HC Deb 02 April 1990 vol 170 cc986-93 9.59 pm
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Sir Geoffrey Howe)

I beg to move, That

  1. (a) Clause 11 and Schedule 2, and
  2. (b) any new Clauses or new Schedules appearing on the Order Paper not later than 20th April and relating to the termination of pregnancy by registered medical practitioners,
be committed to a Committee of the whole House; That the remainder of the Bill be committed to a Standing Committee; That, when the provisions of the Bill considered, respectively, by the Committee of the whole House and by the Standing Committee have been reported to the House, the Bill be proceeded with as if the Bill had been reported as a whole to the House from the Standing Committee.

As the House already appreciates, the Bill is not only important but unusual in many respects. That can be judged from the fact that the House must consider tonight not one but two motions about the way in which the Bill should be handled at Committee stage. I propose to keep distinct the separate reasons for the two motions. I shall deal first with that which I have just moved. Its purpose is to ensure that major aspects arising from the Bill that are plainly matters of individual conscience will be dealt with by a Committee of the whole House.

The arrangements for splitting a Bill between a Standing Committee and a Committee of the whole House are well known to us all from the proceedings on the Finance Bill. The reason for proposing arrangements of that kind for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill are equally clear.

On major matters of conscience of the kind with which the Bill is concerned, it would be almost impossible for debates and votes in Standing Committee to reflect adequately the range and balance of opinions in the House as a whole. For that reason, it is right to have a Committee stage that can take account of those special factors. Hence the special motion.

The fundamental issue of conscience in the Bill relates to whether embryo research should be allowed within closely defined limits or prohibited altogether. That topic has occupied most of the time of the House on Second Reading. For that reason, the motion provides that clause 11 and schedule 2, which deal with that aspect, will be considered by a Committee of the whole House.

An equally difficult issue, touched on earlier today, is the medical termination of pregnancy. I am advised that it falls within the scope of the Bill, although it does not appear on the face of the Bill at present. Given recent parliamentary history on that subject, as well as remarks made on Second Reading, it is realistic to assume that amendments will be moved in relation to that topic. It would be virtually impossible to make meaningful progress in a Standing Committee selected in the ordinary way after Second Reading. For that reason, on that aspect as well we need a clear view of the whole House. My motion will make that possible.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his consultations with all interested parties. Will he confirm that, following separate debates on the Floor of the House, it is unlikely that those topics will be returned to? Will the decisions made on the Floor of the House in that respect remain more or less binding and be unaffected by the remaining Committee or Report stages? Can the Leader of the House also confirm that the membership of the Standing Committees will not be selected until the debates on the Floor of the House have taken place, so that the results of the two Divisions will be known before the Standing Committee is constituted?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's latter question is certainly yes. The composition of the Standing Committee will be decided after the House as a whole has reached a decision on the two matters in question, and it should therefore reflect the outcome of those two debates. The intention is that the topics covered by those two days of debate on the Floor of the House will not recur in Standing Committee upstairs —although it would be possible to return to them on Report.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

A moment ago, the Leader of the House said that the question of abortion does not occur in the long title of the Bill. Is he proposing that the long title should be changed to accommodate that? In what way would that be done, given that it would be an extremely unusual procedure?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am not proposing any change in the long title, as I am advised that, as presently drafted, it would allow for amendments on that topic to be tabled. It is on that basis that the topic of abortion, the medical termination of pregnancy, might also come before the House.

In addition, in order to ensure orderly proceedings, the House will see that my motion specifies the date by which amendments to clause 11 and schedule 2 and to any new clauses or new schedules are put down for consideration by the whole House. Once the two key debates have been held in a Committee of the whole House, I believe that the rest of the Bill can and should be considered in a Standing Committee whose composition can reflect, as far as possible, the decisions taken by the House as a whole.

The remaining clauses and schedules are concerned, often in considerable detail, with introducing a licensing system and making clear the legal status of certain children. I believe that there is general agreement that those provisions are needed, although there may be real debate on exactly how they should be achieved.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for outlining the reasons for a Committee of the whole House. There might be a reason connected with that for limiting such consideration to two days, as on the motion now arising. In another motion that he is proposing to move, can he tell us why there should be another innovation, in the shape of the limitation of time in Committee? Is this not a separate innovation? Why is he proposing that in addition to the timetable motion for consideration on the Floor?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I shall deal with that when I deal with the timetable motion, but, in so far as it is an innovation, it is a combined set of arrangements to enable the Bill to be considered first of all with a sensible allocation of time downstairs and a further sensible period upstairs before it comes back to the Floor of the House. In a way, that suggestion is responding to the recommendations made by the Select Committee on Procedure for a whole timetable to be contemplated at the outset of a Bill.

