I beg to move, Amendment No. 27, in page 1, line 20, at the end to add:
(c) that the woman or girl became pregnant as the result of an alleged offence under one of the sections 1, 5, 6, 7, 10 or 14 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956:
Provided that information shall have been lodged with the police within 48 hours of the commission of the alleged offence.
This Amendment would reintroduce in more exact form Clause 1,(1,d) of the original Bill, which stated
that the pregnant woman is a defective or became pregnant while under the age of sixteen or became pregnant as a result of rape.
Clause 1(4) of the original Bill read:
A termination of pregnancy performed on the ground of rape shall require the certificate of a registered medical practitioner consulted by the patient freshly after the alleged assault that there was then medical evidence of sexual assault upon her.'
After only a short debate—reported in columns 474–6 of the Official Report of the Standing Committee's debates—was that subsection (4) removed from the original Bill—I believe rightly, because it was extremely difficult to delineate exactly what "freshly" meant. Also, as the House will recognise, registered medical practitioners cannot say whether rape has taken place; all that they can say is that sexual assault or interference has.
I would quote what was said on that day, 16th March, by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn):
Therefore, I would ask the sponsor of the Bill to consider now and at a later stage making provision that a doctor and another of his colleagues be asked to certify that rape had been committed and that there were good grounds for therapeutic abortion. I would ask him to consider on what qualified grounds he would wish to insert into the Bill words to make certain that this dilemma of the medical practitioner would be overcome and to guard against the frequently unsustained and uncollaborated allegations of rape that are made".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee F, 16th March, 1967; c. 475.]
I hope that the Amendment may help to that end.
Many hon. Members are against abortion on demand, and while the word "well-being" has been removed from the Bill, it still leaves the likelihood of abortion virtually on demand. In this connection, following the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English), it is clear that the Government have given limitless time to this debate and have, therefore, virtually underwritten the Bill. I hope that the country has noted that fact, although the Bill has changed its shape so often.
In the Sexual Offences Act, 1956, Section 1 deals with rape, Section 5 with intercourse with a girl under 13, Section 6 with intercourse with a girl between 13 and 16. Section 7 with intercourse with an idiot or imbecile, Section 10 with incest and Section 14 with indecent assault on a woman.
When any felony is committed, it is the duty of either the parents or the person against whom it has been committed to report it. I understand that the parents or the girl concerned is likely to be frightened of so doing and may be reluctant to give evidence in court. This is an understandable attitude, but mistaken because it enables the criminal to commit another felony.
Hon. Members say that, should my Amendment be accepted, this may still happen. However, it will safeguard the genuine victim who may have failed to convince a doctor that her case is genuine. I agree with the attitude of the National Council of Women, as expressed at its Southsea conference in 1965. It passed a resolution asking the Government
… to implement that Section of the 1939 Home Office and Ministry of Health Interdepartmental Committee report on abortion, which recommended that the Statute of 1861 should be amended to make it 'unmistakably clear that a medical practitioner is acting legally when, in good faith, he procures the abortion of a pregnant woman in circumstances which satisfy him that continuance of the pregnancy is likely to endanger her life or seriously to impair her health', with the additional provision that he should act with the sanction of a second medical colleague.
… the Council urges that induced abortion be legalised
It may be said that subsection (1,a) of Clause 1 of the Bill now covers such offences as rape or incest, but it puts on the two medical practitioners the job of deciding on inadequate evidence. How easy it is for a girl to allege an offence after she finds that she is pregnant. She goes to a doctor and, possibly, puts on an hysterical act. She may falsely allege that she has been raped by a coloured man and fears a half-caste child. Again, the House may say that the question of her mental health may be involved, and that, therefore, under the Bill as it stands, an abortion may be allowed.
I prefer to narrow down the possibilities of abortion for that reason. A girl who finds herself pregnant may well have a double motive to procure an abortion. She may want the abortion herself or she may want to shield her boy friend—who may even have suggested that she should have an abortion. How can a doctor check up that she has been raped? He may have doubts, but how much easier it would be if she had already gone to the police. If that was not good proof—and I am told that the proportion of acquittals for alleged rape is high—it would at least be evidence in favour of the doctor if called upon to vindicate his good faith, and it would safeguard the girl who has not convinced the doctor to whom she has gone.
What happens when she reports to the police? She is examined by the police surgeon, and this should be done as early as possible. It might be suggested that 24 hours would have been better than 48 hours, but, unfortunately, in these days people are subject to drink and to drugs, and I therefore think that 48 hours is a better period. I believe that, should the House accept the Amendment, it would make slightly less bad what is still a thoroughly bad Bill.
Before my hon. Friend sits down, could he say why he does not think that 72 hours would be still better? It may well be that a girl in this position might not find it easy to tell the police about it. There may be delay. It seems to me that 48 hours might be on the short side. Could he direct his mind to that point?
While the sponsors of the Bill may have disagreed with previous Amendments there was in those Amendments at least a clear-cut point of disagreement, but I must confess that this Amendment is exceedingly muddleheaded, and was, if I may say so, with all respect, introduced with a very muddleheaded speech—
The hon. Member made a short speech, and I am very grateful to him for that, but he was muddle-headed in saying that the whole Bill was for abortion on demand. If that had been so, there would have been no need to introduce the Amendment, but it is not so. Reference was made on Second Reading to the cases which the hon. Gentleman outlined—carnal knowledge of girls of 16, and of mental defectives, and pregnancy following rape, and the Committee very carefully reconsidered the representations made to it by various bodies.
We listened, for example, to the right hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir J. Hobson), who said on Second Reading:
… the question whether conception as a result of rape should automatically place upon the doctor the right to abort, or the difficult duty of refusing to abort. It is almost impossible to decide this question…."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd July, 1966; Vol. 732, c. 1137–8.]
This was one of the matters we discussed in detail with the medical profession. The British Medical Association said:
We recognise that there is a considerable body of public opinion in favour of termination of pregnancy being specifically permitted by law in cases where pregnancy has resulted from rape, incest, or unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman. However, we must point out that considerable difficulties would arise in administering such a law and in addition it would give rise to very complex problems in the field of medical ethics.
The hon. Member referred to the resolution of the National Council of Women and its request that the Government should implement the 1939 Interdepartmental Committee's Report on this subject. I do not know if the hon. Member has had a look at that Report and what it said on this specific question of rape. If he had done so, I do not think he would have introduced this. Amendment. The Report says, on page 88:
In view of the objections to which we have referred, as well as of the practical difficulties, we do not feel able to make a recommendation that specific legal authority should be given for the termination of pregnancy resulting unlawful carnal knowledge.
It goes on to say:
In each individual case, as in every case in which the question of therapeutic abortion is considered, the decision must rest with the medical profession.
That was the conclusion of the Committee which sat under Mr. Norman Birkett, before the war, and it is a conclusion maintained today by the medical profession.
I hope that the hon. Member will not press the Amendment, because I believe that the cases of genuine sexual assault and unlawful carnal knowledge are adequately catered for by the discretion given to the medical profession to consider these two matters regarding the total environment of the patient and her mental health.
I am trying to follow the hon. Member's argument carefully. He described the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) as muddle-headed, but he will know of the provision for this matter in the Bill he originally introduced. It is a very difficult question and I am trying hard to follow his argument.
I was about to quite what I said on that occasion. I tried to make clear on Second Reading why we included the provision on rape. It was that although we felt that there had been legal difficulties—this was considered in another place—it should be in the Bill at this stage because it was a matter which ought to be discussed. It has been discussed very fully with the profession and discussed very fully in Committee. I therefore think that the House will agree that the Amendment should not be persisted with.
The hon. Member for Roxburgh, Peebles and Selkirk (Mr. David Steel) is probably right in. saying that this would be adequately covered under the earlier provisions as they have been amended, but I found it a little difficult to follow the rest of his argument in answer to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples). To say that he put it into the original Bill so that it should be discussed is a most peculiar explanation. Should anyone put anything, however futile, into a Bill so that it can be discussed?
The hon. Gentleman said that it was fully discussed in Committee, but that is not so, for the simple reason that the sponsors introduced an Amendment to Clause 1(a) which nullified the effects of (c) and (d) before we discussed those paragraphs. In Committee, I said that this would get us into serious difficulty because we did not have a chance properly to discuss this question in Committee. By the time that we came to what would have been subsections (c) and (d) we found that they had been deleted, already destroyed by the new subsection 1(a) which the sponsors of the Bill had introduced.
We have never had a convincing legal argument about whether or not it is easy or difficult to ascertain whether a rape has or has not been committed, or a convincing legal argument as to whether this point is adequately covered by subsection 1(a) as it is now proposed. I think that the House is entitled to have the assistance of at least one of the Law Officers on matters of this kind. It may be recalled that we did not have such assistance during our discussions in the Standing Committee; we had Departmental Ministers, but they consistently contradicted each other and voted against each other, and it is now time that we had the legal position satisfactorily explained. It must be sorted out.
Frankly, I do not know what the answer is, and I very much doubt whether any other hon. Member could say with certainty that he or she does; and after listening to the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles I am no further forward.
As a layman who has followed the proceedings on the Bill I came into the Chamber to listen to this Amendment being discussed and predisposed to oppose it because, like many of my hon. Friends, I have been conscious of the arguments previously advanced; of the problems which arise when one gets a girl who claims that she has been raped in order that she may have an abortion.
I thought that this was something which had been deleted after having originally been in the Bill, but after listening to the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel)—who, if he will forgive me saying so, made a rather arrogant speech—I feel prompted to explore the matter further.
In moving the Amendment, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) has tried to meet objections which have been raised about laying down a specific period during which a definite complaint has to be made. This goes a long way towards meeting the objection which is frequently raised against allowing rape to be pleaded as a ground for abortion, so that a woman must lodge her complaint within a given period; and within a short time.
There is an argument about whether what we are discussing is the right period or not. Perhaps a longer period should be allowed because if a woman has been subjected to a rape in circumstances which we can all envisage there is bound to be shock—[Interruption.] I am sorry if the imagination of some of my hon. Friends does not go far enough. That shock may last for a long time before the woman can bring herself to take the necessary action and, consequently, I think that the time factor ought to be increased.
I have no medical knowledge which enables me to suggest a suitable time, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) has just said in his intervention, we really should have some legal guidance on this matter. I do not think that any hon. Member knows the full legal problems involved here so that he or she may reach a sensible conclusion. We should have a Law Officer here tonight.
I am surprised that on a Bill which arouses such deep feelings and which is the subject of strong and emotional arguments, as well as rational and logical ones, we are denied the benefit of the advice of the Law Officers, especially as, whatever the Government may say, this is a Government-sponsored Measure. In theory, it is a Private Member's Bill, but I cannot remember any other occasion when such facilities have been accorded to a Private Member's Bill. The only one I can think of which bears any comparison is the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill, but that was in Government time.
I hope that the Amendment will be received with the seriousness it deserves. It is a definite attempt to meet many of the legal objects which have been advanced against including rape as a justification for abortion.
