HL Deb 22 February 1966 vol 273 cc92-112

2.47 p.m.

Order of the Day for receiving the Report of Amendments read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Report he now received. This is a Report from the Committee stage, and I had hoped that this would be a straightforward Report stage in the usual way. But your Lordships will remember that I gave an undertaking that the Bill would be looked at again after the Committee stage, in conjunction with Parliamentary draftsmen, so that many of the difficulties of drafting could be remedied. Unfortunately, this has involved a good deal of redrafting, and the Bill in form, although not in actual content, is rather different from the Bill, with the Amendments, which emerged from the Committee stage.

It has been represented to me that although the Amendments which I put down were available to noble Lords on Friday morning, that did not give adequate time for Amendments to be moved to the revised wording. There is, of course, some force in that. There is also the point that some of the Amendments which have been put down are no longer applicable to the revised wording, if that wording proves acceptable. I therefore feel that it would be fair to the House to deal with as many Amendments as possible, and perhaps come to a decision on them, particularly those which do not affect the form of the Bill. In some cases, they are merely a repetition of what has been debated before, but under new names, while others are purely drafting. As to the rest, while one may make a comment about them, I will not move the Amendments in my name, and I hope that other noble Lords will take the same course, so far as their Amendments are no longer applicable to the revised wording. Then at the end of the proceedings I propose to move that the Bill be recommitted to a Committee of the Whole House.

I hope that this course will commend itself to your Lordships. It will involve a saving of time to-day, but it will mean that further time will have to be given to the Bill later. I would only say to my noble friend and to his corresponding number on the other side, that if we proceed in this way, the Bill will have been fully threshed out by the time we have passed the Committee stage again, and we could then move quickly towards a Report stage and Third Reading.

Moved, That the Report be now received.—(Lord Silkin.)

2.50 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened with interest to what the noble Lord has said. Of course, if this Motion is carried we shall be starting a Report stage to-day. I took special care to see that I got the noble Lord's Amend- ments as soon as possible. I received them on Saturday morning, and I was able to draft Amendments and send them back so that they reached this House on Monday. Those were Amendments to the noble Lord's Amendments, and I do not think it is ever easy or satisfactory to deal with Amendments to Amendments.

I cannot entirely agree with the noble Lord that the changes be proposes are just matters of drafting. For instance, he has left out the provision requiring the consent of the woman and, indeed, there is an Amendment down in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, to provide for that in somewhat different wording. But it is the case that some of the Amendments tabled before the noble Lord's Amendments were tabled, would, as I understand it, fall. So far as I am concerned, I think the course which the noble Lord recommends is a convenient one. I gather that our discussion would then proceed almost immediately to a discussion of Amendment No. 5, which is in the name of the noble Baroness, and Amendment No. 6, on which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and I are for once in agreement. Therefore, I would assume that on Amendment No. 6 there need be no debate. I should also like the opportunity of moving Amendment No. 2, just to bring a point to the attention of the noble Lord and of the House, in the hope that the noble Lord could deal with the matter by the Re-committal stage and to give him the opportunity of tabling the necessary Amendment for that. Of course, this is a matter entirely for the House, but I must say that I should have thought we could deal with this matter more conveniently if we took the course the noble Lord has suggested.


My Lords, I must confess that I find this procedure rather odd; and it is not the first time that I have found the procedure of your Lordships' House a little odd. Some of us have come here at great personal difficulty in order to move Amendments to which we attach great importance, and we now learn, without any notice whatever, that these Amendments are to be postponed to next Monday, which for us may or may not be a convenient day on which to move them. I personally feel very strongly, not only about Amendment No. 5, which I understand it is proposed to take to-day, but equally about Amendments Nos. 9, 10 and 11, which stand in the name of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne. I should have thought that, in view of the fact that the House has been convened in order to discuss these Amendments to-day, it would be right and proper that they should be discussed to-day and not postponed to a day of which we have had no notice.