Mr. Spearing


Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am glad to have the enthusiastic support of the hon. Gentleman for such a revolutionary proposal.

All such matters are properly matters for the Standing Committee, but there will be an opportunity for the whole House to review the results of that on Report.

As Leader of the House, I emphasise that my main concern is to allow an orderly discussion of the issues in the Bill, including those that raise matters of conscience. I have explained the general arrangements I have proposed to that end. To assist the House further, I intend to take two additional steps on the embryo research and abortion issues.

On embryo research, I propose to table, in my name as Leader of the House, a set of amendments designed to provide the House with an exactly similar choice on whether to allow embryo research under controlled conditions as the choice that was before another place. The House will recall that the Bill arrived in another place with two alternative clauses. The other place decided in favour of embryo research under specified conditions. The amendments I shall table will allow this House, if it so wishes, either to reverse that choice or, if it prefers, to uphold it, while preserving the other elements in the Bill.

I emphasise, as did my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State when he opened the debate, that the amendments are not designed to reflect my personal view, still less the view of the Government. The Government continue to remain neutral on the embryo research question. When the time comes, the amendments will be moved briefly and neutrally. It will be for the House, on a free vote, to decide the fate of those amendments. The House will exercise the same choice as was exercised in another place.

Having reflected further on the details of abortion in the light of today's debate, I shall bring forward a new clause on the time limits for abortion, designed to provide a sound basis for subsequent debate and amendment. I shall do that, not on the Government's behalf or representing my own view, but in my position as Leader of the House. The new clause will not reflect the Government's view on abortion, but will be designed purely to help the House to discuss and resolve that difficult issue. I shall wish to reflect on today's debate before deciding the contents of the new clause.

Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston)

In that passage, the Leader of the House has drawn a clear distinction between embryo research and the termination of pregnancy. In the Bill's long title, there are many references to embryo research. Will he guide the House to the line in the long title which has led him to the view that it would be proper to debate the termination of pregnancy within the terms of the long title or the context of the Bill?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The first two lines—essentially the second—of the long title, I am advised, represents the foundation of that debate. That advice is well founded and the object of the exercise is to enable the House to exercise a sensible choice on that matter as the second main item of the Committee stage on the Floor of the House. I shall table the new clauses as soon as I can.

I hope that the House will agree that the motion, handled in the way that I have described—and which represents the result of widespread discussion in all parts of the House—will provide a sensible and necessary organisation of the way the House may think through the principal, ethical questions which arise, or are likely to arise, from the Bill. On that basis, I ask the House to agree with my motion.

10.12 pm
Ms. Jo Richardson (Barking)

I am aware that the Leader of the House has done his best to tackle the procedural difficulties which, I fear, the Government have heaped on themselves by introducing new words into the long title to allow abortion to be debated. I am aware that he has tried to consult widely and sort out that procedural point, but I oppose the procedure motion and I shall ask my hon. Friends to vote against it.

I shall do so not because I believe that clause 11 should be taken in Committee. I agree that the first part of the procedure motion would be handled more tidily and cleanly on the Floor of the House, and that that would underline the Government's commitment to give all hon. Members an opportunity to participate. If it is taken upstairs, it will cloud other issues in the Bill—which, I repeat, are important and should be considered. The Minister was kind enough to refer to other parts of the Bill.

The second part of the motion, which has already been referred to, is very worrying: (b) any new Clauses or new Schedules appearing on the Order paper not later than 20th April and relating to the termination of pregnancy by registered medical practitioners should be part of the procedure motion and be taken on the Floor of the House. This is where I profoundly disagree, as, I think, will many of my hon. Friends.

My hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) has already referred to a number of matters that she might have raised if there had been a wider and separate discussion about abortion. We can all say that. In my opening speech, I spelled out why I did not believe that abortion should be spatchcocked into a Bill about an entirely different matter. I shall not go over those arguments again. Suffice it to say that there is no place in what I believe is a humanitarian piece of legislation—despite the extension of the long title—for amendments on a wholly different subject.

