HC Deb 06 May 1988 vol 132 cc1154-86

'After section 5 of the Abortion Act 1967 there shall be inserted the following section:— 5A(1) In respect of the refusal of an application by a woman for the termination of her pregnancy in terms of section I of this Act, or in the case of any delay by the Area Health Board or any of its responsible officers in reaching a decision on such an application, then that woman shall be entitled to make an appeal to the Terminations Appeals Tribunal. (2) There shall be a Terminations Appeal Tribunal for each Area Health Authority and the Secretary of State shall by order make provision for the establishment, constitution and procedure of the Termination Appeals Tribunal. (3) The Tribunals and Inquiries Act 1921 shall apply to the Termination Appeals Tribunal.".'.—[Mr. Doran.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

10.14 am
Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, South)

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

Mr. Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 40, in clause 1, page 1, line 10, leave out 'on a consultant gynaecologist's recommendation' and insert 'on the advice of a registered medical practitioner who has been admitted to membership of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists'. No. 41, in clause 1, page 2, line 10, leave out 'by a consultant gynaecologist and one other registered medical practitioner' and insert 'formed in good faith, by two registered medical practitioners'. No. 42, in clause 1, page 2, line 14, leave out paragraph (c).

Mr. Doran

I apologise for my bedraggled state and hoarse voice as I have rushed here this morning from Aberdeen where the Labour party last night won a magnificient victory. It is opportune that I start by mentioning the city that I am proud to represent, because Aberdeen is a city where the laws on abortion have been well tested, not just since 1967, but since the 1930s.

I am disappointed that you, Mr. Speaker, did not choose the amendment relating to the exclusion of Scotland from the operation of the Bill, because Scots law is very different from English law. It is a much more flexible system. There is no stated time limit. The effective time limit in Scotland is 24 weeks because the law says that abortion would be a criminal offence in the case of a viable foetus. It is now medically accepted that a foetus is viable at the age of 24 weeks. I find it distressing that we are talking about time limits when the system in Scotland is quite different and the concept of rigid time limits is quite alien. We have flexibility and that adds to the system.

New clause 3 would amend the Abortion Act 1967 and attempts to do what the Bill does not do. If the Bill is implemented, it will impose a strict time limit with certain minor exceptions. I regard those exceptions as minor, although I know that the hon. Members who propose them do not regard them as such. However, they were presented less in a spirit of improving the legislation than in a spirit of recognising that the Bill had no prospect in the House without a compromise.

There is already a major difficulty in the operation of the 1967 Act. It is well known that the response from the medical profession to the Act is, to say the least, patchy. There are some parts of the country where the Act is operating in the spirit in which it is passed and in accordance with the law. My own city of Aberdeen has long experience of the operation of abortions as a public service to women in need, but there are other parts of the country where the law is operated less satisfactorily.

For example, in Glasgow, the law is operated perfectly satisfactorily in one part of the city, hut, if a woman is unfortunate to live in the other part, she has grave difficulty in obtaining an abortion, even if she satisfies the requirements of the 1967 Act. The net result is that over 900 women a year have to leave Glasgow to go south to England where, for the purpose of statistics, they are treated as foreign women. That subject has caused great excitement among those who support the Bill. Nine hundred women leave Glasgow every year and go south for abortions because they cannot obtain them in their native city, regardless of the fact that——

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

My hon. Friend refers to that part of Glasgow where the entitlements under the existing law are not extended to all women. Will he include a reference to Birmingham where the situation is exactly the same? As a result of the conscience clause, which we all respect, women in Birmingham do not obtain their entitlement under the law unless they can afford to go into the private sector. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is deeply wrong?

Mr. Doran

My hon. Friend is entirely right. I was about to turn to the situation in Birmingham which suffers from the same problem as that part of Glasgow to which I referred.

Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston)

Will my hon. Friend specify the parts of Glasgow to which he is referring?

Mr. Doran

I understand that that is the practice in the southern part of Glasgow, but I do not have details of the hospitals involved. However, I shall find out and tell my hon. Friend later. As I said, 900 women a year leave Glasgow to have abortions, so the record speaks for itself. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) said that that is also the position in Birmingham.

I have already expressed my regret that my amendment that would have excluded Scotland from the scope of the Bill was not selected. Equally, I regret that new clauses 1, 2 and 4 were not selected, because they would have put new clause 3 into context. All those new clauses attempted to deal with the difficulties that would arise if the Bill were ever enacted. It lacks flexibility and pays no heed to the existing difficulties that we all wish to avoid.

In Committee I frequently said that I am not in favour of abortion, and I do not think that any of us are. It is something that we all find difficult to accept. However, it exists and, indeed, has existed for as long as there has been birth, which is as long as mankind has existed. There will always be abortion, so it must be within a legal framework. Women are entitled to have an abortion in clean and safe surroundings with medical attention. That did not happen before the 1967 Act, other than in a few areas such as Aberdeen, and that will be the case again if the Bill is passed unamended.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

I speak as a biologist. It is often said that we all dislike the concept of abortion, but in fact abortion can be a natural as well as an artificial process. About one third of all abortions occur naturally, without medical help. Medical progress has, to some extent, subverted natural abortion, bringing to full term many babies who would have been aborted naturally but for medical science.

Abortion is not an unnatural process; it is part of nature. In previous times, natural abortion eliminated many of the current problems of foetal abnormality in the later stages of pregnancy. That is especially true of genetic foetal abnormalities, which often conflict with the genetics of the mother through the placenta and produce a natural abortion. We must not think that abortion is altogether unnatural and unpleasant—it is a normal weeding out process——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. Interventions must be brief. I have allowed the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran) to make a fairly extensive preamble to the new clause and the amendments, which are comparatively narrow. I am sure that he will now address himself to them.

Mr. Doran

I was tempted to intervene on the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), but I resisted. I accept her point because her professional background gives her great experience in these matters. Of course, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I also accept your strictures.

The new clause would allow a woman who had been refused an abortion to appeal, although within the context of the 1967 Act it is difficult to determine how such an appeal should be provided. The Act makes it clear that certain acts should not be regarded as criminal in certain circumstances. New clause 4 would have changed the emphasis and the onus so that abortion could be provided in certain circumstances following an application by the woman. Without the benefit of new clause 4, new clause 3 may appear to be lacking something. Obviously, it will need to be amended—presumably in another place—if it is accepted.

I would choose the vehicle of an appeals tribunal, which is a well tried and tested remedy. The major difficulty is the strict time limits. The period of gestation is well known. The time limit in Scotland is, in effect, 24 weeks because of the viability of the foetus, while in England it is 28 weeks because of the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929. It is important that members of the medical profession address themselves to time limits— not only those set by law but those that they choose to apply when considering particular cases.

I envisage new clause 3 being a spur to the medical profession to reconsider its practices. I commend to them those followed by the Grampian health authority, which recognises that time limits are crucial. If a woman tells her general practitioner that she wishes to be considered for an abortion, that general practitioner follows a procedure established by that health authority. While the woman is still in his surgery, he must immediately contact the obstetrics dept of the local hospital, which must make an appointment over the telephone. The doctor does not have time to follow his usual procedure of writing to the hospital for an appointment, waiting for that to be processed and an appointment sent and then notifying the woman. My health authority has successfully managed to expedite the whole process.

Ms. Mildred Gordon (Bow and Poplar)

I have just had handed to me letters from 41 doctors in Tower Hamlets, which is in my constituency, dealing with the issues that my hon. Friend is raising. They state: As general practitioners in Tower Hamlets, whatever our personal views on induced abortion"—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is more of a speech than an intervention, and I find it difficult to relate it to the new clause under discussion.

Ms. Gordon

It deals with the points being raised—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady must be brief if she is making an intervention.

Mr. Doran

I entirely accept the point that I think that my hon. Friend tried to make, and I intend to refer later to similar documentation.

The inadequacies in the National Health Service must be remedied, and that is the purpose of the new clause. A survey of general practitioners in the Haringey area attempted to highlight those inadequacies. My knowledge of other areas, especially Glasgow and Birmingham, is that the survey's findings could equally well apply there. Some 41 per cent. of general practitioners said that facilities for abortion within the NHS were inadequate and that there were huge delays in obtaining appointments. Although 53 per cent. of those surveyed referred all women to the NHS, a significant number did not. The two most common reasons for that were women's preference—34 per cent.—and the probable delay in obtaining an appointment—a high figure of 20 per cent. The survey suggested that there was a large overlap between the 34 per cent. for women's preference and the 20 per cent. for fear of delays in hospitals providing early appointments.