My Lords, what I have to say is not in contravention of the proposed course because, as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, knows, I wish well to this Bill in some form or another. What has happened is something which has long been a grievance which affects every Member of your Lordships' House who does not sit on a Front Bench. This Bill came before your Lordships and was read a second time in one form; your Lordships discussed it in Committee in quite a different form, and now we are to have a Report stage on the form as amended in Committee. But in the interval the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has had the advantage of the assistance of Parliamentary draftsmen, and he is to move that the Bill be re-committed and that your Lordships consider it in Committee in the new form. As the noble Lord, Lady Wootton of Abinger, has so clearly said, I submit that that procedure is very unfair to your Lordships, although I know that your Lordships are capable of dealing efficiently with it, notwithstanding the disadvantages.

However, the point I wish to make is this. The Back Benchers in your Lordships' House have never been able to have the assistance of Parliamentary draftsmen in drawing up measures which they wished to submit to your Lordships for approval. The Back Benchers in your Lordships' House are conscious of a deeply felt grievance which they would like to put right by legislation; and the best way to do it is to consider what form that legislation should take. We have always asked whether we could have the services of Parliamentary draftsmen, and we have always been refused. I must say, in favour of the Government, that for the last year or two they have been much more helpful in this matter. I should like the Government to con- sider this, because it would make your Lordships' House much more efficient. It would prevent useless debates on matters which could not be dealt with, and it would assist a great many matters which ought properly to be dealt with.

What I should like to suggest is that some form of assistance to your Lordships from a Parliamentary draftsman should be provided. The ordinary Parliamentary draftsmen are much too busy, but if there were an Officer of your Lordships' House skilled in Parliamentary drafting who could be at the service of those Back Benchers, then I think it would greatly contribute to the efficiency of your Lordships, and would be a great boon to Back Benchers, and something they have always desired. I hope that the Government will consider this suggestion. Had the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, had the advantage of such assistance in the first place in relation to this Bill, this curious form of procedure would not have been necessary. We should have had a Bill which was properly drafted and we could have dealt with it on that basis. As it is, it was only last Friday that the Parliamentary draftsmen exercised their talent on it and entirely reorganised the Bill. I hope the Government will be sympathetic to this suggestion and come to our assistance.


My Lords, perhaps I ought to say one word on the last point, which the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, mentioned to me just before we came into the House. I think it would be quite impossible for any Government to promise to give unconditional assistance to any Back Bencher or non-Governmental Member who wished to bring forward an Amendment. I think that would be quite outside the bounds of possibility. I think that all the Government of the day can do is to be as liberal as possible, which I am glad to think this Government are being in the assistance they provide. But, as the noble Lord is aware, the work of the Parliamentary draftsmen is about as complex a job as any in the country. They are in short supply, and it would be quite impossible to express general sympathy with the noble Lord's proposition, although it will be considered.


My Lords, I did not suggest that the normal staff of Parliamentary draftsmen should be engaged in this way. I suggested that it should be an extra Parliamentary draftsman on the staff of the House, who would rapidly acquire the necessary skill.


That may well be so, but this gentleman would have to be at least as expert as the ordinary Parliamentary draftsman if he were to do the job.


My Lords, I am in sympathy with the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, on the problems of procedure. I came here in order to take part in this debate—I wish I were more free to take a part in your Lordships' proceedings. In this case, some of us were prepared to discuss some aspects of the Bill, and some others. We could do the best we can to-day, and get as far as we can, and let the future look after itself.


My Lords, may I suggest a solution? I had tabled Amendments, which do not appear on the Marshalled List because I withdrew them on hearing that the whole of this Bill, apart from these particular provisions, would be re-committed. There is one Amendment I have tabled which I think would take precedence over the noble Lady's Amendment although it was to the same effect as her Amendment to Clause 2—namely, Amendment No. 9. It is a distinct and separate issue and it is bound to arise some time, and if it suits the noble Lady's convenience I would suggest that perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, would agree that we should take that to-day, immediately after Amendment No. 6, and re-commit the rest.