Many people outside have been confused and diverted from the main points of the Bill by their opposition to abortion being included in it. So I shall vote against the procedural motion and I hope that my hon. Friends will join me in the Lobby. That is our only opportunity to register our extreme disapproval of the inclusion of abortion. We should like the Bill, as happened in the Lords, to stand on its own without being confused by this other issue.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. There are only two people who can give advice —that was the word that he used—to the Leader of the House. You are one; the other is the Clerk of the House —or one of his senior colleagues. Did you give the Leader of the House the advice that he claims to have had? I credit you and the Clerk with too much wisdom to have confused the words "embryo" and "foetus". The title of the Bill says nothing about foetuses. Where does the right hon. and learned Gentleman get his advice from? Some of us think that, linguistically, medically and scientifically, it is bad advice, whoever gave it.

Mr. Speaker

I was not consulted on that matter. I must now put the committal motion—

Mr. Dalyell

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If you were not consulted, where did the Leader of the House get his advice? If he did not get it from you, he had better take personal responsibility for it.

Mr. Speaker

I think that I heard the Leader of the House state that he had himself taken advice on the matter.

MR. SPEAKER forthwith put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).

The House divided: Ayes 273, Noes 135.

Division No. 152] [10.16 pm
Adley, Robert Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Alexander, Richard Colvin, Michael
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Conway, Derek
Allason, Rupert Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Alton, David Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Amess, David Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Amos, Alan Cran, James
Arbuthnot, James Crowther, Stan
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Curry, David
Ashby, David Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Aspinwall, Jack Davis, David (Boothferry)
Atkinson, David Day, Stephen
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Dixon, Don
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Dorrell, Stephen
Baldry, Tony Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Dover, Den
Batiste, Spencer Duffy, A. E. P.
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Dunn, Bob
Beggs, Roy Durant, Tony
Bellingham, Henry Dykes, Hugh
Bendall, Vivian Eggar, Tim
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Emery, Sir Peter
Benyon, W. Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Bevan, David Gilroy Evennett, David
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Fallon, Michael
Boscawen, Hon Robert Favell, Tony
Bottomley, Peter Fearn, Ronald
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Fenner, Dame Peggy
Bowis, John Fishburn, John Dudley
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Fookes, Dame Janet
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Forman, Nigel
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Brazier, Julian Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)
Bright, Graham Forth, Eric
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Foster, Derek
Buck, Sir Antony Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Budgen, Nicholas Franks, Cecil
Burns, Simon Freeman, Roger
Burt, Alistair Fry, Peter
Butler, Chris Gale, Roger
Butterfill, John Galloway, George
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Garel-Jones, Tristan
Canavan, Dennis Gill, Christopher
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Glyn, Dr Sir Alan
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Goodlad, Alastair
Carrington, Matthew Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Cash, William Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Chapman, Sydney Gow, Ian
Chope, Christopher Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Gregory, Conal
Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E') Moss, Malcolm
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Moynihan, Hon Colin
Grist, Ian Mudd, David
Ground, Patrick Neubert, Michael
Hague, William Nicholls, Patrick
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom) Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Norris, Steve
Hampson, Dr Keith O'Brien, William
Hannam, John Oppenheim, Phillip
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Page, Richard
Harris, David Paisley, Rev Ian
Hawkins, Christopher Pawsey, James
Hayes, Jerry Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Pendry, Tom
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Porter, David Waveney)
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Portillo, Michael
Hind, Kenneth Price, Sir David
Home Robertson, John Raffan, Keith
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Redwood, John
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Reid, Dr John
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Rhodes James, Robert
Irvine, Michael Riddick, Graham
Jack, Michael Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Janman, Tim Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Jessel, Toby Robertson, George
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Roe, Mrs Marion
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Ross, William (Londonderry E)
Key, Robert Rowe, Andrew
Kilfedder, James Ryder, Richard
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Sackville, Hon Tom
Kirkhope, Timothy Sainsbury, Hon Tim
Knapman, Roger Shaw, David (Dover)
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Knowles, Michael Shelton, Sir William
Knox, David Shersby, Michael
Lambie, David Sims, Roger
Lamond, James Skeet, Sir Trevor
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Latham, Michael Soames, Hon Nicholas
Lawrence, Ivan Speed, Keith
Lee, John (Pendle) Speller, Tony
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Lilley, Peter Squire, Robin
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant) Stanbrook, Ivor
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Steen, Anthony
Luce, Rt Hon Richard Stern, Michael
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Stevens, Lewis
