HC Deb 21 June 1990 vol 174 cc1136-69

`The Abortion Act 1967 shall be amended as follows:— In section 1(1) after the word "practitioner" insert

  1. "(a) when a registered medical practitioner has certified in good faith that the pregnancy has not exceeded its twelfth week, or
  2. (b) in any other case,".'.—[Ms, Harman.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

4.53 pm
Ms, Harriet Harman (Peckham)

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

Mr. Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to take the following: New clause 6—Amendment of the Abortion Act 1967'.—In section 1 of the Abortion Act 1967 (medical termination of pregnancy) after subsection (2) there is inserted— (2A) The opinion of a single medical practitioner shall be sufficient for the purposes of subsection (1) of this section providing that that practitioner is also of the opinion that the pregnancy has not exceeded its twelfth week.".'. Amendment No, 31, in clause 34, page 19, line 41, at end insert— '(1A) After section 1(1) of that Act there is inserted— (1A) The opinion of one medical practitioner is sufficient for the purposes of subsection (1) of this section if he is also of the opinion, formed in good faith, that the pregnancy has not exceeded its twelfth week.".'. New clause 5—Conscientious objections`The Abortion Act 1967 shall be amended as follows:—After section 4 insert— 4A—(1) Any registered medical practitioner who has a conscientious objection to participating in any treatment authorised by this Act who relies upon or intends to rely upon a provision of section 4 above shall be under a duty to notify either—

  1. (a) The Chief Medical Officer of the DHSS, or if they work in Scotland,
  2. (b) The Scottish Home and Health Department.
(2) The Secretary of State shall by Statutory Instrument make regulations to provide—
  1. (a) for requiring any such notification as mentioned in subsection (1) above to be in such form and at such time as may be prescribed by the regulations; and
  2. (b) for the keeping and maintaining of a register of the names of all those persons who have given notification and such register shall be open to public inspection.
(3) Any Statutory Instrument made by virtue of this subsection shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.'. Government amendment No, 54.

New clause 7—Application of Abortion Act 1967 to Northern Ireland`In the Abortion Act 1967 in section 2(1) after the word "Scotland" there shall be added the words "and in respect of Northern Ireland"; the reference in section 2(2) to Chief Medical Officers shall include a reference to the Chief Medical Officer of Northern Ireland; the references to the National Health Service Acts shall include references to any Acts and Orders which have the like effect in Northern Ireland; and for section 7(3) there is substituted "This Act extends to Northern Ireland." '.

Ms, Harman

I shall confine my comments to new clause 1, new clause 6 and amendment No, 31, which deal with easier access to early abortion. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms, Richardson) will seek to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, to address the issues raised by new clause 5.

New clause 1, new clause 6 and amendment No, 31 address the problem of late abortion. There will always be some late abortions when, for example, it is only late in the pregnancy that the pregnancy begins to pose a health risk to the mother, when there is only a late diagnosis of foetal abnormality or when the woman does not realise that she is pregnant until late in the pregnancy. Many late abortions could be carried out earlier. I am sure that all hon. Members will agree that early abortion is better than late abortion.

Prompt abortion spares the woman unnecessary stress and anxiety caused by delay and red tape, Early abortion is easier for the doctors and nurses involved because the foetus is less developed, it poses less of a health risk to the woman, there is less likelihood of post-operative complications, and it can be carried out as day surgery so that the woman does not occupy a scarce in-patient bed. Late abortion is to be avoided wherever possible. One important way to avoid late abortion is to improve access to early abortion, and there should be no disagreement about that in the House because the sad facts are well documented.

In its report, "Late Abortion in England and Wales", the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists found that one in five women who had an abortion after the 28th week of pregnancy, where there was no foetal abnormality, had been referred before the end of the 12th week of the pregnancy. It is inexcusable to make a women wait a further eight weeks into the pregnancy and to have an abortion after 20 weeks when she could have had that abortion before the 12th week of the pregnancy. The royal college's report simply backs the findings of earlier studies by the Lane commission, as far back as 1974, and the Policy Studies Institute's reports commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Security and published in 1979, The reports have piled up and the numbers pile up. It is estimated that every year, over 2,000 abortions are performed at over 20 weeks where there is no foetal handicap, It is time that something was done.

The new clauses and amendments offer the House a choice, New clause 1 would make abortion legal up to the 12th week of pregnancy on the woman's request. New clause 6 and amendment No. 31—which are in almost identical terms—would avoid late abortion by allowing abortion with the approval of one doctor instead of the current requirement of the approval of two doctors. The grounds on which the doctor would certify the abortion would remain the same as under the current law. Those grounds are that the continuation of the pregnancy would pose a threat to the life or to the mental or physical health of the woman, or to her existing children, or that there is serious foetal abnormality. The key point about new clause 6 and amendment No. 31 is that, up to 12 weeks, only one doctor instead of two would be required to certify.

If that step is taken tonight—as I hope that it will be—we shall be moving in line with public opinion. According to the Jowell report on British social attitudes, public support for allowing abortion has increased significantly in the past four years. The report shows that a clear majority are in favour of abortion being allowed by law when the woman decides "on her own" that she does not wish to have the child. A majority now back abortion on request. We should be following the pattern of many other European countries, such as France, Italy, Sweden and Holland, if we allowed easier access to early abortion.

Easing the law and allowing abortion in early pregnancy would enormously help reduce the delay that leads to late abortion. Improving abortion services on the national health service is also important. The law makes abortion legal in this country, but whether a national health service abortion can be obtained depends on where one lives. There is an enormous and unjustified regional variation in the provision of abortion services on the national health service. I should like the Minister to look at these figures.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)


Ms, Harman

I shall not give way. I know that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) will speak later and I do not want to take too much time.

I should like the Minister to look at these figures, which come from her own Department. In north Devon, 95 per cent. of the abortions performed were carried out by the national health service; only 5 per cent, of women who have abortions in north Devon have to seek, or choose to seek, private sector abortion. In south Birmingham, only 1 per cent. of the abortions carried out are performed by the national health service; 99 per cent. are carried out in the private sector. That regional variation cannot be justified because inability to obtain a national health service abortion contributes to the delays that lead to late abortions. We need a prompt NHS abortion service in every region.

I know that, although some hon. Members will be anxious to avoid late abortions, they will be worried that easier access to early abortions will result in more abortions and increase the abortion rate. I do not believe that women use abortion as a casual alternative to contraception. In my view, the new clauses will not affect the abortion rate or the number of abortions that are performed. The abortion rate is largely the result of unwanted pregnancies. The way to cut the abortion rate is to help women to avoid unwanted pregnancies.

5 pm

I hope that all hon. Members who share my concern about the abortion rate will join our campaign for better sex education in schools and for a public information campaign about contraception. We must also see an end to the cuts in family planning services. Those are the measures that will cut the abortion rate. The new clauses, which seek to ease the legal requirements for early abortion, will cut the number of avoidable late abortions. I urge the House to support them.

Sir David Price (Eastleigh)

I am happy to follow the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms, Harman). I specifically commend to the House amendment No. 31, which has been tabled by myself and by my hon. Friends the Members for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson), for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt), and for Dorset, West (Sir J, Spicer).

The purpose of our amendment is limited, modest and, I believe, useful. I insist that it does not reopen the wider issues that were discussed and settled—at least for the time being—during earlier stages of the Bill's consideration. Its purpose is simple. When an abortion takes place, it is better for the woman concerned that the termination of her pregnancy should take place earlier rather than later. The medical arguments in support of that proposition are so overwhelming that I need not detain the House by repeating them. They were well described by the hon. Member for Peckham.

Therefore, I hope that the House can agree the general proposition that the law should be so drawn that it is not a deterrent to early termination—or, put the other way round, that it is not a positive encouragement to later termination.

All the evidence available to me points to the inevitable conclusion that the need to have two rather than one medical practitioner leads to later termination of pregnancy, but it does not deter termination. Therefore, it is neutral on the broad issue that has been engaging our attention for so long.

The House knows that I am not an enthusiast for abortion—nor do I hold the view that abortion is only a belated form of contraception, Indeed, I am most certainly opposed to abortion on demand. However, I accept the realities of life. Whatever the moral and religious attitudes of any society, abortions take place. The practical issue is whether those abortions take place within or without the law.

Earlier in our proceedings we endeavoured to redefine the legal rules for abortion. Later this evening we will be discussing further refinements of those legal rules. This amendment lies clearly within those legal rules—and, indeed, can accommodate any of the further amendments on the Amendment Paper. As I said earlier—and I now repeat—it is directed simply to make earlier rather than later termination of pregnancy easier.

If the House accepts our amendment, we will, as the hon. Member for Peckham said, be entirely in line with our European partners in the European Community. The vast majority of abortions in Europe take place within the 12-week span. We find from Jennifer Gunning's helpful paper that terminations of pregnancies take place as follows in other European countries. In Denmark, 97.5 per cent. of terminations take place within the 12-week span, In France, the figure is 97 per cent.; and in the Federal Republic of Germany, it is 93 per cent. The figure for the Netherlands is slightly distorted because it apparently has a large intake of foreign women seeking abortions in later pregnancy, largely because until now Belgium has not had legal abortion. Therefore, the figure for the Netherlands is only 89 per cent., but the figure for this country is only 84 per cent.

If, as a result of passing amendment No, 31, we increased that figure of 84 per cent. to above 90 per cent., I believe that we would be making a useful and helpful contribution to a number of the women who are at risk. In addition, other European countries now have a strong bias in their law in favour of a 12-week limit. They include Belgium, Spain and Italy, where the limit is 90 days.

I trust that I have said enough to demonstrate that it is now the general practice in Europe to terminate pregnancies, where the law allows termination, within 12 weeks.

Those who would resist our modest, but helpful amendment, must demonstrate that their insistence upon the opinion of two, rather than one, medical practitioners would provide a degree of medical protection for the pregnant woman which would be substantially diminished if the decision to terminate was taken on the opinion of only one medical practitioner, not two. I await the demonstration of such a proposition. I am unaware of its medical strength.