My Lords, I do not think there is any difference in principle about this. It is largely a matter of drafting. I am advised that it is the normal practice in the medical profession for doctors to carry out operations after obtaining the consent of the patient, and that there is no need to provide for it specifically in legislation. Members of the medical profession will be able to confirm that or otherwise. If that is so, then that is the reason why no reference is made to getting the written consent of the patient or guardian, but that is all there is between us. There is no inten- tion that doctors should take it upon themselves to carry out abortions without the consent of the patient. It is only a matter of wording.

As to the rest, I am sorry that my noble friend is inconvenienced, but I have been pushed around from all sides. I was quite ready to go on with the Report stage to-day in the normal way, but I have had strong representations made to me that it would be unfair and that noble Lords were being deprived of the opportunity of moving Amendments to the revised draft, and I think that is right. If, on the other hand, your Lordships would prefer to go right ahead, I am willing to do so.


My Lords, may I put this to the noble Lord? I think his late tabling of Amendments, which I have no doubt he could not help, has created a difficulty. Amendments have been tabled to those Amendments which do not appear on the Marshalled List, but that does not apply to Amendments 5, 6 and 9. Why should we not deal with those Amendments and with Nos. 10 and 11 if we have time, because they are connected with Amendment No. 9, and leave the Amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for consideration next Monday?


My Lords, I should be perfectly well satisfied if we could take to-day Amendments 5, 6, 9, 10 and 11. I do not think my noble friend can really say that the Amendments dealing with the consent of a woman to abortion are matters of drafting. They involve very grave matters of principle. Abortion is not like any other surgical operation, and I do not think that those Amendments can be pushed to one side.


My Lords, perhaps I may rise to make one comment about this. We are faced with a Marshalled List and it is the practice of the House that all Amendments are called. Therefore, if we were to proceed on the basis that I believe the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has suggested and to which the noble Lady has agreed, we should have to use (shall I say?) some restraint in this matter in that we should take up only those Amendments that we have agreed to do. If I may say so, as Chief Whip I am in some slight difficulty. As the House will be aware, we have considerable business in front of us, and if we are to have a protracted discussion to-day and then to have the Bill recommitted next Monday, and then have to go through another long procedure in order to discuss points, other important business is bound to be delayed or to be dealt with at an hour which is unfair, not only to the interests of those who have to take part but to the subject involved. Bearing in mind that all these Amendments would have to be called, I would hope that your Lordships could come to a decision now which the House would accept and would then respond only when those particular Amendments were called.


My Lords, I would support that. The noble Lady mentioned Nos. 5, 6, 9, 10 and 11. I think Nos. 9, 10 and 11 could be discussed together. I did say that I should like to say a word or two on Amendment No. 2.


My Lords, the noble and learned Viscount has referred to Amendment No. 6, on which he was glad to find that we were in agreement, but in fact that Amendment is only a paving Amendment to No. 7, as he will realise, and it would be unfair to discuss No. 6 by itself, without also discussing No. 7. Amendment No. 7 gives rise to the important principle in the Bill of an abortion on a girl under sixteen. The point then is whether or not we want to discuss this to-day. I am perfectly willing to do so, but it would be quite wrong merely to delete paragraph (d) without putting in what I have proposed in substitution for it. I would suggest that we should leave that for another day.


My Lords, if the noble Lord takes that view I do not mind leaving Amendment No. 6 over until another day, but before he can move Amendment No. 7 he has to carry Amendment No. 6. I am sorry he seems to resent the fact that, for once, our names appear on the same Amendment, but the fact is that if we have got rid of paragraph(d)we shall be making some progress in the direction that he wants. I should be content to deal with that to-day, but it is entirely up to him; if he does not want it, I do not mind.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Clause 1:

Medical termination of pregnancy

1. Subject to the provisions of this Act it shall be lawful for a registered medical practitioner to terminate a pregnancy:

Provided that two registered medical practitioners, being either the pregnant woman's regular doctor and a registered medical practitioner employed in a hospital under the National Health Service or two registered medical practitioners so employed, certify in writing that in their opinion the termination of the pregnancy is necessary on the ground that—