Nearly half the general practitioners surveyed—47 per cent. of them—felt that there should be early abortion units, and I shall return to that point. A substantial proportion of them—67 per cent.—were concerned about pregnancy testing and similar issues. Those are real and serious difficulties in the Health Service. As I said earlier, one of the major motivations behind the new clause is to encourage the Health Service to re-examine its practices.

10.30 am

I am well aware that the 1967 Act embodies a conscience clause which permits certain Health Service employees to opt out. These days, there is a fondness for that expression on the Government Benches. In any event, I am concerned at the way in which that conscience clause can be used to militate against women who want or need an abortion. In certain areas there seems to be a preponderance of Health Service employees exercising their option to use the conscience clause. That fact is not advertised or publicly known, and a woman may be a long way into the system before she realises that it militates against the abortion she may need—not because she fails to comply with the terms of the 1967 Act, but because there is an in-built prejudice or conscience against abortion in the first place. I suppose that I am really saying that the law is not being observed and recognised.

New clause 3 will encourage general practitioners to look again at the conscience clause. If I had been given the time and the freedom to draft the amendments I wanted, I would have proposed a register of medical practitioners, which women could consult to identify those operating the conscience clause who held strong, and perfectly reasonable, beliefs against providing abortions. In that way, a woman would not be seeking the assistance of a practitioner whose beliefs entailed an in-built delay she could know nothing about. We must find a way of overcoming that problem, perhaps with the register I have mentioned. New clause 3 would provide a way out and a right of appeal.

Ms. Jo Richardson (Barking)

My hon. Friend mentioned that if he had been given the time he would have drafted an amendment providing for a conscience register. A brief examination of amendment No. 45, which has not been selected, suggests that it would have covered that proposal. If we return to this subject on a future occasion, perhaps we may bear such a register in mind.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That must be done on another occasion and not now.

Ms. Richardson

That is what I said, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Doran

I have no intention of attempting to move such an amendment now, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but obviously my hon. Friend and I are in agreement.

As a professional person, I know how difficult it is to entertain an appeal against one of my decisions. Solicitors do not tend to make decisions—they give advice. I know how nervous I am if any of my clients wishes to seek a second opinion. I suspect that members of the medical profession may feel intimidated by the suggestion of an appeal, because their decisions would be subject to examination by what I hope would be an independent appeals tribunal.

It is essential to look back over the 20 or more years of the Act's operation and consider the geographical disparities that the statistics reveal. Why is the number of abortions so much higher in one part of the country than in another? Why are there so many late abortions, with women having to turn to the private sector? Why cannot women obtain abortions that have been deemed necessary and that are within the law?

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

Does the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran) have any evidence of health authority officials deliberately causing delays and acting without any sense of urgency?

Mr. Doran

Even if I had such evidence, I would not attempt to present it here—I would look for another way. The hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) was, like myself, present when certain members of the Committee tabled a hit list—and I certainly would not be prepared to go down that road. I am prepared to rest my argument on the statistics, which are very clear. It is more difficult for a woman to obtain an abortion in certain parts of the country than it is in others, and some are compelled to move out of the Health Service and into the private sector.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

Does my hon. Friend agree that he is not making any specific recommendations about the practical operation of the tribunal? We have all experienced hostile health authorities and their hostility towards tribunals. Such hostility might negate the good that a tribunal could do. It is an important issue for those of us who have suffered such experiences.

Mr. Doran

I appreciate my hon. Friend's point. I deliberately did not go into detail because it would be far more than the House could cope with, given that we are dealing with an emotional topic. I am dealing now with the principle, and I leave to the Secretary of State the responsibility of drawing up the terms on which tribunals would operate.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

I am concerned about my hon. Friend's response to the intervention of the hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham), when my hon. Friend referred to the existence in Committee of a hit list. Would he care to explain more about that hit list and what it was intended to achieve?

Mr. Doran

I shall be happy to explain but the matter is recorded in the Committee proceedings. It was suggested that there was a large number of practitioners in the private sector who were abusing the system—I believe that they were called moral criminals by one member of the Committee. It was suggested that action should be taken against the 11 consultant gynaecologists whose names were given to the Committee. That matter caused the Committee and its Chairman great concern. Indeed, the Chairman, rightly, made his views well known. The hon. Member who made those remarks in Committee is in the Chamber and he may wish to comment later.

It is important to stress that new clause 3 deals with a matter of principle. If it is successful, it would be for the Secretary of State to draft the detail of how the appeals tribunals would operate. One such tribunal would be set up for each area health authority, and it is essential that appeals be heard speedily. I can think of a number of examples of the way in which tribunals might operate, but the one that most comes to mind is the children's hearing system in Scotland, embodying the concept of what is known as the first lawful day hearing. When a child is, for example, taken into custody for committing a serious offence, or has been the subject of abuse or parental neglect and is taken into care, there is a hearing within seven days—but preferably on the first lawful day, which is usually the day after the child is taken into custody or care. Speed is essential.

There would also need to be a medical element in the membership of the tribunal, in order properly to assess the evidence put before it. Funding would be the responsibility of the local health board.

Ms. Dawn Primarolo (Bristol, South)

Can my hon. Friend say whether the tribunal's operation would allow for the Bill's current time limit of 18 weeks? if a tribunal agreed to a delay, would that he deemed an exceptional circumstance, allowing for termination after the 18th week?

Mr. Doran

I trust that the rules for the tribunal would provide that where application has been made to a doctor, that would be the starting point, on the understanding that the woman qualified under all the other terms of the Act, but that does not detract from the necessity for speed. The whole House wishes to see a reduction in the number of late abortions, which are traumatic for the woman, for the staff and for everyone else involved, and it is disappointing that the Bill makes no attempt to deal with the problems that I have described in the Health Service. In Committee, many of the Bill's sponsors made lengthy attacks on the private sectors, which they would not have made in other contexts. Many of the issues raised by opponents of the Bill were dismissed out of hand, with a few grudging amendments which, if anything, make the Bill worse.

We witnessed in Committee from the sponsors of the Bill, and no doubt we will see again today, not a commitment to the system envisaged in the Bill but merely the first stage in a campaign to remove from the statute book the right to abortion. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) made that clear in Committee. To paraphrase his position, he said that it had taken 40 years to abolish slavery and that it might take 20 years to abolish abortionists, but that that was the intention. That clear and emphatic statement shows that there is no real commitment to the Bill. It is merely the first stage and its supporters will be back again and again until the right to abortion is removed altogether. Anyone considering voting for the Bill in its present form should bear that in mind.

Mr. Cyril Smith (Rochdale)

The abolition of abortion or the repeal of the 1967 Act could occur only with the will of the House, so why is the hon. Gentleman getting his knickers in a twist?

Mr. Doran

I was not aware that they were in a twist. I was trying to make a serious point. The Bill purports to reduce the time limit while accepting the concept of abortion, but the sponsors do not believe in that concept. They are philosophically and ideologically opposed to it. That has been made clear in every statement that they have made and in every tactic that they have used against those of us who oppose the Bill. The House should be clear that those who support the Bill do not want an improvement in the system. They are not prepared to consider improvements in the Health Service——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying into a Second Reading debate. He must address himself to the new clause.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is difficult for my hon. Friend to remain within the bounds of order that you have described while developing his reply to the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith). This is a debating Chamber and you have to sit there and listen. If a valid debating point is made, my hon. Friend or, indeed, any other hon. Member must be able to respond to it. Some hon. Members may not be clear about what is meant by getting one's knickers in a twist, so it is necessary for my hon. Friend to deal with that. I hope he will expand on the point. I should like to know what the hon. Member for Rochdale meant. Perhaps my hon. Friend knows. Perhaps you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's help, but perhaps he will leave this to me.

Mr. Doran

As ever, I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). I shall try not to stray out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The new clause is a sensible measure designed to deal with defects in the Bill and to provide some flexibility. I commend it to the House.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You and the House will know that I am not one to raise frivolous points of order or to waste the time of the House. When you came into the Chamber I was in the middle of making a point of order to Mr. Speaker about the deep unfairness of the way in which precedents have been changed.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has already raised that point with Mr. Speaker. In my hearing, a clear ruling was given. There is nothing that I can add to it now.