I trust that I have said enough to persuade the House that amendment No. 31 represents a modest but medically useful change in our abortion law, which does not alter the basic criteria for a legal termination of pregnancy, but will be beneficial to the woman concerned—the woman at risk.

Sir David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

It is not often that one is pressed to make a speech in the House, but on this occasion several hon. Members have asked me, as the promoter of the original legislation—the Abortion Act 1967—to give my views on the amendments and new clauses that we are considering. I notice wryly that some of those who were pressing me are not present to have the benefit of what I am about to say—but that's life.

I shall address my remarks briefly to the three issues central to our debate until 7 o'clock, The first has already been discussed—the easing of the regulations for abortions in the early part of pregnancy. The second is the proposed extension of the law to Northern Ireland, and the third is the proposed certification of conscientious objection.

On the first issue, I very much follow the line of argument of the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Sir 13, Price). I vividly remember in our debates on the passage of the original legislation the general agreement in the House and across the Committee—regardless of the views taken about the merits of my Bill—that if abortion was to be carried out, it was best carried out early. Unhappily, the experience of the working of the Act over the past 22 years shows that the desire of the House, as then expressed, has not been fully carried out.

The hon. Member for Peckham (Ms, Harman) mentioned the report of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, which strikingly reminds us that one fifth of all abortions performed over 20 weeks are on women who had been referred within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. It is significant that that was not an early report—it was published in 1984. But in the 16 or 17 years of the working of the legislation until then, there was clearly still a bottleneck somewhere in the system, resulting in undesirable late abortions which could have been carried out earlier.

There are three reasons why the House should give favourable consideration to the suggestions before us. The first is administrative—too many abortions are needlessly carried out late. If we could simplify the procedure for earlier abortion, we could transfer later abortions into those carried out earlier in pregnancy—

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

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall the arguments that he deployed when promoting his Bill in 1967 to justify the use of two doctors, as opposed to one, and will he outline those arguments to the House?

Sir David Steel

Yes, of course I recall them and I stand by that basic provision. But the House should now look carefully at the experience of the working of the legislation, compared with the intentions at the time—

Mr. Campbell-Savours

What were the arguments?

Sir David Steel

I do not deny that there are good arguments for having two doctors—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)


Sir David Steel

I shall not be deflected from my speech. I shall stick to the narrow issue before us which is whether we should contemplate a change in the law relating to the early period of pregnancy—

Mr. Campbell-Savours

What were the arguments?

Sir David Steel

The hon. Gentleman can make his own speech later.

What the hon. Member for Eastleigh said about the European experience is instructive. Most of our European neighbours introduced legislation on abortion after we legislated in 1967. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the case of Belgium which made abortion legal only this year. Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Turkey all adopted a system which makes abortion difficult after the early period of pregnancy but makes it easy in the first stage. In a sense our legislation has been overtaken by the light of experience and views in other countries. There are good administrative grounds for making this minor change to the 1967 Act.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir David Steel

I am reluctant to give way too often, but I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Leigh

Surely the point that the right hon. Gentleman does not address is that, as he said, in those countries late abortions are more difficult than here. If the amendment is accepted we shall have abortion on demand up to 12 weeks and relatively easy abortion after 12 weeks. That is quite different from the position on the continent.

Sir David Steel

If I catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall deal with the law on later abortions in the debate on a later amendment. I should like to confine my remarks to the provisions of this amendment.

I do not pretend for a moment that the law in each of the countries that I listed is identical to that of all the others. It is not. In some cases there is almost a total prohibition on late abortion. The hon. Member for Eastleigh gave the figures for Denmark, where there is almost total prohibition after 12 weeks of pregnancy. It is most difficult to obtain an abortion after 12 weeks. In other countries it is relatively easy, but there is still a distinction between the two periods of pregnancy. We should be wise to adopt that distinction.

The second reason why I favour the change is the simple reason of publicity. If it becomes known that, in short, the law of the land states clearly that abortion before the 12th week is administratively easier and that the law encourages abortion before the 12th week of pregnancy, if it must take place at all, people will be more likely to present themselves earlier. In support of that I cite a letter from the Brook advisory clinic. It tells us: While recognising that Parliament has now voted for a 24 week upper limit for the termination of pregnancy we still have many concerns for those vulnerable young people who turn to us late in pregnancy. Many fail to recognise the signs and symptoms of pregnancy through a lack of sex education and appropriate services to which they may turn. If it enters people's minds that there is a new 12-week cut-off before which abortion is relatively simple to obtain and after which the administrative complications and medical referrals are much more difficult, we shall take a major step towards pushing abortions into the earlier part of pregnancy.

The third argument that I adduce is that abortion techniques have changed since we legislated in 1967. In those days almost all abortions were carried out by one form of surgery or another. Nowadays they can be carried out by injection or what is euphemistically called the morning-after pill, which is an early abortifacient. There have always been legal doubts about whether the morning-after pill can be prescribed within the present abortion law. The amendment would remove that doubt because a single doctor could prescribe the drug, which works in the early period of pregnancy. For all the reasons that I have given, I favour the proposal of the hon. Members for Peckham and for Eastleigh and I shall support them in the Lobby.

Government amendment No. 54 deals with whether the law should extend to Northern Ireland. I cannot remember exactly why the 1967 Act was not extended to Northern Ireland, but I suspect that one reason was that in those days Stormont still existed. We had only a small coterie of Northern Ireland Members in the House. Again, we are entitled to examine the practice of the law since 1967. Ireland—both the north and the south—is now the only country in Europe where abortion has not been legalized. It is no good people saying that abortion does not take place in Northern Ireland. We have the figures for women who come from Northern Ireland to obtain abortions in England and Wales. In 1988 the figure was 1,815. That does not include those who made the journey to Scotland, for which I do not have the figure to hand. We are talking about almost 2,000 women a year who come to Britain from Northern Ireland for abortions. Again, that has the effect of causing late abortions. By the time a referral has been made and a place found for a woman, precious weeks have passed. The extension of the Abortion Act 1967 to Northern Ireland would reduce the number of late abortions.

We must also consider the cost. If the national health service cannot provide the facility in Northern Ireland, it is unlikely that much of the NHS will provide it on the mainland. The result is that in the main such women go to private clinics. On top of that, they have the cost of travel, so the cost of abortion becomes prohibitive and may be a cause of further delay.

A survey has been carried out among members of the British Medical Association in Northern Ireland. The proposal in the amendment is supported by the majority of doctors in the Province.

A further argument for extending the Act relates to the section which deals with foetal abnormality. Ante-natal screening for foetal abnormality is not widely offered in Northern Ireland because if an abnormality is detected termination cannot be offered under the present law. That should be changed.

5.15 pm
Rev, Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)


Mr. Alton

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir David Steel

I shall give way to my hon. Friend in a moment. For all the reasons that I have given, I believe that it is right to extend the legislation to the Province of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Alton

Will the right hon. Gentleman cite the reference in the BMA report that he quoted to the House? The latest poll that was conducted among doctors in Northern Ireland showed that over 80 per cent. were entirely opposed to extending the legislation to the Province. The latest opinion poll in Northern Ireland showed that 90 per cent. of people were opposed to it. Only last week 60,000 signatures were presented from people in Northern Ireland against the extension. Does he agree that on any other occasion he would recognise that, where Catholic and Protestant opinion in Northern Ireland is united and there is a shared platform, public opinion should he listened to?

Sir David Steel

I am prepared to concede to my hon. Friend, who, like me, has some knowledge of the Province, that the majority of public opinion in Northern Ireland is probably against the extension. That is a valid point for the House to ponder. However, we must decide whether that prevailing opinion in the Province should lead us to deny a facility and a right which is extended to all other female citizens of the United Kingdom, That is the issue before us.

I do not pretend that extending the Act will be met with enthusiasm, but I do not see how my hon. Friend can defend the fact that Northern Irish women must travel to Britain to obtain something which they cannot obtain in their own Province. He cannot say that there is no requirement for abortion when the figures show that that is what happens and that it results in delay and later abortions. That is the argument with which I counter my hon. Friend's argument. I do not deny that the figures that he produced are right.

Mr. Alton

What is the reference for the right hon. Gentleman's figure?

Sir David Steel

I shall find the reference in my papers; I do not have it to hand.

New clause 5, which deals with a register of conscientious objection, has not yet been spoken to. I am afraid that at this point I part company with the hon. Member for Peckham. Together with the now Lord St. John of Fawsley I introduced the conscience clause in 1967 although we had opposite views on the substance of the Bill. I have taken an absolutely consistent view on the matter of conscience. I fought within my own party conference on the issue.

Abortion divides hon. Member from hon. Member, church from church and doctor from doctor, so group dynamics should never be made to operate. The individual conscience is important. I have tried to stop my party passing resolutions on the subject which would bind its members. I regret that the Labour party has proposed such resolutions. I regret even that there is a two-line Whip on the Third Reading of the Bill. I am wholly consistent. I object to the idea that a conscience should somehow be held in a public register. That seems to me a repugnant concept. It would bring undue pressure to bear on those who hold that view.

I do not deny that, as a result of the exercise of that conscientious objection by some doctors, in some cases women would be denied the facility and the right to which they are entitled. However, in the general practices of which I am aware the doctor who holds that conscientious objection tells the patient so and refers her to doctor X who will consider her case. That is proper, good practice.

The idea of a public register of conscience is objectionable and I shall not support new clause 5.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

Whatever my disagreement has been with the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D, Steel) since he introduced his Bill, I pay honour to him for sticking to his guns regarding the necessity for preserving the right of conscience in this matter.

I also agree with the right hon. Gentleman that if an abortion—always a tragic happening—is to be carried out, the earlier the better, given that there are satisfactory grounds for it and proper medical approval and attention, That proviso is absolutely key.