The House will have some sympathy for the qualities of compassion and understanding motivating the sponsors of the Amendment. Whatever the merits or demerits of the Bill, I think that we would all want to help a person in the circumstances to which the Amendment refers. However, this is not the way to provide that help.
The Amendment seeks to bring about tie abortion on demand which the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) and Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) have spoken of previously and which they say they strongly oppose. It goes far beyond abortion for medical or physical reasons, for reasons of the health, safety or well-being of the child. The Amendment would provide that the circumstances of the conception of the future baby would decide whether the child should have the right to live.
On a previous occasion the hon. Lady said this:
We are now discussing social grounds, however, and whether it is right for an abort on to be committed simply and solely because the coming child is unwelcome to its Parents.
This is one such case, when the reason for the abortion is that the child is unwelcome to one of its parents—we do not know about the other. The hon. Lady also said:
We must recognise that if an abortion is carried out merely because the child is inconvenient …
That would be the reason for destroying a potential child, under the terms of the Amendment.
Later, I took the matter up in this way:
Would not the hon. Lady agree that the terrible things which she is talking about are exactly the things she is asking the House to support in Amendment No. 27, which is in her name?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th June, 1967; Vol. 749. cc. 926–929.]
I ask the hon. Lady to accept that some of us have taken some trouble to try to understand over the last 12 years what an abortion means. It does not have to be spelled out to us. I would to God I had never heard of some of the things. I apologise for appearing to direct the whole of my criticism at the hon. Lady, but the hon. Member for Wavertree has not taken part in this debate.
Of all the hon. Members' comments tonight, I would have hoped that he would not have chosen, in giving an example of rape, that of a white girl by a coloured man. He could easily have used the example of a coloured girl by a white man, or, as in the vast majority of cases in this country, of a white girl by a white man. I am sorry that he used this to criticise the Government for giving time to this.
Some of us who have supported some parts of the Bill, but criticised other parts of it, believe that there is a real danger that the Bill will be decided not only on the merits or demerits, but also on the rights of majorities and minorities in Parliament.
I take the point, but the hon. Member might have quoted the case of a white girl falsely alleging rape by a white man. I think that the instance he gave was unfortunate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] If I have to spell it out, it is a disgrace to Parliament. I suggest that the words in the Amendment are completely impracticable. One does not have to be a lawyer to know the difficulty of proving an allegation of rape. One is not proved guilty by two doctors and an allegation.
There are far better and more just ways of helping the girl who finds herself in the tragic situation which the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Lady the Member for Edgbaston would in all sincerity want to help. I hope that the House will oppose the Amendment.
I am among the hon. Members who would genuinely like the advice of the Law Officers. I much regret that it is not available. Because of the degree to which the Government have committed themselves to the Bill, to put it mildly, on a point of this kind we should have some legal advice from an authoritative quarter.
This goes to the heart of the trouble some of us on the middle ground had: whether we are making legal sense or not. I can only put a point that has been presented to me, and which has convinced me, and is why I am opposing my hon. Friend's proposal, that the offence of rape is extraordinarily difficult to argue because it is so often carried out as a result of intimidation and not by physical violence.
If that is true, and I mention it as hearsay, clearly the offence would be impossible to establish and it would not make sense in the Bill. But I do not know whether it is good or bad ground on which to oppose the Amendment and it is precisely a point on which I would have thought a lawyer's opinion almost indispensable.
The remarks made by the promoter of the Bill were a little hard. This is the third Bill in which this Amendment has appeared in one form or another. There was the earlier Bill in another place and the hon. Member's own first draft. I recall the hon. Member's remarks on Second Reading about this subsection, as it then was. At one time this was thought a most desirable entry. It may well be that the rewriting of 1(1,a) covers the point. Again, that is something on which I would like a Law Officer's assurances.
I accept that the sponsor of the Bill speaks from the best of his knowledge, and, no doubt, other hon. Members who are learned in the law will give their view. The Government cannot, however, have it both ways. If they have sufficiently committed themselves to the Bill, as we all know that they have, it is crucial that at this stage they should give better assurances than we have so far had to those of us who are genuinely in doubt and on middle ground on the Bill. I hope that we shall not pass the Amendment without being given that kind of guidance which hon. Members, on both sides, would wish to have.
I will not detain the House long on the Amendment, but there are criticisms that one is tempted to make on it and I will endeavour to make them shortly.
First, the Sexual Offences Act, 1956, does not apply to Scotland. As the Amendment stands, two entirely different circumstances in which abortion can be granted in England and Scotland would arise. That is a matter of drafting and I dare say that it could be put right.
A deeper criticism arises because the Act, particularly in Sections 5 and 6, sets up statutory grounds of rape in which questions of consent or the absence of consent are irrelevant. Section 5 of the Act makes it a statutory offence
for a man to have unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of thirteen.
It does not matter whether she consents or not. It is statutory rape if she is under the age of 13.
Section 6 introduces a more complicated situation, because it deals—and these provisions apply through different legislation to Scotland—with a girl between the ages of 13 and 16. It is again statutory rape, but a complication is introduced by the proviso in subsection (3), in these terms:
A man is not guilty of an offence under this section because he has unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of sixteen, if he is under the age of twenty-four and has not previously been charged with a like offence, and he believes her to be of the age of sixteen or over and has reasonable cause for the belief.
Thus the offence under Section 6 is one which, in certain circumstances, turns on the rather complicated provisions of that subsection.
We have, therefore, the situation that a girl between the ages of 13 and 16 can complain that unlawful sexual intercourse has taken place and it would be open to the accused, at a later stage in the criminal proceedings, to prove that he was under the age of 24, that he had never had a charge of that nature against him in the past, that he believed her to be of the age of 16 or over and that he had reasonable ground for that belief.
The test of the matter, the artificiality o the situation, is that an abortion would be granted on the ex parte statement of the girl. Whether that was justified would turn on the highly artificial circumstances as to whether or not the man had been previously charged with a like offence. The relevance of that provision in the context of the criminal law is considerable. It highlights the difficulty of applying criminal Statutes concerned with if e accused when assenting to legislation which is primarily concerned with the victim of the assault, the woman herself. I do not see how this would work, and I am disposed to oppose my hon. Friend's Amendment.
In my experience, common law rape is very difficult to prove. In practice, one has to have a very strong case before a jury will convict. For these reasons, my advice to the House would be to reject this Amendment.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On 6th July I gave notice of a Written Question for answer today which was very important in connection with today's business, asking the Minister of Health whether he will published in the OFFICIAL REPORT the waiting periods in each hospital region for urgent and non-urgent gynaecological operations. To make sure that there was ample time for an answer. I gave a full week's notice. But no answer has been given today in accordance with the usual custom of the House. May I ask what protection there is for an hon. Member in this context?
We all agree about the horror of bearing a child as a result of a sexual assault. Many hon. Members who oppose most of the provisions in the Bill agree that an abortion would be justified in those circumstances.
As has been pointed out already, the original Bill before the House contained a provision in Clause 1(1,d) which included rape and dealt with a girl under the age of 16 and a woman who was defective. However, doubts were expressed during Second Reading about the wisdom of tackling the problem by a specific reference to rape. The right hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir J. Hobson) expressed those doubts and gave it as his opinion that rape and the other matters referred to in subsection (1,d) would be covered by subsection (1,a) as it was then drafted.
That was the opinion of the Government, too. Although there have been various Private Members' Bills which included rape as a specific reason for aborton, we have never thought that it was the right way to tackle the problem. During the Committee stage, subsection (1,a) of the Bill was widened, and the references to rape and a girl of 16 were taken out.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) said that there was only a short debate in Committee, but the column reference which he gave was to a consequential Amendment and not to this Amendment, which was moved in a rather lengthy speech by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine).
The omission of subsection (1,d) of the original Bill was supported by all members of the Committee, including the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight), who said:
For the reasons I have outlined I felt it important to speak in support of my hon. Friend for the deletion of this paragraph. It is important that people should understand that from the point of view of the sponsor of the Bill the sole reason why the paragraph is to be deleted is that it is already enshrined in the Bill as amended."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee F, 1st March, 1967; c. 322].
There were several reasons why this was taken out in Committee. First, it was considered that these matters would be covered by subsection 1(a). Secondly, it was felt that if a specific reference to rape was kept in the Bill a doctor would be required to determine whether or not a criminal offence had been committed, and it would be very difficult for him to determine that. Thirdly, there was a very real danger of false allegations being made. Fourthly, it was felt that if the girl was under 16 the doctor would take this factor into consideration when deciding whether or not to perform an operation.
There is an ethical point involved here. Although, naturally, we all agree that rape is an unjust and highly immoral action, the child conceived as a result of that unjust and immoral action is completely innocent. This point should be taken into account, and the removal of that child should be considered only when it is essential to the health of the mother.
I know that the hon. Gentleman and others take that view, but I did not include that because, speaking personally, it is not a reason that I would have accepted, but this was put forward in Committee.
The Amendment is rather different from the original subsection 1(d). It would allow an abortion when the pregnancy resulted from an alleged offence of rape, or intercourse with a girl under 13, a girl under 16, or with a woman who is defective, defined as a severely abnormal person, of incest, or of indecent assault, provided that the information was lodged with the police within 48 hours of the alleged offence.
I understand that the phrase "alleged offence" has been included in the Amendment to meet the objection which had been adduced before, that the doctor himself could not determine whether rape had taken place, but by including this phrase the authors of the Amendment are creating a greater difficulty than would have arisen under the original Bill, because what they are saying is that if anyone goes to a doctor and alleges that an offence of rape has been committed, the doctor will be able to go ahead and perform the operation.
The doctor will have to find out whether the alleged offence has been reported to the police, and again it is an "alleged offence" and not "the offence", because, as was pointed out before, one cannot determine whether rape has taken place until the matter has been before a court of law for the court to determine. For the purpose of the Amendment it is an "alleged offence".
According to the Amendment, the woman concerned must report the offence within 48 hours. We are dealing here not only with rape, but with unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl under 16, and many of these girls will not allege an offence of this kind within 48 hours. They will probably be frightened and not say anything until long after the 48 hours have elapsed. Therefore, while intending to be permissive, the Amendment is being too narrow, because it rather implies that if the girl does not allege within 48 hours that an offence has been committed the doctor might be committing an offence if he performs the operation.
No, I do not agree with that at all, because I do not think that this is the way to tackle this problem.
In trying to overcome some of the difficulties in the Bill the Amendment simply creates other and greater ones. I know that the House needs an assurance on the question whether or not a doctor would be prosecuted for performing an abortion on the grounds specified in the Amendment. These matters can be tested only in a court of law. Those hon. Members who have asked for the presence of a Law Officer know that in the last resort it is a court of law which determines these matters. [Interruption.] I hope that hon. Members will allow me to get on with what I am saying.