10.45 am
Mr. Wells

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not wish to waste time. I was not able to finish my point of order to Mr. Speaker. That is why I am raising it with you. If we had known Mr. Speaker's ruling about precedence, we should have put down a 24-week limit at the outset. Voting would then have taken place in strict order, downwards from 28 weeks, and we should have reached the Division on that issue before we ever reached 22 or 20 weeks. It is vital that people within and outside the House understand that.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has made his point. There is nothing that I can add to Mr. Speaker's ruling.

Mr. Skinner

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You have heard the frustrated cry from the other side. The hon. Gentleman tried to make that point earlier, and no doubt you heard part of what was said. The list of amendments is known as Mr. Speaker's "provisional" selection, which means that there is an opportunity to change it, an opportunity that is taken on some occasions.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is correct, but Mr. Speaker said distinctly that he did not intend to change his selection of amendments. That is the conclusive answer to the hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

It may be for the convenience of the House if I do not dwell on new clause 3, introduced by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran), but concentrate on amendments Nos. 40, 41 and 42 in my name and in the names of right hon. and hon. Members from almost every political party in the House.

In my view, new clause 3 is confused. I hope that I am not being uncharacteristically offensive when I say that it looked as though it has been written out on the back of a cigarette packet on the shuttle to London from Aberdeen. I shall urge my hon. Friends to vote against the new clause because it muddies the water and will be of no benefit to anyone concerned with this important issue.

My three amendments were tabled for one specific purpose. My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir. B. Braine) successfully introduced a series of amendments in Committee which in my view, and that of those who put their names to my amendments, were deeply unsatisfactory. I hope that my right hon. Friend, for whom I and the whole House have great respect, will not consider it unduly insulting if I suggest that his amendments were wrecking amendments. My right hon. Friend is a seasoned and successful campaigner on many issues. The stand that he has always taken on abortion is well known. He opposes it in principle, and I respect his view. I submit that my right hon. Friend and those hon. Members who supported him in Committee passed that series of the amendments with only one purpose—further to wreck the original Abortion Act that was passed about 20 years ago.

The Committee made it clear that certification for an abortion could be signed only by medical practitioners or gynaecologists who work in the National Health Service. That is a gross insult to the many professional men and women who are members of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and who practise in the private sector. The Committee is saying that it does not trust those professional people and that they are charlatans.

One member of the Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Amos), went further. He said that he had a hit list; he had the names of clinics and qualified gynaecologists and obstetricians who were breaking the law. If that is correct, this is the right place and time for my hon. Friend to give us the names. I want the Director of Public Prosecutions to prosecute those people. They are giving a bad name to the medical profession. They are committing an offence. If I had such evidence, I would immediately give those names to the House today and pass them to the Director of Public Prosecutions. But if I did not have evidence, I would not have been so foolish or irresponsible as to raise those red herrings in Committee, and then be unable to give the names of the clinics and the people involved.

I do not believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham is irresponsible or would in any way wish to deceive the House. This is therefore an ideal opportunity, while he is in his place, with substantial files in front of him—which no doubt will include that hit list—for him to stand up with the privilege of the House and give the names of the clinics and the doctors involved. If my hon. Friend would do so, I guarantee to write tomorrow to the Director of Public Prosecutions informing him of the remarks made in the House and of the list of names, and asking him to investigate the matter with a view to prosecution.

Mr. Thurnham

Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be an abuse of the privileges of this House to make accusations against individuals inside this House which, if he did not believe them, the hon. Member would not be prepared to make outside the House?

Mr. MacKay

I agree with my hon. Friend. We have seen many examples—mainly from the Opposition—of the irresponsible naming of people without evidence. I conclude from the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham has not sought to intervene that he is not sure of his facts. He is not prepared to name those clinics and people because he does not think that the allegation will stand up when submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions. We can only conclude from the silence that it was an irresponsible remark made by my hon. Friend in Committee. It would be best for the House and the Committee if he withdrew that remark.

Mr. Frank Cook

Will the hon. Member consider an extension of the point made by his hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (M r. Thurnham)? Is it not an even greater abuse of the privileges of the House to refer to the existence of a number of people and not be prepared to substantiate the allegation?

Mr. MacKay

I would, but I think that we have dwelt long enough on this matter. I want to move now to other parts of my amendment.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)

Many Conservative Members are surprised that the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Amos) has not availed himself of this opportunity, because it is of such crucial importance.

Mr. MacKay

I cannot speak for my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham. All that I have done—out of common decency—is to give him the opportunity to present his case, which is his right. That he has declined to do.

Mrs. Gorman

My hon. Friend is aware that I was a member of the Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Amos) also produced in Committee what he alleged to be a tape recording of a conversation between one of those gynaecologists and a young woman. The gynaecologist deliberately persuaded the young woman, against her better judgment, to part with £450 to have an abortion which she did not want. The young woman had previously been counselled by Life or another such organisation. My hon. Friend refused to produce that tape, or a transcript of it. Will my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham confirm who is mentioned in that tape?

Mr. MacKay

I am not responsible for my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham. If he wishes to pass that tape to anybody, no doubt he will do so. The House has noted that, in Committee, he said that he had not only a list of names, but a tape recording.

I refer now to the amendments introduced in Committee by my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point. Of all people, Conservative Members should support the private sector of medicine. We believe in the National Health Service, but we believe also in the right of men and women to avail themselves of private medicine if they want it. If the amendments passed in Committee are sustained by the House today, many millions of women who use the private sector rather than the National Health Service for medical needs will have to seek advice from general practitioners and gynaecologists in the National Health Service. Imagine the pressure that that will put upon National Health Service hospitals. Imagine the pressure that it will put on gynaecological units. All hon. Members are worried about waiting lists in our hospitals. This will extend the waiting list. Ministers on the Treasury Bench, who are listening carefully to this debate, will be filled with horror at the idea that they will have to cope with a large number of people in NHS hospitals who would normally use the private sector. I hope that we shall reject this part of the Bill and that Conservative Members will support the private sector of medicine and the right of patients to decide whether they want to be treated in the private sector or in the National Health Service.

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston)

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that many Opposition Members would be reluctant to defend the private sector and nervous of accusations of profit-making. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is more significant when an hon. Member like me says that there is no evidence of excessive fee-charging in the abortion sector? That is contrary to the slanders which are sometimes made about fees in the private sector. I have a duty to defend doctors who, although they practise in the private sector, are not charging unwarranted fees for abortions——

Mr. Cyril Smith

Absolute rubbish.

Mrs. Wise

I am trying to be brief. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is more convincing for me to defend doctors in that sense than it is for him?

Mr. MacKay

I concede that point. The hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) is not noted for being a friend of capitalism. The hon. Lady and I disagree on almost every fundamental issue that comes before the House. I would have expected the amendment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point to have been moved by Left-wing Socialists who are doctrinarily opposed to the private sector of medicine, not by a robust supporter such as him.

Mrs. Gorman

My hon. Friend will be interested to know that the eminent gynaecologist, Dr. Wendy Savage. who is observing our proceedings today, and who is not normally a friend of the policies embraced by Conservative Members on private enterprise, has informed me that not only is the private sector doing a useful job but that the skill of the private sector is greater than that in the NHS. The death rate is less than that in the National Health Service by a factor of 10. That information is published in the British Medical Journal by Dr. Peter Diggory FR COG——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is enough for an intervention.

Mr. MacKay

It would be unwise of me and unfair to the House to pursue that point, which I suspect is not quite relevant to the issue we are discussing.

I have established beyond reasonable doubt that great pressure would be put on NHS hospitals and gynaecological units if the Bill were passed as amended in Committee.

11 am

There is another even more sinister aspect of the amendment passed in Committee. Let us imagine a woman living in a remote part of the country where there are few NHS gynaecologists and the distance to the nearest NHS hospital is considerable. If the nearest gynaecologist is fundamentally and morally opposed to abortion, she is stymied. The doctor will not sign the certificate. So there will be one rule for my constituents in Thames Valley, where there are plenty of hospitals and enlightened gynaecologists, and another for people living in remote parts of the United Kingdom, who might have the misfortune to find that the only NHS gynaecologist in the region would never sign a certificate. That is why the private sector must be included.