  1. (a) the continuance of the pregnancy would involve serious risk to the life or grave injury to the health whether physical or mental of the pregnant woman whether before at or after the birth of the child; Or
  2. (b) the child if born would be likely to suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to deprive it of any prospect of reasonable enjoyment of life; or
  3. (c) the pregnant woman is or will be physically or mentally inadequate to be the mother of a child or of another child as the case may be; or
  4. (d) the pregnant woman is a defective o became pregnant when under the age of sixteen or as the result of intercourse which was an offence under section 128 of the Mental Health Act 1959 or section 97 of the Mental Health (Scotland) Act 1960 (relating to sexual intercourse with patients).

3.8 p.m.

VISCOUNT DILHORNEmoved, after the first "shall" to insert "only". The noble and learned Viscount said: My Lords, I said that I wanted to say a word on this particular Amendment. I think it is the general desire of the House that a Statute should clearly lay down in what circumstances and on what grounds a pregnancy may lawfully be terminated, and that this Statute should replace the Common Law as it is now understood sinceBourne's case.As the Bill stands, and as it would stand if all the Amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, were accepted, it would be lawful to terminate a pregnancy either under the Common Law as it now is or under this Bill if it becomes an Act.

I am sure that most of those who supported this Bill on Second Reading felt that if it were passed abortions would be legal only if the provisions of the Bill were complied with. If that be so, then there should be some provision in the Bill annulling the Common Law provisions, so that if the Bill is enacted, what is done lawfully can be done only under the terms of the Bill, whereas unless there is such provision it can be done either under the Common Law, under theBourne'case decision, or under the Bill. I would ask the noble Lord to consider that point and I think he will find it necessary to table some provision to make that clear. Effect would have been given to it by the insertion of the word "only" as proposed by this Amendment, but, in fact, that Amendment would fall if Amendment No. 1 was discussed. I move this Amendment only to draw attention to this point.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 5 after (" shall ") insert (" only ").—(Viscount Dilhorne.)


My Lords, the noble and learned Viscount is not pursuing this Amendment. I am quite willing to consider it and to seek advice on it, but I should like to understand whether he is laying clown a doctrine, that where there is Case Law which is subsequently translated into Statute, all the Case Law falls to the ground and cannot thereafter be relied upon. Is that the point he is trying to make?


My Lords, I am sorry if, by trying to deal with it very briefly, I have not made myself clear. I thought, and certainly it was my desire, to see Common Law replaced by statutory provisions in the clearest terms. I say "replaced". That means that what you will have to look at for the law is the Act of Parliament, not cases decided before the Act of Parliament came into existence. I think it would be confusing, to say the least, if after this Bill was enacted you could look at the statutory provisions and say, "It is lawful under the Statute, but over and above that I can act independently of the Statute, without following the procedure laid down by the Statute, without reporting the matter to the chief medical officer, under the decisions of the Common Law inBourne'case and subsequent cases."


My Lords, the noble and learned Viscount has made his intentions perfectly clear, and I am grateful to him for raising it now with the object of considering it again on recommittal; because this is an extremely im- portant matter. This word "only", if inserted in the Bill, will be a change of major significance. I would submit for your Lordships' consideration one or two possible consequences. If we are to have provisions such as the noble and learned Viscount has suggested, there will be other consequential Amendments which I am sure will be necessary. For example, if the noble and learned Viscount will just read the clause with his phrase, he will see that it will read: Subject to the provisions of this Act it shall only be lawful for a registered medical practitioner to terminate a pregnancy … if the conditions set out in the Bill are satisfied. In other words, it would be this Bill and nothing else—not the Common Law. It would appear in that case that it would exclude a doctor inducing childbirth. These are the kind of matters that should be considered. Artificially induced childbirth is, of course, termination of pregnancy. Another possibility arises in regard to Amendment No. 1. It has not been moved, but next Monday we shall be considering a different form of words beginning the Bill. Circumstances may arise where it may be necessary, in order to save a life, to waive not only the place of the operation but the need for a concurring opinion. There is another Amendment on the Order Paper, which we are not taking to-day but which might be ruled out by the word "only" unless we had yet another Amendment.


