HL Deb 09 February 1998 vol 585 cc853-4

Lord Stallard asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have to introduce changes now or in the lifetime of this Parliament to the existing abortion legislation.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington)

My Lords, the simple Answer to my noble friend is none. We have made it clear that any changes to the Abortion Act should be initiated by individual Members of Parliament and that decisions would be made on the basis of free votes in both Houses.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer. Is she aware that my Question was prompted by reports of an interview with the Secretary of State for Health on about 19th January when he said that he would welcome a change in the law to make early abortions easier to get? As we already know that he has the support of 16 out of 20 members of the Cabinet, we would be grateful for the Minister's assurance that the Government have no plans for a change in the law.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. The views expressed by the Secretary of State for Health were his personal views. The Government's position is as I stated in my Answer.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the rights of the individual, as enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, begin with the rights of the foetus?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, as I have said, every noble Lord and every Member of Parliament is entitled to his or her personal views on the subject. If it came to a question of renewed legislation, I am sure that we would have animated discussions on the matter which the noble Earl has raised.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, may I ask the Minister how many abortions are carried out each year and whether some people use them as a form of contraception?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, it is difficult to say whether anybody would use abortion as a form of contraception. I suspect that for most women involved in a termination of pregnancy it is a difficult and often tragic decision to take and that probably, if appropriate contraception had been available, they would have been happy to use it. That is one of the reasons why the Government are very much in favour of the fact that this week is National Contraception Week and why we are supporting the voluntary organisations involved in it. The total number of abortions for 1996 was 177,495.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, may I declare an interest as president of the Family Planning Association? Does my noble friend agree that the current provision of abortion services in the NHS is extremely variable in terms of access and quality? Does she see the new health improvement plans to be developed by health authorities as a way in which those services could be improved in the future?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, my noble friend is aware that one of our primary concerns in the NHS White Paper is to make more even the provision of all services across the NHS. I am aware that there are great differences in people's experiences in different parts of the country—not only with regard to abortion but in the whole area of reproductive health.

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