There is another sinister feature. Let us take the case of a woman in a private sector hospital who is taken seriously ill while pregnant and needs to have an abortion. As the Bill is now drafted, that can only take place in a public hospital or approved place—a clinic that has been licensed in the private sector by the DHSS. The woman does not want an abortion; she is in a private sector hospital because she is a member of BUPA. The specialist dealing with her case says that she will lose her life if she does not have an abortion, but, as the law stands, he cannot perform that abortion in the hospital or clinic because it is not within the NHS and is not registered to perform abortions. Therefore, the woman will have to be driven in an ambulance some considerable distance to another hospital or clinic where two doctors or gynaecologists will have to certify that it is right that she should have an abortion. Only then will it be performed there. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) loves intervening from a sedentary position. We rarely see horn in the House. It is a pity that he cannot intervene more properly in the debate. We look forward to hearing him later.

Ms. Gordon

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in the circumstances he has described, and especially during a holiday period when it might be difficult to obtain a certificate from a consultant gynaecologist, a doctor in a private clinic might find himself faced with a choice between breaking the law and becoming a criminal or letting a patient die?

Mr. MacKay

I agree entirely with that telling intervention. We can think of other examples—foul weather, a snow storm, roads closed, and still a doctor would be breaking the law and committing a criminal offence if he carried out an abortion to save a woman's life, because he could not transfer her by ambulance to another hospital.

If the Bill proceeds today unamended, innocent women in this country will lose their lives because of the amendment passed in Committee. I have conclusively argued that any gynaecologist, wherever he happens to practise, should be able to certify. The amendment was nothing but a wrecking amendment to make abortion harder to obtain. It will do great damage to the NHS and make our constituents wait longer for gynaecological services—and it could lead to loss of life. I urge the House to support amendments Nos. 40, 41 and 42.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

I have heard the arguments of the hon. Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. MacKay) and I know that the House wants to make progress on this group of amendments, although the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) made an eloquent case in Committee. In ideal circumstances I would happily have supported the amendment moved there. I spoke last night to my right hon. and hon. Friends who are fellow sponsors of the Bill and we believe that the amendments would go some way to meeting some of the criticisms put by the hon. Member for Berkshire, East and other hon. Members in Committee. So I recommend that the House accept them.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran) moved a new clause whose wording was defective in a number of respects. For instance, one would have to assume that the area health board that he referred to—it is a Scottish institution—would have its powers derogated to regional and area health authorities in England and Wales. Some of the other wording was also defective. There was, for example, no definition of "delay". I spoke to officers at the DHSS last night and have many misgivings about this. The issue could properly be re-examined in another place if there was a case to be made, but I do not think that it was made adequately this morning. The new clause could add to bureaucracy and cause as many problems as it attempts to solve. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South had the chances to raise the point in Committee but was unable to do so, but there will be a chance for these issues to be considered further in another place.

The subject of private clinics is regularly raised. I must remind the House that profit is involved. Although it may be dressed up as a surplus, we must remember that only 11 doctors and the clinics in which they work performed about 60 per cent. of all late abortions. For that they took £2 million.

Ms. Short

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Alton

I may be able to pre-empt the hon. Lady if she is about to say that this is because of the NHS. I remind the House that more than half of late abortions are not carried out on people from our country, so NHS delays can hardly be the reason.

Ms. Short

Many medical staff in Birmingham share my ethnic background—they are Irish Catholic immigrants—and the abortion law on the statute book is consequently not available to women there, which is gravely wrong. That means that only women who can raise the money go into the charitable private sector.

What is the Government's view? Is it that the Birmingham practice should change and there should be planning within the NHS to extend to all women the right that they have in theory under the law, or does he just want to stop people having abortions? Is that his game?

Mr. Alton

The hon. Lady is wrong to suggest that any games are being played. In Committee, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) put an alternative view. She said that facilities were available throughout the city of Birmingham. We live in a country that allows 600 abortions every working day and 172,000 every year, and the door that my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) said 20 years ago would never be left wide open has led to abortion on demand.

If hon. Members disagree with that, perhaps they will accept the view of consultant gynaecologists, 700 of whom answered a Gallup survey; 60 per cent. of them said that, in their view, abortion on demand was available in this country.

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

Will my hon. Friend confirm that he accepts the principle of equal provision within the law?

Mr. Alton

Of course I confirm that, and I am grateful for that helpful intervention.

Mrs. Mahon

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Alton

I shall give way in a moment. I am grateful for the interest that hon. Members are taking in the Bill, but I hope that they will allow me to make a little more progress. We should challenge the assumption that in itself abortion is a desirable operation. We should seek radical alternatives to the defeatism that abortion represents.

Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)

Would the hon. Gentleman accept from those of us who have looked at the statistics about Birmingham that if there were equal provision in the law, which he has said that he would accept, it would mean an increase in abortions in the Birmingham area? Is he suggesting that people are carrying out abortions that do not meet the strict criteria laid down in the 1967 Act? That is what he suggests when he says that there is abortion on demand. The law does not permit abortion on demand.

Mr. Alton

The hon. Lady knows as well as I do that the 35 people who run the private counselling clinics and agencies also run abortion clinics. That financial link should be broken. It is a scandal that people can make money out of advising people to have an abortion. I have had many thousands of letters from people who say that if they had known about the psychological and physical consequences of abortion they would have done otherwise.

Abortion carries consequences for everybody involved—for the doctors and nurses and for the women and children. A 30-bed clinic was at the heart of a Department of Health and Social Security investigation in 1985 after one of its clients, a 21-year-old Spanish student, bled to death when her abortion went wrong. That clinic charges up to £385 a time, and the later the abortion the more people pay. A report called "The Charter of Tears" in The Sunday Mirror said: One 18-year-old girl described the clinic as 'a production line'. She said: 'Everybody was in a terrible rush.' Another girl said: 'I had my operation at 11 am and I was out by 2 pm. To try to pretend that this is love, care or support for the woman or for the child is a travesty of the truth. All that abortion involves is violence and death. On that note I urge the House to accept the amendments in the spirit in which they were moved by the hon. Member for Berkshire, East and to reject the new clause of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South.

The Minister for Health (Mr. Tony Newton)

In view of what the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) has said, it might be helful it I were now to intervene briefly to assist the House as far as I can. I shall be brief because I know that other hon. Members wish to speak and that the House wishes to make progress. As far as is possible in speaking about this matter I shall be factual. As I said on Second Reading, I see my task as the Minister for Health to assist the House in making up its mind and not to express a view on behalf of the Government.

The hon. Member for Mossley Hill has said that he is minded to accept the amendments moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. MacKay). There is relatively little by way of factual information or further comment that I can give to assist the House about those amendments. The advice given to me is that if the amendments are accepted abortion in the private sector in and after the 18th week would need to be advised by a member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and to be certified by two registered medical practitioners, as at present. In practice, one of those would almost always be a member of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists who had advised in terms of the first half of the proposition. That is very little different from the existing position, since one of the two doctors currently certifying abortions over 18 weeks has almost always been admitted as a member of the royal college. I see no particular difficulties about the acceptance of those amendments.

Ms. Short

Private clinics and uneven provision around the country cause many late abortions, as I am sure the Minister knows. Those of us who are concerned about late abortions—unlike the promoter of the Bill—think that it is crucial for the National Health Service to be required to plan its abortion provision within the law throughout the country. If that were done enormous numbers of late abortions would be avoided. Will the Minister look seriously at that and at the prospect of making that change so that we can prevent the distress of late abortion? He could achieve that.

11.15 am
Mr. Newton

The hon. Lady is bringing us to the underlying purpose, as I understand it, of new clause 3 which was moved by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran) and to which I was about to turn. I start by acknowledging the feelings expressed that there may well be some variation in the attitudes of those concerned with these matters in different parts of the country. As I said on Second. Reading, it is easier to note that problem than to see what can readily be done about it unless we go down the path of making appointments to gynaecological posts throughout the country dependent upon an interrogation of the potential appointee in order to ascertain his views about abortion. That would be to set up some kind of quota system for those who were "pro-abortion" or "anti-abortion" to be appointed in particular localities. The House will see that that proposition is fraught with very great difficulty.

While acknowledging the problem, I am not able to respond in quite the way that the hon. Lady would like 'by giving an easy answer along the lines that she has suggested. I am sure that the House would not wish me to take a great deal of time. For that reason I intend to restrict the number of interventions that I accept. However, I shall again give way to the hon. Lady.

Ms. Short

My point is extremely important and has nothing to do with time wasting. I am second to none in defending the right of people to stand on conscience, but that right cannot prevent the proper implementation of the law throughout the country. We can stand firmly by the right of all medical staff to obey their conscience on abortion, but also impose on the National Health Service a duty I o plan proper abortion facilities within the law in all areas. Surely that is possible. I appeal to the Minister to plan for it because it would prevent late abortions and io far more than this dishonest Bill.