My Lords, I might save a little time by saying I was not proposing to argue this Amendment to-day. I put the word "only", as I thought conveniently, for raising this very important point. All I am seeking to secure is that there is consideration of what I think is a very important question, namely, that you do not have abortions lawfully performed under the Common Law and also lawfully performed under the Statute intended to replace the Common Law. How it is achieved is perhaps a matter we can discuss on Monday. I was not seeking to argue it or to say that this Amendment was the best for the purpose.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Viscount. I did understand that. The position is that in the view of the Government it is advisable to make it clear to-day that when you make a thing exclusive there are all sorts of considerations which then arise which might have to be covered, and we have not yet had time to consider all the possibilities from the medical point of view. For example, there are some 2,800 therapeutic abortions in hospitals. Many of them might not be covered by the Bill if we had the word "only" in it. I would say, therefore, that before accepting this position we should have to be certain that all circumstances in which abortion could properly be performed had been covered. I hope that all these considerations will be borne in mind before next Monday when we come to this matter again.


I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.14 p.m.

BARONESS WOOTTON OF ABINGERmoved to leave out paragraph (c). The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I very much regret that for urgent personal reasons I was not able to be present in your Lordships' House at the earlier stages of this Bill, and I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I take this opportunity of making abundantly clear that I am not opposed in any sense to the intention of this Bill. Indeed, I should greatly welcome the Bill; no one would welcome more than I a Bill which did something effective to get rid of the back-street abortion. I would assure my noble friend that I am entirely with him in his intention on this. What I do criticise is the fact that I think this Bill has gone very much beyond this and into fields into which we are not justified in entering.

The particular provision to which I now take exception is paragraph (c), which provides that an abortion may be performed if the pregnant woman is or will be physically or mentally inadequate to be the mother of a child or of another child …

This is a very profound decision for anybody to make about anybody else: that that other person is not, or will not be in nine months' time, physically or mentally fit to be the mother of a child. I doubt very much whether many of your Lordships would like to make that decision in an individual capacity; and if we are not prepared to make it in an individual capacity we should think more than once about making it in our collective capacity. At the Committee stage my noble friend Lord Silkin quoted a number of possible examples in which he felt that that decision might well be rightly made. But in making a provision of this kind we have to think not only of when the decision will be rightly made but, equally, when it might be wrongly made.

Let me put to your Lordships what I think is a by no means unlikely case. Suppose there is a husband who is selfish—and there are selfish husbands—who does not wish to be bothered with children, who does not wish to have the expense of providing for children. And suppose that, when he finds that his wife has become pregnant, he sees the family doctor and tells him that his wife is extremely neurotic, is not fit to be a mother, and gives a certain amount of information which perhaps would support that view. This paragraph lays upon the doctor an extraordinary burden of responsibility in assessing the validity of that information. Unless he is intimately acquainted with the family, and unless the second doctor who is called in is equally intimately connected with the family—which is very improbable—neither of them will be in a position to assess that information. The doctor may feel that there are great tensions in the marriage, and that the fact of the pregnancy is going to aggravate those tensions, and that, in the interests of the marriage, it might be better to terminate the pregnancy. And the woman herself may give her consent (although my noble friend intends later, I think, to move an Amendment removing the explicit requirement of consent) merely because she feels that this is the only way to make peace in the home.

That is not an improbable situation. It is perhaps a situation which we have all known in our personal experience. I do not think that it is a responsibility which ought to be put on the doctor, or that the doctor is able in certain cases to discharge it with full knowledge of all the circumstances. My noble friend quoted in Committee a large number of cases in which he felt that this principle would be properly applied. Some of them he may probably be anxious to reconsider. I think that when he referred to shoplifters he was perhaps carried a little too far by his own eloquence. But among the cases quoted was that of a woman who is married to a drunken and ne'er-do-well husband. Can you imagine its being actually laid down that a woman who is married to a drunken and ne'er-do-well husband is physically and mentally inadequate to be a mother? It might be reasonable to write into this Bill a provision that her husband is physically and mentally inadequate to be a father; but no such suggestion has been made.


