

You have indicated that you can exercise your discretion after a minimum of six minutes. As I recall, that would be a contravention of Mr. Speaker's statement.

If the Standing Order gives you that discretion, and if Mr. Speaker has made a previous statement that there shall be a period of eight minutes, which everyone understands, does Mr. Speaker's ruling act as a binding one for Deputy Speakers such as yourself, or will notice be given that Mr. Speaker will make an alteration? Clearly, this can alter a vote. The common understanding among all Members is that there are eight minutes, and not six, as the Standing Order lays down.

If you were to exercise your discretion on the Standing Order and ignored Mr. Speaker's clear statement to the House, that would place us in a severe difficulty. I ask you to consider the statement that eight minutes is the common time that will elapse between the calling of a Division and the locking of the doors.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Nothing that I have said in any way contravenes what the hon. Gentleman has mentioned, and I have nothing to add to the ruling that I have given.

Mr. Douglas-Mann

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If hon. Members with offices outlying the House, have only six minutes in which to get to the House for a Division, when there is heavy traffic and there are no policemen on duty it will be impossible for those hon. Members to use their offices. I seek your guidance on whether you can give directions to the police at least to ensure that policemen are on duty to enable hon. Members to cross the road to the Chamber.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman's comments will have been noted by those who are responsible for this matter.

Mr. Peter Archer (Warley West)

I beg to move amendment No. 4, in page 1, line 11 leave out 'serious'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may take the following amendments:

No. 6, in page 1, line 13 leave out 'substantially'.

No. 14, in clause 2, page 2, line 34 leave out 'substantially'.

Mr. Archer

These amendments reflect the anxieties of lawyers in particular. I appreciate that that alone may not commend them to the House. I begin by making two points in general about the anxieties of lawyers. First, they are not always expressed on their own behalf. They are frequently expressed on behalf of their clients—the general public—and are designed to ensure that no one should suffer an injustice; in this case, particularly an injustice to doctors. Secondly, the apparent nit-picking of lawyers about draftsmanship reflects a real problem about the content of what we are drafting. Difficulties about how we say it may reflect uncertainties about what we want to say, or even sometimes emphasise the fact that we want to say inconsistent things.

In 1967 Parliament decided that it was right to permit abortions in certain circumstances, without turning the doctor into a criminal. Those circumstances were set out in section 1 of the Act, and the relevant circumstances for this purpose are that two general practitioners should form an opinion in good faith that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman, or of injury to the physical and mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated". The hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Mr. Corrie) and his supporters argue that that is unsatisfactory and that it should be changed. It is not my purpose at this stage to enter at length into that issue, but it is clearly relevant to the amendments, because the problems about which I want to talk do not arise if there is no need to alter the existing criteria. Those who seek to establish that the existing criteria need altering must show two things: first, that there are circumstances in which abortions can now lawfully be performed which should not be permitted, and, secondly, that the changes which they propose will ensure that abortions cannot lawfully be performed in those circumstances, without preventing those abortions which Parliament believes should be lawful.

I point that out at the risk of reiterating the obvious, because I confess that I am puzzled by some of the arguments that have been adduced during these debates. It carries the argument no further to show that some abortions are now performed unlawfully, even if that is established. We all wish to prevent infringements of the law, but we do not prevent them by making the law itself more restrictive. I recollect a frustrating conversation that I had some time ago with a lady who wanted to urge upon me that Parliament ought to pass a law to prevent immigrants from entering the country illegally.

Great use has been made of the expression "abortion on demand", and there have been many discussions on whether we now have abortion on demand. Abortion on demand is an emotive term which implies that there is something discreditable about demanding an abortion. I assume that in this context "demanding" means asking for an abortion or perhaps even consenting to it. Clearly, in that sense, if an abortion is not demanded it cannot lawfully be performed at all—at least, if the patient is capable of expressing a view on the subject. Therefore, if the expression means anything, it means that abortions that now occur are carried out whether or not the criteria apply.

To show that we now have abortion on demand in that sense, one needs to show that it is possible to obtain an abortion even if two medical practitioners do not form a view in good faith that there is a risk of injury to life or health. I pause to say that that is simply not true in the constituency which I have the honour to represent, half of which is served by the hospital and consultancy services in Sandwell and the other half by the hospital and consultancy services in Dudley. The statistics of both areas are well enough known for it not to be necessary for me to repeat them.

Even if it were shown that abortions are sometimes performed where those criteria are not satisfied, it is not clear how it would help if we were to alter the criteria. Any abortion either falls within the criteria or it does not. If it does, presumably that is what Parliament intended. If it does not, it is unlawful and one does not prevent unlawful abortions by altering the criteria.

That having been said that, the fact is that what is proposed in the Bill as it left the Committee is that the criteria should be changed so that it would now be necessary for two registered medical practitioners to form the view.

that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman, or of serious injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman.. substantially greater than if the pregnancy were terminated". I should like to say a few brief words about the three amendments. Amendment No. 4 relates to the word "serious" as it is applied to the injury that is in contemplation. Amendment No. 6 applies to the word "substantially" as it applies to the balancing of the risk in clause 1, and amendment No. 14 relates to the word "substantially" as it applies to the risk in the special circumstances envisaged in clause 2.

When a doctor was considering whether he could lawfully terminate a pregnancy, he would need to make up his mind on two things: first, was there a risk of serious injury to the health of the woman or the children, and, secondly, was that risk substantially greater if the pregnancy continued than if it were terminated? The House may be concerned to discuss whether those are proper criteria. Ought a doctor to be precluded from terminating a pregnancy where there is a risk of injury to health if the pregnancy continues, but it is only equal to the risk of terminating or only marginally greater?

Dr. M. S. Miller

During the course of his interesting speech, will my right hon. and learned Friend apply those criteria to any other operation that a surgeon can perform? For example, can he imagine that a doctor would want to be circumscribed by those words in respect of any other operation that could affect a patient's life, such as an appendectomy or a gall bladder operation?

1 pm

Mr. Archer

I am grateful for the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride (Dr. Miller). I assume that any doctor who was contemplating whether it was right to undertake an operation would, if he were responsible, direct his mind to what the risks were and what would be the likelihood one way or another. What he would not want to do, I imagine, is to run the risk of committing a criminal offence if someone disagreed with him.

The House might wish to consider what guidance should be given to doctors if we can find a way of giving it. Should a doctor be precluded from terminating a pregnancy where he believes that there is a risk of an injury to health but that it would be only a painful injury, a long-drawn-out injury, a distressing injury, but perhaps not a serious one? At this stage I do not propose to enter into that argument. There are hon. Members better qualified to do that than I.