The Clause, as amended, provides that it shall not be an offence if the doctor is of the opinion
that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the life or of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family and in determining whether or not there is such a risk of injury to life account may be taken of the patient's total environment actual or reasonably foreseeable.
I cannot think of anything that would affect the mental health of a woman or a girl more than having to bear a child as a result of rape or sexual assault.
The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Geoffrey Wilson) says "Oh." I cannot think of anything that would affect the mental health of a woman more than having to bear a child who is conceived in these circumstances.
Even under present case law we know that doctors perform operations where the child has been conceived as a result of rape. There was the famous case of Dr. Bourne, who was acquitted for doing precisely this. Subsection (1,a) is much wider than the present case law. The words,
in determining whether or not there is such risk of injury to health account may be taken of the patient's total environment actual or reasonably foreseeable
would include a girl under the age of 16 who had conceived a child. Doctors already perform these operations.
We are discussing something which is not an offence under the Bill. Any doctor who would not perform an operation of this kind will not be induced to do so by e Amendment. It is extremely unlikely that any prosecution would be brought and even more unlikely that any doctor would be found guilty of an offence. Even if the House wants to see something included specifically about rape—and I advise it not to—the Amendment is not the way to do it. I hope that the mover of the Amendment will ask leave to withdraw it, because it would put us in a difficult position if we were driven to vote on this issue when practically everybody in the House would not want a woman to bear a child as a result of rape.
It is not so much a question of what we want in the end; it is a question of the way to go about providing for it. My advice is that subsection (1,a) covers the circumstances for which the Amendment seeks to provide.
We are grateful to the right hon. Lady for her assistance. Although generally neutral, the Government bear a responsibility: both Front Benches must consider the practicability and rationality of a change in the law and of advising on what is appropriate. The presence of one of the Law Officers would have been an advantage, by the right hon. Lady, not for the first time, has been a very effective substitute and I endorse what she said.
The essential change made by the Bill is the substitution for an unascertainable decision by a jury of what is legal or illegal of a qualified guarantee to two medical practitioners acting on certain criteria that if they act in good faith and perform the other objective acts prescribed they will not commit a criminal offence. I regard this as an advantage, but two prices have to be paid for it.
The first is precautions against rackets and the second the necessity to ensure that genuine medical criteria are involved, on which the doctors' qualifications enable them to give authoritative opinions. The proposal in the Amendment violates the second condition and substitutes for a medical criterion on which the doctor can speak one of which he cannot. If this were the only objection, it would be fatal.
The Amendment lumps together a number of offences. First is the question of rape, which depends upon consent. It is utterly inappropriate for a doctor to determine whether a girl has consented or not. If one adopts, as the Amendment does, some objective criterion like whether the girl complained to the police in 48 hours, one is putting a premium on false allegations against perhaps an innocent man.
The test of whether unlawful carnal knowledge of a girl of 13 to 16 may be partly the young man's age, which may be wholly irrelevant to deciding whether to terminate the pregnancy. If he is over 24, it is an absolute offence, but if he is under, it is not and one has to determine whether he knew the girl's age. What could be more absurd than to make the termination of a pregnancy depend on whether he was over 24, or if he was under, on whether he knew the girl's age. This is reducing law to nonsense.
I agree that there are a few cases of mental deficiency and of girls under 13 who conceive, but this can be dealt with under the existing law, the Bourne judgment, and by two medical practitioners under the proposed law. The right hon. Lady was quite right: although one's sympathies are with a case like this, one's head is solidly against it.
There is grave danger at this point of being mesmerised by the red herrings which have been drawn across our path. It is extraordinary that, in the protracted debates on the Bill, few opinions have been proffered by people who have had children and have, therefore, rather more knowledge about childbirth than the hon. Gentlemen who have spoken.
Men cannot and will never know what it is like to bear a child. I do not blame them for that. Indeed, I congratulate them. It is not their fault that nature has robbed them of the ability to have expert knowledge of this procedure. Book learning will not help nor, indeed, does it help merely to have a wife who has had a child. Men speak in abysmal ignorance of the procedural side of bearing a child.
The right hon. Lady errs perhaps on the side of optimism. If she will kindly wait, I will tell her what I wish to say. If she wishes to question my judgment or experience she is at liberty to do so, but for my part I am perfectly at liberty to speak from my experience, which, if she will permit me, I intend to do.
Of the procedural side of childbirth—those were the words I used—I claim knowledge which most hon. Members cannot claim. I have had four children, although only two are living. I would not criticise the method by which a child develops and is born. It is a marvellous process. But it is not comfortable. Physically, there is often extreme discomfort and sickness, pain and various other difficulties. Mentally, there are times when one is in the blackest despair. But in normal circumstances, a woman bears all these things, often very gladly. Most children conceived are wanted and are awaited with pleasure and gladness.
I was saying that, in normal circumstances, a woman will bear all these deprivations, if not gladly at least with a certain amount of stoicism. However, I can imagine—and sometimes perhaps I have too vivid an imagination—no torture more ghastly than to have to bear all these deprivations after an act of rape. This is what the hon. Member, the name of whose constituency escapes me, does not understand. This is the whole crux of the argument. There could be nothing more horrible than, after an act associated in the mind with utter degradation, to have to experience these troubles and this pain, protracted over many months, before the final agony of giving birth. This to me is the absolute horror.
The right hon. Lady will see that when I outlined the method of operation required for this horrible abortion, I said that one must have a very good reason for it. I said that it was not enough that the child was not wanted. An act of rape completely changes the character of this ordeal. If the right hon. Lady reads my speeches she will see that I have said consistently that rape must be regarded as a horrible experience and that it was quite unfair to ask a woman to carry through a pregnancy resulting from rape. Some hon. Members even quote Confucius in saying that a woman is always able to avoid rape if she wishes, but that is not true. Perhaps it is a comfortable male philosophy to salve their consciences. There is, in fact, rape by brute force and rape by threat.
Recently, a case occurred in the town in which I live. A meeting was taking place in a local school—I think a parent-teacher meeting. Frequently, only one of the parents attends such a meeting because the other must remain at home to look after the family. A young married woman who attended the meeting was asked, in a civil manner, whether there was a way into the back of the school over a playground, and she went round the corner of the school with the man to point out that there was such a way. The man picked up a brick and hit her on the head with it. She tried to run away, but he hit her again and threatened to kill her if she did not submit.[HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] Mr. Deputy Speaker, I wonder whether I might have your protection against the noise being made by hon. Members. These are serious matters.
This young woman was terrified, battered and bleeding, and she submitted. That sort of case is by no means rare, and I urge the House to accept that rape is not so rare that there is no need to protect women from it.
The right hon. Lady pointed out that caves of rape are covered by Clause 1(1,a)—and she quoted what I said in Committee, but, again, did not quote all that I said. I then made it clear that I regarded these circumstances as meriting special consideration. I want to see rape spelled out clearly as a particular reason for abortion. If women knew that, without any argument, they could get an abortion after rape if they reported it immediately, they would be much more ready to report it.
Of course, rape is difficult to prove. But it is not as difficult as all that if a doctor knows within a short time of the event that the woman claims to have been raped. In the case I have just described the woman's head wounds would have been sufficient. Evidences of struggle are easy to see, and that is why I cannot agree with hon. Members who have said that this is not within a doctor's range of ability to deduce.
I do not agree with the hon. Lady's argument. How would she distinguish between rape by force and rape under the influence of drugs or by fraud? That is a serious defect in her argument.
It is not easy to answer specifically the hon. Gentleman's question. Nobody pretends, least of all my hon. Friend and I, that the Amendment is perfect. It would merely do something which we consider necessary. It may well be that there are other kinds of rape which it would not cover, but at least it is an attempt genuinely and sincerely to do what can be done in circumstances where we feel help is needed.
The difference between the Amendment and what we discussed in Committee is the very point about time. If a woman reported at once and if it were clearly spelled out that rape was a reason for abortion, there would be a great difference. If genuine rape had occurred she would go to a doctor and would have the visible signs for him to see plainly. But they fade quickly.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Sir Knox Cunningham) is concerning himself very much about the period of time we should have put in the Amendment. I would not quarrel about the particular time. I am urging that the time part of it makes it completely different from anything we discussed before. It is a genuine attempt to smooth the path of the doctors who are asked to judge whether or not a rape has been committed.
It is true that a woman normally would not tell anyone that she had been raped. It is easy to imagine that a frightened girl would not want it known She would be ashamed and horrified. She will probably hope most fervently that she will not become pregnant, and says nothing until she knows whether or not she is. That is what she will continue to do if the Amendment is not incorporated in the Bill.
She will probably not know that rape is a reason for abortion as rape, and not as it is enshrined in another part of the Bill. She will regard this differently. My hon. Friend and I regard the Amendment as important because by the time the girl knows that she is pregnant it will be too late to discover the signs about which I have spoken, and it will not then be possible to say whether or not it is a genuine case of rape. With the Bill as it stands, unless a woman suffered grave mental repercussions from a rape she could not say to a doctor six weeks or two months later, "I was raped. Please arrange for me to be aborted under Section 1(1,a) of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act."
If the Amendment were incorporated, she would feel differently about the matter. If it was known that the rape must be reported within 48 hours, it would save some women many months of anguish. Perhaps not many women are raped and not many pregnancies result from rape. But I am not arguing about numbers. All I have said all along is that rape happens and babies are born as a result. Just because only a small number of babies and girls or women are affected, it is not sufficient reason to ignore the fact.
I was interested to hear the right hon. Lady refer to the Bourne case. It is important to say a little more about it. Dr. Alec Bourne, who, I believe, at the time was at St. Mary's Hospital, London, performed an abortion on a young girl who had been raped by a group of soldiers. He carried out the operation himself, and he elected to go for trial; because he wanted the blame for the operation to fall on his shoulders only. He went to court and was acquitted, and the judgment and the interpretation of the law was that
no clear distinction rests between preserving life and preserving health.
Therefore, Dr. Bourne's action was lawful, because it was done to prevent a girl from becoming a nervous wreck. He knew quite well that a rape had taken place, the indications were plain for him to see, and he carried out the abortion operation before the men went to trial. What is very important to understand is that Dr. Bourne, on whose case the whole of the law on abortion has rested since, is strongly opposed to the present Bill. At the same time, he is now, I am sure, as he was then, most sympathetic and understanding in a case of rape. I am quite sure that he would still say that, as an humanitarian act, abortion should be carried out following rape.
Just one or two words about the other Sections mentioned in the Amendment. The only other person to refer to them at all was my hon. Friend. They are important. Section 5 deals with unlawful intercourse at under 13; Section 6 with unlawful intercourse with a girl between 13 and 16. It may be said, and I am sure it will be before the debate is finished, that there are a great many girls about these days who, even at a tender age, invite intercourse, and that although they are only 13, 14, 15, or 16 that does not mean that rape has taken place. I would agree with this view. I am sad to agree, but agree I must.