I am profoundly disturbed by the group of amendments now under discussion, the like of which I have not heard discussed in this place in the 40 years I have sat here, I venture to suggest that public opinion will be outraged when it learns what has been advocated today.

On 2 May I wrote a letter to a colleague in the House who was canvassing support for an amendment that would allow abortions up to 12 weeks on the agreement of a single doctor. We have been repeatedly told that new clauses 1 and 6 and amendment No, 31 will not allow abortion on demand, but, whatever is said, everyone knows that under the present system, when two doctors' signatures are required, collusion sometimes occurs, Abortions for the most trifling reason are granted on one ground or another. Over the years there have been enough scandals for me not to go into detail. If only one doctor's signature is now to be required it is inevitable that the situation will get worse.

My thoughts on this matter have not been dreamed up in response to what has been said this afternoon. I shall quote from the letter that I sent to my colleague on 2 May as it sets out the history of the matter and its inherent dangers, I wrote: The idea of allowing abortion on the agreement of only one doctor…was first floated by Government advisers as far back as 1977. At that time it was suggested that the development of abortifacient drugs would enable women to abort at home, thus diminishing the need for late abortion. Incidentally, at that time no one ever mentioned legalizing abortion up to birth, but the Bill, as it is presently drafted, would permit that in certain circumstances.

Ms. Dawn Primarolo (Bristol, South)

Not true.

Dr. Lewis Moonie (Kirkcaldy)

How many abortions have taken place as late as that in Scotland, where the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929 has never applied?

Sir Bernard Braine

Over the years, I have participated in debates relating to England and Wales and I have learnt never to engage in a discussion of the different approaches and nuances involved in Scottish practice. After all the disappointments in the world cup I must say that my admiration for Scottish things has gone up greatly. I shall not tangle with the hon. Gentleman about this, except to say that there are differences.

My letter continued that the idea of allowing abortions on the agreement of a single doctor had then been floated again by Government advisers at the time of the Corrie Bill, when the development of abortifacient drugs was stressed once again. My letter stated: Today, of course, we have RU 486 and the Government could no doubt save millions of pound through a law enabling women to be aborted at home by their own GPs"— if the proposals that we are debating are accepted, we shall be talking about not two doctors, but one. I also wrote that at that particular stage—the letter was written on 2 May—there was no attempt to amend section 1(3) of the Abortion Act with regard to the operation being carried out in an "approved place".

This week, however, the final piece in the jigsaw is found. Later today we shall debate amendment No. 29, which would allow the Secretary of State to extend the meaning of approved places for abortion treatment consisting primarily in the use of medicines or, more bluntly, abortifacient drugs.

New clauses 1 and 6 and amendment No. 31, together with amendment No. 29, would therefore change the law to allow abortions through abortifacient drugs such as RU 486 to be carried out by one doctor in the patient's home. The Secretary of State must give us a clear explanation as to why we should change the meaning of "an approved place" in order to allow abortion in the home. That is a grave matter.

Over the years and throughout our debates on abortion the spectre of the back-street abortionist has been raised. Pro-abortionists have always failed to mention, however, that before 1967, many back-street abortionists were doctors or midwives aborting women in their own homes or in a private clinic.

I am one of the few hon. Members still in the House who—after the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale had had his Bill enacted—served on the Select Committee on Abortion, which met on 15 March 1976 to hear evidence from Sir John Peel. Sir John was a former president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, he was then president of the British Medical Association and he was one of the most distinguished gynaecologists of that time. It is important to record what he told that Committee, on page 78 of the minutes of evidence. Sir John was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) what effect the 1967 Act had had on illegal back-street abortions: if the present Act were tightened, would this be likely to lead to a substantial increase in the number of illegal back-street abortions? Sir John replied: I always did think that the back-street abortion prior to the 1967 Act was nothing like as common an event as it was thought to be, and the statistics alone indicated that the back-street abortionist so-called was a pretty efficient operator. I think that a lot of the people who would be labelled back-street abortionists before the Act are now front-street abortionists, and technologically they are very competent at doing the particular job. I do not think there is any doubt about that.

5.30 pm
Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)

I must say on behalf of many women while the Father of the House is quoting somebody else's opinion that the thought of women having to return to back-street abortionists fills many of us with horror.

Sir Bernard Braine

It has always filled me with horror, too. My hon. Friend, for whom I have great respect, has not been following the drift of my argument. I am describing the sort of people whom Sir John thought were engaged in the business of back-street abortions prior to the Act.

Miss Emma Nicholson (Torridge and Devon, West)


Sir Bernard Braine

No, I shall not give way at this stage, because I wish to pay tribute to the fact that the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale made a genuine attempt in 1967 to clean up an extremely unsatisfactory situation. However, I am quoting from evidence given nine years later into the working of that Act.

The right hon. Gentleman's measure introduced certain improvements, but there were also some abuses, and I am sure that he would agree with that. A later Bill introduced by Mr. James White seeking greater control over abortion obtained a big majority, the House will recall, but the Government of the day decided that the matter was so technical and difficult that, rather than proceed, they would set up a Select Committee to look into the issue in great detail.

I was a member of that Select Committee, as was the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale and a number of hon. Members who are in the House to this day. We took evidence, and I have been quoting from evidence given by the president of the British Medical Association, a former extremely distinguished gynaecologist with a worldwide reputation. I am merely reporting to the House what he said, and hon. Members can draw their own conclusions.

The statement made by Sir John Peel at that time is highly relevant now. The combination of amendments now before the House would revive back-street abortions of the type to which he was referring, without the safeguard of a second medical opinion, which has always been thought necessary since the passage of the right hon. Gentleman's measure. If we are to reach a sensible, balanced, rational and decent conclusion to these deliberations, we must have a clear lead from the Minister.

The idea of easier abortion on the authority of one doctor, as I pointed out, had been put forward by Government advisers on several occasions in the past. We must be told whether the same advice is being given to the Government now. I leave the matter there. The House must search its conscience in deciding whether the proposals inherent in the group of amendments that we are now considering can be accepted, knowing in our hearts what the reality is in the world of abortion.

Several Hon. Members


Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I will take the House into my confidence because so many hon. Members wish to participate in the proceedings, and rightly so. I urge those whom I call to speak for seven to 10 minutes so that we can have all points of view in this important debate aired.

Mr. Alton

I shall try to stay within that time limit, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Three questions are before the House as we debate this group of new clauses and amendments. The first is whether abortion should be allowed up to 12 weeks; the second concerns changes to the conscience clause; and the third refers to Northern Ireland.

In 1967, when the original legislation was laid before the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel), in trying to tackle the problem of back-street abortions, said it was not the purpose of his measure to create abortion on demand. Yet, as one who has been strongly involved with this issue, I have not received a letter from anyone saying that they have been unable, under the 1967 legislation, to obtain an abortion in this country.

At a time when one in five pregnancies ends in abortion —184,000 each year—one issue should unite every hon. Member, and that is a desire to reduce the total number of abortions. So missing from the proposal of the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) is the second part of the equation. She and my right hon. Friend referred to the European situation but, as the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) said, abortion there is restricted in the later periods—a point on which I have tried to concentrate the minds of hon. Members on many occasions.

The average European Community upper time limit is 12 to 14 weeks. Before the House now is a time limit of 24 weeks in most cases and in some cases right the way up to birth. So we are being asked to extend the legislation to provide abortion—abortion on demand, which we were told in 1967 would not happen, and in a climate of 184,000 abortions a year—up until birth.

We have been told today that one reason for that is the issue of delay. The hon. Member for Peckham omitted to tell the House that the 1984 report of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said: The major reason for delay at 15 to 19 weeks is the wait for a prostaglandin abortion, which of course must be done late, by its very nature. It added: In less than 5 per cent. of cases, the failure to recognise pregnancy was a delay definitely attributable to the doctor. However much one may wish to criticise the NHS on other occasions, as the majority of late abortions concern people from overseas, who are unable to obtain abortions in their own countries—last year women from over 100 countries came here for abortions—we can hardly blame them on the NHS. So let us clearly understand what we are being asked to agree today.

In none of the speeches made for the group of amendments has anything been said about the child, even though the child is another vital part of the equation. How can we talk about abortion without thinking of the effects on the child? Does not the child have some rights? As we reach the final stages of the Bill, the House is being asked to allow abortion right up to birth if the unborn child is handicapped. We shall debate that issue on the next amendment, after the 7 o'clock vote. In the context of that amendment, hon. Members will appreciate that I cannot have much faith in the desire of hon. Members to preserve the minimal rights of the child. Indeed, having unlinked the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1920 from the Abortion Act 1967, we have made the position infinitely worse.

In these debates we rarely talk about post-abortion trauma. But we must consider the effects of an abortion on the woman. I have received hundreds of letters from women describing the effects of early and late abortions. It is not an easy operation. Indeed, it is a disaster for everybody involved. Frequently people are psychologically scarred for life.

Secondly—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Peckham would not give way when I tried to intervene in her speech and is continually trying to make a point from a sedentary position during mine, but I am happy to give way to allow her to make it.

Ms. Harman

I was just hoping that as the hon. Gentleman has expressed his concern about the abortion rate he might turn his attention to preventing unwanted pregnancies by talking about sex education and family planning. He has accused us of never mentioning the child, but we try to prevent unwanted pregnancies. He never seems to talk about measures that would lower the abortion rate by preventing unwanted pregnancies.

Mr. Alton

In that case the hon. Lady does not listen. I talk at great length on those subjects. I believe that we should talk more openly about sexuality—and more responsibly, a word rarely used. We talk about our rights but not about our responsibilities to each other. We should put sexual relations in that context. Destroying the consequences of our actions is not the solution for anyone; it is not a solution to a problem if another person's life is ended. We must consider the position of the unborn child, and of the mother and family.