My concern is that as the Bill stands a doctor would have to form a view on those two matters. I hope that he would form that view by applying his professional judgment and experience and that he would form it honestly. If he did not, the criteria would not matter anyway. What matters is that having formed that view the doctor must proceed to act on it. There is no time to initial legal proceedings in order to test whether the courts would endorse his action. He either terminates the pregnancy or he does not. When it is all over, he may discover that the authorities take a different view and that he is accused of having committed a criminal offence.

The matter then goes before a jury who are asked to address their minds to the same questions. I assume that they will consider the matter carefully and honestly and I hope that they will give due weight to the fact that the doctor in those circumstances formed that view. But of course the jury cannot be bound by his view, otherwise the process is pointless. It would be pointless to have any criteria.

If the Bill is to have any meaning, it is quite possible that a jury would reach a different conclusion from that of the doctor. It would then follow that the action that he took honestly and in good faith because he believed that it was for the benefit of his patient was a criminal offence and he would face conviction under the pre-1967 statute law.

Mr. Nick Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman help the House by saying whether it is his opinion that the word "serious" and the word "substantially" would be considered by a jury to be something that should be judged from the point of view of the doctor subjectively or whether it should be judged objectively by their taking into account all the circumstances?

Mr. Archer

I stand subject to correction. The Attorney-General—the right hon. and learned Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers)—is in the House. He will correct me if I am wrong. My assumption is that the wording of the Bill as it left Committee would require an objective test. The jury would be asked whether injury was likely to be a serious risk and whether that risk was substantially greater. It would be asked whether the doctor directed his mind to the question whether there was a serious risk. I assume that the jury would be entitled to take into account that a doctor faced with this situation had formed that view. However, I assume that the jury could not be bound by it. There would obviously be the risk, therefore, that the jury would disagree with the doctor.

Mr. Edward Lyons (Bradford, West)

Is it not also a fact that doctors are not so well versed in the law as to know the difference between subjective and objective tests in particular statutes and might therefore play safe?

Mr. Archer

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons) is quite right. I was coming to that point. However, it seems to me that if this is right it is a monstrous situation in which to place a doctor. I cannot readily think of any precedent in our criminal law.

Mr. Abse

I am trying to understand the argument of my right hon. and learned Friend. I am genuinely trying to follow him. At the moment we have a situation in section 1 (1)(a) of the Abortion Act where a doctor is deciding on the balance of risks. It is true that now one is substituting a different balance of risks. All the problems so far adumbrated by my right hon. and learned Friend about the balance of risks are, and have been, in existence. When we examine the words "substantially" and "serious", we discover two aspects, do we not? "Substantially" deals with the risk and "serious" deals with the criteria. I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend on the meaning of "serious". However, the word "sub- stantially" deals with the risk and there is already a duty on the doctor to assess the balance of risk. There is no new criterion arising. There is no anomaly, and it is not innovatory in the way that my right hon. and learned Friend suggests.

Mr. Archer

I am sorry to differ from my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). I am trying to understand what he said. It seems to me that if a doctor has to form a view on the question whether one risk is substantially greater than another, he will have to form a view on the criteria operating in defining the word "substantially".

Mr. Abse

He has to do that now.

Mr. Archer

My hon. Friend says that the doctor must do that now, but the word "substantially" is not there now. That is the difference. In my view, there is no precedent within the criminal law for confronting anyone with that sort of difficulty.

Juries must sometimes decide whether someone has inflicted grievous bodily harm or whether someone has driven without due care and attention. In my view, that is a different matter. If I assault my neighbour, I know that I am committing an offence and that it is unlikely that I will have any commendable motive for doing that. Magistrates or a jury might have to decide how serious my offence is, and if they decided that the victim's injuries amount to grievous bodily harm my offence would be more serious than if they had taken a different view.

But I can hardly complain that I am taken by surprise if I assaulted my neighbour in the first place. My offence might be more serious than I originally contemplated, but that is rather a different situation. A doctor may be acting from the best of professional motives, without there being any indication that he is committing a criminal offence. It does not help to say that juries sometimes have to decide whether someone is guilty of grievous bodily harm or some other offence.

Similarly, if the question arises whether I have driven without due care and attention, that is usually after someone's attention has been attracted to my driving because it has fallen below the normal standards. That is very different from confronting a doctor with the dilemma of whether to refuse to perform an abortion that he believes is in the best interests of his patient or to face the risk of conviction for a serious offence.

I wonder what direction I would give to a jury, were I a judge faced with this kind of prosecution, on the question whether the injury in contemplation was serious and whether the risk was substantially greater. In Committee my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) quoted examples of attempts by judges to help juries towards the definition of those words.

I ventured to look at the lawyers' bible on construction, Stroud's "Judicial Dictionary". It gives little help on the word "serious". It tells us that what is serious and wilful misconduct of a workman for the purposes of the Workmen's Compensation Act 1897 is a question of fact. If that reasoning applied equally in this case, it would mean that if a jury convicted that conviction would be unlikely to be reversed by the Court of Appeal. On the word "substantially", the most helpful passage was that in the expression "substantially impaired"—in the Homicide Act 1957: The word 'substantially' does not mean 'trivial or minimal' nor does it mean 'total'". I would have thought that that was a conclusion one could have reached by consulting a dictionary.

I wanted to understand the arguments of those hon. Gentlemen who wished to insert these words, and in particular I read carefully the speech in Committee on 7 November, column 178 of Hansard, by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram). I selected that speech simply because it seemed to me the fairest, clearest and probably most concise statement of the case. I am grateful for the clarity of the hon. Gentleman's argument.

Long experience in this House has convinced me that it is always dangerous to try to paraphrase the arguments of someone else. One is always susceptible to being told that one has not quite understood the argument. I appreciate that I face that danger. As I understood the hon. Gentleman's case, he argued that the present criteria was defective, because it is possible to have abortion on demand. I hope that I have dealt with the structure of that argument. One cannot prevent people ignoring a criterion by making the criterion more restrictive.

The hon. Member also said that we need clear criteria. I agree with that. That is what the words that commended themselves to the Committee failed to achieve. It is that which my amendment is designed to achieve. I am comforted by the view of the Lane committee that words such as "serious" do not help. The committee states that in paragraph 202 of its report.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South said that he wanted to add the adjective "serious" to the noun "injury" to exclude the risk of a doctor giving weight to the risk of minor injuries. I am not sure that I agree with that. The question whether an injury is minor often depends upon whether someone suffers it. Any lawyer who has conducted a personal injury case will know that the damages that a judge may award for backache may depend upon whether that judge has ever suffered from backache. I believe that we should seek to protect women from any injury, whether or not it is serious, but in any event I believe that the argument is outweighed by the uncertainty created by the word "serious".