McAvoy, Thomas Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
McCrindle, Robert Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Macdonald, Calum A. Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)
McGrady, Eddie Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Maclean, David Summerson, Hugo
McLoughlin, Patrick Taylor, Ian (Esher)
McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael Taylor, Rt Hon J.D. (S'ford)
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Taylor, John M (Solihull)
McNamara, Kevin Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Malins, Humfrey Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Mallon, Seamus Temple-Morris, Peter
Mans, Keith Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Marland, Paul Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Marlow, Tony Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Thurnham, Peter
Maude, Hon Francis Townend, John (Bridlington)
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Tracey, Richard
Meyer, Sir Anthony Tredinnick, David
Miller, Sir Hal Tripper, David
Mills, Iain Trotter, Neville
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Twinn, Dr Ian
Mitchell, Sir David Vaz, Keith
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Waddington, Rt Hon David
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Moore, Rt Hon John Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Wallace, James
Morrison, Sir Charles Waller, Gary
Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Watts, John Worthington, Tony
Wheeler, Sir John Young, Sir George (Acton)
Widdecombe, Ann
Wiggin, Jerry Tellers for the Ayes:
Wilshire, David Mr. David Lightbown and
Winterton, Mrs Ann Mr. Irvine Patnick.
Woodcock, Dr. Mike
Abbott, Ms Diane Kennedy, Charles
Allen, Graham Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Kirkwood, Archy
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Leighton, Ron
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Lewis, Terry
Barron, Kevin Loyden, Eddie
Beckett, Margaret McAllion, John
Benn, Rt Hon Tony McCartney, Ian
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Bermingham, Gerald McKelvey, William
Bidwell, Sydney McLeish, Henry
Blunkett, David Maclennan, Robert
Boateng, Paul Madden, Max
Boyes, Roland Marek, Dr John
Bradley, Keith Martlew, Eric
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Maxton, John
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Meacher, Michael
Buchan, Norman Meale, Alan
Callaghan, Jim Michael, Alun
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Moonie, Dr Lewis
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Morgan, Rhodri
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Morley, Elliot
Cohen, Harry Mowlam, Marjorie
Coleman, Donald Mullin, Chris
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Neale, Gerrard
Corbyn, Jeremy Nellist, Dave
Cousins, Jim O'Neill, Martin
Cryer, Bob Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Dalyell, Tam Patchett, Terry
Darling, Alistair Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Prescott, John
Dobson, Frank Primarolo, Dawn
Doran, Frank Quin, Ms Joyce
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Redmond, Martin
Eadie, Alexander Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Eastham, Ken Richardson, Jo
Evans, John (St Helens N) Rogers, Allan
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Rooker, Jeff
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Fatchett, Derek Ruddock, Joan
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Sedgemore, Brian
Flannery, Martin Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Flynn, Paul Short, Clare
Foulkes, George Skinner, Dennis
Fraser, John Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Fyfe, Maria Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Garrett, John (Norwich South) Smith, J.P. (Vale of Glam)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Snape, Peter
Godman, Dr Norman A. Soley, Clive
Gordon, Mildred Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Steinberg, Gerry
Hardy, Peter Strang, Gavin
Harman, Ms Harriet Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Haynes, Frank Turner, Dennis
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Walley, Joan
Henderson, Doug Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Hinchliffe, David Wareing, Robert N.
Hood, Jimmy Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Wigley, Dafydd
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Howells, Geraint Winnick, David
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Hoyle, Doug Young, David (Bolton SE)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Tellers for the Noes:
Illsley, Eric Mrs. Llin Golding and
Ingram, Adam Ms. Hilary Armstrong.
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)

Question accordingly agreed to.



  1. (a) Clause 11 and Schedule 2, and
  2. (b) any new Clauses or new Schedules appearing on the Order Paper not later than 20th April and relating to the termination of pregnancy by registered medical practitioners,
be committed to a Committee of the whole House; That the remainder of the Bill be committed to a Standing Committee; That, when the provisions of the Bill considered, respectively, by the Committee of the whole House and by the Standing Committee have been reported to the House, the Bill be proceeded with as if the Bill had been reported as a whole to the House from the Standing Committee.

Committee tomorrow.—[Mr. Nicholas Baker.]

Mr. Dalyell

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will forgive us for being inquisitive about the advice given by the Leader of the House. Will you confirm that the Clerks —both here and in the other place—gave advice on the matter? If they did, is it not stretching the English language a bit far to say that the foetus could be covered by any subsequent development of the embryo? Such an extension could cover any aspect of human activity. What advice was the Leader of the House given? I think that the House is entitled to know.

Mr. Speaker

What I said to the hon. Gentleman was that my advice had not been sought. I have no doubt, however, that the Leader of the House took advice, and the same advice is available to every hon. Member.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. The advice was exactly as anticipated, from the Clerk to both Houses in both places.

  2. c993