I did not write this into the Bill. There is nothing in the Bill about that at all.


This is one of the examples which my noble friend quoted, and it is one of the situations which he contemplated. If what my noble friend said in Committee is to be carried out in fact, a woman who is in that position may find that she is marked as being physically and mentally inadequate to be a mother.

There were also a number of references to slum conditions, to women who have a number of childen in slum conditions, and to what we call problem families. We know that it is distressing that many children are born into physical and environmental conditions which are deeply regrettable. But I should have thought that we were tackling this problem from entirely the wrong end, and that particularly my noble friends on these Benches were doing so. What we are concerned about is the removal of slum conditions rather than the removal of the birth of children. After all, it is something which my noble friends on these Benches have stood for for a good many years. It is also true that many children who are born into what are, physically and environmentally, unsatisfactory conditions—let us admit it—are greatly loved. I have known many problem families which show much greater warmth and affection than others who were entirely respectable and in which all the beds were made by mid-day—a test which is sometimes applied, I think, in determining the standard of a family.

I believe that we can learn something from experience in another field, that of adoptions. In that field we are much stricter—perhaps illogically, perhaps rightly—about parents who may adopt a child than about parents who may beget a child. But we can learn something from experience of adoptions. I have taken part in a large number of adoptions. I recall one or two cases in which, I must say, I and my colleagues took what one can only regard as a big risk; and the risk has paid off. I recall one case in which a couple who had a long criminal record, including a record for criminal abortion, for keeping a brothel and for keeping a child in a brothel, wished to adopt a child. Rather surprisingly, having review the whole circumstances, the court made the adoption order. I have kept in touch with that case. The child is now grown up and the adoption has been an absolutely "corking" success. The child has turned out admirably. The parents have abandoned all their criminal ways and are living extremely useful and respectable lives, largely owing to the child's influence.

You may say, that in a case like this the child did not share the biological inheritance of the parents. Actually, I think the child probably did, because I think it was a relative—but we let that pass. But in many of the cases which my noble friend Lord Silkin quoted, no biological inheritance would have been shared. So far as I know, shoplifting is not biologically inherited.


It could be.


My noble friend says that it could be. To me, this is a new and revealing line about the limits of biology. I think that this is a serious matter. It affects profoundly the liberty of the individual, and a vital liberty of the individual.

What this provision, as it stands, really proposes to do is to say that people of whom we do not approve are not to propagate, and to lay upon the medical profession the responsibility of deciding of whom we do approve and of whom we do not approve. I do not think that this is a responsibility that many of the most distinguished members of the medical profession wish to carry. In that opinion I am reinforced by the name of the noble Lord, Lord Brain, in support of this Amendment; and I think and hope that I may claim also the support of the noble Lord, Lord Amulree. This is not a responsibility that they wish to carry. It is not a responsibility that they ought to carry, because in this responsibility much more than medical issues are involved. Moral and social issues are involved. It is not for us, and it is not for the doctors, in the present state of knowledge—perhaps not in any state of knowledge—to say who is to have the right to propagate children and who has not. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 20, leave out paragraph (c).—(Baroness Wootton of Abinger.)

3.28 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to support the noble Baroness in the deletion of this paragraph. Let me first refer to the place of this paragraph in the Bill as a whole. During the Committee stage the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, went so far as to say that this is about the most important clause in the Bill—in fact, the only thing which makes much difference. I think that that judgment should be challenged. What, then, is the rest of the Bill for? What, then, has been the point of the many hours spent, carefully, on all the other provisions of the Bill? Quite obviously, the Bill has considerable value. Parts of it have much value to my own views on this matter, quite apart from this provision which some of us believe to be most undesirable.