As for the conscience clause, there are serious reasons why the House should resist the blacklist proposal—I am happy to agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale about that. This amendment is aimed at criminalising doctors who cannot in all conscience participate in abortions. It is intended to intimidate doctors who might take the conscience clause. The amendment institutionalises job discrimination by allowing employers to check the register before interviewing applicants. In the past, employers have not been allowed to specify abortion experience as necessary for a post. If the amendment is passed, excellent gynaecologists will be passed over because their names appear on the register. That opens the door to intimidation by a minority of pro-abortion activists who will be able to identify targets with ease—as we witnessed during recent debates on abortion legislation.

There is no evidence that any woman has been unable to obtain an abortion because of the conscience clause in its present form. To make it a criminal offence not to register publicly a conscientious objection is unprecedented and designed to prosecute those with sincerely held beliefs. This is a deeply repugnant proposal; it is authoritarian and illiberal and the House should reject it.

Thirdly, I turn to the extension to Northern Ireland. As I said earlier, this issue unites people on both sides of the divide there. It is extraordinarily arrogant of the House not to listen to the voices in Northern Ireland. At a meeting only last week representatives of the DUP—for instance, the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea)—the leader of the Ulster Unionists, the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), and the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) of the SDLP came together on the same platform. Sixty thousand signatures have been received from groups in the Province opposed to the extension of the legislation.

In 1984—the last time this was considered—the Northern Ireland Assembly voted 20 to one against an extension to Northern Ireland. Every political party apart from Sinn Fein—even it recently modified its policy to one of neutrality—opposes the extension of the legislation. Eighteen councils are against extension and none is in favour. A poll of doctors in 1987 showed that 90 per cent. were against extension and a Gallup poll in 1982 found that 83 per cent. of people expressing an opinion were opposed to social abortions. So the people of Northern Ireland oppose an extension of the legislation and their views should be heard.

This issue was not raised on Second Reading and members of the Committee had no chance to consider it in Committee. It is monstrous that at this late stage of proceedings it should be proposed that the legislation be extended to Northern Ireland against the wishes of its representatives and people. I wholeheartedly urge the House to oppose the recommendation.

5.45 pm
Miss Emma Nicholson

In this country abortion used to be the most common method of contraception, and it still is in the developing world. There are 60 million abortions a year worldwide, 25 million of which are carried out illegally, and a leading cause of death among mothers in the developing countries is septic abortion. In Romania the death rate from abortion rose sevenfold when restrictive abortion laws were introduced in 1966.

In the United Kingdom we have moved a long way; we have more enlightened thinking these days. Contraception is readily available; there is far greater education, in schools and through other organisations, on ways of limiting the family, and I suggest there has been a dramatic removal of the stigma of using birth control methods—a stigma that was common before the Abortion Act 1967. But there is still some way to go, which is why I introduced new clause 5 in the previous debate on this issue. I was grateful then to the House for giving me the time in which to discuss it, and I am enormously grateful to all hon. Members who have shown an interest in this crucial proposal.

I was sorry that the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) dismissed my wish to discuss this important point with him as an attempt to canvass support. The issue is more important than that.

England and Wales have the smallest proportion in the European Community of legal abortions at eight weeks or under, and the highest percentage of abortions performed at 13 to 16 weeks and at 17 weeks and over. Yet the trend among the general public has been towards earlier abortions all the time. In 1968, 61 per cent. of all abortions took place under 13 weeks; the figure in 1988 was 84 per cent. So there has been a tremendous move towards earlier abortions and a corresponding reduction in abortions performed between 13 and 19 weeks—from 34 per cent. to 13 per cent.

Among women seeking abortions and among the medical profession there has been a move towards earlier abortions. In the context of the massive efforts of the pro-life campaign in the House to limit later abortions, it is of great interest to us all to recognise that between 1968 and 1988 abortions at more than 20 weeks remained at a steady 3 per cent. So the shift has been downwards, apart from odd abortions performed after 20 weeks, and I find that immensely encouraging.

I am encouraged because, like my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) and other hon. Members, I believe that if abortion is to take place, the earlier the better, because the trauma for mothers and the unfortunate nurses and gynaecologists, who have other things to do besides perform abortions, is correspondingly reduced. There are also concomitant and massive economic savings in NHS beds and other medical services.

The hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) has already mentioned north Devon, which has an interesting system of immediate telephone referral from the GP to the consultant. That means that a mother who presents herself for an abortion is given an appointment with a consultant within one day. She will then have an abortion within a week. Nearly all abortions in north Devon are carried out before 12 weeks. That is because the consultant is in favour of early abortions, but early abortions are so sought after throughout Britain that about half the abortions carried out by that gynaecologist are performed on women from outside north Devon.

I want to knock on the head the idea that earlier abortions have led to a higher incidence of abortions. In the 11 to 19-year-old age group in north Devon, 8.9 per 1,000 mothers have an abortion, compared with 14.1 per 1,000 nationally—that is considerably lower. In the whole age group on whom abortions are performed—women between the ages of 11 and 49—the figures are 5.7 per 1,000 in north Devon, compared with 12.5 per 1,000 in the rest of the United Kingdom. Early abortions do not lead to a rise in the number of abortions. One could postulate that they lead to fewer. In the developing countries where there are illegal and septic abortions, a lack of contraceptive facilities and where legal abortions are not available, about 60 women per 1,000 present themselves for abortion.

As I said, easy and early abortion does not lead to higher abortion rates. It is caused by good school education, enlightened gynaecologists and a good social attitude. We cannot replicate that throughout the United Kingdom, much as we would like to. It is clear that we have not managed to do so, hence the incidence of later abortions outside north Devon and throughout the rest of the United Kingdom.

I shall deal finally with public opinion and the opinion of gynaecologists. A series of polls carried out from 1979 to 1988 asked whether the choice to continue pregnancy should be left to the woman in consultation with her doctor. That proposition was supported by 80 per cent. of the public and by 73 per cent. of gynaecologists. Amendment No. 31 does not offer the right to choose. It does not tread that difficult path in total deference to the susceptibilities of Parliament's conscience. It fits in neatly with public opinion and chimes in with informed medical opinion—the medical specialists and the gynaecologists. It is in line with European Community thinking and the later legislation which resulted from that and which was introduced after our 1967 Act. More important, it sends the proper signal to society as a whole that if abortions are to take place we should get them over and done with.

Mr. A.E.P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

I oppose new clause 1, which would allow abortion on demand up to 12 weeks and I support amendment No. 54, which would extend the 1967 Act to Northern Ireland. New clause 1 will allow abortion with no regard for mental, medical or eugenic reasons following a request by the mother to any doctor.

The Abortion Act 1967 required that abortion should be carried out for only specific medical reasons. I presume that that was the purpose of the probing question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) to the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel). Under that Act a second opinion and a signature were required to ensure the safety of the mother and the baby. Under new clause 1 none of those safeguards would apply to demands for abortion where the pregnancy has not exceeded 12 weeks. That saddens me because it seems only to emphasise present trends.

In my city of Sheffield the number of abortions has risen steadily throughout the past decade and, contrary to the suggestion by my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) about experience in other parts of England, an increasing number of those abortions have been carried out on the national health service. I am worried not only about the trends, but about the manner in which that will prejudice the social climate about which we have heard in the debates today and yesterday. We heard about it in the speech by the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson). In today's debate hon. Members appear to be concerned about doctors, while in yesterday's debate they were worried about donors and about almost everyone but the child, especially the unborn child.

Disregard for the sanctity of life and the rights of the unborn child has a bad effect on our society. I repeat that there has been too much evidence of that not only today but during yesterday's debate and in the debates that we had five or six weeks ago. That makes me wonder whether there will be abuse.

I was interested to hear the statistics from north Devon. We need more such breakdowns and the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West is to be commended. I tried to collect such statistics in Sheffield. During the 1980s no abortions were sought on the ground that the life of the expectant mother was at risk, and fewer than 1 per cent. were sought on the ground of handicap. I presume that the 1,500 unborn children who are killed every year in Sheffield are healthy.

I have tried and failed to find out something about the motives for those abortions, and I invite hon. Members to try to find out what happens in their constituencies under section 2 of the 1967 Act. I and my hon. Friends have tried. Obviously, most abortions are performed under section 2. The Secretary of State for Health could tell us the reasons for those abortions and I invite him to do so. On 24 April I tried my darndest to intervene in the speech by the Minister for Health. I said then that it would be helpful on Report for the Secretary of State or his Minister to let the House have more information about section 2.

I fear abuse because new clause 1 requires no reason for abortion other than the mother's demand. It will abandon all pretence of medical causes and will open the door to more social abortions, abortions of convenience. I suspect that it will allow abortion on all sorts of specious grounds, which I shall not go into now. The doctor's position will be made ambiguous by the new clause. He will not be required to consider medical reasons or the safety of the patient.

The delay argument has been dealt with effectively by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton). It is claimed that the new clause will reduce delays in obtaining abortions and lower the number of late abortions. However, he reminded us of the 1984 study and report of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. That body has produced other studies. The new clause would put specific pressures on the mother, and we can well imagine them. I need not dwell on them because every hon. Member on whatever side of the argument will be well aware of them.

A comparison has been drawn between new clause I and the situation in Europe. My hon. Friend the Member for Peckham, who moved new clause 1, cited European experience but she did not say that European countries that allow abortion on demand up to 12 weeks also severely restrict abortion after 12 weeks. My hon. Friend the Member for Mossley Hill mentioned that, but I should like to spell it out. There are no proposals to restrict the availability of an abortion in Britain after 12 weeks. On the contrary, we are moving in another direction. None of those European countries has an appreciably lower rate of abortion than Britain. Some of them have a higher rate and I fear that the new clause will substantially increase the number of abortions and the abuse of abortion facilities.

As I said, I support amendment No. 54, which would extend the 1967 Act to Northern Ireland. It now seems in our society that human life is to have value only under certain conditions and new clause 1, which I have just dealt with, highlights just how much further society has drifted towards abortion on demand and towards the view that human life is disposable.