The argument for the word "substantially" is that it excludes what is known as the statistical approach. It is suggested that some doctors argue that more women suffer injury in childbirth than in having an abortion and, therefore, the risk of injury by permitting a pregnancy to continue is necessarily greater than the risk of injury by terminating that pregnancy. I have never heard a doctor say that he reasoned in that way or used that approach. If he does, he misconstrues the 1967 Act. If I am wrong the Attorney-General will correct me. The Lane committee dealt with this matter in paragraph 201 of its report, and I am comforted that the committee arrived at the same view as I did.

The Act requires a doctor to direct his mind to the condition and circumstances of the individual patient. He must consider whether she is peculiarly susceptible to a particular injury. When assessing the present criteria were defective, because account the statistical probabilities. But resolving the question by reference to statistics is like arguing that most people die in bed and that, therefore, it must be safer to climb Everest than to go to bed. If that is the mischief at which the word "substantially" is aimed, the amendment will not meet it. Misconstruing an Act is not prevented by amending an Act.

I was grateful to the Solicitor-General for Scotland for the information that he gave in Committee. I am comforted, because nothing that he said surprised me. He spoke chiefly about the law in Scotland. Referring to the word "serious", he said that the criteria of the doctor and the jury may differ. Of course, the criteria of the patient may be different again. Sometimes doctors may adopt more spartan standards than the rest of us. The Solicitor-General for Scotland said that in his brief medical experience he had seen more people in discomfort described as "comfortable" than in any other circumstances.

I move the amendment because I fear that doctors, in good faith and according to their best judgment, might suffer an injustice. But not only the doctor might suffer. A doctor knows that if he terminates a pregnancy, however honestly and with whatever good intentions, he might face a criminal conviction but that if he declines to terminate a pregnancy the risks of ill consequences to himself are less likely. And the danger is that the risks that he will balance are not those that the Bill requires him to balance. I am not suggesting that a doctor is less likely to be altruistic than the rest of the population. However, the risks that we are discussing are only some of the risks that we impose upon doctors.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin) has drawn attention to the problem of the doctor who, in good faith, takes steps to terminate a pregnancy when it transpires that the woman is not pregnant and when the symptoms are phantoms. Under existing law it is arguable that a doctor has no defence under the 1967 Act. There is a risk of terrifying doctors into a reluctance to terminate any pregnancies at all.

Dr. M. S. Miller

The medical defence organisations are already advising doctors to play safe in that respect. The fears are not groundless.

Mr. Archer

I am grateful for that confirmation. I would not blame a doctor for playing safe. Any criteria that make certain that no one will honestly apply them are self-defeating.

My purpose is not to take up the time of the House unnecessarily. I hope that I have expressed the anxieties. If Parliament believes that it should be more difficult to obtain an abortion, it should have the courage to say that and to legislate accordingly. To achieve that result by jurisprudential blackmail would be unforgivable.

1.15 pm
Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

I wish to talk about the amendment that removes the word "substantial". The 1967 Act was a deliberate balance of the various competing interests—moral, medical and practical—in relation to this difficult problem. In the years since that Act was passed I have resented deeply the suggestion that those of us who finally voted for it were in some way less moral than those who were opposed to it. I resent some of the comments that I have heard today that suggest that by standing firm with that balance now we are less compassionate or less concerned than anyone else about the life of the foetus.

In 1967 I abstained from the Second Reading vote because I was worried that the wording of the Bill was too wide and might go as far as abortion on demand. Only when the wording was changed in Committee and on Report did I finally vote for it on Third Reading. I standby that. There has never been, apart from some areas of Catholic opinion, a wholly condemnatory moral opinion against abortion. That applies to Catholic opinion at large.

It was possible to have an abortion to preserve the life of the mother before the 1967 Act. In a recent statement about the Bill, the archbishops came round to saying that if the life of the foetus is destroyed in the course of saving the mother's life, that is not morally wrong. I ask those who express strong views against those of us who are opposed to the Bill to question whether it can ever be said that there is a completely clear moral view for or against abortion. The question is, where is the line to be drawn?

I draw the line strongly against abortion on demand. The 1967 Act did not allow abortion on demand. Anybody who reads it can see that it does not allow that. The terms are perfectly clear. An abortion can be carried out only if two doctors certify, in good faith, that the criteria have been met. Although many suggestions have been made by the supporters of the Bill that doctors do not honestly apply their minds to the criteria and do not certify in good faith, the answer is not to change the criteria but to provide that somebody should bring a prosecution against such doctors as he believes are not applying the Act properly.

It is clear from the figures around the country that there is not abortion on demand. In my constituency in York there are three gynaecologists who are strongly resistant to the 1967 Act on what I quite understand to be conscientious grounds. They apply the criteria very strictly indeed. In those circumstances, 28 per cent. only of the abortions that take place for women resident in the York area are carried out under the National Health Service. The remainder have to go elsewhere.

In adjacent areas such as Northallerton, Scarborough or areas in the North-East, the figures can rise to as high as 94 per cent. It follows that of those doctors who are applying the same test, some are applying it more strongly than others. That does not mean that some are applying the test in bad faith and others in good faith. One hon. Member asked what would happen if the increasingly severe tests were applied in other operations. I was going to tell the House the story of my operation, but I—

Mr. Budgen

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important for the House to know whether the words "serious" and "substantially" would be given a subjective or objective meaning in any prosecution? I suspect that if they are to be judged subjectively, from the point of view of the accused, it is probable that they would not result in any severe tightening of the law. If they are to be judged objectively, it would probably result in a tightening of the law.

Mr. Lyon

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned that again. I heard him the first time. If he will be patient, I shall come to it in a moment. I had reached a point where I was going to tell the House about my favourite subject, namely, my operation. Nobody has any greater cause to be sceptical about the opinion of doctors than I have.

I was taken into hospital two or three years ago for what was said to be a simple gall bladder operation. The operation was to be over in a short time and I was to be back in the House within a month. It took me six months to get back on my feet. That was because the doctor made an error of judgment about whether I ever needed the operation. When they took the gall bladder out, they found that there were no stones. It could have been dealt with without a major operation. Because of complications it went wrong.

I could have sued the doctor for negligence, but I would not have succeeded. In the light of a recent decision in the Court of Appeal, it is clear that an honest doctor applying his clinical judgment would have come to one view, whereas another doctor might have come to a different view. If that sort of test is applied to the question whether a woman should have an abortion within the criteria laid down in the Bill, it is perfectly possible for some honest, conscientious consultant gynaecologist to take one view and for others to take a different view of the same case.