I note that the Bill on this subject that has been introduced into another place lacks this provision; yet it is evidently thought worthwhile by its promotors. My own belief is that the paragraph we are discussing is so bad that, if it is allowed to remain, it will vitiate the Bill. I was sorry that I had to be absent during the greater part of the debate on the Committee stage; but when, while addressing an audience in another part of the country, I was asked for my views on this subject, I said that I greatly deprecated this paragraph as it seemed to me to admit abortion for almost anything. I subsequently asked myself if those words had been an exaggeration. But then I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Cones-ford, who always uses words with great care, went further than my "almost anything" by using the phrase "absolutely anything ". Are phrases like that really exaggerations or not?

I noted very carefully the various forms of inadequacy in the mother that were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and it is important to remember that the catalogue was not necessarily an exhaustive one. These were specimens of the inadequacy about which he was pleading—the woman in prison, the woman who is a persistent offender, the woman who is a shoplifter, the alcoholic, the drug-taker, the woman who has to go out to work in hard circumstances; and illnesses which, while they do not effect the pregnancy itself, will nevertheless make her less able to bear the burdens of motherhood.

It is important to analyse this variety of grounds and see the variety of principle behind them. The varieties of priciple are these: the woman physically strong but in sad moral circumstances; the woman with certain defects of character; the woman who is very unhealthy; the woman with hard physical circumstances in her life, and the woman with various illnesses. This big variety of categories will provide the case for abortion. While I think it would be an exaggeration to say that the categories amount to "almost anything ", or "absolutely anything ", it seems inevitable that for the forming of a judgment on the rightness of the abortion in any of these cases an almost unlimited range of considerations will come into view. What sort of judgment is the doctor to be asked to make?—not only a medical judgment coming under paragraph (a ), but judgments about the woman's moral state, about her social relationships, about her economic position, and about her future moral and spiritual capacity, which is a matter concerning which human powers of prophecy are very limited indeed. It seems inevitable that there is going to be arbitrariness if the doctor or a group of doctors form a judgment on this whole range of human circumstances.

What about the child and what about the mother? Society must do its utmost to help both in all the sorts of circumstances to which the noble Lord referred. But one recalls children born of pretty unhappy circumstances. Society has cared for them, and they have turned out to be happy and useful, and it seems impossible to say that the fœtus ought originally to have been destroyed. As for the mother, I feel the utmost sympathy with the mother in many of the circumstances described; and I am sure we can all understand that human sympathy is equally divided on both sides of the discussion about this Clause. We have all had to help people at different times in heartbreaking circumstances, and I think that the sympathies of all of us have had a very great deal of experience. Because I feel that sympathy, I was very glad to hear it stated by the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, with his great medical competence—and one gets this from other medical evidence, too—that the hard cases of danger to life and health mentioned by the noble Lord would sufficiently come within Clause 1(a). That is very reassuring indeed.

I will say a word more about sympathy. I believe that a true sympathy with human nature includes a certain reverence for its capacity to overcome troubles with the aid of society and with the spiritual help that God can give. I think it would be undesirable to legislate in disregard of these lovely factors about human nature. I had brought with me one or two stories from my own personal experience about mothers quite well known to me, who would certainly have been ruled out as inadequate—and yet the final issue was good and glorious. But the illustrations given by the noble Baroness were to my mind so good and so convincing, that I have no wish to add to them at all.

I want this Bill to pass. My fear is that the inclusion of this paragraph will make the Bill a Bill that will not deserve to pass. I have little doubt that in the Committee stage a number of noble Lords voted for this paragraph, and against the Amendment to delete it, in the belief that it was somehow progressive: that it was a sign of being progressive to support this particular part of the legislation. I do not believe that this paragraph is the way of progress at all. I believe the way of progress is along the line of that limited legislative provision concerning abortion on which the distinctions are carefully drawn in the document known to some of your Lordships, which I believe it to be a very valuable document, calledAbortion—An Ethical Discussion.I think the way of progress lies along a limited legislation on that path, and in doing far more for the helping of homes and mothers to avoid the troubles coming, and, when they do come, to show what human nature can do with the aid of the spiritual resources available and with all the help that society can give.

