My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government whether in their opinion the recently reported decision of a well-known London abortion clinic to arrange for its overseas clients to be met by a car-hire firm, when they arrive at Heathrow Airport, is one that should be encouraged, discouraged or ignored; and, in either of the first two alternatives, how; or in the third, why.]
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND SOCIAL SECURITY (BARONESS SEROTA)
My Lords, while Her Majesty's Government would not regard it as necessarily wrong for a clinic or nursing home to make transport arrangements for patients booked to enter it, they are firmly opposed to action of any kind deliberately intended either to encourage women to come to this country for the purpose of obtaining an abortion, or to divert to a particular nursing home women from abroad who have not been booked there as patients. If my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services received firm evidence of any such action he would consider whether to withdraw approval of the nursing home for the purposes of the Abortion Act.
My Lords, may I thank the Minister for her 1068 extremely satisfactory Answer, which was, I think, what everyone had hoped for. May I ask two supplementary questions? First, is it possible to give the House any idea of the kind of nursing homes which are said to be employing touts; that is to say, whether they are believed to be quite illegal bodies or are properly constituted? Secondly, in view of the welcome statement made on behalf of the Government in col. 1685 of last Friday's Commons Hansard, informing us that in future, when the licences of private abortion clinics are renewed, the standard not only of the premises and facilities but of the conduct of the owners will be taken into account, may I ask whether it would not be possible and desirable actively to encourage the owners of some of these clinics to devote some of the undoubted initiative and energy which they show in conducting people to their clinics, to aftercare when they are conducted away from them, or, more often, conduct themselves, which, in the case of foreign people domiciled abroad must frequently be difficult.
§ SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: Speech!
§ BARONESS SEROTA
My Lords, in reply to the first question, my right honourable friend is, of course, concerned With the approval of nursing homes under the terms of the legislation. Noble Lord; will be aware that all of these homes are first approved as nursing homes by local authorities before my right honourable friend will consider approving them for the purposes of the Act. With regard to the noble Viscount's second point, in the past year the Secretary of State has taken every action open to him to make certain that the facilities available at nursing homes that he approves for this purpose are of the highest standard. That includes the number of beds available for patients coming to the home and relating them to the number of operations carried out on any one day, so as to ensure that any patient can in fact stay overnight.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
My Lords, in view of the fact that there is no firm evidence of the actions described in this Question, would my noble friend not agree with me that those who are spreading this rumour have as their motive the object of discrediting the Act and thereafter repealing it?
§ BARONESS SEROTA
My Lords, the question of touting at London Airport certainly is not related solely, as my noble friend has implied in her question, to transport to and from private nursing homes.