It does not surprise me in the least that the figures around the country vary considerably. All that one is saying is that one does not trust the doctors when one has to question the bona fides of the critics. It is one thing to say that one does not trust the doctors when one is in favour of the 1967 balance, but, if one has always been against abortion—and finds abortion so morally repugnant that even to discuss it causes the sort of wrath and ire that this discussion has caused—to say that the doctors are not applying the tests with integrity seems to raise some doubt about the validity of the criticism raised by the critic.

I would rather trust a doctor's integrity than a new version of the words that were finally discovered in 1967 and have stood the test of time. That is why I am against the insertion of either "serious" or "substantially".

I turn to the point raised by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen), which is central to my consideration of the word "substantially". I shall not go into the word "serious" at any length as that he been dealt with already. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontpool (Mr. Abse) is right in that, unlike the word "serious", the change to "substantially" would accept the same sort of judgment in the mind of the doctor as the 1967 Act. He is saying that a doctor has to balance the risk. The 1967 Act said that the doctor had to balance the risk and decide whether the risk of danger to life or health was greater in the one case than in the other. We are saying now that it should be substantially greater.

The courts would be bound to take notice of that change of wording. If Parliament, in its consideration, decided to insert the word "substantially" before the word "risk", the courts would be bound to think that Parliament meant something by that. A graver burden would be placed upon the doctors. That is the beginning of my answer to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West.

The test, in my judgment—and there are many lawyers in the House with a variety of views—would be objective. Given all the evidence, a jury would have to decide whether there was a substantially greater risk. I say that on the basis of the Simcox case, which was decided by the Court of Appeal, where the issue was an interpretation of words in the Homicide Act 1957 and whether the person was suffering from an impairment of the mind that substantially diminished his responsibility for committing a murder, thereby reducing the charge to manslaughter.

It is interesting to read the facts of the medical evidence that appear in the judgment. They are especially relevant to the issues that we are discussing. The court stated: All four medical experts were of the opinion that this appellant suffered from an abnormality of mind, and that abnormality of mind arose from inherent causes, the name given to the abnormality being paranoid personality. Not one of them, however, would go to the length of saying that as a result of that abnormality the appellant's mental responsibility was substantially impaired. They used words to the effect that the impairment was moderate, that it was harder for him to control his actions, that the degree of paranoid personality was, as one doctor said, persistent and strong. Those and other expressions were used, but not one of the mental experts felt that he could say that the impairment was substantial".

1.30 pm

In those circumstances the jury decided that it would refuse to return a verdict of manslaughter and returned a verdict of capital murder.

The issue then arose whether that was applicable. The Court of Appeal quoted the direction of the learned trial judge, who said: Neither doctor called for the defence obviously liked the word, and it may be so, but that is the word in the Act of Parliament, that is the word you have got to use, and I expect you will not have as much difficulty as some people might have. There is no scientific precise test. That cannot be and never can in human conduct, otherwise we should not need juries or anybody, and if you will allow me to say so, I think you should look at it in a broad common sense way and ask yourselves, having heard what the doctors have said, having made up your minds about it, knowing what this man did, knowing the whole story, 'Do we think looking at it broadly as common sense people there was a substantial impairment of his mental responsibility in what he did?' If the answer to that is yes, then you find him not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter. If the answer is no, there may be some impairment, but we do not think it was substantial, we do not think it was something which really made any great difference, although it may have made it harder to control himself, to refrain from crime; then you find him guilty as he is charged in the only charge to this indictment.'

The House will recognise that what happened in that case was precisely what is feared by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer)—namely, that two honest doctors of undoubted integrity came to the conclusion that the risk in one case was substantially greater than in another, but their judgment was overruled by 12 members of the jury merely because the issue was brought before the courts.

The argument may be "They will not be brought before a court, so why do we not put in' substantially'?" If these issues are not to be decided in the courts, why are we putting in "serious" and "substantial"? What is intended by those who want to put in these words? Do they consider that the threat of going into court will affect the decision of the doctor?

Mr. Abse rose

Mr. Lyon

I shall not give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool. I shall not do so for a very long time. My hon. Friend would not give way to me on an issue that was of considerable importance, and I shall not give way to him.

If we insert "serious", we change the whole nature of the debate about the injury. A doctor may certify whether there will be injury to health. All he needs is the faintest scintilla of evidence to show that. However, if he has to insert "serious", "serious" becomes an issue for the jury. That becomes a subjective test for somebody else. It is not his judgment of whether it is serious that will count but the judgment of the jury.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

I agree very much with my hon. Friend about the inherent difficulties of including words such as "serious" and "substantial". I am not sure, however, that I am following my hon. Friend on the subjective or objective test. The Act provides that there is no offence if the two registered medical practitioners are of the opinion—

Mr. Abse


Mr. Silkin

I do not need any echo from my hon. Friend. I hope that he will allow me to continue without giving me applause. I am not sure that I really want it from his quarter at the moment. If two registered medical practitioners are of the opinion, formed in good faith, that the conditions are satisfied, surely that makes the question subjective. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that putting in those words makes it much more difficult for the doctors to hold that opinion in good faith. It puts them at much greater risk.

Mr. Lyon

My right hon. and learned Friend will recollect that the offence of murder deals with the same issue. The courts have decided that, in forming an intent, that intent is subjective in relation to murder and not objective. Therefore, the issue is a matter not of whether a man can be said by a reasonable person properly to have intended something but of whether he honestly did intend something in relation to murder. Therefore, with murder it is a subjective intent.

In relation to the words "substantially impaired" in the Homicide Act, the test is the one that I read out from the Court of Appeal. I said that there may be a difference of view but I submit that that imputes a rather more objective test about this criterion. In relation to the same phrase within the Abortion (Amendment) Bill, I accept that the words in the Abortion Act 1967, which would stand in good faith, are obviously words imputing a subjective intent. However, that is a subjective intent about a matter which has to be decided objectively by a jury. It is a subjective intent about whether there was a risk which was substantially greater than if the pregnancy were terminated. In those circumstances, it is right to say that it would not matter for the doctor to say "I looked at the matter as carefully as I could and I came to the conclusion that the risk was substantially greater if the pregnancy were terminated."

Mr. S. C. Silkin

Is my hon. Friend saying that the question for the jury would be "Can two doctors, properly advised and being reasonable people, honestly hold that view, on the evidence?" if so, that would be an objective test. However, in the sense that all the jury have to be satisfied that the doctors honestly held that opinion, it is a subjective test.