Mr. Newton

Once again I appreciate the hon. Lady's sincerity, but I do not think that there is a great deal that I can add to what I have said about what I perceive to be the difficulties of going down the track that appears to be implied by the hon. Lady.

Mrs. Wise

If the Minister looks at the record he will find that at one stage his Department gave exactly that kind of advice: that each area should make sure that it appointed a sufficient number of people who were not subject to conscientious bar so that facilities could be available throughout the country. If he looks back he will find that that was done. I suggest that it is quite proper and in no sense a hostile interrogation. It is simply to ensure that bars will not be placed in the way of an adequate National Health Service in every area.

Mr. Newton

My understanding is different from that of the hon. Lady. However, I shall check it in the light of what she has said. I do not resile from my view that it would be wrong if people seeking gynaecological and obstetric appointments in hospitals all over Britain had to depend for appointment on the declaration of a specific view. That would be an extremely uneasy situation for health authorities, for Ministers and for the House.

New clause 3 would introduce a formal appeal mechanism into the Abortion Act 1967 as a whole. It would not, of course, simply apply to applications for abortions over 18 weeks which are, generally, the abortions dealt with in the Bill.

Every scrap of advice that I have, which I will not set out at length, says that the new clause is technically defective—for example, in its terminology, which refers to area health boards, which are bodies not currently known to the law. It is technically defective in a number of other respects on which I could elaborate. The hon. Member for Mossley Hill has already touched on a particular difficulty, which is the reference to "any delay", with no definition of "delay". A delay could mean, in theory, a delay of a matter of minutes and, without some definition—a definition that would be extremely difficult to achieve in a workable form—the clause would be inoperable.

Therefore, I have to tell the House as clearly as I can that were it to take the view that the new clause represented a principle to which it wished to agree, substantial further work would be required in the other place to put the clause into a form in which there would be any chance of its working. I have some other serious reservations, which I should set out for the House.

In moving his new clause, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South said that he acknowledged that there should be medical representation on these tribunals, but that there should also be a lay element. It occurs to me, and will no doubt have occurred to the House, that quite a number of the decisions that would in theory be appealed against under this proposal would be clinical decisions, at least in the mind of the doctor who made them, and in terms of the law. It is open to question what the response of the profession would be, as its members would see many difficulties where clinical decisions or decisions taken on a clinical basis were subject to review by a group that was not made up of clinicians. That would raise the question whether the decisions by such a body could or would be implemented by a clinician who would have carry out the abortion.

It is clear that nothing that a termination appeals tribunal could decide could compel the clinician to carry out an abortion against his wishes or judgment. I see the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) shaking his head. I am making these points only to illustrate some of the difficulties that would be entailed in developing this new clause into something that would be sustainable. I am not saying that I am convinced that those difficulties are not surmountable. I am saying that there has been little time for us, quite apart from the House, to consider them, but they appear to me to be formidable, and would undoubtedly introduce a new element of difficulty and complexity into the changes of law that are being proposed.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

The right hon. Gentleman has said that there might be a possibility of the tribunal coming out in favour of the applicant, but the applicant then having difficulty in finding a clinician to carry out the recommendation of the tribunal. That suggests that the clinicians have a veto on the rights of the individual that have been upheld by the tribunal. Surely, whether the wording is correct or not, we should be finding a way to sustain the rights of the individual rather than providing mechanisms for vetos.

Mr. Newton

I have already recognised the importance of that point, and I hope that my remarks will not be considered by the hon. Gentleman or others who may support the new clause as being made in a negative spirit. They are designed simply to reveal the difficulties of going down the track that has been suggested and the undoubted need for further substantial thought, not only in drafting but about many of the concepts involved. I am perhaps saying no more to the House than this: in a matter that is already fraught with difficulty and complexity, the House will need to consider whether it wishes to introduce this additional and substantially fresh element to the subject matter of the Bill. In the end, that judgment is for the House, not me to make, but it is important that I should make clear to the House the technical difficulties that I envisage and the difficulties that there would be in developing a clause in line with new clause 3.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Newton

No, I wish to conclude. Beyond that, the issue of principle involved is one for the House to decide on and not one for me to tell the House what it should decide.

Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

I must refute some of the allegations made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), particularly those he has made in his many attacks, both in Committee and in the House, on the private sector. I do not normally defend the private sector, as my hon. Friends know, but as a former trustee of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, which is involved in 30,000 abortions a year, I must refute the allegation that the directors of charitable private organisations such as BPAS who do a great service for women in carrying out abortions that are not available under the NHS, are paid for their work. We volunteer for that work because we think that it is essential.

From the time of the reform of the abortion law in 1967, the NHS has been unable to organise itself to cope with the need for legal and safe abortion. As a result, waiting lists have developed and, as a former member of a regional hospital board, I know full well that in my area, because of the attitude of the consultant gynaecologist and obstetrician at the University hospital of Wales, we were unable, although we were responsible for the running of the NHS in that part of Wales, to implement a day care clinic. Therefore, women in that area were unable to have swift and safe abortions and were forced to travel long distances outside the area to obtain abortions. That consultant gynaecologist prevailed on other gynaecologists and obstetricians in his department to take a similar attitude.

Mrs. Gorman

On the point about safety, and in support of charities such as the BPAS, may I ask whether the hon. Lady is aware that charities have the safest of all records in assisting people with abortions, and that in the 20 years since the Abortion Act 1967 was passed there has been only one death out of the 600,000 cases with which they have dealt? That must be one of the most outstanding safety records.

Mrs. Clwyd

I thank my hon. Friend for making that important point. It shows how responsible and careful these charities are. She has also reminded me that one general practitioner and one consultant gynaeologist authorise abortions, and the rule in the BPAS is that the consultant gynaecologist never authorises the termination because we want to prevent the gynaecologist who is performing the abortion from profiting from his decisions. To require an NHS consultant to certify for late abortions would affect women who go to those charitable organisations.

If terminations were freely available on the NHS, there would be a different argument again, but there is no mechanism—as I am sure hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree—within the NHS to ensure that an adequate service is provided for all women who need it. Despite the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the NHS in 1979, of which I was a member, and in which I participated closely, particularly on these discussions, it was recommended that in all hospital regions 75 per cent. of terminations should be carried out within the NHS and that facilities should be made available. My hon. Friends will know that today less than half of terminations carried out in Britain are carried out under the NHS.

In its report on late abortions in England and Wales, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists stated that one fifth of women who have abortions in the NHS between 20 and 23 weeks were medically referred by 12 weeks. The college concluded: The abortion services contribute to avoidable delays. Thus many women decide to go into the private sector, where abortions do not have to take their place among a host of other operations. They are carried out without the dangerous and distressing delays that take place in the NHS.

11.30 am
Ms. Short

A few moments ago my hon. Friend said that she wished to correct the wrong impression given by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton). I am sure that it was only accidentally that he gave the House a false impression this morning. He said that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) contested in Committee my claim that a proper abortion service on the NHS was not available in Birmingham. In central Birmingham, 6 per cent. of abortions take place in the NHS. Without the charitable sector, women in Birmingham are not entitled to that which the law provides. I am sure that the hon. Member for Mossley Hill would not like the false impression that he gave to remain on the record.

Mrs. Clwyd

I thank my hon. Friend for making that important intervention. The percentage to which she referred is abysmally low and illustrates the patchy provision that is made for women throughout Britain. The NHS service depends greatly on the area in which one lives.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mrs. Edwina Currie)

As a former chairman of the Central Birmingham health authority, I think that I am right in saying that, wherever the abortions were performed a large proportion of them were paid for by the NHS.

Mrs. Clwyd

I thank the Minister for making that point. It shows the fail h that the NHS has in the provision that is made by the charitable sector. It is prepared to pay for terminations that it cannot carry out itself. It is a tribute to the work that is done by the private sector.

There are some positive reasons for preferring the non-NHS sector, including greater privacy and availability of intensive counselling. It is insulting to suggest that the private sector not concerned about counselling both before and after a termination. That was an important part of the work of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service. I say to the hon. Member for Mossley Hill that it is insulting to the private sector to suggest that it does not take great account of counselling both before and after termination.