Health in Northern Ireland was covered by transferred powers to the old Stormont Parliament and to the power-sharing executive. It has certainly been Opposition policy, although this is not a party political matter, to interfere as little as possible in matters that should properly be devolved to a legislative Assembly in Northern Ireland. Specifically and directly health is one matter that would be transferred to a devolved Assembly. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is in his place and I invite him to say that the talks that he is so impressively and gallantly trying to bring about in Northern Ireland will deal with the devolution of health. I suspect that that matter is near the top of his agenda.

I do not know how the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland can sit so complacently alongside the Secretary of State for Health. He must know in his heart that the proposal will be carried unless the Secretary of State for Health goes into battle against it. He must know that the devolution argument, for people in Northern Ireland to take control of their affairs, is not helped when pressure groups of whatever hue or on whatever issue seek to extend the 1967 Act, which did not apply to Northern Ireland, by the back door.

It is a neo-colonialist attitude, patronising in the extreme, to say that the House knows better than all the elected Members for Northern Ireland who are united, as we shall hear, on this, as on other matters, but especially on medical, ethical and moral questions and matters of faith.

If a devolved Assembly in Northern Ireland sought to alter the legislation, will the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland confirm that it could not do so without a separate Westminster Act of Parliament amending British legislation? We are effectively tying the hands, in what would be a transferred area, of any future devolved Assembly in Northern Ireland with legislative powers.

I oppose new clause 1, but I support amendment No. 54.

6 pm

Rev. Ian Paisley

My colleagues and I oppose new clauses 1 and 6, amendment No. 31 and new clauses 5 and 7, and support amendment No. 54. I shall make a brief speech to allow others the opportunity to speak, and I want to concentrate on my opposition to new clause 7.

I want to make a protest on behalf of all the people of Northern Ireland. If the House is to legislate for Northern Ireland, let it do so decently and in order, and let it give Northern Ireland representatives, few though they be, an opportunity to discuss in the House every clause of a Bill, from its presentation to its Third Reading, and to deal with a matter that runs to the very gut and heart of the Ulster people. I must protest that it is mischievous to foist such a new clause on the House and on the people of Northern Ireland on Report.

I am not just speaking on behalf of the Protestant section of the community; I am speaking on behalf of my entire constituency and the entire constituency of Northern Ireland. I have had the highest vote in three elections to the European Parliament, so I speak for the whole Province on this issue.

I have consulted my parliamentary colleagues in the Social Democratic and Labour party and they are at one with the Unionists—the Ulster Unionists, the Democratic Unionists and the Popular Unionists, represented by the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder). We are at one on the issue.

The House should have a little respite for unity in Northern Ireland. The House oft times thinks that there is no unity in Northern Ireland. I have heard hon. Members on both sides of the House say, "Oh, if only you would agree, we would give you what you agreed on." Now we come to something that we agree on and we are told no. The new clause is to be rammed through the House on Report.

The overwhelming opposition is amazing, because it stretches from the Unionist parties to the nationalist SDLP. It stretches from the Churches to the students union of Queen's university, which in no way could be called a Conservative or right-wing body.

I was amazed to hear the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) tell us that the medical profession in Northern Ireland are in some sort of way overwhelmingly in support of the measure. That is definitely not true. The medical profession were canvassed by Dr. Ferguson and 1,575 replied, 60 per cent. of whom were opposed to it. How can any hon. Member tell the House that the medical profession are overwhelmingly in favour of the legislation being extended to Northern Ireland?

I want to make it perfectly clear that I resent what the right hon. Gentleman said in another regard. Foetal abnormality, rape, risk to the physical health of a mother and severe psychological trauma are catered for in Northern Ireland. Abortions are available in such cases. I resent the suggestion that we are opposed to the woman having any protection. I am all for protecting the woman, but I am for protecting the child as well. I have made that clear in other speeches in the House.

In 1967, it was argued that, except we had abortion by law, there would be an increase in illegitimacy, child abuse and juvenile crime. One would have thought that, after 1967, we would have an ordered society and those problems would practically disappear. But today's figures show that illegitimacy, child abuse and juvenile crime are less per head of the population in Northern Ireland than elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Let no hon. Member say that abortion will raise the ethical standards of the people.

Then we heard that there would be back-street abortions. There is no evidence of that in Northern Ireland. The number of deaths that result from abortion is lower in Northern Ireland than in any of the regions of England. Since 1967, there have been 3 million abortions, twice the population of Northern Ireland—3 million tiny lives snuffed out—and it has not led to a well-adjusted generation. We need to face up to that.

If the matter is to be dealt with in Northern Ireland —we do not have a local assembly; we do not even have proper representative local government—there should be a referendum on the matter. Let the people of Northern Ireland say exactly what should be done.

I repeat that all the parties are united. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) has just come into the House. I was mentioning before he came in that his party was united with us all in our opposition to abortions. The three parties represented in the House are opposed to the measure. We have 26 local councils. They have no real power, but 18 of them have debated the measure and voted against it. None of the remaining councils were prepared to say that they wanted it. Therefore, no council went on record as wanting the measure. The Northern Ireland Assembly voted 20:1 against it, although the SDLP was not present at that Assembly, which we regret.

Reference was made to the Gallup poll, in which 83 per cent. of the Northern Ireland community expressed opposition to abortion when sought by unmarried women or those not wishing to have a larger family.

Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster)

My hon. Friend referred to the impression that is often given that the boats are filled with women from Northern Ireland crossing the Irish sea to have an abortion on the mainland. Is he aware that only 0.5 per cent. of the ladies concerned are from the Province and that 99.5 per cent. of women in the Province want nothing to do with abortion and stand with their public representatives in opposing the Bill? The facts should be put before the House.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I appeal to the House to reject the Bill and to let the people of Northern Ireland speak up. Winston Churchill said that one should trust the people.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

I reinforce the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the position taken by all political parties in the north of Ireland. I know that there will not be time for me to contribute to the debate, but I want to make it clear that the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) represents the views of all the political parties in the north of Ireland on an issue about which the people there feel very strongly. There can be no doubt that on this occasion all the political parties there, because they understand the seriousness of the proposal, are united in their opposition.

It would be interesting to calculate the number of times since I first entered the House that all the Northern Ireland parties have voted together. The result might astound those who look at us somewhat askance. There can be no doubt that in this case we are united in our opposition to a measure that we think would be bad for Northern Ireland.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I thank the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh for his helpful intervention. I do not usually give way to him so quickly, but I was delighted to do so on this occasion. I must leave matters there, because my time is up.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

I speak in support of new clause 7 and in opposition to Government amendment No. 54. The Abortion Act 1967 was never extended to Northern Ireland. The law governing that issue in Northern Ireland is the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which entirely prohibits abortion with only one exception. The 1861 Act states that any person performing, attempting and or assisting in any abortion shall be guilty of a felony and being convicted thereof shall be liable at the discretion of the court to be kept in penal servitude for life —except where an abortion is absolutely necessary to save a woman's life.

That came about because the 1861 Act was amended for Northern Ireland in 1945 as a consequence of the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1921. That allows an abortion to be performed in order to save a woman's life, but only after 28 weeks of pregnancy. That anomaly arises because the Infant Life (Preservation) Act deals only with the period after the 28th week of pregnancy and up until after the birth. As the 1861 Act still governs the first seven months of pregnancy, there is no legal provision for abortion in Northern Ireland during the first 28 weeks of pregnancy.

I refer to two cases reported in the New Statesman of 16 October 1987. The first concerns a girl of 14 whose father made her pregnant. Northern Ireland law did not guarantee her an abortion, but a consultant eventually agreed that her pregnancy should be terminated. As she was already 20 weeks pregnant, she was put on a prostaglandin drip for 48 hours. After initiating that treatment, the consultant went off duty. Some hours later, after the girl's labour had begun, the doctor on night duty removed the drip because he had ethical objections to abortion. On discovering that the following night, a woman doctor restored the drip and the pregnancy was subsequently terminated.

In another case, a woman of 26 who already had four young children found she was 11 weeks pregnant. She had bouts of anxiety and depression and was experiencing difficulties in her marriage. She suffered from a congenital heart defect and a chronic kidney infection. The consultant to whom she was referred for termination of her pregnancy on those grounds pronounced her fit to continue the pregnancy. As she was unable to afford the the fare to England to have an abortion, she gave birth to an unwanted baby.

6.15 pm

That is a horrifying state of affairs. Right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken against the extension of the 1967 Act to Northern Ireland may feel that, if they could become pregnant even in the same circumstances, they would not choose to have an abortion. My objection is to making criminals of the women who do make that choice. Even within the limits recognised as necessary to save a woman's life, it is commonsense that, the earlier an abortion is performed, the less traumatic and life-endangering it is likely to be. In any event, medical judgment in individual cases as to what is the least hazardous point at which to perform an abortion should be of paramount importance. If the law sets parameters that do not allow medical judgments to be freely exercised, it must be defective.

Few doctors would perform an abortion after 28 weeks in any case because of the greater risks and the likely effects on the woman's emotional state and mental health—and because of their own views on the moral aspects. In reality, abortion is extremely rare in Northern Ireland. Any woman there who finds herself pregnant must accept her lot, no matter the problems and difficulties that drove her to consider an abortion in the first place, in the realisation that she was likely to be left to get on with it, often with little or no help.

Alternatively, she can tell lies to all and sundry to explain away her brief disappearance while she goes to Britain and pays for a legal abortion that she may be unable to afford. The current all-in cost is around £300. She would have to do that without any assistance from her family or friends, and in the absence of any medical back-up when she returned home. Finally, she could opt for a back-street abortion, with all attendant risks to her health and life from which women in Great Britain were set free in 1967.

Every year, thousands of women from Northern Ireland come to Great Britain for abortions. In 1988, 1,815 of them attended clinics in England and Wales. Since 1978, more than 20,000 women have come over to England and Wales for abortions, and many more give a false address in Britain. I wonder if right hon. and hon. Members who think that they are speaking for their constituents speak also for those 20,000 women who were forced to come to Britain for an abortion.