Mr. Lyon

I do not propose to press the matter. The issue is clearly open for argument. It is open for argument between my right hon. and learned Friend and myself with our varied experience in these matters before the courts. If it is open to doubt between us, when both of us are against the Bill and in favour of the 1967 Act, how much more so is it for a doctor who is not a legally qualified person? How much more difficult is it for him when he comes to the point of certifying whether a pregnancy should be terminated? An insufferable position is created, particularly when there is such controversy about the issue within the medical profession.

Mr. Dan Jones

I am totally without knowledge of the medical and legal professions and I shall be dependent entirely upon my hon. Friend's reply. If the limit were reduced to 22 weeks, would that not ease the legal position that my hon. Friend has described?

Mr. Lyon

I cannot give my hon. Friend a short answer, although I should like to try to do so. The upper limit, about which we have been arguing all morning, has nothing to do with this argument. The upper limit came in because the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929 created an offence of child destruction if someone killed a foetus which was capable of being a viable human being. That offence remains whenever there is an abortion. If the foetus is born viable and can live, it is murder if someone kills the foetus at that stage. That is why I tried to intervene in the previous debate. The whole argument this morning was academic.

The Infant Life (Preservation) Act provided a prima facie assumption that a foetus, after 28 weeks, was capable of being a viable human being. "Prima facie" meant that it was for the defence to raise the issue—presumably the prosecution would have to disprove it—and it shifted the burden of proof. The defendant had to show that the foetus would not have lived in the circumstances. [Interruption.] I shall come to the nuances in the Tea Room, if need be.

If a foetus is born alive, it has to be kept alive. That is still the position. We have got to 24 weeks. But if a foetus is born at 23, 19 or 17 weeks and it is alive and canlive, anyone who kills it commits murder. Therefore, we did not need to argue about 28 weeks or 24 weeks. The suggestion by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool that we were sanctioning murder was both disgraceful and wrong in law. No one can sanctionmurder. If a foetus is born and is viable, it must live, and any doctor who kills it is committing murder.

Mrs. Renée Short

Will my hon. Friend note that there is further protection for the viable foetus, about which he and all of us are concerned, in that, if the abortion is late but the birth weight of the baby is such that it can survive and its lungs can be inflated, it can survive only in premises where there is resuscitation apparatus?

Mr. Lyon

I must press on or I shall be receiving complaints. I accept what my hon. Friend said.

I end on the point that I was making when we had the argument about subjective or objective intent. Whatever the legal effect of these words, if we pass them, in reality doctors will be less willing to carry out abortions than they would be otherwise. We can say that is desirable only if we believe that the 1967 Act has worked badly up to now. I do not think that it has worked badly.

When we were debating the 1967 legislation, there were wide estimates, generally accepted, that about 100,000 illegal abortions were carried out every year in this country. Since the 1967 Act came into effect, there have been very few illegal abortions, but there have been about 100,000 legal abortions each year. The total pattern of abortions has changed very little. The change is that abortions are now carried out in National Health Service hospitals. Therefore, it seems totally inappropriate to say that we should now change that pattern, which has extended over the years and seems to be acceptable to the broad range of women in this country, though perhaps not to all, by making doctors less willing to carry out abortions, with the consequence indicated by my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo), that others will carry them out illegally. That would not be a satisfactory outcome to our discussions. I hope that the House will accept the amendment.

Mr. Stoddart

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. No doubt you will have had a report about what occurred earlier today in the Aye Lobby, when the doors remained opened for nine and a half minutes. It is a serious matter that affects the business of the House not only today but in the future. I wonder whether you would consider the report and perhaps let us have a statement at some future date?

Mr. Speaker

I am aware of the incident. The House will be aware that there is no appeal to me against a ruling by the Deputy Speaker, but I know that that is not implied in the hon. Gentleman's point. I have called for a report, because the incident has general repercussions on our proceedings. I shall make a short statement to the House on Monday.

1.45 pm
Mr. Michael Ancram (Edinburgh, South)

Perhaps we all welcomed that bit of light relief from what was becoming an intense legal discussion between eminent legal hon. Gentlemen. I am a lawyer, but I do not have the experience of those who have spoken, and I therefore hesitate before entering the finer areas of law which they were discussing.

However, I was surprised to hear the discussion at all. I was surprised also to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) asking whether in court the definition of the words "serious" and "substantial" would be held to be objective or subjective. They are not new words. They are in the 1967 legislation. They are there and must have been looked at by doctors and lawyers, but there has been no word of complaint that they were difficult to interpret or define in that legislation. The tests which responsible doctors have applied since 1967 to the word "substantial" before the word "risk" in section 1 (b) and the word "seriously" before the word "handicapped" in the same subsection should apply to the words in this Bill.

The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) fairly summarised my argument in Committee. I repeat today that it is not a discussion about words and their meanings but concerns an issue which is central to the Bill and to the society in which we live. The consideratons are, first, whether there is abortion on demand and, secondly, if so, does the House agree that it should be allowed to continue?

Throughout the debate hon. Members who oppose the Bill have risen, one after the other, to say that they do not want abortion on demand, and in their very next breath they say that abortion on demand does not exist. That is the statement that I challenge. A smokescreen has slowly been built up since 1967 that there is no abortion on demand. It is now gradually being blown away by the wind of evidence that we have received over the past few months.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned the Lane report. At paragraph 201 that report states: We regard as wholly unethical the practice, which we have been told exists among a few doctors, of signing Certificate A without even seeing the patient, in reliance on the statistical argument to justify doing so. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that the Lane committee said that it was illegal. The word it used was "unethical".

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham) rose

Mr. Ancram

I shall not give way. I have listened to the various comments and speeches over the past three hours and I do not want to take up too much of the time of the House. Therefore, I am certainly not prepared to help others do so.

The Lane report admitted that there was abortion on demand. The right hon. and learned Gentleman also said that he had never heard of instances where abortion had been justified on the basis of statistical arguments, where that had been used as a criterion under the Act. Perhaps he should have read the Committee reports more fully, because had he done so he would have seen the name of Professor Huntingford, who has challenged the law and said that he believes that as long as the statistics show that there is a greater danger of risk in continuing with the pregnancy than in terminating it, he can give abortions as and when they are requested.

I wish to point out the way in which this operates. I shall not quote from any of the newspapers which the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) claims are biased in our favour. I shall quote a paper which he may know fairly well—the Socialist Worker. On 19 January of this year that paper, talking about the Corrie Bill, referred to a clinic at Mile End and said: The most significant thing about the Mile End clinic is that it gives abortion on demand. Peter Huntingford maintains that only the woman herself is entitled to decide whether she should have an abortion. He is not prepared to discuss under what circumstances women should be permitted abortions. He is against all legislation on abortion. Professor Huntingford has said in the past that he believes that statistically he can justify granting abortions on request without taking the woman's personal circumstances into account.

