HL Deb 16 January 1991 vol 524 cc1163-4

2.56 p.m.

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will ensure that mothers considering abortion receive impartial advice about all possible options, including adoption.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Hooper)

My Lords, the Government have always recognised the importance of objective counselling for women seeking abortion treatment. All UK health authorities and private sector places carrying out abortions have been given guidance about arrangements for the provision of counselling services. That guidance makes it clear that counselling should include the provision of advice and information about all the possible alternatives to termination, including adoption.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that helpful and encouraging Answer. However, is there not evidence to show that not all available advice and counselling are impartial? Furthermore, is there not an ample supply of good, potential adopters?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, in helping the individuals concerned to understand the implications of termination or the continuation of pregnancy, it is essential that counselling should be both nonjudgmental and non-directional. It is in no sense a way of putting pressure on a woman either for or against abortion. The guidance issued directs that, and steps are taken by the department in order to ensure that the guidance is carried out. The department is aware of people who are willing to adopt. There are schemes to encourage people to adopt children with special needs for whom it might otherwise be difficult to find adopters.

Lord Carter

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there have been substantial cuts in local authority funding of the family planning services? That has been accompanied by an increase in the overall abortion rate, particularly in teenage abortions which have increased by 31 per cent. since 1980. In the light of those distressing figures what action do the Government propose to take to prevent any further cuts in the services provided by family planning clinics?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I fear that the noble Lord has strayed from the Question on the Order Paper. However, I disagree with his comments about the increase in abortion rates. Between 1979 and 1989 the rate of abortions for women aged between 15 and 44 increased from 11.9 per cent. to 15.49 per cent. Happily, the provisional figures for the June quarter of 1990 show a welcome reduction as compared with those in the March quarter and the corresponding quarter in 1989. However, it is too early to tell whether there is a permanent downward trend. Nevertheless, as regards the Question on the Order Paper, I insist that the carrying out of the guidance which it implies is in no way affected by funding.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, do the Government agree that the impartial advice which is offered should be offered to mothers and fathers so that, where possible, a joint decision can be made as to the future situation in order to protect the interests of everyone involved?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, of course it depends to whom the individuals concerned present themselves for advice. Advice may be given by GPs, by social workers or by the special bureaux which are set up for that purpose. It must depend upon who is present. Obviously, if both parents or both individuals involved are there, they will both receive the guidance and counselling on offer.

Lord Carter

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House how many children are currently in care and awaiting adoption?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I do not have those figures to hand but I shall write to the noble Lord.