It is a tribute to the quality of service that is provided by the charitable sector that several health authorities use its clinics on an agency basis. In 1986, the last year for which we have figures, about 7,000 abortions were provided in that way. The private and charitable sector is tightly controlled by the DHSS in all aspects of its work, including prices. The pregnancy advisory services carry out abortions for between £280 and £300. High staff-patient ratios and extensive resuscitation and other equipment demanded by the DHSS mean that the actual cost of late abortions is much higher than the sum which is charged for them. Late abortions that are carried out by abortion charities are subsidised by other operations. The cost of an early abortion is about £150 to £200. That is also the average cost in the NHS.

I resent the remarks of the hon. Member for Mossley Hill that gave a distorted impression of current British abortion legislation. In fact, it is one of the least liberal pieces of legislation to be found in Europe. Eight to 10 western European countries allow abortion on request during the first 12 weeks or more. Most of these countries permit abortion on specific grounds after that limit, usually for medical conditions, foetal handicap or social and psychological reasons. Such abortions are available up to 24 weeks.

We believe that the best way to reduce late abortions is by improving the availability and acceptability of the NHS abortion services, increasing contraceptive provision for young people, offering realistic sex and family life education in schools and developing more sensitive techniques for the diagnosis of foetal abnormality. However, there will always be a need for abortion late in pregnancy for a minority of women. I stress that it is only a minority. It is vital that choice is retained. That is why we oppose the Bill in its entirety. I oppose new clause 3. The Bill was not changed fundamentally in Committee and it still restricts the availability of legal abortions to the first 17 weeks of pregnancy.

Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen)

I listened carefully to what the hon. Lady said about the charities that perform abortions. Does she agree that we must not confuse the charities with the private clinics, which carry out a large proportion of the very late abortions that are carried out on foreign women? Perhaps we should take to heart what she has said about the NHS system, but could we not convince other countries that they should put their houses in order? If that were done, Britain would not be the foetal dustbin of Europe.

Mrs. Clwyd

I thank the hon. Lady for making that point. It was discussed in some detail in Committee. There was an element of xenophobia in the arguments advanced by certain hon. Members in Committee when they talked about "foreign women", as though they were a group to be denigrated. The term "foreign women" includes women from Northern Ireland—perhaps the hon. Lady was not aware of that.

Mrs. Peacock

Yes, I was.

Mrs. Clwyd

The needs of women in the United Kingdom includes those of women in Northern Ireland. I am sure that the hon. Lady would not wish to deny those women the opportunity of obtaining an abortion in Britain, bearing in mind the particular difficulties within their own country. It is important to keep "foreign women" in perspective and not to use the term in the xenophobic way that some Conservative Members adopted so frequently in Committee.

Mrs. Wise

I agree completely with the factors to which my hon. Friend referred that would reduce the number of late abortions and abortions in general. Does she agree that she should add to the list social factors such as homelessness and poverty, which cause desperation among women? Improving social factors would be an excellent and constructive way of reducing desperation which leads to abortion.

Mrs. Clwyd

I thank my hon. Friend for making that important observation.

Those who are most concerned about reducing late abortions seem not to share the same concern for the conditions in which many of the women who seek late abortions have to live. As they are responsible for much of the legislation that will make it even more difficult for women who already live in poverty, bad housing, poor social conditions and in families where unemployment is high, they should realise that there is an element of hypocrisy in some of their arguments. If they were as vociferous on the need for improving social conditions as they are on reducing late abortions, I am sure that we would all approve and support them in their attempts to improve conditions.

Mr. Tredinnick

The hon. Lady has raised a crucial issue. The Bill came out of Committee largely unchanged. On Second Reading the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) said that it was not his intention to be intransigent—[Interruption.] He was intransigent in Committee. On Second Reading however, he said: if I do not keep my word … hon. Members will have the chance to vote against the Bill on Report"—[Official Report, 22 January 1988; Vol. 125, c. 1240.] Would the hon. Lady care to comment on that?

Mrs. Clwyd

The Bill has not been fundamentally changed. If the Bill had been amended in Committee in a helpful way, we would be having a different debate today. Indeed, the amendments that were accepted in Committee will make the Bill even more difficult to implement.

Mrs. Gorman

The statistics of foreign women having abortions also includes women from Scotland and, of course, from Eire—they are technically foreign, but they are allowed to vote in this country. There are a large number of such women. Incidentally, none of our amendments against the Bill was accepted.

Mrs. Clwyd

The hon. Lady has raised an important point. The two limited exceptions that were made in the Bill relate to abortions on the ground of specified foetal handicap or rape or incest committed against girls under 18. In Committee we said that those exceptions were hedged with bureaucracy. They cater for a small proportion of abortions that are carried out after 17 weeks.

Evidence given to the House of Lords Select Committee on infant life preservation shows that women who have abortions at this late stage of pregnancy usually do so for very pressing reasons. Under the terms of the Bill as it now stands, and because our amendments were not accepted, legal abortions will no longer be available for such women.

Although the hon. Member for Mossley Hill and his supporters would argue that they have made major concessions, we consider them to be minor. Indeed, the hon. Member said that he even found some of the concessions repugnant. He said that he felt compelled to put them forward only for the reasons of political expediency. We appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is anxious to get the Bill through the House, but even the minor concessions were made for the most cynical of reasons. I stress the fact that in the final hours of the Committee the hon. Gentleman stated: Although we shall not win all the arguments on the matter this time. … I shall want to return to them in years to come. We shall continue to challenge this aspect and I want to put down a marker about that now."—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 30 March 1988; c. 271.] He made his intentions quite clear. After the first debate on this issue, perhaps some of us were under the illusion that he was prepared to be much more lenient in his approach to the Bill. That notion was disabused in Committee.

Mrs. Mahon

With regard to foreign women, may I say that it caused great offence to many people who contacted me that it was possible to speak in such a dehumanising way about women who were simply women in need. If the Bill is passed, our women will become someone else's foreign women. I believe that that description was one of the more offensive tactics that was used by those supporting the Bill.

Mrs. Clwyd

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that information.

When I was a Member of the European Parliament and attended a meeting of the Socialist group in Dublin, I caused considerable offence to some of my fellow Socialists because I looked at the election manifesto of the Irish Socialist party and discovered that there was no provision for dealing with women who required terminations. I am conscious of the pressing need of those women who are denied terminations within their own country. Our system is not the most liberal within Western Europe—it is the least liberal in comparison to eight other countries—but we should be pleased about the help that we offer to women in need; we should not denigrate that.

11.45 am

I oppose new clause 3. I am sorry that I have to oppose my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran). I believe that the problems that have been caused as a result of the amendments accepted in Committee are pertinent to the provisions of that clause and we need a number of answers.

The clause creates an appeals tribunal procedure for women who are either refused an abortion under the terms of the Abortion Act 1967 or when there has been a delay in reaching a decision on whether a woman has grounds for an abortion. It appears that the new clause seeks to tackle the problem of delays for women seeking termination by creating a new right of appeal. The proposed provisions, however, are inadequate and ineffective.

One of the amendments accepted in Committee allows girls who are under 18 a termination after 17 weeks if they have been victims of rape or incest, but not for girls who are a day over 18. That was the effect of the amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine). How would new clause 3 affect that? This matter could have been debated if our amendments Nos. 12 and 13 had been selected. The fact that they have not been selected has caused many of us great distress.

The Bill's provisions will create enormous difficulties for doctors. We hotly debated this issue in Committee. Is the hon. Member for Mossley Hill suggesting that rape or incest becomes less traumatic once a woman has had her 18th birthday? If something is not desirable at the age of 18 or under, why should 18 and one day, 19, 20 or 21 be acceptable? Surely women who are victims of rape and incest have an equal right to terminate the pregnancy if they so wish.

Mr. Alton

Will the hon. Lady confirm that, as recorded by the DHSS, no abortion was performed on the grounds of rape or incest on an over-aged woman?

Mrs. Clwyd

The Minister made the position clear in Committee. The DHSS does not require the recording of such facts. The hon. Member for Mossley Hill is well aware of that because the Minister explained it to him in Committee.

We were not able to hear the arguments from the hon. Member for Mossley Hill in Committee on abortions for women aged over 18. It is ridiculous for the proponents of the Bill to argue that victims of rape and incest aged 18 or under should be able to have a late abortion while those over 18 should not. That is completely ludicrous. Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Mossley Hill was not prepared to answer that in Committee.

There are legal and medical difficulties for a doctor in assessing whether a woman has been raped.