The 48-hour provision in the Amendment deals with that type of promiscuous juvenile, because, surely, a girl who habitually indulges in sexual intercourse at a very early age would not go along 48 hours after whenever it happens and report rape. This is the whole difference—and again I stress it—between anything we have discussed before and what we are discussing now. The 48-hour part of the Amendment covers such ordinary promiscuous children.
Not very much has been said about Section 7, and I think perhaps a little more should be, because intercourse with a woman whom a man knows to be an idiot or an imbecile is a very, very serious thing, and I am very concerned about the number of children who are born of such intercourse. It often happens, I am sorry to say, in country districts, to women who are known to be imbeciles. Because of her mental state, the woman herself may not understand what is happening to her.
I would not argue about that, but it is a repugnant thing to see, as I have done—in a village, again, not far from where I live—such a woman with a string of children round her skirts. It horrifies me. They are very sad targets, women of this kind. I know that it may be that few hon. Members will agree with me, but personally I think such women should be sterilised, not aborted; but I do not think that they should bear children.
Is the hon. Lady aware that a woman in that condition is hardly likely to report the matter within 48 hours and that, if she did not report it within that time, she would be excluded from the provision—because of the hon. Lady's opposition to the rest of the Bill?
I have made it clear that we do not pretend that the Amendment is perfect. But the hon. Gentleman refuses to recognise the difficulties and the human unhappiness which is caused—[Interruption.] I wish that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renee Short) would take this matter seriously. It is no laughing matter.
The Amendment proceeds on two beliefs; first, that it is unspeakably cruel to force a woman to go through a pregnancy after a genuine rape; and, secondly, that 48 hours is sufficient a time to enable doctors to judge the case and avoid abuse. A red herring which has been thrown into the discussion is that we cannot proceed along these lines because the man involved in the case would have to be arrested. I am not concerned with putting the man in the dock, but with relieving the suffering of an unhappy girl. The point to consider is how we can protect the girl.
The Minister referred to my earlier remarks. I assure her that I have been consistent in what I have said. When I opposed the Clause in Committee I did so because I felt that, in its original state, it did not meet the case. When a Committee stage is over one does not leave the matter there. One goes on to consider what can be done. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East appears to find this funny, too. What she can find to laugh at when we are discussing such a serious matter, I do not know.
On a point of order. On looking through the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Committee proceedings I find that my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renee Short) averaged three interruptions per page. Progress would be speeded if my hon. Friend exercised some restraint.
Is the hon. Lady aware that acceptance of the Amendment would mean that a girl need only allege, within 48 hours, that she had been raped and she would be entitled to a abortion?
No. The Amendment must be read as part of the Bill as a whole. An earlier part of the Bill states that doctors must reach a conclusion about the case. Surely it is quite clear that we are suggesting that two doctors reaching the conclusion that the girl was raped should be a reason for an abortion. If the girl has gone to the doctor merely as a try-on, as I think the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) is suggesting, the doctor would at least be able to ask "Why do you say you were raped? Where are your scratches? Where are your bruises?" It is not good enough for the hon. and learned Gentleman to suggest that this is merely a get-out for a girl who wants to get an abortion easily. The Amendment was not tabled in that belief, but in all sincerity, and for the sake of such unfortunate girls and women I very much hope that it will be accepted.
On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) has said that she would not be wedded to the figure of 48 hours, would you be willing to accept a manuscript Amendment to omit from the Amendment the figure 48 and to insert the figure 72? That would certainly help me in my view of the Amendment, and might help others in their views. Would you accept a manuscript Amendment?
I wish to speak against the Amendment. In moving it, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) had the courtesy to mention what I said in Committee. Tonight, I listened to him very carefully, but I am sorry to say that so far from removing my doubts he has only made them more acute. For the first time during our deliberations I find myself in complete disagreement with the hon. Lady the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight), which is surprising, because throughout the Committee stage we found ourselves in accord.
It was suggested that the hon. Lady could not speak from experience about rape. I acknowledge that she did not do so, but I suggest that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, would be in the same difficulty on exactly the same grounds in talking about abortion—as we all would. I therefore do not think that that is the criterion by which we should make our contribtutions.
I quite firmly believe that the Amendment would create more anomalies than it tries to solve, although I fully acknowledge the sincerity and humanity that lie behind it. Indeed, I acknowledge the sincerity and humanity of the sponsors of the original Clause. Everyone will readily agree that wherever it is possible to alleviate the suffering that is imposed on any woman, whether young or old, married or unmarried, such relief of suffering would be welcome, provided that we could qualify it.
To those who support the Amendment, I say that we cannot qualify it. To go right over Sections 1, 5, 6, 7, 10 and 14 of the Sexual Offences Act is like going across the octave, but the tune at the end is very blurred. The Amendment would provide the opportunity for exploitation undreamed of during our discussion of the Bill.
Once we allow a medical practitioner to make a contribution to a judicial decision, whether he has other medical practitioners in consultation with him or not, we are doing something wrong. I am not a legal expert, but, applying a little common sense, I can imagine a set of circumstances in which a girl may make a statement to a medical practitioner within 48 hours that she had been raped. The doctor, in consultation with his colleague, might accept that she had been raped—under what criteria I do not know. Then at some stage it could be said that Mr. B had raped Miss X. Very soon that news would percolate through the community and Mr. B would stand condemned. Would he not have the right to go to the court to seek justification of the claim? Would he not have the right to sue for libel and to include in the suit he brought the contributory evidence of the medical practitioners? Are we not, in those circumstances, asking the profession for something it cannot sustain?
That may be so and the right hon. Lady will agree that the decision about rape is not something which is absolute. Absolutism is in the criteria of the woman's mental and physical health. If a sexual offence had been committed, either singly or by a number in concert, the mental stress on that woman would be registered. This could be found by medical examination.
Would the hon. Member not agree that there are various kinds of rape? There is the one of a woman who is under threat, frightened, terrified, and not necessarily attacked, and she is raped by a man. She may go home and say, "I hope that it will be all right" and not report the rape within 48 hours. The 48 hours provision is very dangerous.
The provisions in the Amendment raise great doubts right across the board. I hope that the House accepts that it would be very dangerous to incorporate it in the Bill. My right hon. Friend spoke of the legal and medical aspects and the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) gave of his wide experience in other fields. Between them, they have covered the medical and legal aspects. I have mentioned the question of libel and I go a step further. In all the discussions in Committee the sponsor was pressed to move paragraph (d) and he did so. Many of those who this evening have thought him discourteous should realise that he may have thought that those who had wanted the paragraph removed now want to return to it, but that is not so. As the matter is covered by paragraph (a), I suggest that the Amendment should be withdrawn.
On a point of order. I understand that, according to the traditions of the House, hon. Members who are on the premises, and who, for medical and other reasons, are incapable of being here have always been traditionally allowed to be nodded through the Division Lobbies. I understand that on this occasion this fact is
I will not be addressed on a point of order while I am dealing with a point of order.
My understanding is, from my experience of Parliament, that this nodding through of hon. Gentlemen who have medical reasons for not being able to walk through the Division Lobby is an arrangement between the Whips and Tellers of both sides. From what the hon. Gentleman has said, I do not think that it obtains tonight.
|Division No. 458.]||AYES||[12.07 a.m.|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Dunnett, Jack||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)|
|Archer, Peter||Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)||Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)|
|Ashley, Jack||Eadie, Alex||Johnson Smith, C. (E. Grinstead)|
|Astor, John||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)||Edwards, William (Merioneth)||Jones, Rt.Hn.SirElwyn(W. Ham, S.)|
|Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)||Ellis, John||Judd, Frank|
|Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice||Ennals, David||Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Ensor, David||Kerr, Russell (Feltham)|
|Barnett, Joel||Faulds, Andrew||Kirk, Peter|
|Bern, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Fernyhough, E.||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Bessell, Peter||Fisher, Nigel||Lee, Rt. Hn. Jennie (Cannock)|
|Binns, John||Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)|
|Bishop, E. S.||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Loughlin, Charles|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Luard, Evan|
|Booth, Albert||Forrester, John||Lubbock, Eric|
|Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward||Fowler, Gerry||MacColl, James|
|Bradley, Tom||Fraser, John (Norwood)||MacDermot, Niall|
|Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Freeson, Reginald||Maclennan, Robert|
|Brooks, Edwin||Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)||McNamara, J. Kevin|
|Brown, Hugh D. (G'gOW, Provan)||Ginsburg, David||Marquand, David|
|Brown, Bob(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,W.)||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.|
|Brawn, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury)||Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)||Mayhew, Christopher|
|Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Millan, Bruce|
|Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)||Gregory, Arnold||Miller, Dr. M. S.|
|Cant, R. B.||Gresham Cooke, R.||Molloy, William|
|Carmichael, Neil||Griffiths, Will (Exchange)||Moonman, Eric|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)|
|Clark, Henry||Hamling, William||Morris, Alfred (Wythemhawe)|
|Coe, Denis||Harper, Joseph||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)|
|Concannon, J. D.||Haseldine, Norman||Murray, Albert|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Henig, Stanley||Noel-Baker, Rt.Hn.Phillip(Derby, S.)|
|Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret||Norwood, Christopher|
|Dalyell, Tam||Heseltine, Michael||Ogden, Eric|
|Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)||Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town)||Orme, Stanley|
|Davidson,Jumes(Aberdeenshire, W.)||Hooley, Frank||Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'th)|
|Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)||Hornby, Richard||Palmer, Arthur|
|Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway)||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Howell, David (Guildford)||Pardoe, John|
|de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey||Howie, W.||Parker, John (Dagenham)|
|Dell, Edmund||Huckfield, L.||Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)|
|Dewar, Donald||Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.)||Pavitt, Laurence|
|Dobson, Ray||Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh)||Perry, Ernest C. (Battersea, S.)|
|Driberg, Tom||Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak)||Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)|
|Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)||Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)||Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)|
|Rees-Davies, W. R.||Silverman, Julius (Aston)||Walden, Brian (All Saints)|
|Reynolds, G. W.||Sinclair, Sir George||Watkins, David (Consett)|
|Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)||Skeffington, Arthur||Whitaker, Ben|
|Robinson, Rt.Hn.Kenneth(St.P'c'as)||Snow, Julian||Whitlock, William|
|Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)||Steel, David (Roxburgh)||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Rose, Paul||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.)||Swingler, Stephen||Winnick, David|
|Ryan, John||Taverne, Dick||Winstanley, Dr. M. P.|
|Scott, Nicholas||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret||Wyatt, Woodrow|
|Shaw, Arnold (llford, S.)||Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)|
|Sheldon, Robert||Thomson, Rt. Hn. George||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Shore, Peter (Stepney)||Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy||Mr. Edward Lyons and|
|Short, Rt.Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)||Urwin, T. W.||Mr. John Hunt.|
|Short, Mrs. Renée(W'hampton,N.E.)||Varley, Eric G.|
|Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)||Vickers, Dame Joan|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James|
|Alldritt, Walter||Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David|
|Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n)||Hirst, Geoffrey||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Baker, W. H. K.||Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.)||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Hutchison, Michael Clark||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Smart, William|
|Black, sir Cyril||Kerr, Mrs. Anns (R'ter & Chatham)||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Braine, Bernard||Kimball, Marcus||Taylor, Edward M.(G'gow,Cathcart)|
|Buck, Antony (Colchester)||Knight, Mrs. Jill||Teeling, Sir William|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Sir Oliver||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Tilney, John|
|Crowder, F. P.||Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)||Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.|
|Cunningham, Sir Knox||MacArthur, Ian||Wall, Patrick|
|Currie, C. B. H.||McBride, Neil||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham)||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Dance, James||Maddan, Martin||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|English, Michael||Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Farr, John||Mahon, Simon (Bootle)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Marten, Neil||Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard|
|Fortescue, Tim||Maydon, Lt. Cmdr. S. L. C.||Wright, Esmond|
|Fraser,Rt.Hn.Hugh(St'fford & Stone)||Mellish, Robert||Wylie, N. R.|
|Gilmour, Sir John (Fife E.)||Murton, Oscar||Younger, Hn. George|
|Glover, Sir Douglas||Nabarro, Sir Gerald|
|Goodhew, Victor||Oakes, Gordon||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Gower, Raymond||Page, Graham (Crosby)||Mr. James A. Dunn and|
|Grant-Ferris, R.||Percival, Ian||Mr. Harold Gurden.|
|Hall John (Wycombe)||Pink, R. Bonner|
|(2) A registered medical practitioner shall be guilty of an offence if he performs, assists or advises in the termination of a pregnancy permitted by this Act in consideration of a fee in excess of such fee as may be prescribed in regulations from time to time by the Minister of Health and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of £500 and in the case of a second or subsequent conviction to a fine of £1,000.|
With this Amendment, it is proposed that we take Amendment No.59, in page 1, line 26, at end insert:
'who shall prescribe as a condition of such approval being granted or renewed the fees chargeable for treatment for termination of pregnancy in such place'
and the Amendment to Amendment No.60, in line 3, leave out from second 'of' to first 'and' in line 4 and insert 'seventy-five pounds'.