Mrs. Renée Short rose

Mr. Ancram

I have already said that I shall not give way. I wish to complete my speech.

Mrs. Short rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon Gentleman indicated at the beginning that he did not intend to give way at all.

Mr. Ancram

I made my point clear. The reason why I am not giving way is that I have watched time being wasted by Labour Members this morning, and I intend to have my say now.

Mr. Douglas Hogg rose

Mr. Ancram

I shall not give way. I intend to complete my speech.

I have given two instances in which I believe that there are indications of abortion on demand. I shall give a third—the figures that are provided from the referral agencies, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service and the Pregnancy Advisory Service, about the number of people who have abortions after referral. Between 90 and 95 per cent. have abortions. These women who go for advice—

Mr. Mikardo

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I put this point of order with great reluctance because I do not like to see hon. Members interrupted in the full flow of their arguments, but I submit that the hon. Member's argument has nothing whatever to do with whether the words "serious" and "substantial" are or are not in the Bill.

Mr. Speaker

Various Members have various ways of approaching the same question. I shall listen with great care to the hon. Member.

Mr. Ancram

I shall try to come to the point. I am surprised at the comments of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo). I remember that one day in Committee he told me that if I had a little more patience I might begin to understand his argument. I merely ask him to indulge me in the same way.

I was making the point about the number of girls who go to referral agencies and end up by having an abortion. Until they get there and see someone who is presumably medically qualified and can tell them whether they can have an abortion or not, they do not know whether they satisfy the criteria. The fact is that under the present law they do not have to, because the 1967 Act is so loosely and ambiguously worded that a woman can get an abortion when she wants one. That is the question that that the House must face.

Mrs. Renée Short

Look at the figures—10 per cent. in Birmingham, 8 per cent. in Wolverhampton.

Mr. Speaker


Mrs. Short

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

That saves my having to say what I was going to say.

Mr. Ancram

If the hon. Lady had waited a few seconds I would have said that although it may not be happening universally, if it is happening at all it is contrary to the intentions of Parliament in the 1967 Act.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon: Prosecute.

Mr. Ancram

There are two doors in the 1967 legislation through which prosecution is not available, because those who are operating in the way that I have described are probably within the law.

The first door is the statistical argument. Where it can be shown that the risk is greater in childbirth than in abortion, however marginally, an abortion can take place without any legal implications. The second door is the one to which I referred in Committee, namely, the case of trivial injury. The clause is designed to close the two doors that lead to opportunities for abortion on demand.

We are not changing the comparative test, what is called the yardstick, in the 1967 legislation. We keep that basis of comparison between pregnancy and termination, but by its looseness the present law has allowed the test to move from being personal and individual, which is what Parliament intended, to being impersonal and sometimes even based on trivialities.

The words "Serious" and "substantial" have been put forward in order to close the two doors. The word "substantial" exists in the present legislation, and we merely seek to ensure that if there is any danger of a comparison being based on anything but individual circumstances, the difference between the comparisons must at least be great enough to have some weight. Our fear is that under the wording of the 1967 Act the statistics on mortality and injury in childbirth, however minimally they exceed the statistics relating to termination, are being used to justify abortion, and we wish to stop that.

I suggested the inclusion of the word "serious" in Committee because I wish to exclude the trivial injury. I appreciate that the question whether an injury is trivial is a subjective matter, but when one has a comparative basis between termination and childbirth we must remember that there are natural injuries of childbirth in almost every case, including for example, perineal stitches, haemorrhaging and varicose veins. I am trying to exclude the doctor who seeks to provide abortion on demand and justifies it by saying that a woman is likely to need stitches if she goes on to childbirth.

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The provision in the Bill is the only way in which those two open doors can be closed. Hon. Members have said that the words, especially "serious", are incapable of interpretation. In my short experience of the law, I have known juries to be asked time and again to decide what was and was not a serious injury. I have asked doctors in court whether they considered injuries to be serious. There was no question about whether it was a difficult word to interpret. I received the answer "Yes" or "No". Doctors must consider in making many of their diagnoses whether illness or injuries are serious.

The BMA's handbook on medical ethics related particularly to the question of abortion, as my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) pointed out last week. On page 29 we find these precise words in this precise context: The doctor should recommend or perform termination after 20 weeks only if he is convinced that the health of the woman is seriously threatened"— I emphasise "seriously threatened"— or if there is a good reason to believe that the child will be seriously handicapped.

Mr. Archer rose

Mr. Ancram

I have already said that I shall not give way. I am trying to show that the words are used by doctors themselves over and over again with no difficulty. That argument does not hold much water.

What we are seeking to do is to set the ambits within which the decision can be taken, to ensure that it is taken on the basis not of universal or general circumstances but of the individual needs and circumstances of the woman concerned. She and her needs and circumstances must be central to the debate. A law that allows the decision that she and her doctors must take to be devalued into a social convenience, as I believe it often is, devalues the woman herself.

During the long months since June when we have been considering the issue and listening to and receiving evidence from many quarters, and from many different standpoints, I have been struck by one thing in particular. The decision whether to have an abortion is traumatic for a woman. It is often a time of great stress and great anxiety, when she looks to others for help and counsel.

I cannot support a system that fails to provide that help or counsel, a system in which women experience social pressures urging them to have an abortion in some circumstances, a system that can produce the tragic example of women who wrote to me last autumn, who had had an abortion and desperately regretted it afterwards. They said over and over again in their letters "If only we had had the time to think about it properly…If only people had explained all the circumstances that surround having an abortion".

Few can deny that abortion is an operation that wounds the woman—not only in itself, not only in the possible physical and mental after-effects, which are far too often ignored in this debate, but emotionally. The clause seeks genuinely to protect the women about whom I have talked, who have found themselves at the end of a great channel of social pressure urging them to have an abortion which they will afterwards regret.

Let us never forget that though abortion is often the easy way out of a predicament for a man it is never quite as easy for a woman, and for the child it is no way out at all. I hope that we still live in a society in which life is valued and in which, when it is taken, it is not taken lightly.

I believe, too, that we in this House have a duty to protect those in our society whom society sometimes unwittingly pressurises and exploits. I see that as the purpose of the clause and the argument against the amendments, and I ask the House to reject them.

Mr. Mikardo

It is no mystery that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram) declined to give way to anyone seeking to intervene in his speech. Anyone who makes dogmatic statements which are totally at variance with the facts cannot afford the risk that someone might bob up and ask him to produce some evidence to support what he is saying.