Mr. Andrew MacKay

Before the hon. Lady leaves the point about rape, will she explain or interpret the amendment that was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) and accepted in Committee about how rape can be proved? Does the hon. Lady believe that entirely by mistake my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone has given us a terrific let-out clause almost for abortion on demand? It would appear that any woman can claim that she has been raped and have an abortion if she is under 18. That is surely not what my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone intended. I can tell by the look on my hon. Friend's face that that is not what she intended. Perhaps she will intervene shortly. Knowing how lucid the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) is, I suspect that she will be able to answer that question amicably for me.

Mrs. Clwyd

Exactly. My hon. Friend has made an important point. Who will judge the case when a woman claims that she has been raped or has been the victim of incest? Will the termination appeals procedure judge that case, as suggested in new clause 3? We are worried about that.

Will there be false allegations of rape from a young woman desperate for an abortion? Will doctors become suspicious of anyone claiming to have been raped who does not request a termination until late in pregnancy? Should those be matters for appeal through the procedures spelt out in new clause 3? It is important that we receive answers to those questions.

In 1967, the original Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill included rape as one of the grounds for abortion. However, that was subsequently removed because it was argued that it placed doctors in an invidious position. The amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) would place doctors in a similar position. Doctors would be able to make a decision only on a woman's mental or physical state. It was considered appropriate to deal with such difficult cases under the mental health provisions. I suggest that the Mental Health Act 1983 has worked well in that respect because it has given doctors sufficient flexibility to deal with difficult circumstances.

I remind the House that the Select Committee reporting on the Infant Life (Preservation) Bill stated: The Committee would not wish to see any impediment placed in the way of the victim of rape and incest who is desirous of terminating her pregancy. That highlights the problems with the Abortion (Amendment) Bill as it stands, as it removes the flexibility of the law to deal with those distressing cases. That is one reason why I must oppose new clause 3.

It is the intention of new clause 3 to ensure that a woman who is unreasonably delayed by administrative or other factors can receive an abortion after the time limit at the beginning of the 18th week. If that is the intention, it is not made sufficiently clear, and new clause 3 fails to achieve that objective. As the new clause is drafted, it does not permit an abortion to be performed after the beginning of the 18th week, even if the appeals tribunal finds in the woman's favour and agrees that she has been delayed unnecessarily. A victim of rape or incest may find herself in that position.

New clause 3 is an enabling provision which grants the Secretary of State for Social Services the power to set up the tribunal. However, it gives no specification of the tribunal's nature or powers. That means that the detail of how the tribunal would operate would not be open to debate in the House. The new clause contains no provision for any regulations drawn up by the Secretary of State to be brought before the House as a statutory instrument which would be subject to annulment by resolution of either House, and important points of principle would therefore be determined by the Secretary of State without the opportunity to challenge them.

Ms. Short

We all agree that the drafting of the clause is unsatisfactory and needs improvement. What we need to discuss is the principle of the right of appeal. If that is supported in the House, as I hope that it will be, we will ask the other place to tidy it up and improve it.

Mrs. Clwyd

I thank my hon. Friend for making that point, which I agree is very important. These issues are of considerable significance, and cannot be left to secondary legislation which Parliament may not have an opportunity to discuss.

The new clause does not specify the powers that the tribunal would have. Could it require the abortion to be carried out if it upheld the woman's appeal? If so, what sanction would it have if a medical practitioner refused to carry out the operation? What powers would it have if it found in a woman's favour after the beginning of the 18th week? Would it have powers to compensate a woman who had been delayed beyond the statutory time limit and had to continue her pregnancy, although she had grounds for an abortion under the 1967 Act?

The new clause does not specify a period within which the appeal must be heard. Is it seven days, seven weeks or seven months? Unless there is a clear requirement for a tribunal to meet and hear the appeal quickly, the right to appeal in itself will be totally meaningless.

Would additional resources—I look to the Ministers here—be available to the health authorities to ensure that the appeals procedure was speedy and efficient? Given the difficulty of getting any additional resources out of Conservative Members, there may be some reason to doubt that such resources would be forthcoming.

The concept of a tribunal procedure would create yet more bureaucracy for women seeking abortions. It would be an additional ordeal for such women to have to face a tribunal. Would there be provision for them to be represented, and in what way? Would they have to be medically examined by members of the tribunal? Who would the members of the tribunal be, and how would they be selected? What would be the position of the doctors who had refused the abortion, or any others who were responsible for delay? Would lack of resources be a defence if the woman had not had the termination carried out because of a shortage of beds or medical personnel?

While I am sure that the intention of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South is to try to help women by minimising unnecessary delays for those seeking an abortion, I suggest that the new clause is inadequate as drafted, and would create a new and unwieldy procedure which would work against women's interests.

There is a minor drafting point. The new clause refers in subsection (1) to an area health board and in subsection (2) to an area health authority, although both appear to refer to the same body. In fact, there are now district health authorities in England and Wales—I am sorry to say that there is no longer any regional hospital board—and health boards in Scotland, so we have a less democratic Health Service in Wales than in the rest of the country. Both should be included in both subsections if the power is to extend to England, Wales and Scotland.

Again, I ask hon. Members on both sides of the House to consider their position very carefully before they go through the Lobbies today. After hearing the arguments spelt out in Committee by the hon. Member for Mossley Hill and his colleagues, it is our belief that their real intention is not to improve on the 1967 Act. Their true intention is to repeal the 1967 Act in its entirety. It would have been honourable for them to have said today, "That is our real intention. We do not want to improve on the Act. We want it to be scrapped altogether." We would respect their position if it were thus stated. To suggest that this is a way of reducing late abortions is a myth and a delusion.

12 noon

Mr. Cyril Smith

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

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

The House proceeded to a Division—

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West)

(seated and covered): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It seems to be taking a long time to clear the Lobbies. Would it be possible to investigate that?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

I am keeping a careful eye on the time. It is clear that many hon. Members wish to take part in the vote. So far, the Division has not been overlong.

The House having divided: Ayes 265, Noes 222.