an offence for a medical practitioner to charge a higher fee than is prescribed from time to time by the Minister of Health. As a corollary, I seek to add to the existing subsection (2) of the Clause a provision enabling the Minister of Health, when granting permission for a place to be used as a clinic for the purposes of an abortion, to take into account whether that clinic is charging fees higher than those which might be prescribed by the Minister.
Secondly, there is novelty in the Amendment inasmuch as it seeks to prescribe means of regulating by law fees for a medical operation. Here again, I appreciate that it might be considered by some to be a thin end of a wedge for the control of private medicine and that there may be objections on that score. I recognise the novelty on both those counts. Nevertheless, with the Bill as a whole the House is creating a novel situation. It will be creating a new climate in social life. Inasmuch as we do that, I suggest to the sponsors of the Bill that a certain adventure is required on their part to depart a little further even in the law to ensure that the Bill does what, I believe, they seek that it will do.
I believe that in promoting the Bill, its sponsors have been greatly influenced by the work over the last 30 years of the Abortion Law Reform Association. The Secretary of that Association, Mrs. Alice Jenkins, a redoubtable campaigner for abortion law reform over the past 30 years, has written a book which significantly is called "Law for the Rich". I want to refer shortly to two passages from it which are directly relevant to the case which I seek to make out in favour of these Amendments.
Mrs. Jenkins writes on page 36:
Illegal operations now fall into two completely different categories: in the first, exceedingly dangerous operations are performed in an atmosphere charged with apprehension and, unless the patient's condition becomes immediately dangerous, are unaccompanied by post-operative treatment of any kind; in the second, secret but safe surgery is performed by qualified operators under asceptic conditions in hospital or nursing home. It is very strongly felt that this dual situation is unsatisfactory and unjust.
She writes on page 29:
I asked myself the question, 'If a woman tired with the cares of her existing family could thus have an unwelcome pregnancy safely terminated, could this help not be extended to poverty-stricken women in the lower income groups? Or must safe surgical termination remain the prerogative of the rich?'
It has been the avowed intention of the campaigners for abortion law reform ever a period of some 30 years to do away with the situation which apparently exists in the country that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor and that whether or not a woman can safely obtain an abortion depends on the size of her own, her husband's or man friend's pocket. I ask the sponsors to consider an Amendment which seeks to further this aim, which is one of the main planks of their Bill.
During earlier debates, I have been impressed by the arguments advanced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), who has warned the House repeatedly that rackets in abortion will develop if the Bill is passed in its present form. Fears have been expressed in many quarters that it could be a golden charter for a certain type of medical practitioner.
We have heard figures of illegal operations varying between 30,000 and 250,000 a year. If they are anything like accurate, it is clear that there will be a tremendous demand for the services of medical practitioners once the Bill becomes law. At the same time, we are all aware of the present shortcomings of the National Health Service, particularly in terms of hospitals and the availability of beds. We know, too, the great shortage of doctors and nursing staff. These are the traditional elements of supply and demand—the great demand that there will be for abortions, and the shortage of facilities in our National Health Service to cope with the demand. Here we have all the incipient ingredients for a widespread and extremely lucrative racket to develop.
But that is not the only consideration, because experience in countries where abortion has been permitted for some time shows that women will be desirous of going to medical practitioners outside the State service to procure a speedy abortion in conditions of secrecy which they will feel will not appertain under the State service. Scandinavia is an example of this, and there is a reference to the problem in that country in the report of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. This is another reason why large numbers of women will try to get an abortion performed outside the State service.
I am suggesting that a fee should be fixed for the carrying out of these operations, so that this racket is not allowed to grow, and so that the sponsors of this Measure can achieve one of the objects for which they have campaigned for many years, namely, to ensure that a practice does not grow up in which, by paying a high fee, it becomes easy to get a speedy abortion in conditions of secrecy which will not be available to people not so well off.
In referring to my Amendment, perhaps I might draw attention to the Amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). My Amendment seeks to leave it to the Minister of Health to stipulate what the fee should be. I am not attempting to posit what it should be, because I do not think that I am qualified to decide that. One operation may vary from another, and the matter can be dealt with far more easily by the Minister acting in consultation with the profession.
The Minister will obviously want to confer with the official medical bodies on what is a right and proper fee to charge for this medical service. I am not seeking to impose a fee which is so small as to make it completely unattractive for a doctor to perform this operation. If I were to try to do that, I would be accused of carrying out a wrecking operation, and this is not my object. I am, therefore, happy to leave it to the Minister, in consultation with the professional bodies, to arrive at a right and proper figure which he will fix as a maximum to prevent a racket developing and to prevent extortionate fees being charged for this operation on women who are in dire distress, and who feel that because of the general circumstances they might not be able to get speedy treatment under the National Health Service. I hope that for that reason the Amendment will commend itself to the House.
I appreciate that there are possible objections. It might be said that it is not possible for the Minister to fix a fee which would cover all the different types of abortion operation which might be required to be performed. We know that there are various methods—there is the curettage method; the long spoon; the injection of iodine paste and the use of the vacuum pump, which are all relatively simple methods. Probably a small fee would be chargeable when these methods were used in the early stages of preg- nancy. But at a late stage of pregnancy, where complications exist, it might be said that that fee would not be appropriate. Here again, it is possible for the Minister, by regulations, to say that if a doctor feels that he has earned more than the average prescribed fee because of some complication he can apply to the Minister for a plussage in the fee for the skill that he may have had to exercise in this operation.
This is a novel situation for the medical profession and may therefore be objected to strenuously by medical practitioners who have had to work under this system for many years. There are means whereby, through their own professional bodies—the taxing office of the High Court is an example—fees can be increased in the case of special circumstances applying. It is not beyond the ingenuity of man, and certainly not beyond the ingenuity of the Minister of Health and his Department, to devise regulations under which this could be operated fairly. That is all I seek to do.
I want to avoid the creation of a racket. I have been told of a gentleman, whose name I obviously shall not mention, but which has been given to me by a medical practitioner who has referred patients to him. This gentleman, who operates in the West End of London, performs about 12 operations per morning, at a charge of 120 guineas a time. The demand is there for him. But I understand that anyone who is unable to pay his fee receives short shrift from his receptionist.
I understand that it is fairly common knowledge, but if the Minister requires the name and address for his own reasons I shall be happy to supply them to him. I do not see how this will advance the argument one way or the other. I ask the hon. Member, however, to accept that the information I am seeking to give the House is genuine information, and that I have tested it carefully before seeking to use it here.
But with this Bill, couched as it is in the widest and vaguest terms, there exists a real inducement for certain types of medical practitioners to be very easy in their consciences when deciding whether or not to abort. We have had a lot of discussion about the meaning of the word "risk". We have been told by the sponsors of the Bill—
My argument is that, for the incentive of a large fee, some doctors may interpret the Bill more widely than others. The word "risk" is qualitatively but not quantitatively defined. Any pregnancy could be a risk to a woman, and one doctor might offer to abort for a large enough fee, whereas another might say that this was not Parliament's intention and that he did not propose to abort. The Amendment would be a disincentive to the former kind of doctor. This is a real danger. There must be some bar to high fees when the demand will exceed the capacity of the medical service.
Amendment No. 59 is designed to prevent evasion, so that a doctor could not arrange with the nursing home to charge a high fee although he himself did not. Therefore, there should be a limit on doctors' fees and the Minister should be able to prescribe the fees of nursing homes and revoke their licences to perform abortions if there was abuse. This is vitally important. I hope that the Amendments will be acceptable to the sponsors, as they are on all fours with their motives.
I agree that this is a matter of great principle. I wish to see the law of abortion codified so that one does not have to rely on the Bourne case. What worries me is that the Bill is now in such a state that the result will be to encourage abortions to be carried out outside the National Health Service and not within it by men who are qualified but who are in private practice and taking a great deal of money for the operation. The Government are now sponsoring the Bill, so, with the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel), the Minister, who introduced a similar Bill many years ago, has a responsibility to get the matter tightened up and straight.
I do not agree with everything said by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) but I agree about the dimensions of the problem. Many doctors who have been indulging in the private practice of abortion are looking forward to the enactment of the Bill because it will add immensely to their rewards. Pregnancies will be able to be terminated much more easily.
Those of us who know a certain amount about the National Health Service, know that it is impossible for there to be many more terminations within it because of the amount of room available in the wards. Therefore many pregnancies will be terminated outside the National Health Service. Somehow, Parliament must provide against the dangers.
I do not believe that it would be right for the Minister to make a series of regulations dealing with private practice. It is vital that his relations with the medical profession should be such that he does not interfere with private practice, although encouraging members of the medical profession to devote more and more of their time to the National Health Service. I therefore reject the solution proposed in my hon. Friend's Amendment.
But that does not absolve Parliament from the duty of facing the problem and stating the maximum figure that may be charged. It is impossible to lay down a catalogue of prices for the different operations involved, but what we can say is that in no circumstances should the fee be more than a certain amount.