Like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), I do not like to impute motives to people who take a view which is different from my own. However, if my right hon. and learned Friend had sat through the Committee stage of the Bill he would have been left in no doubt that the purpose of the words "serious" and "substantially" was to frighten doctors off doing abortions. There was no doubt from the proceedings of the Committee that that was their purpose, and their only purpose.

The object of including the words had nothing to do with getting rid of abortion on demand. It had nothing to do with the scientific follow-up, the balance of advantage and disadvantage and the balance of the risk at this end and the risk at that end. The words are designed to frighten off doctors and to put them in a position where, having made their own judgment, they say to themselves "That is my judgment, but how do I know that a jury will take the same view? The jury probably will not have a doctor on it. It may decide on the evidence. It may have people on it who are prejudiced one way or the other in respect of abortion. How do I know that in making its judgment of whether what I did was right or wrong the jury will adopt the same sort of criteria as those which I applied?"

As we know, it is possible for different juries to take different views about the same word in identical cases. It is possible for courts at different levels to take different views. If the racing form of the last few weeks is any guide, the odds are about 5 to 1 on that whatever the Court of Appeal finds, the House of Lords throws out. The odds are about 5 to 1 on that if the Court of Appeal found that a matter was "substantial", the House of Lords would say that it was not, and vice versa.

I did not understand the argument between my right hon. and learned Friends about "objective" and "subjective". Of course it is subjective. It is a twelve fold subjective test. It is 12 members of a jury making a guess. If we put in words which are susceptible of different interpretations, the doctor cannot foresee how they will be construed in court. Therefore, if he wants to avoid getting it in the snitch, he says to himself "I had better stay out of this altogether."

There is no way of quantifying either "serious" or "substantially". My right hon. and learned Friend quoted from the legal sources to which he says the lawyers always go. I do not know about that. Whenever I try to discover some of these things, I go to what I regard as the child's guide to the law, which is Butter-worth's legal dictionary. That is the only book that puts legal considerations in terms which a moderately educated layman can begin to understand.

I have looked up both terms in Butterworth's dictionary. About "substantial", it says: 'substantial' is not a word with a hard meaning in all contexts. It is an unsatisfactory medium for carrrying the idea of some ascertainable proportion of the whole. If it is an unsatisfactory medium for carrying the idea of an ascertainable proportion, the definition is saying that some people might think that 10 per cent. was "substantial", whereas others might not think it was "substantial" unless it was 20 per cent.

A poor doctor with a case before him has to try to estimate what a jury might think in some months' time. It may be a year or two before the case goes to court. This is an area in which there are many litigious people who have no difficulty in getting access to a lot of money for costs. There is no doubt that if these words were in the Bill they would be tested over and over again in the courts. One court might find one way and another court another way.

I invite the House to look at the word "serious", and what dear old Butterworth says is very revealing. It quotes an authority who, I imagine, would be recognised by all learned Members of the House as adequate—Lord Chief Justice Reading, who had many distinctions. Apart from being Lord Chief Justice, he was Viceroy of India, and he also preceded me in representing Reading in the House. He decided that the word "serious" was synonymous with the word "grave."

Having decided that "serious" was synonymous with "grave" he looked at "grave" to decide what that word meant. He said: I think we must come to the conclusion that when Parliament introduced the word 'grave' before the word 'misconduct' it meant that the misconduct must be not only of a character which could properly be described as misconduct, but also that the misconduct must be such as would amount to misconduct of a grave…character. That is a beauty, is it not? What the learned Lord Chief Justice said in 50 words is what a layman would say in three words. The layman would say "grave means grave". That is what the Lord Chief Justice said. He said that he could find no other definition for the word "grave" than that it meant "grave", and, as I said earlier, he said "grave" was "serious".

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South said that doctors know what the word means because they use the term themselves and sometimes have to talk about serious injury. That will not wash. There is no comparison between assessing whether an injury that has taken place is serious and assessing whether an injury that may take place in several months' time will be serious. One can judge whether grievous bodily harm is serious when one sees that the bloke who has suffered it has a broken jaw, five fractured ribs, concussion, a fractured pelvis and bothlegs broken. One has no difficulty in considering that he has suffered a grievous injury. Doctors are often called upon in courts to say that an injury is serious. There is no diffculty in saying that it is serious when the chap's injury seen.

What on earth has that to do with a doctor asking himself what sort of injury a woman might suffer if she does not have an abortion and what injury she might suffer if she goes through with her pregnancy for another four or five months? The doctor has no hard evidence. It must be a matter on which he has to exercise the most refined clinical judgment.

The hon. Gentleman quoted the BMA handbook—

Miss Jo Richardson (Barking)

Does my hon. Friend accept that a doctor will think that he needs to wait to decide whether the injury will be serious or that there will be substantial damage to the woman's health? What hon. Members who support the Bill seem to want to avoid is delay. This will cause delay.

Mr. Mikardo

I hope that we all want to avoid delay because, as has been said over and over again—and I do not want to go on repeating truisms—no one likes abortion. We look at abortion as a necessary evil, and everyone understands that if there must be abortion it should be done as early as possible, because the later it takes place the more difficult it is. Of course, a doctor will be safer in making his judgment if he lets the pregnancy develop. However, my hon. Friend is right. We do not want late abortions to take place.

2.15 pm

The BMA tells doctors "When you are considering these matters you must take a serious view about them." They do take a serious view. But the BMA does not tell doctors "You must make a judgment about whether something will be serious in four months' time." The comparisons which the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South sought to draw were so superficial that they leave me in some doubt that if I were charged with an offence in Scotland I would want him to defend me.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the unamended clause makes the provision for doctors more difficult because, whereas the test of the prospect of injury is wholly objective, the test whether it is serious is almost exclusively subjective? Therefore, for that reason, the doctor would be in grave peril if the clause went through unamended.

Mr. Mikardo

The hon. Gentleman is telling doctors that they would be much better off with the amendment.

Mr. Hogg indicated dissent.

Mr. Mikardo

I have manifestly done the hon. Gentleman the injustice of misunderstanding him. I thought that he had said that doctors would be better off. I apologise for misunderstanding him.

The point that I was about to make was that the doctors themselves do not want this. The BMA does not want it. Doctors are terrified of it because they, like other people, do not want to be landed in litigation. The only people who will benefit from the insertion of these words are the lawyers. The doctors will not benefit and the women will not benefit, and they are the people whom the Bill should be about. The case against including these indefinable and unquantifiable words is overwhelming.

Mrs. Sheila Faith (Belper)

We are faced with the situation that, unless these amendments are accepted, doctors will be cautious, because if they are too liberal in their interpretation they could face prosecution and they might be convicted in the Crown court if they could not convince a jury of the genuineness of their professional judgment. Supporters of the amendments have already referred to this. Doctors will be afraid to use their own medical judgment in this personal and individualistic matter.