Division No. 287] [12.18 pm
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Boateng, Paul
Allen, Graham Boyes, Roland
Anderson, Donald Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Armstrong, Hilary Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Ashdown, Paddy Buchan, Norman
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Caborn, Richard
Ashton, Joe Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Cartwright, John
Barron, Kevin Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Bell, Stuart Clelland, David
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Cohen, Harry
Bermingham, Gerald Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Bidwell, Sydney Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Blair, Tony Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Blunkett, David Corbyn, Jeremy
Cousins, Jim McAllion, John
Cox, Tom McCartney, Ian
Cunningham, Dr John McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Dalyell, Tarn McKelvey, William
Darling, Alistair McLeish, Henry
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) McNamara, Kevin
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) McTaggart, Bob
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I) McWilliam, John
Dobson, Frank Madden, Max
Doran, Frank Marek, Dr John
Duffy, A. E. P. Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Dunnachie, Jimmy Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Martlew, Eric
Eadie, Alexander Maxton, John
Evans, John (St Helens N) Meacher, Michael
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Meale, Alan
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Michael, Alun
Fatchett, Derek Michie. Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Miscampbell, Norman
Fisher, Mark Moonie, Dr Lewis
Flannery, Martin Morgan, Rhodri
Flynn, Paul Morley, Elliott
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Foster, Derek Mowlam, Marjorie
Foulkes, George Murphy, Paul
Fyfe, Maria Nellist, Dave
Garrett, John (Norwich South) Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
George, Bruce O'Neill, Martin
Godman, Dr Norman A. Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Golding, Mrs Llin Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Parry, Robert
Gould, Bryan Patchett, Terry
Graham, Thomas Pendry, Tom
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Pike, Peter L.
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Prescott, John
Grocott, Bruce Randall, Stuart
Harman, Ms Harriet Redmond, Martin
Haynes, Frank Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Reid, Dr John
Henderson, Doug Richardson, Jo
Hinchliffe, David Rogers, Allan
Holland, Stuart Rooker, Jeff
Hood, Jimmy Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Rowlands, Ted
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Ruddock, Joan
Howells, Geraint Sedgemore, Brian
Hoyle, Doug Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Short, Clare
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Illsley, Eric Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Ingram, Adam Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
John, Brynmor Snape, Peter
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Spearing, Nigel
Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn) Strang, Gavin
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Straw, Jack
Kilfedder, James Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil Walley, Joan
Kirkwood, Archy Wareing, Robert N.
Knox, David Wells, Bowen
Leadbitter, Ted Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Leighton, Ron Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Wilson, Brian
Lewis, Terry Winnick, David
Litherland, Robert Young, David (Bolton SE)
Livsey, Richard
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Tellers for the Ayes:
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Mr. Sam Galbraith and Mr. Dafydd Wigley
Loyden, Eddie
Abbott, Ms Diane Atkins, Robert
Aitken, Jonathan Atkinson, David
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)
Alton, David Baldry, Tony
Amess, David Banks, Robert (Harrogate)
Arbuthnot, James Batiste, Spencer
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Battle, John
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Beggs, Roy
Aspinwall, Jack Beith, A. J.
Bendall, Vivian French, Douglas
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Fry, Peter
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Gardiner, George
Benyon, W. Garel-Jones, Tristan
Bevan, David Gilroy Gill, Christopher
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Blackburn, Dr John G. Glyn, Dr Alan
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Gorst, John
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Gower, Sir Raymond
Boscawen, Hon Robert Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Boswell, Tim Gregory, Conal
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Grylls, Michael
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Bowis, John Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Bradley, Keith Hannam, John
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Harris, David
Bray, Dr Jeremy Haselhurst, Alan
Brazier, Julian Hawkins, Christopher
Bright, Graham Hayes, Jerry
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Hayward, Robert
Buck, Sir Antony Heathcoat-Amory, David
Burns, Simon Heffer, Eric S.
Burt, Alistair Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Butcher, John Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Butler, Chris Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Butterfill, John Hill, James
Callaghan, Jim Hind, Kenneth
Canavan, Dennis Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Carrington, Matthew Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Cash, William Holt, Richard
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Home Robertson, John
Chapman, Sydney Howard, Michael
Chope, Christopher Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Churchill, Mr Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n) Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Hunter, Andrew
Clay, Bob Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Irvine, Michael
Colvin, Michael Jack, Michael
Conway, Derek Janman, Tim
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Janner, Greville
Corbett, Robin Jessel, Toby
Couchman, James Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Critchley, Julian Johnston, Sir Russell
Cryer, Bob Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Cummings, John Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Curry, David Kennedy, Charles
Davis, David (Boothferry) Key, Robert
Day, Stephen King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Devlin, Tim King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Dewar, Donald Kirkhope, Timothy
Dickens, Geoffrey Knapman, Roger
Dicks, Terry Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Douglas, Dick Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Dover, Den Lambie, David
Dunn, Bob Lamond, James
Durant, Tony Lang, Ian
Dykes, Hugh Latham, Michael
Eastham, Ken Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Eggar, Tim Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Emery, Sir Peter Lilley, Peter
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Livingstone, Ken
Favell, Tony Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Fearn, Ronald Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Fenner, Dame Peggy Lord, Michael
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lyell, Sir Nicholas
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) McAvoy, Thomas
Fookes, Miss Janet McCrea, Rev William
Forman, Nigel McCrindle, Robert
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Macdonald, Calum A.
Forth, Eric McFall, John
Fox, Sir Marcus McGrady, Eddie
Fraser, John MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Freeman, Roger MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Maclean, David Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
McLoughlin, Patrick Shersby, Michael
McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Sims, Roger
Maginnis, Ken Skeet, Sir Trevor
Mahon, Mrs Alice Skinner, Dennis
Malins, Humfrey Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Mans, Keith Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Maples, John Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Marland, Paul Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Marlow, Tony Soley, Clive
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Speller, Tony
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Squire, Robin
Mates, Michael Stanbrook, Ivor
Maude, Hon Francis Stanley, Rt Hon John
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Steel, Rt Hon David
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Steinberg, Gerry
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute) Stern, Michael
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Stevens, Lewis
Miller, Hal Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Mills, Iain Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Stewart, Ian (Hertfordshire N)
Mitchell, David (Hants NW) Stott, Roger
Moate, Roger Sumberg, David
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Summerson, Hugo
Monro, Sir Hector Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Morrison, Hon Sir Charles Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Morrison, Hon P (Chester) Taylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford)
Moss, Malcolm Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Mudd, David Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Mullin, Chris Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Needham, Richard Temple-Morris, Peter
Neubert, Michael Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Thorne, Neil
Nicholls, Patrick Thornton, Malcolm
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Thurnham, Peter
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Tracey, Richard
Page, Richard Tredinnick, David
Paice, James Trippier, David
Paisley, Rev Ian Twinn, Dr Ian
Patnick, Irvine Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Patten, Chris (Bath) Viggers, Peter
Patten, John (Oxford W) Waddington, Rt Hon David
Pawsey, James Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Waldegrave, Hon William
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)
Porter, David (Waveney) Wall, Pat
Portillo, Michael Wallace, James
Primarolo, Dawn Waller, Gary
Rathbone, Tim Ward, John
Redwood, John Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Renton, Tim Watts, John
Rhodes James, Robert Wheeler, John
Robertson, George Whitney, Ray
Robinson, Geoffrey Wilshire, David
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Roe, Mrs Marion Winterton, Nicholas
Ross, William (Londonderry E) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Rossi, Sir Hugh Wolfson, Mark
Rost, Peter Wood, Timothy
Rumbold, Mrs Angela Woodcock, Mike
Sayeed, Jonathan Younger, Rt Hon George
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Sheerman, Barry Tellers for the Noes:
Shelton, William (Streatham) Miss Ann Widdecombe and Mr. Alan Amos.
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Quwstions put accordingly, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided:— Ayes180, Noes 306.

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr.Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Earlier, when Mr. Speaker was in the Chair, there were a considerable number of points of order expressing great concern about what we understand to be the order in which the amendments on timing will be debated. As the morning has progressed, there seems to have been growing concern about the possible consequences, because, instead of having a straightforward descending series of timings, we are faced with a form of legislative roulette in which it is possible that what seems likely to be the general view of the House—that a 24-week period is best—will probably be the last to be voted upon. So, almost by accident, that period may not be reached in spite of its being most probably the general view of the House.

I know that a considerable number of hon. Members who are in favour of the Bill have said all along—[Interruption.] I should be grateful if they would keep quiet because I do not think that they will dispute what I say. They have said that they want the House to have an opportunity to declare its view once and for all and in the firmest possible way on the maximum number of weeks. It seems to many of us that the best way to do that is to ensure that the decision on the 24-week period is not taken at the end of the series of votes. To leave it where Mr. Speaker has left it in his provisional selection is likely to lead to considerable disorder, dissatisfaction and the very great possibility that the basic view of the House will not be achieved.

Mr. Speaker said that he was bound by contradictory precedents. They were the prcedents set by the Corrie Bill and by the general custom that amendments are taken in the order in which they are submitted. Those are conflicting precedents and it is quite reasonable for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or for Mr. Speaker to set a new precedent by saying that an orderly, seemly and rational consideration of these time limits is the best way for the House to go about its business because that will do good to its reputation. Many of us fear that if we do not do it that way the reputation of the House will be harmed and that there is a strong possibility that the general view of the House will not go through.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. Many hon. Members were in the House at the beginning of the debate when we had fairly extensive points of order which Mr. Speaker——

Mr. Dobson

On a point of order——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am dealing with a point of order. Mr. Speaker made it clear at the time that before he made his selection he had considered extremely carefully the precedents and the arguments. He made quite clear the reasons for his decision and it is certainly not for me to go back on that decision. I suggest to the House that it would be advisable to get on with the debate. It may well be that the difficulties that the hon. Gentleman has very fairly outlined can be dealt with if we get on quickly with the debate.

Mr. David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick, and Lauderdale)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. At the beginning of the day I raised with Mr. Speaker the question of having a Division on amendments Nos. 40 and 41 and he said that he would allow a Division on amendment No. 40 or No. 41. In view of what has been said in the debate and the words of the promoter of the Bill, who said that he was prepared to accept amendments Nos. 40 and 41, will you ensure that if we get to that point, the House will have a chance to amend the Bill to include amendments Nos. 40 and 41 and consequential amendment No. 42?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have taken note of what was said about that. Of course I cannot anticipate whether time will allow the House to come to such decisions. The amendments do not come up for decision until after the next main debate.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like to speak about Back Benchers' rights in this matter. We are dealing with amendments to do with time limits, the number of weeks, and Mr. Speaker has chosen amendments that allow us to discuss 20, 24 and 26 weeks. If those are scrapped the period of 18 weeks which is contained in the Bill will stand. I put my name to an amendment that was signed by many other hon. Members for 27 weeks.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We cannot debate Mr. Speaker's selection of amendments. That is what the hon. Gentleman is doing.

Mr. Cohen

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We cannot debate Mr. Speaker's selection.

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