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that I may follow with a sense of due seriousness and responsibility of what has already been said. If I take and endeavour to support the contrary view, it is not because of any sense that this is either a trivial matter, or indeed a matter upon which the advocacy of various reasons for which this particular provision should not operate is sufficient to justify a negation of this clause. In listening to my noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger it seemed to me that she spent a great deal of her time saying that in certain circumstances, as I entirely agree, it would be highly improper to regard this clause as operative. This does not necessarily deal with those particular issues which might make the clause operative, and in my judgment would do so—questions of acute alcoholism, questions of chronic sickness aggravated by numerous pregnancies.

It seems to me that this has to be faced in the first instance as a matter of principle, because the whole conception of abortion is rooted in principle, or rather it is rooted in what has been assumed to be principle, the Christian principle; that it is inherently sinful because the semen is the vital fluid and the woman, traditionally, is merely the receptacle of this vitality, and because of the sacrosanct nature of the fœtus. This argument reminds me of the schoolboy's report which read, "This boy's writing has now so vastly improved that we can at last see how very bad his work is". The more critically this particular and traditional principle is examined, the more insupportable it becomes in the light of what we are pleased to call modern scientific knowledge.

I think it would be honest and right for us who are churchmen to admit that we have got ourselves into a mess. Having disposed of one series of arguments, we have not yet taken sufficient trouble to arrive at a better system of arguments. The disarray in the Church Assembly, which would be paralleled, I am quite sure, in the Methodist Conference if we were to be exposed to the same kind of argument, suggests that we have not sufficiently thought out what is the position which must take the place of that traditional attitude which is now insupportable and must necessarily be rejected.

It seems to me that here is a breach in the traditional principle. When once you admit that for any reason at all an abortion is justifiable, then the matter no longer becomes an absolute question. It is circumstantial and speculative, and for various reasons we have to ask ourselves what are the conditions in which abortions are justifiable, because in some conditions they are. I believe there is good cause for believing that such reasons as are found in this clause are justifiable. As the noble Lord, Lord Reay, said very cogently the last time this matter was discussed in your Lordships' House, it is of vital importance precisely because it underlies about 80 per cent. of the abortions which are desired. Secondly, it is of vital importance, asThe Timesrecords this morning, because it at least investigates the possibility of voluntary social eugenics. If this is so, then it ought to be recognised for what it is—a very large increase in the area for which abortions are possible, and a test of the adequacy of our own principles with which we seek to face this problem.

Once the door has been opened; once there is a "justifiable reason" for abortion; once abortion is regarded as the continuation of an intervention which starts with contraception; once it be agreed that one cannot say at what precise stage the soul enters the body—in fact, I would not believe that the soul ever enters the body; I believe that the soul and the body are alternative ways of looking at the same reality, but, whatever the speculative philosophy in this matter may be—that for certain reasons it is justifiable to terminate a pregnancy, then I want most strenuously to advocate that here, if anywhere in the whole realm of social eugenics and the whole concept of our responsibility for using the implements of our wisdom and the instruments which have been put into our hands, I believe by God, we have a responsibility which we cannot discharge.

If there are verbal difficulties in this particular clause, let us deal with them. But you do not repudiate a debt by finding a fault in the drawing of the IOU. You do not repudiate a debt that you owe because it happens that the date is wrongly stated or the amount is wrongly calculated. We have a responsibility which is thrust upon us. A man who falls off a roof cannot halfway down decide what he is thereupon going to do. Better still, if you put your hand to a plough it seems to me that you cannot at an arbitrary moment refuse to finish the furrow.

There are many occasions, and with great eloquence the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, exposed them and ridiculed them as properly she had so to do, when it would be highly improper to terminate a pregnancy on the grounds that the husband would like it, or that the woman would fear the results of that pregnancy. But as a practising parson I know of many others where, awaiting the arrival of that blessed age when circumstances and general social conditions and medical supervision will give added opportunities of a full life to all, we dare not, it seems to me, withdraw from this battle at this stage. Whatever new desired and desirable amendments ought to be made to the framing of this provision, I believe it is integral to the worthwhileness of the Bill and I most earnestly support it.