When faced with a serious decision whether to advise on and allow an abortion, doctors will not only have to bear in mind the state of mind, physical condition and circumstances of the patient but will always have to be conscious of the fact that, with the new, tighter, legislation, their own reputations are at stake. However sympathetic the doctor may be towards the patient's problem, he will always recollect that he is bound by the interpretation of words.

The supporters of the Bill, and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram), would have us believe that at present doctors are practising abortion on demand. They base much of their evidence for this on one doctor—Professor Peter Huntingford—who has often stated that he performs an abortion if the woman requests it.

The fact that one doctor admits to performing abortion on demand is hardly ground for changing the very careful and balanced wording of the 1967 Act. Abor- tion on demand does not exist in this country for the overwhelming majority of women.

Figures show that the numbers of abortions performed in different areas vary. In Newcastle upon Tyne 93 per cent. of abortions were performed on women in the National Health Service. In Dudley, in the same year, the figure was only 6 per cent. Clearly these women do not have abortion on demand. Far from introducing restrictive phrases such as "serious" and "substantially", Parliament should be acting to eliminate the gross discrepancies that exist within the National Health Service.

A poll carried out for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children by Gallup in 1971 showed that fewer than one in 10 of gynaecologists believed that abortion on demand should be available in all circumstances. When the Lane committee considered this problem, it decided not to recommend any alteration in the wording. The majority of doctors have not taken decisions on abortions lightly. Their decisions must now be further prejudiced because a liberal interpretation of the words may mean prosecution. It would take years of litigation to sort out what is legal and what is illegal.

Already, in other sectors of medical practice, when faced with completely different situations, doctors have to calculate not only which decision is most advantageous to the health of the patient but which decision is least likely to involve him in legal action. In 1978 a mother with a brain-damaged child was awarded damages of £100,000 against the obstetrician who performed a forceps delivery when her baby was born. In December last year that award was quashed by the Court of Appeal.

Nevertheless, doctors will in future be in a dilemma when deciding between a forceps delivery—which may place them in a position where litigation may follow—or a caesarian section, which may not be in the best interests of the mother but which would entail less risk of legal action.

There is already a flood of law suits in America in cases alleging medical malpractice. Huge damages have been awarded and as a result the professional judgment of doctors is being affected. If defensive medicine is growing in other areas, one can imagine how the new restrictions would effectively reduce the chance of any woman obtaining an abortion legally even although she might have a very good case. She would be forced to seek a dangerous and illegal abortion.

We must bear in mind that deaths from all forms of abortion have fallen from 34 in 1969—the year after the Abortion Act came into force—to five in 1978. Only one death after an illegal abortion was recorded in 1977 compared with 22 in 1968. The number of hospital discharges after treatment for septic abortion—a common result of botched illegal abortions—fell from 3,000 in 1968 to 610 in 1975. Illegal abortion offences known to the police have dropped from 257 in 1969 to seven in 1978. The number of persons found guilty of, or cautioned for, offences of procuring illegal abortion dropped from 72 in 1969 to three in 1977.

Many of the supporters of the Bill are assuming that an illegal abortion is something that a woman undertakes lightly. They underestimate the sensitivity, the moral fibre and the humanitarian feelings of the women of this country. They also underestimate a woman's strong maternal instincts. It can never be an easy decision for a young girl, or a not so young woman, and it will be even more difficult if, while having to cope with so many mixed emotions, she has also to seek the assistance of an illegal back-street operator. The strain and feeling of guilt may scar her mentally for many years.

It may not be an easy decision to make, but 80 per cent. of women questioned in a recent Gallup poll said that if abortions were made difficult by law they would still go ahead and try to find other ways of terminating a pregnancy. Parliament can decide only whether abortions are performed legally or illegally. If the Bill becomes law, the number of abortions will not be substantially reduced. Women will search for means of procuring an abortion until they find one. It has been thus from time immemorial.

In the last year, four separate polls showed that there was wide support for the existing law. A poll by Mori for The Sunday Times shows that less than half of the population think that the abortion law should be tightened. A clear majority thinks that the law should be left as it is or liberalised. That poll was conducted only two weeks ago.

A recent Gallup poll commissioned by Woman's Own reveals that two out of three women in the 25 to 35 age group are against changing the law. A total of 81 per cent. of women believe that the question of abortion should be left to the woman in consultation with doctors. Those views are held by women of all political persuasions. It is interesting that only 12 per cent. of Conservatives questioned by Gallup supported the new Bill compared with 15 per cent. of Labour voters.

The representative body of the BMA, which includes doctors of all disciplines and religions, deplores the attack on the present Abortion Act. It considers the Act to be humane and practical and says that it does not require amendment. That body is supported by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and, most importantly, by the Royal College of Psychiatrists and almost every other medical organisation in Britain.

An editorial in the British Medical Journal said that medical experts were unanimous that the law should be left unchanged. A letter signed by 70 of Britain's most prominent doctors appeared in this month's Lancet, warning that if the Bill is passed septic abortion will once again become a national scourge.

I hope that my colleagues, if and when going through the Lobby to support the Bill, will remember that they are ignoring sound advice and professional judgment. I hope that my male colleagues will remember that the proposed changes are not considered to be desirable by most of the women in the country and that women are inadequately represented in the House.

The Roman Catholic bishops of England, Wales and Scotland support the Bill. The Catholic Church's position on abortion is well known. Many religious leaders of other denominations also support that view. I respect their opinion. We are lucky that our religious leaders are given every opportunity to persuade people to accept their view. However, they must work by persuasion. It is not right that they should expect rigid and restrictive legislation from the House on such an intensely personal matter.

I support the group of amendments. I shall not vote for the Bill, because if it is passed there will be a return to criminal and dangerous abortion, which will cause hardship and suffering to so many women.

Mr. W. Benyon

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Earlier today you heard a point of order by the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart) about this afternoon's events. May I ask you, with great respect, that when you come to consider Hansard and what went on you will take into account the trivial and time-wasting nature of such points of order and the effect that they have on private Members' time, which is extremely limited

Mr. Speaker

I am obliged. I shall bear everything in mind, to the best of my ability.

Mr. Stoddart

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I resent being accused of introducing triviality into our proceedings, particularly since you, Mr. Speaker, took a later point of order and reasonably promised to make a statement about it on Monday.

Mr. Roland Moyle (Lewisham, East)

As someone who held responsibility as Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security, I think that it would be apposite if I intervened at this stage to make my contribution to the debate on this group of amendments, which I consider to be the most crucial group—

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Friday 29 February.