In my Amendment to the Amendment, I propose a fee of £75 because I would not regard that as unreasonable for a medical man carrying out this operation. But I happen to know that it is a good deal less than the fee that is being charged in some establishments by some doctors. If the House thinks the figure too high or too low, it is for the House to decide the appropriate figure and not for the Minister by regulation.
In Amendment No. 59, my hon. Friend is getting into very difficult waters in trying to prescribe what a nursing home may charge, presumably for the type of comfort and food it gives. Great difficulty is involved here. I doubt whether one could ask any Minister to deal with the problem of the nursing home. I can think of one nursing home where any Ministerial interferences would be strongly opposed by many doctors—and the Minister knows the home of which I speak. It would not be wise to try to regulate in this way. What is important is to lay down a maximum fee for the operation when it is carried out outside the National Health Service.
I hope that the Bill will be so operated that these pregnancies are terminated within the National Health Service and not without it, but a great obligation rests on the Minister to see that beds are available throughout the regions so that gynaecologists can carry out these operations. At present they are not. I hope that he will intervene in the debate to tell us his plans for encouraging the termination of more of these pregnancies within the National Health Service.
Order. The hon. Member should address his right hon. Friend through the Chair and not by turning round towards his right hon. Friend. The reporters want to hear him.
All the gynaecologists in my own regional board have written to me to say that, whatever the provisions of the Bill, no more pregnancies can be terminated than are being terminated now. They are liberal in their interpretation of the present law, following the Bourne case, but the beds are not available. In any event, it would simply interfere with the important gynaecological work which they are doing.
In operating the Bill, the Minister should see how he can prevent a racket from developing as I am afraid it will unless some provision such as this is made. One method would be to accept such an Amendment and the other lies in the Minister's power to give a higher priority to gynaecological wards in the regional hospital board building plans. Now that the Government have taken over the Measure, it is their duty to see that it works.
The hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) raised an interesting point in the Amendment and one which we did not consider in Committee. We come to a series of Amendments which differ from those which we have been discussing in that most of them relate to the administration of the Bill once it becomes an Act. For quite different reasons from those outlined by the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), I think that, whatever views they take of the Bill, hon. Members expect to be guided in matters of this kind by the Ministers who will be responsible for carrying out the administration of the Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman has had great experience, and I agree with what he said about the difficulty of introducing a new principle—this was in part conceded by the hon. Member for Hornsey—in that for the first time in private medicine we should invite the Minister to intervene with a welter of Regulations. This is a serious difficulty, and I do not see that we shall get round it. On the other hand, the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion is open to the obvious objection that if we lay down a maximum fee it may well be necessary with the decreasing value of money—even if he has selected the right fee now—to amend the Act to change it.
In talking about the likelihood of a racket and excessive fees, we must consider why high fees are charged now. I suggest that there are two reasons. One is that in some parts of the country medical thought is in favour of a very narrow interpretation of the law and practice of abortion. A gynaecologist in the London area addressed a meeting of hon. Members interested in the Bill some months ago. He told me that a considerable and noticeable proportion of his patients were referred to him by practitioners in the Birmingham area for legal abortions. They were referred to private practice because a particular school of thought existed in the area where the G.P.'s operated.
If the Bill is successful in its operation, and with the changing practice of medicine and the clear-cut state of the law with which the general practitioners will then be armed in arguing with the specialists, it may well be that this pressure of demand on the private practice will ease off, because practice will become more uniform throughout the country over a period of time.
The second reason why high fees are charged is that people are under the impression when they seek an abortion in private practice that they must be prepared to pay a high fee because in part they are recompensing the practitioner for taking a risk at law. In this belief, some people have very high fees extorted from them. I hope that once the Bill is passed this factor in high fees will disappear.
One difficulty with both the suggestions before us is that part of the large fees charged is divided between a number of people. I think that the hon. Member for Hornsey has tried to meet the difficulty in Amendment No. 59, but not successfully. Part of the fee may go to the nursing home, and the anaesthetist may take a proportion. Once we embark on the road of regulation of fees, we shall have to go very far to create a comprehensive system.
The hon. Member for Hornsey is concerned that the Bill should not lead to racketeering, which is a substantial point. He says that his suggestion is one way to stop it, but I shall tell him of a parallel case, for which I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley). It is that of a doctor who was convicted a little time no of issuing a false private certificate to a soldier, certifying his inability to return to his unit because of ill-health. A big part of the prosecution case was that an excessive fee had been charged for the certificate, and that that was substantial proof that he had not acted in good faith.
Similarly, we must remember that the B.11 requires two practitioners to act in good faith. I think that a substantial part of a prosecution under the Bill would be that an obviously excessive fee had been charged and that this showed that the general practitioner acted from monetary motives and not reasons of good faith. That safeguard is still in the Bill, and therefore I do not share the fears about racketeering.
I am sympathetic to the reasons behind the Amendments, but, although we do not take responsibility in this, I suggest from the point of view of the sponsors that there are great difficulties in them, and that we can meet their purposes in other ways.
While I do not think I share the faith of the sponsor of this Bill that the passage of the Bill will in fact substantially reduce over a wide field the fees which are charged for termination of pregnancy, I find myself quite unable to accept the Amendments by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). Indeed, while I perfectly appreciate and completely respect the motives which have led them to propose them, I believe they are wrong in principle. I cannot follow the logic of them, and I am quite certain that they would not have the effect which they believe they would have.
To take first the solution which my right hon. Friend suggests, the sponsor of the Bill is perfectly right, clearly, in saying it may be dangerous—I believe it is dangerous—for the Minister of Health to start interfering with the financial arrangements of private practice, but it must be infinitely more dangerous, if not ludicrous, for Parliament to prescribe and fix a figure which would need another Act of Parliament to amend it if it happened to be wrong in the circumstances of the market, the demand and supply, of this service at any given moment. This cannot be the right way to go about it.
Indeed, it cannot be right for the Minister of Health to start prescribing fees in the private sector of the National Health Service. It is all very well to say that a racket will develop in this, but the purpose of the Bill is to make legal something which has hitherto been illegal, or at least, to clarify the doubts in doctors' minds as to whether it will or will not be legal. Are we to say that something which by Parliament is now made legal for doctors to do is something so immoral that the Minister of Health has to prescribe the fees to be charged for it? Surely common sense demands that, if there is a private sector in the medical service, in that sector doctors and surgeons should be free to fix the fees which, in the professional circumstances of supply and demand. seem reasonable, and which the traffic will bear?
Yes, and, of course, he has been jolly careful not to do it, too, and for very good reasons, and I suggest that this is one of the most unsuitable fields in which to start.
Yes—because we are not here in this Amendment dealing with operations which are being performed in National Health Service hospitals. This is the point. What we are dealing with is something outside the National Health Service. Inside the National Health Service this does not really arise, and for the Minister to start prescribing a scale of fees for something which is legal and is done in the same way as other operations are performed in the private sector of the Service would be wrong and dangerous as a precedent.
But there is something more important, I believe, even than this, though that as a principle is important enough. It is this. Will it work? Will it have the effect which my hon. and right hon. Friends claim it will? I do not believe it will. Indeed, I believe that it may have precisely the opposite effect to the one which they think it will have. We are, as I have said before, purporting in this Bill to make legal certain things which are now illegal, or, at least, doubtful.
One reason why high fees are charged now is that in certain areas there is a restrictive attitude towards the interpretation of case law under the Bourne judgment. And in certain areas it may be physically impossible to increase the number of pregnancies that are terminated owing to the shortage of medical manpower and facilities for caring for the patient.
There are two sides to the argument. One side can argue that if we legalise this, there is less reason for people to pay high fees, while the other side can argue that people will not be able to get it done legally under the new system, anyway. However, the moment the Minister tries to prescribe fees, he is attempting to judge the market price at which the supply and demand for this will be equated. This would be difficult and delicate for him to do, for if he got it wrong he would be driving people into a black market in this operation. This is an important argument against the Amendment. If the fees are fixed too high, there is no purpose in the Amendment. If they are too low, the effect of the proposal would be the opposite of that suggested. It would be attractive for doctors to go into the black market and perform these operations, if not illegally then at least in circumstances the opposite of those which my hon. Friend is trying to get accepted.
I am doubtful whether the passage of the Bill will prevent a lucrative black market in abortions from flourishing In any event, a wide sector of the public will remain ignorant that the Bill has been passed and will proceed roughly along the same path as before The desire not to come out into the open, but to keep this secret, will continue to make it only too easy for the unscrupulous practitioner to charge what fees he likes for doing this operation in certain conditions. For these reasons the House must reject the Amendment.
I deliberately said that the errors of drafting would make it unacceptable. There are also matters of principle which would make it unacceptable. For example, it makes no reference to the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is very much involved in this matter. The drafting includes penalties applicable to advice and the actual termination. It would therefore apply to any practitioner who gave advice only—for instance, the private general practitioner originally advising the termination—as well as to the practitioner carrying out the termination itself.
I also remind the hon. Gentleman that in January last the House accepted the general proposition, to which my right hon. Friend has referred in an intervention, that there should be no limitation of private fees charged by private practitioners to private patients outside the National Health Service—
The right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) is quite right: I concede that in view of his experience one must pay great attention to what he has said. The limitation was in regard to private patients in beds in National Health Service hospitals, but I was getting to the general principle that if we accept that there should not be interference between the practitioner and his private patient in the National Health Service hospital, how much more should that principle apply to termination outside National Health Service hospitals? The House not having challenged that decision in January, it would not, in my judgment, be appropriate for a change to be made in the proposition that we should not interfere in the relationship between doctor and private patient.
Another criticism of the Amendment is that it does not distinguish between conviction by summary proceedings and conviction on indictment. In point of fact, the penalty embodied in the Amendment would be far too high for imposition by a magistrates' court.
Having dealt with Amendment No. 60, I come back to the point made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thirsk and Malton, whose desire is to impose an arbitrary fee. I think that that point was well answered, if I may say so, by the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon. The right hon. Gentleman has perhaps forgotten that this is not a simple or uniform type of operation. Indeed, it has many combinations and permutations, and such a notional or arbitrary figure would not be applicable. Nor does it appear to lend itself even to a scale of fees—
What I am trying to lay down, although it may be inadequate, is the maximum amount that could ever be charged, therefore, presumably, for the most difficult case of termination.
Whatever the right hon. Gentleman meant, he did not say so, nor does his Amendment to the proposed Amendment make that distinction.
The argument I have just adduced regarding the acceptance by the House early this year of not interfering in the relationship between doctor and private patient applies equally to Amendment No. 59, but an additional curiosity about that Amendment is that, unlike that which I have just been discussing, it does not provide for there to be an offence committed by a doctor practising in an approved place or committed by the proprietors of an approved place.
We therefore feel that, in the circumstances, neither Amendment should commend itself to the House, since each, for one reason or another, conflicts with the decision taken last January by the House not to impose any sort of limitation on the charges made by the doctor to a private patient.