I will tell the House of the experience of one woman who came to Britain 14 years ago for such an operation. She had always been anti-abortion, but when faced with an abortion in an unhappy marriage that was on the verge of breaking up, she felt that she had no choice. Some right hon. and hon. Members may feel that they would have done otherwise in her circumstances—but most can never experience pregnancy, let alone find themselves in that woman's dilemma. I refuse to regard her as a criminal for making the decision that she did.

That woman has related her experiences in the clinic that she used. Of the 12 women in the ward, only nine were Irish and only one was under 16. Most were middle-aged women who had been caught out by the menopause. She was one of the few between 20 and 25 years of age that the mythology presents as being the most common group. Only two of the 12 women were unmarried.

It is not as though contraception is freely available in Northern Ireland. Many women, and especially those living outside the urban areas, are reluctant to seek advice on contraception and counselling, particularly from their family doctor. Another consequence of the current law is that there is a virtual absence of screening procedures for identifying conditions such as Down's syndrome or spina bifida, though such tests are easily available in the rest of the United Kingdom.

It is time that the women of Northern Ireland were freed from the burden that has been lifted from women in similar circumstances in Scotland, England and Wales. We should ensure that women receive support and back-up, whatever decision they take. New clause 7 merely asks that the law applying in Great Britain, which recognises the risks to women's health and to life itself, and the other legitimate reasons for abortion that Parliament recognised, should be equally valid and to the point for women in Northern Ireland and should extend to them as well.

Hon. Members have made a point about imposing legislation if all the elected representatives are opposed to it. I must point out that no one will be made to have an abortion who does not want one, and no one will be made to carry out an abortion if they are opposed to doing so. We are simply saying that it is high time that elected Members of Parliament, who are not speaking for women who have sought abortions, recognised the fact that some women in Northern Ireland will want an abortion at some time in their lives, even if they are opposed to it at the moment. Those hon. Members should recognise the freedom of women to do what they want.

Rev. William McCrea

I have listened to the hon. Lady's speech carefully and have noticed that one thing is absent—she has never once mentioned that the child being aborted is a human being. Before she sits down, will she please give some cognisance to the fact that children have some rights? I speak as a father with five children at home.

Mrs. Fyfe

I am sorry that I gave way for the hon. Gentleman to make that point. In the three cases that I mentioned—I do not have time to go into more—I pointed out that, even if hon. Members think that it was morally wrong for those women to have abortions and that it ought to be a criminal offence, I disagree, and I would not make a criminal of a woman in those circumstances.

People on this side of the argument care about unborn children. We reject the idea that we do not care about unborn babies, but we recognise that women in desperate circumstances will make the decision to have an abortion, and we will not criminalise them for it.

Mr. Leigh

I have not yet attempted to take part in the debate, because the divide between the two sides seemed to be so deep and unbridgeable that I felt that any comment I could make would add more heat than light to the argument. However, I hope to try to bridge the divide in a couple of minutes.

As the father of four children, I accept that a woman's life is precious, as is her health, and that the life, the upbringing and education of existing children are also precious.

I respect what I understand to be the motives behind the Abortion Act 1967, which was introduced by the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel). I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman believes in the sanctity of the unborn human life, but he wants to balance the sanctity of that life with the many other pressures—which hon. Members who have a family recognise—that are placed upon women.

As I understand it, the 1967 Act was based on the notion of balance. The right hon. Gentleman did not introduce the Act in the spirit that abortion could become a convenient form of birth control. I am sure that that was not his intention, and I think that he said so at the time.

Some hon. Members may regret the way that the Act has been interpreted, the way that things have developed and the number of abortions which have taken place. However, the right hon. Gentleman did not introduce abortion on demand. As far as he was concerned, he was introducing a balance.

I am fearful that, if the new clause is passed tonight, the wrong signals will be sent from the House. I fear that there is a malaise in our society, and I applaud the Government's efforts to insist that fatherhood, as well as motherhood, is a lifetime commitment. We cannot walk away from the consequences of our actions. We cannot think of an unborn child as a mere object. In a real sense it is a sacred object. Therefore, with all the passion that I can muster, I urge hon. Members not to give a wrong signal, and not to pass a provision which would be seen outside the House as allowing abortion on demand. That simple, straightforward moral issue cuts through the debate and is more important than arguments about delay.

Ms. Jo Richardson (Barking)

I shall delay the House for only two or three minutes to explain the purpose of new clause 5. Its general theme is the reduction of late abortions. New clause 5, in a different way from new clauses 1 and 6, is intended as a positive means of avoiding unnecessary delay for any woman seeking advice about abortion because it places a duty—as those hon. Members who have read it will realise—on the general practitioner to state in a public register that he or she has a conscientious objection to abortion. The new clause would enable a woman to ensure that she did not suffer unnecessary delay by consulting a doctor who was unwilling to help her.

The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) said that he thought that a general practitioner would say, "I'm sorry, I am not willing to do it, but I will refer you to someone else." That would be fine if it worked, but it happens in some cases and not in others. I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members have come across cases where a woman has gone from one doctor to another, and that is what we want to avoid.

In 1987, the consultant gynaecologist for Hexham told a Life conference that it was impossible—or almost impossible—to get a national health service abortion in Hexham. I wonder how late in pregnancy women in Hexham end up having abortions.

An interesting point for the House to consider is that, in February 1989, the Government published a background document called, "General Practice in the National Health Service—A New Contract". While there is much in that paper, and in the general thrust of the Government's plans for the national health service, with which Opposition Members do not agree, we all agree with the intention behind the statement: The Government places great importance on raising consumer awareness and understanding, of what constitutes good general practice and on increasing consumer influence in developing services to meet patients' needs". The paper goes on to say that general practitioners should publicise the services that they offer.

As that is not yet in place, we want general practitioners who are not willing to perform abortions or to refer a woman for an abortion to sign a register so that a woman knows that a particular general practitioner would not help her if she went to see him or her. That would ensure that patients have access to the necessary information about their general practitioners, and would allow patients to make an informed choice before approaching a doctor.

As I understand it, general practitioners who offer contraception do so by saying that they have a certificate from the joint committee on contraception from their area health authority. The register is just another way of doctors making a statement to say, "I am sorry, there is nothing wrong with it, but I have an objection to carrying out abortions, and it is better that you know now, rather than come to me, when I will have to tell you and refer you to someone else, and you may find that the same thing happens again."

I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will consider the new clause in the light of my remarks. It is not in any way intended to hound general practitioners, but to relieve them of unnecessary visits from women they cannot help and whom they would have to tell, perhaps with some embarrassment, that they could not help.

One in five women who have abortions between 20 weeks and 23 weeks approached a doctor before the 12th week of pregnancy. Surely all hon. Members agree that no abortion should be later than necessary.

The new clause is a modest proposal, and it would in no way prevent doctors from exercising their right conscientiously to object to abortion. However, it would help women to get access to the services they need as quickly as possible. That is why we tabled the new clause.

6.30 pm
The Minister for Health (Mrs. Virginia Bottomley)

The House is well aware that Ministers remain neutral on matters concerning abortion, which are issues for right hon. and hon. Members to exercise their conscience and use their own judgment. Traditionally, Ministers advise the House on details of administrative, medical or legal issues. I shall follow that tradition in seeking to comment on the amendments and new clauses.

Certainly Health Ministers have no particular expertise in advising other hon. Members how best they should make a moral or ethical judgment. Hon. Members will recall that, during the lengthy debate on the abortion clauses in the Bill in a Committee of the whole House, I agreed that we would come back if the House had voted for particular measures which would lead to an incoherent or inconsistent Bill. I assure the House that, having studied the results of the Committee stage, that is not the case, except for matters concerning Northern Ireland. In deciding whether to support the amendments, we believe that right hon. and hon. Members should exercise their own judgment, except that we believe that it would be right to leave existing arrangements for Northern Ireland unchanged.

My hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) tabled amendment No. 31, on which my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) and the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) spoke. The House will be aware that at present, in ordinary circumstances, a pregnancy may be terminated only if two doctors are of the opinion, formed in good faith, that an abortion is justified under one or more of the grounds specified in the Abortion Act 1967. The opinion of a single doctor is sufficient in cases where that doctor is of the opinion that abortion is immediately necessary to save the life of or to prevent grave permanent injury to the woman's health.

Amendment No. 31 enables the House to modify that position for pregnancies of 12 weeks or under. My hon. Friend referred to it as a limited, modest and useful measure. Some hon. Members may take that view, but during the debate it has become clear that my hon.. Friends the Members for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) and for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) and the hon. Members for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) and for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) do not regard it in that light.

New clause 1 appears to be intended to allow a woman the right to have an abortion on request up to the 12th week of gestation, regardless of the grounds specified in the 1967 Act, if one registered medical practitioner certifies that the pregnancy has not exceeded that period. New clause 6 and amendment No. 31 do not go as far as new clause 1. They relax the two-doctor requirement and allow the termination of a pregnancy with the consent of one doctor, provided that the requirements of the Act are met and the doctor is of the opinion that the pregnancy has not exceeded 12 weeks. I am advised that, of the two proposals, amendment No. 31 is technically superior to new clause 6 and would achieve its purpose without further amendments to the Act being required.

In considering the new clauses and amendment No. 31, the House has agreed that, when an abortion is carried out —every case is clearly an individual tragedy—it is much better that it takes place early. Although 84 per cent. of abortions were carried out before 12 weeks' gestation in 1988, and in 1989 that figure had increased to 86 per cent., in 1988 some 30,000 abortions took place after the 12th week of pregnancy.

The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) and the hon. Member for Peckham mentioned the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists report which showed that 20 per cent. of abortions done between 20 and 23 weeks' gestation had been referred to a doctor earlier and had then been referred for a second opinion.