At the time those regulations were passed, this Bill, as now, was not the law of the land. What is the relevance of saying that because the House earlier this year approved those regulations, it cannot go back on them? The purpose of the Bill is to change the status of the law and a great many things. It is quite irrelevant to say that because it went through then we cannot go back on it now.
I do not think the hon. Member can have understood the argument. Nor do I think the House should find it acceptable that from month to month we should change the law in this way. The general proposition was not challenged by anyone. It was accepted by a Front Bench spokesman opposite. Although, contrary to what the hon. Member tried to imply, this is not a Government Measure, a considerable body of opinion on both sides of the House accepts it.
On the face of it, this Amendment is very attractive. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) argued it in most persuasive and attractive way. I think all of us are disturbed at the thought that abortion may be more easily available if one has the money to pay for it than if one has not.
I was astonished when the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) seemed to question the facts of life revealed by my hon. Friend. It certainly is the position at the moment and will be if and when the Bill becomes law.
I was certainly not questioning the information given by the hon. Member for Hornsey. I gather that it is well known to other hon. Members. I was trying to point out the difference between knowing of things reported in the Press and statements in this House. I was not challenging the information.
I am not quarrelling with that, but underlining the fact that under existing case law one can obtain an abortion in return for fees in circumstances where a doctor believes in good faith that if termination is carried out the life or health of the woman will be protected. There is nothing in the Bill to alter that.
I do not agree with the Amendment, but that does not mean that I am unhappy about it being put down. We are deeply indebted to my hon. Friend for tabling it. It is an Amendment which strikes at the heart of the Bill's deficiencies and the appalling attitude of indifference towards its consequences which the Government have so far shown, which was displayed a moment ago by the Parliamentary Secretary. It is an attitude of mind which I previously described—
I was about to say that I am glad that this Amendment is being discussed, for two reasons. The first is that it reminds us that while the Bill permits terminations to take place within the National Health Service—which is what the public are being led to believe—it does nothing about the flourishing private sector within which so many legal abortions already take place. It focuses attention on that fact and it also reminds us that, precisely because of the Government's refusal to insist upon the Bill containing a number of safeguards which the leaders of the medical profession want, consultant gynaecologists within the National Health Service almost to a man have been alienated. Some have roundly declared, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton made clear, that enactment of the Bill will not lead to any increase in the number of therapeutic abortions in the beds which they control. Even if they were of such a nature—
The difficulty is that, both in the Standing Committee and again in the House on Report, there has been a disposition on the part of some hon. Members not to face the facts of life where this topic is concerned. I am seeking simply to give warning that if, in fact, my hon. Friend's Amendment is accepted, and the private sector is circumscribed, then far from this Bill increasing the number of therapeutic abortions, there will be a reduction. That is all I am saying and I think that is relevant to the Amendment before us.
I should like to adduce what are the facts supporting this contention, because they go right to the very heart of this Bill. These facts need to be hammered home again and again until those responsible wake up to the fact that what they are doing—
This Bill is utterly and completely wrong unless it makes it possible to meet likely demand once it is enacted. Since it is impossible under present circumstances to increase the facilities, at least within the National Health Service, then it must follow, as night follows day, that facilities can be provided only in the private sector. The object of my hon. Friend's Amendment is to bring under control the number of therapeutic abortions at present carried out for fees by laying down a minimum set of fees. It is left to the Minister to say by way of regulation what those fees shall be, and if not, then the House really must wake up to the fact that the Bill is a snare and a delusion.
I wish to draw attention to the first part of my argument, namely, that it is impossible to provide the facilities which the sponsors of the Bill have led the public to believe will be provided in the National Health Service. At last week's meeting of the B.M.A. a number of speeches were made on this subject.
With the greatest possible respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the Parliamentary Secretary made no reference to the realities of the situation which are being dealt with by the Amendment. For example, the Minister issued a Report only last week on the Health Service which revealed that there are now over half a million people waiting for admission to beds in National Health Service hospitals.
Order. The hon. Gentleman is not dealing with the Amendment, which makes it an offence for a practitioner to perform an abortion for a fee above that which is prescribed in the Amendment. The Amendment deals also with the question of the Minister's prescribing the level of fees. The hon. Gentleman has not in anything he has said come to the Amendment. I must ask him to do so.
May I make it quite plain that I do not like the idea of singling out termination of pregnancy as one form of medical treatment where the doctor is rewarded with high fees. He is rewarded at the moment with high fees. The suggestion has been made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) that a maximum fee of £75 should be fixed. I do not wish to tangle with my right hon. Friend, but a maximum fee would become the basic fee. My right hon. Friend completely forgets that operations for the termination of pregnancy may range from a perfectly simple operation taking a very short period of time—in some countries it is an operation which takes place in out-patient clinics—to an operation involving possibly great danger to the life or health of the woman concerned. Therefore, the suggestion which is made is completely unrealistic. It is fatuous to try to fix a fee for an operation of this kind, whether performed outside the National Health Service or in the Service, where, incidentally, there will be no increase in the number of therapeutic abortions, for the simple reason that not only do the facilities not exist but the gynaecological waiting list is increasing. I wonder how many hon. Members have consulted the Minister's Annual Report.
There they can see the figures, and this is relevant to the argument. On page 56 of the Report, issued last week, for gynaecology, the figure is an 84,000 increase—10 per cent. on last year alone.
I am not prepared to give this Minister of Health the power to include in his Regulations a right to set up a scale of fees for something which this Bill will make perfectly lawful. My hon. Friend, the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) put his finger on the weakness of fixing fees. If one fixes the fee too high, one makes it impossible for a large number of women who have every justification for seeking therapeutic abortion. One may make it impossible for them to seek it and drive them on to the black market. If one fixes it too low, the private sector will be flooded out and doctors attracted from the National Health Service for the simple reason that the Service is incapable of coping with the likely demand.
The sponsors of this Bill and the Minister have not listened to proposals which would have helped to make it more acceptable to the medical profession. If attempts are continually made to limit that private sector, and that is the effect of the Amendment, I predict that the number of illegal abortions will rise.
I go further—and this is the message I am trying to convey—and say that women who have been led to believe that this Bill will provide reform and easement of a serious social problem will then rise up in anger at the way they have been deceived.
May I respectfully endorse that. We are now coming to a most important group of matters. We are dealing with the administration of the Bill, if it becomes an Act. Whatever differences there may be in principle, I am sure that everyone wants to see the administrative parts of the Bill working properly. We are dealing with a part of the administration which goes to the root of why so many have wanted to see reform in this matter.
This touches directly on dislike of so many rackets that have been going on. Whatever differences there may be among hon. Members about the Bill, the one thing nobody wants, be it unintentional, is to do the opposite and make it easier for rackets. One of the objects of the Bill is to try to cut out this racket, which is thoroughly immoral. This is where the number of abortions which may take place after the Bill is enacted is directly relevant to this Amendment. Having listened with interest to the discussion, I have been most impressed by the fact, of which I was not aware, that it is, apparently, accepted on all sides that the National Health Service could not cope with more abortions. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]
It would be dangerous automatically to make that assumption. I am doubtful about it. Many of the cases in which illegal abortions are at present done are immediately admitted to hospital. It is, therefore, hoped that there will be a net gain, even though it will not be a large one, by allowing more legal abortions to be done.
I take the point. I recognise that in his professional capacity the hon. Member has more knowledge about this than I have. The fact that the fear exists that the National Health Service might not be able to cope, at least for some years, with the additional number makes the Amendment that much important.
The House would, I think, feel that unless the Bill results in a larger number of medical terminations, it will all have been a rather barren exercise. [Laughter.] That was not intended to be funny. I have always understood that we were endeavouring to liberalise the law because we feel that there are circumstances in which a pregnancy cannot be lawfully terminated when, on human grounds, one would want to see it terminated. Therefore, if we succeed in our object, it would seem that ex hypothesi the number will be greater.
That must import the danger that unless we are sure that the National Health Service can cope with that increase, the demand for abortions to be carried out by private practitioners will be that much the greater—I am putting this as mildly as I can—and there will be a tendency to strengthen the arm of the racketeer. That, broadly, is why I am so interested in the Amendment.
The hon. and learned Member and many other hon. Members keep mentioning racketeers. Will he take it from me that we must not confuse, and he must not confuse, what goes on in certain parts of the West End of London with what goes on in the rest of the country, because I am sure that what he is describing does not go on anywhere else to the same extent as it does in the West End of London?
I am mightily relieved to hear it. Even if the "racket" is only in London, however, I for one want to stop it in the one place where it is. The fact that it does not exist elsewhere does not lessen my desire to stop it in London.
I should like to get on with the point which I wanted to make and not be led astray by interventions. Having listened carefully to the argument, I feel, and I think that my hon. Friends who put forward the Amendment feel, that we have been much impressed by the difficulties to which our attention has been drawn in the method which we have sought to adopt to get at the difficulty that we have in mind.
I am rather disappointed that the speeches against the Amendment have been confined to picking holes in the Amendment, holes which, I think—I do not say this entirely critically—have been justifiable. I agree with most of the comments which have been made about the difficulties caused by the wording. I am disappointed, however, that I have not heard anybody make positive suggestions about what could take the place of what is proposed in the Amendment to secure the objective at which it is aimed.
Before this important debate ends, I hope that we shall hear a positive suggestion from a Minister. After all, Ministers are better equipped to deal with these problems, because they have those in their Departments who can produce the answers.
Nothing which I have heard has suggested that there is not a problem. The substance of the speeches so far has been that there may be a problem, but that this Amendment is not the way to deal with it. I accept that there are flaws in this attempted solution, but, in the absence of other suggestions, I hope that the House will give further thought to it.
When my hon. Friend moved his Amendment, I came to the conclusion that it was one which should be accepted. The introduction of artificial fee levels in an area where artificiality is not required will not conduce to anyone's good.
When the Parliamentary Secretary intervened, I hoped that he would give the House some cogent arguments. I have heard many Parliamentary Secretaries speaking in Committee and on Report, but I have never heard a reply which was so trivial and so unworthy of an Amendment. When a back bench hon. Member has drafted an Amendment, to say that it does not refer to Scotland or that it does not refer to magistrates' courts or to courts of session, and so on, is an insult to the House and to the mover. If he thinks that there is a case for it, he must say that there are defects, but the point is taken, and that a suitable Amendment will be moved in another place.
The hon. Gentleman is hoist on Morton's fork, and he thinks that he may be on the prongs, merely having responsibility for the Bill. That is one of the reasons why he steers this course, slipping down the U-bend of the fork.
Having made myself clear on what I think of the hon. Gentleman's reply in that respect, I want to go on to examine the only reason he put forward.
Having said that there were some defects in the drafting—and he enlarged on these—the only other reason the hon. Gentleman gave was that earlier this House had taken a view about fees to doctors for performing in a private
capacity in National Health Service hospitals. To argue that because the House took a view in a circumstance which is to be changed, because we are going to talk about different matters following the passage of the Bill—The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. Is the Bill going to change circumstances, or not?