Delay can occur at various stages in considering a woman's request for an abortion, and the need to obtain the consent of two doctors can be a contributory factor. Many hon. Members have spelt out the importance of trying to ensure that, when an abortion needs to be carried out, it should happen swiftly and without undue delay. The right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale also made the useful point that a greater public consciousness of the need to take necessary steps before 12 weeks should be encouraged. I can also pass on the medical advice that those terminations that take place after 12 weeks are much more likely to lead to complications, quite apart from the additional stress to the woman.

I shall briefly comment on new clause 5, to which the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) referred. Again the Government remain formally neutral, although it is important to make it clear that we would anticipate a number of difficulties should such a clause gain support.

Hon. Members will know that section 4 of the Abortion Act 1967 already provides that, except where treatment is necessary to save the life of or prevent grave permanent injury to the pregnant woman, no person shall he under any duty whether by contract or by any statutory or other legal requirement, to participate in any treatment authorised by this Act to which he has a conscientious objection". If medical or nursing staff have strong ethical or moral objections to abortion work, they should not be obliged to take it on. Their conscientious objections should not be detrimental to their careers and appointments.

New clause 5 seeks to introduce a statutory notification system. Apart from a number of technical faults, with which I shall not trouble the hon. Lady, it would require very demanding administrative arrangements. Perhaps more important are the implications of making public people's views on a matter on which there are such strongly held feelings. In addition, we have received correspondence from the United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting, expressing grave reservations about the implications of such a system. As the hon. Lady said, although the new clause refers to medical practitioners and not to nurses, it is important to make it clear that they anticipate difficulties with such a system. Similarly, the Royal College of Midwives has informed us that it might well lead to considerable difficulties of recruitment and retention.

Conscientious objection has been considered by the Social Services Select Committee. There are strong views and, of course, the Government will consider the Select Committee report carefully.

I turn now to a subject which has been the source of considerable concern to many hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) spoke forcefully and was supported by his hon. Friends. The 1967 Act, which legalised abortion under certain circumstances, does not extend to Northern Ireland. The provisions of that Act were not originally introduced in Northern Ireland because the Government considered that the reform of social law in the Province was a matter for the Northern Ireland Government. It has been the policy of successive Governments throughout direct rule that Northern Ireland's unique position makes it desirable to re-establish a devolved Administration there.

The Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 provides for a Northern Ireland Assembly to determine its own policy and pass its own legislation on certain matters. The amendment falls clearly within that legislation. Parliament may of course legislate in such matters, but we have always been at pains to tailor such legislation to the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, especially in social legislation, where the values of the people of Northern Ireland may differ from those of people living in England, Wales and Scotland.

To the best of my knowledge, no Northern Ireland Member of Parliament has ever called for changes in the Northern Ireland abortion laws. Similarly, all the soundings of opinion have made it very clear that there is no will in Northern Ireland for such a change. I am informed that my noble Friend Lord Skelmersdale and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland have received more than 2,000 letters on the subject, urging them robustly to resist such a new clause. I strongly urge the House to reject new clause 7, which would be offensive to the overwhelming majority of people in the Province.

I urge the House to support Government amendment No. 54, which is a tidying amendment. There is a contradiction within clause 34, and amendment No. 54 simply excludes clause 34 as it applies to Northern Ireland.

Many hon. Members are seeking to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, who all have strongly held and sincere views on these difficult and sensitive matters. I have sought to confine my remarks to the medical, administrative and legal issues that affect these concerns.

My having made the point about not altering the position on Northern Ireland, it is for hon. Members to weigh up the merits of the new clauses and amendments and to exercise their judgment on behalf of their constituents.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I oppose new clause 5. The Minister inaccurately referred to midwives being affected by it. It does not refer to midwives, and the Royal College of Midwives Trusts was inaccurate in the brief that it circulated to hon. Members.

I appeal to my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) not to press new clause 5, to which many hon. Members are deeply hostile, and I shall explain why. An organisation called the Economic League registers people who take a principled position in conscience on political issues. My hon. Friend said that the new clause is supported by "we on this side", whereas it is supported by some Labour Members but not by me. The new clause sets up a register exactly the same as that organised by the Economic League. Instead of people being registered for their political conscience, they would be listed because of their opinion on abortion. That is quite unacceptable and is against all the traditions of the Labour party, which for decades has prided itself on the libertarian position that it generally takes on all issues.

We are deeply hostile to the new clause. It will lead to the targeting of doctors by minority groups, who will not want certain doctors to be allowed to practise in certain hospitals. Furthermore, it will lead to the emigration of many doctors who will feel, having been placed on the register, that no one will be willing to give them an appointment or interview anywhere in the United Kingdom.

I say to my hon. Friends on the Front Bench—I ask them to listen to what I am saying—please do not press the new clause. It is appalling, it is immoral and it is wrong.

Dame Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

I rise briefly to support the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). I can never recall a public register being drawn up to pillory people who hold certain opinions.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

The Economic League.

Dame Jill Knight

As far as I am aware, the Economic League does not produce a register that is available to the public. The new clause says that the public register should be available for anyone to read.

6.45 pm

Hon. Members have a right to whatever opinion they hold. There are sinister groups, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) and I have good reason to know, who physically attack those who oppose abortion. I have been the victim of an attack and my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point has also been attacked. If the new clause is passed, those vicious people will be able to obtain a list of doctors who have a professional job to do but have a right to their own opinion on how they do their job. Doctors who do not agree with abortion will be targeted mercilessly. It is not only a question of them not being able to get a job in a practice or a hospital because, without question, they would be targeted in a most vicious, wicked and un-British way. The House cannot allow this sinister new clause to be passed.

Dr. Moonie

In the few minutes that I have, I shall give my reasons for supporting several of the new clauses and amendments.

I support new clause I for the simple reason that a balance should be struck in the law between the rights of women and the potential rights of the unborn foetus. The later parts of the Bill provides a reasonable balance between those rights. They recognise that as the pregnancy proceeds the rights of the foetus become paramount. They do not recognise that the rights of the woman should be paramount early on. It is a matter of civil liberties as much as medical reason, and I believe profoundly that a woman should have the right, up to 12 weeks into her pregnancy, to decide whether she wishes to proceed with it.

New clause 6 and amendment No. 31 are almost identical. They provide for a single signature rather than the two signatures that are necessary at present. An argument that has not been advanced thus far should be recognised. When the Abortion Act was passed in 1967, there were disparities in the training of medical practitioners, general practitioners and consultant practitioners in hospitals. That was recognised by the fact that two signatures were required—that of the GP for the initial referral and that of the consultant to signify that he agreed. Medical practice has moved on since that Act was passed and general practitioners are given full and rigorous training before being allowed to take up their position. They are adequately trained and informed to make that judgment without it being subjected to that of a second party. If new clause 1 is not passed, new clause 6 or amendment No. 31 would recognise that fact.

I support new clause 5, and I gave it considerable thought before adding my name to it. The NHS is an expensive resource and it is paid for from my taxes and those of others. People are entitled to receive a full service, but they are also entitled to know who will not provide it so that they may find out who will.

The rights of women have not been mentioned by Conservative Members, but they never are; all they talk about are the rights of unborn children. They do not care about the rights of women, and I certainly will not listen to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight), who gave us her bigoted views, having attended for only five minutes while other hon. Members who had been present longer waited to speak.

I support new clause 7, which deals with the rights of women in Northern Ireland. Women in Northern Ireland who wish to have an abortion should have the same rights as other women in the United Kingdom.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone)

I shall speak to new clauses 1 and 6 and amendment No. 31. I am grateful to the Minister for her comments on the conscience clause and the difficulties that it will cause. I am also grateful for her comments on Northern Ireland.

I bear in mind three points in my opposition to new clauses 1 and 6 and amendment No. 31. If we passed new clause 1, we should be saying that for the first trimester of pregnancy there would no longer be any reason to produce medical grounds for abortion. Whatever may be the failings of the Abortion Act 1967, at least it requires good reasons to be given for abortion. It provides some, albeit paltry, recognition of the fact that the unborn child is special and that abortion is special and cannot be equated with a simple operation, such as having a tooth Out. If we remove the medical grounds, we remove that minimum recognition of the difference between such operations.

I am also concerned about those women who have been neglected in the arguments advanced by the Opposition. I refer to those who receive inadequate counselling and who consequently suffer from post-abortion syndrome. If the signature of only one doctor is needed and abortion becomes immediately and readily available, those women will be less likely to receive good counselling and to be given sufficient time to consider what they are doing.

The argument that has been deployed by the Opposition today is bogus. They argue that if we make early abortion easier, we shall reduce the number of late abortions. I refer not to a pro-life document but to a study published by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists—no friend, in recent years, of the pro-life movement. When the RCOG investigated the causes of late abortion it found that in 30 per cent. of second trimester abortions"— that is the period immediately following the 12 weeks— the major cause of the abortion was not that it had been earlier requested and that there were NHS delays but that in fact there was, very simply, a failure in those early stages to recognise pregnancy. Of the further 50 per cent. that takes us up to 80 per cent.

personal factors were the major cause. They include prolonged indecision, apprehension and, above all, changes in relationships and changes in circumstances.

The report also referred to the large number of foreign women entering the country and inflating the late abortion figures. Perhaps—most sinister of all—the major reason for delay, according to the RCOG, between the 15th and 19th week was the wait for a prostaglandin abortion because the unborn baby must be of a particular size for prostaglandins to be effective. Does that mean that a child should be allowed to grow until it is ready to be aborted? The figures show that the major reason for late abortions is not NHS delays.

As for the figures quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price), for whom I have great respect and with whom I work on many issues, he said that where there is abortion on demand or request up to 12 weeks, a larger number of abortions are performed during those 12 weeks, but he failed to examine the effect on those percentages of the regulations that govern abortions after the 12th week. The tougher the regulations that govern abortions after the 12th week, the more abortions are carried out during the first 12 weeks. The figures for the Netherlands and Britain are close, compared with France, because it is still so easy after the 12th week to obtain abortions in both countries. It is not true that if we make abortion easier in the first trimester we shall reduce late abortions. That is not the governing principle.

We have been told that an overwhelming majority of people believe in abortion on demand in the early stages of pregnancy. A recent Gallup survey—many hon. Members invoke Gallup surveys, so I hope that we shall not hear that there is anything wrong with this one—asked a representative sample of the population a simple question: Do you think that abortion should be made available on demand in some circumstances, or never? Only 24 per cent. of those who were asked that question said that abortion should be available on demand. There is no majority for it.

We fly in the face of public opinion. I urge hon. Members not to be misled by claims that easy early abortions mean fewer late abortions. It does not. Many other factors govern late abortions. We must not further devalue the life of the unborn child, the need for proper counselling and the recognition, paltry though it is in the Act, of the fact that the decision to have an abortion is serious.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

This is the first occasion on which I have spoken in a debate on abortion. I do so in consequence of a recent important decision by the House. It has changed my stance. I am not vain enough to think that the House may be interested in the reasons for my change of stance, but I represent a constituency in which the religious groupings make it necessary for me to spell out why I shall vote in a different Lobby tonight.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) captured yesterday what was rightly called the high moral ground when he referred to the rights of the unborn child. The debate can be polarised in that way. However, we should examine our moral actions from a different standpoint. Sometimes it helps to stand back from the issue that we are discussing and consider another one on which people, faced with a difficult issue, had to come to a moral decision.

Bishop Bell of Chichester adopted the absolutist stance that to bomb Germany was wrong, and he deployed his argument powerfully. In a sense, a similar argument has been deployed tonight. At that time, the pilots, and the men and women who had to service the aircraft, had to take a moral decision. According to the records, we now know that many of those people were immensely troubled. They did not regard it in absolutist terms but as a choice between two evils: letting the Nazis win or taking part in an activity that they did not like. They carried out their duty.

The Minister for Health said that there is an element of tragedy in every abortion. That starting point unites the whole House. On earlier occasions we have debated means by which the number of tragedies can be reduced. Some people believe that we should make it more difficult for women to have abortions. It is clear from the way that the House speaks and votes that that is not an option.

In the messy area of not being absolutist but of having to choose between alternatives, I believe it to be right to go for earlier rather than for late abortion. We should make it harder for late abortions to take place, but that option is not before the House tonight.

We must link family planning to the debate about abortion. We all know in our hearts that if we had a fraction of the campaign and the lobbying force that has rightly supported the issue of abortion behind the issue of family planning, things would be very different. If we could move on the family planning front as well, the tragedies to which the Minister for Health referred—tragedies which unite the House—could be reduced. The number of women coming forward for abortions could be significantly reduced.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)


It being Seven o'clock, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to the Order [2 April] and the Resolution [20 June], to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

The House divided: Ayes 159, Noes 264.

Division No. 250] [7 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Foster, Derek
Adley, Robert Foulkes, George
Allen, Graham Fraser, John
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Fyfe, Maria
Armstrong, Hilary Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Ashton, Joe George, Bruce
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Gill, Christopher
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Glyn, Dr Sir Alan
Barron, Kevin Golding, Mrs Llin
Beckett, Margaret Gould, Bryan
Blunkett, David Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Boateng, Paul Harman, Ms Harriet
Boyes, Roland Haselhurst, Alan
Bradley, Keith Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Haynes, Frank
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Hood, Jimmy
Buck, Sir Antony Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Caborn, Richard Howells, Geraint
Callaghan, Jim Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Hoyle, Doug
Carr, Michael Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Cartwright, John Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Clay, Bob Illsley, Eric
Clelland, David Ingram, Adam
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Janner, Greville
Cohen, Harry Jones, Martyn (Clwyd SW)
Coleman, Donald Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Colvin, Michael Lambie, David
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Leadbitter, Ted
Cousins, Jim Leighton, Ron
Cox, Tom Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Dalyell, Tam Litherland, Robert
Darling, Alistair Livingstone, Ken
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Loyden, Eddie
Dobson, Frank McAllion, John
Doran, Frank MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth McKelvey, William
Eastham, Ken McLeish, Henry
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Madden, Max
Fatchett, Derek Mahon. Mrs Alice
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Marek, Dr John
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Marland, Paul
Fisher, Mark Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Flannery, Martin Maxton, John
Flynn, Paul Meacher, Michael
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Forth, Eric Miscampbell, Norman
Mitchell, Sir David Soley, Clive
Moonie, Dr Lewis Squire, Robin
Morgan, Rhodri Steinberg, Gerry
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Strang, Gavin
Mowlam, Marjorie Straw, Jack
Mullin, Chris Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Nellist, Dave Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis
O'Brien, William Townend, John (Bridlington)
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Tredinnick, David
Patchett, Terry Turner, Dennis
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Primarolo, Dawn Walley, Joan
Quin, Ms Joyce Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Radice, Giles Wareing, Robert N.
Rhodes James, Robert Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Richardson, Jo Wells, Bowen
Robinson, Geoffrey Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Rogers, Allan Wigley, Dafydd
Rooker, Jeff Wilkinson, John
Rowe, Andrew Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Sedgemore, Brian Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Winnick, David
Shore, Rt Hon Peter Young, David (Bolton SE)
Short, Clare
Skinner, Dennis Tellers for the Ayes:
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E) Miss Kate Hoey and Mrs. Teresa Gorman.
Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Chapman, Sydney
Allason, Rupert Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Alton, David Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Amess, David Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Amos, Alan Cope, Rt Hon John
Arbuthnot, James Cormack, Patrick
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Critchley, Julian
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Cummings, John
Ashby, David Cunliffe, Lawrence
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Currie, Mrs Edwina
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Davis, David (Boothferry)
Baldry, Tony Day, Stephen
Batiste, Spencer Devlin, Tim
Beggs, Roy Dewar, Donald
Beith, A. J. Dixon, Don
Bell, Stuart Dorrell, Stephen
Bellingham, Henry Douglas, Dick
Bendall, Vivian Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Dover, Den
Benyon, W. Dunn, Bob
Blackburn, Dr John G. Dunnachie, Jimmy
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Durant, Tony
Body, Sir Richard Evennett, David
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Fallon, Michael
Boswell, Tim Favell, Tony
Bottomley, Peter Fearn, Ronald
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Fishburn, John Dudley
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Forman, Nigel
Bowis, John Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Fox, Sir Marcus
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Franks, Cecil
Brazier, Julian Freeman, Roger
Bright, Graham French, Douglas
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Gale, Roger
Buckley, George J. Galloway, George
Budgen, Nicholas Garel-Jones, Tristan
Burns, Simon Godman, Dr Norman A.
Burt, Alistair Gow, Ian
Butler, Chris Green way, Harry (Ealing N)
Butterfill, John Gregory, Conal
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Grocott, Bruce
Canavan, Dennis Ground, Patrick
Carrington, Matthew Grylls, Michael
Cash, William Hague, William
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hanley, Jeremy
Hannam, John Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hardy, Peter Morrison, Sir Charles
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Moss, Malcolm
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Moynihan, Hon Colin
Harris, David Murphy, Paul
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Neubert, Michael
Hayward, Robert Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Norris, Steve
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Hill, James O'Brien, William
Hind, Kenneth Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley
Hordern, Sir Peter Oppenheim, Phillip
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Paice, James
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Paisley, Rev Ian
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Parry, Robert
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Patnick, Irvine
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath)
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Pawsey, James
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hume, John Pendry, Tom
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Pike, Peter L.
Hunter, Andrew Porter, David (Waveney)
Irvine, Michael Powell, William (Corby)
Irving, Sir Charles Price, Sir David
Jack, Michael Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Jackson, Robert Rathbone, Tim
Janman, Tim Redmond, Martin
Jessel, Toby Redwood, John
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Reid, Dr John
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn) Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Kennedy, Charles Roe, Mrs Marion
Key, Robert Ross, William (Londonderry E)
Kilfedder, James Rossi, Sir Hugh
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Rowlands, Ted
Kirkwood, Archy Rumbold, Mrs Angela
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
Lang, Ian Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Latham, Michael Sillars, Jim
Lawrence, Ivan Skeet, Sir Trevor
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh) Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Soames, Hon Nicholas
Lewis, Terry Speed, Keith
Lightbown, David Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Lilley, Peter Stanbrook, Ivor
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Stevens, Lewis
Lord, Michael Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)
McCrea, Rev William Stokes, Sir John
McCrindle, Robert Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Macfarlane, Sir Neil Sumberg, David
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Summerson, Hugo
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Maclennan, Robert Taylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford)
McLoughlin, Patrick Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael Temple-Morris, Peter
McNamara, Kevin Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Malins, Humfrey Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Mallon, Seamus Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Mans, Keith Thornton, Malcolm
Marlow, Tony Tracey, Richard
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Trimble, David
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Twinn, Dr Ian
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Mates, Michael Walden, George
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Wallace, James
Meyer, Sir Anthony Waller, Gary
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute) Ward, John
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Moate, Roger Watts, John
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Monro, Sir Hector Whitney, Ray
Widdecombe, Ann Yeo, Tim
Wilkinson, John
Wilshire, David Tellers for the Noes:
Wood, Timothy Mrs. Ann Winterton and Mr. A. E. P. Duffy.
Woodcock, Dr. Mike

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

I will now ask the Secretary of State to say which amendments he intends to move so that a Division can be called on them in this group.

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)

As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, votes can be taken at this stage only on the motion of the Minister, in line with the timetable motion, and I intend to follow the practice that I explained yesterday of moving for a vote the amendments on which the hon. Members who tabled them have told me that they would like a vote. They are amendment No. 31 and new clause 5, both of which are subject to a free vote for Conservative Members, and amendment No. 54, on which we shall urge Conservative Members to vote in favour.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions on amendments and new clauses, moved by a member of the Government, of which notice had been given, to that part of the Bill to be concluded at Seven o'clock.

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