That being so, I suppose it is a good reason for the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends to give it so much time to go through the House. It is either important, or it is not.
I appreciate your point, Mr. Speaker, but it is rather difficult for hon. Members to consider important points when the replies which we receive from the Government Front Bench are as equivocal as they have been. The only point of substance to which the Parliamentary Secretary addressed himself was that we had previously taken a view about private fees of a different nature in different circumstances.
I started by thinking that the Amendment should not be supported, and I still have grave doubts about it, but, having listened to the hon. Gentleman's intervention, and found it unsatisfactory, I shall find myself driven by that unsatisfactoriness into the Lobby.
|Division No. 459.]||AYES||[1.48 a.m.|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice||Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward|
|Archer, Peter||Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Bradley, Tom|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Barnett, Joel||Bray, Dr. Jeremy|
|Ashley, Jack||Bonn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)|
|Astor, John||Bessell, Peter||Brown,Bob(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,W.)|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)||Binns, John||Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury)|
|Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)||Bishop, E. S.||Bruce-Gardyne, J.|
|Cant, R, B.||Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret||Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)|
|Carlisle, Mark||Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town)||Quennell, Miss J. M,|
|Carmichael, Neil||Hooley, Frank||Rees-Davies, w. R.|
|Coe, Denis||Hornby, Richard||Reynolds, G. W.|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Richard, Ivor|
|Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard||Howie, W.||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas|
|Crouch, David||Huckfield, L.||Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)|
|Davidson, James(Aberdeenshire, W.)||Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.)||Robinson, Rt.Hn.Kenneth(St.P'c'as)|
|Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)||Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh)||Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)|
|Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway)||Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak)||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Jeger,Mrs.Lena(H'b'n&St.P'cras,S.)||Rose, Paul|
|Dell, Edmund||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.)|
|Dewar, Donald||Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)||Scott, Nicholas|
|Dobson, Ray||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)||Sheldon, Robert|
|Dunnett, Jack||Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)||Shore, Peter (Stepney)|
|Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)||Judd, Frank||Short, Mrs. Renée(W'hampton,N.E.)|
|Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'tti & C'b'e)||Kerr, Russell (Feltham)||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)|
|Eadie, Alex||Kirk, Peter||Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Lee, Rt. Hn. Jennie (Cannock)||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Ellis, John||Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Ennals, David||Luard, Evan||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Ensor, David||Lubbock, Eric||Snow, Julian|
|Faulds, Andrew||MacColl, James||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Fernyhough, E.||MacDermot, Niall||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Marquand, David||Swingler, Stephen|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||MaxweIl-Hyslop, R. J.||Taverne, Dick|
|Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Mayhew, Christopher||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret|
|Forrester, John||Mikardo, Ian||Varley, Eric G.|
|Foster, Sir John||Millan, Bruce||Vickers, Dame Joan|
|Fowler, Gerry||Miller, Dr. M. S.||Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)|
|Fraser, John (Norwood)||Miscampbell, Norman||Walden, Brian (AN Saints)|
|Freeson, Reginald||Molloy, William||Watkins, David (Consett)|
|Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)||Whitlock, William|
|Goodhart, Philip||Murray, Albert||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.||Norwood, Christopher||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)||Ogden, Eric||Winnick, David|
|Gresham Cooke, R.||Orbach, Maurice||Winstanley, Dr. M. P.|
|Griffiths, Will (Exchange)||Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)||Wyatt, Woodrow|
|Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles|
|Hamling, William||Pardoe, John||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Haseldine, Norman||Parker, John (Dagenham)||Mr. John Hunt and|
|Henig, Stanley||Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)||Mr. Edward Lyons,|
|Alldritt, Walter||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)||Page, Graham (Crosby)|
|Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n)||Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionet||Percival, Ian|
|Baker, W. H. K.||Hirst, Geoffrey||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Ramsdon, Rt. Hn. James|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Braine, Bernard||Kitson, Timothy||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Cullen, Mrs. Alice||Knight, Mrs. Jill||St. John-stevas, Norman|
|Cunningham, Sir Knox||Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)||Small, William|
|Currie, C. B. H.||MacArthur, Ian||Taylor,Edward M.(G'gow,Cathcart)|
|Dunce, James||McBride, Neil||Tilnsy, John|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Tinn, James|
|Dempsey, James||Macdonald, A. H.||Ward, Dame Irene|
|English, Michael||Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham)||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Farr, John||McNamara, J. Kevin||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Fortescue, Tim||Maddan, Martin||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Fraser,Rt.Hn.Hugh(St'fford & Stone)||Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Gibson-Watt, David||Mahon, Simon (Bootle)||Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard|
|Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.)||Marten, Neil||Wylie, N. R.|
|Glover, Sir Douglas||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.||Younger, Hn. George|
|Goodhew, Victor||Mellish, Robert|
|Grant-Ferris, R,||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Halt, John (Wycombe)||Murton, Oscar||Mr. James A. Dunn and|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael||Mr. Harold Gurden.|
|Division No. 460.]||AYES||[1.57 a.m.|
|Alldritt, Walter||Dempsey, James||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)|
|Biggs-Davison, John||English, Michael||Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Farr, John||Hirst, Geoffrey|
|Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)||Fraser.Rt.Hn.Hugh(St'fford & Stone)||Hutchison, Michael Clark|
|Cullen, Mrs. Alice||Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.)||Kerr, Mrs. Arms (R'ter & Chatham)|
|Cunningham, Sir Knox||Glover, Sir Douglas||Knight, Mrs. Jilt|
|Dance, James||Grant-Ferris, R.||Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)|
|Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford)||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)|
|McBride, Neil||Murton, Oscar||Tinn, James|
|Macdonald, A. H.||Page, Graham (Crosby)||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham)||Percival, Ian||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|McNamara, J. Kevin||Pink, R. Bonner||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Maddan, Martin||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)||Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard|
|Mahon, Simon (Bootle)||Russell, Sir Ronald||Wylie, N. R.|
|Marten, Neil||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.||Small, William||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Mellish, Robert||Taylor, Edward M.(G'gow,Catheart)||Mr. James A. Dunn and|
|Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||Tilney, John||Mr. Harold Gurden.|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Forrester, John||Ogden, Eric|
|Archer, Peter||Foster, Sir John||Orbach, Maurice|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Fowler, Gerry||Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)|
|Ashley, Jack||Fraser, John (Norwood)||Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles|
|Astor, John||Freeson, Reginald||Pardoe, John|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)||Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)||Parker, John (Dagenham)|
|Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)||Goodhart, Philip||Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)|
|Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.||Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)||Quennell, Miss J. M.|
|Barnett, Joel||Gresham Cooke, R.||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Griffiths, Will (Exchange)||Reynolds, G. W.|
|Bessell, Peter||Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Richard, Ivor|
|Binns, John||Hamling, William||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas|
|Bishop, E. S.||Haseldine, Norman||Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)|
|Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward||Henig, Stanley||Robinson, Rt. Hn. Kenneth(St.P'c'as)|
|Bradley, Tom||Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret||Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)|
|Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town)||Rose, Paul|
|Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)||Hooley, Frank||Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.)|
|Brown, Bob(N'c'tle-upon.Tyne, W.)||Hornby, Richard||Scott, Nicholas|
|Brown, R. W. (Shorediteh & F'bury)||Houghton, Rt. Hn, Douglas||Sharples, Richard|
|Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Howie, W.||Sheldon, Robert|
|Buck, Antony (Colchester)||Huckfield, L.||Shore, Peter (Stepney)|
|Cant, R. B.||Hughes, Emrye (Ayrshire, S.)||Short, Mrs. Renée(W'hampton, N. E.)|
|Carlisle, Mark||Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh)||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)|
|Carmichael, Neil||Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak)||Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Coe, Denis||Jeger, Mrs. Lena(H'b'n&St.P'cras,S.)||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard||Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Crouch, David||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)||Snow, Julian|
|Dalyell, Tam||Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Davidson, James(Aberdeenshire, W.)||Judd, Frank||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)||Kerr, Russell (Feltham)||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.|
|Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway)||Kirk, Peter||Swingler, Stephen|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Lee, Rt. Hn. Jennie (Cannock)||Taverne, Dick|
|Dell, Edmund||Luard, Evan||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret|
|Dewar, Donald||Lubbock, Eric||Varley, Eric G.|
|Dobson, Ray||MacColl, James||Vickers, Dame Joan|
|Dunnett, Jack||MacDermot, Niall||Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)|
|Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)||Marquand, David||Walden, Brian (All Saints)|
|Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)||Maude, Angus||Watkins, David (Consett)|
|Eadie, Alex||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Whitlock, William|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Mayhew, Christopher||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Ellis, John||Mikardo, Ian||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Ennals, David||Millan, Bruce||Winnick, David|
|Ensor, David||Miller, Dr. M. S.||Winstanley, Dr. M. P.|
|Faulds, Andrew||Miscampbell, Norman||Wyatt, Woodrow|
|Fernyhough, E.||Molloy, William|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Murray, Albert||Mr. John Hunt and|
|Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Norwood, Christopher||Mr. Edward Lyons.|
I know that it is supposed to be drafting, but we ought to know exactly why it is necessary to clarify the Clause in this way. I understand that it is intended to make it clear that the Minister or Secretary of State referred to at the end of the subsection are the same as the Minister or Secretary
of State referred to at the beginning, but it does not quite do that. The phrase is,
approved for the purposes of this section by the Minister or the Secretary of State".
It therefore ought to read
or the said Secretary of State".
If we are trying to clarify it, we ought to say which Secretary of State it is. We assume that it is the Secretary of State for Scotland, but that is not clear. Nor is it clear in Clause 6, the Interpretation Clause—
|Division No. 461.]||AYES||[2.10 a.m.|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Eadie, Alex||Jackson, Colin (B'h'ee & Spenb'gh)|
|Archer, Peter||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Ellis, John||Jeger, Mrs.Lena(H'b'n&St.P'oras,S.)|
|Ashley, Jack||Ennals, David||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)|
|Astor, John||Ensor, David||Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)||Faulds, Andrew||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)|
|Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)||Fernyhough, E.||Judd, Frank|
|Bacon, Rt. Hn. Allce||Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Kerr, Russell (Feltham)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Kirk, Peter|
|Barnett, Joel||Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Lewie, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)|
|Bessell, Peter||Forrester, John||Luard, Evan|
|Binns, John||Foster, Sir John||Lubbock, Eric|
|Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward||Fowler, Gerry||MacColl, James|
|Bradley, Tom||Fraser, John (Norwood)||MacDermot, Niall|
|Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Freeson, Reginald||Marquand, David|
|Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)||Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.|
|Brown, Bob(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.)||Goodhart, Philip||Mikardo, Ian|
|Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury)||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.||Millan, Bruce|
|Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)||Miller, Dr. M. S.|
|Cant, R. B.||Gresham Cooke, R.||Molloy, William|
|Carlisle, Mark||Griffiths, Will (Exchange)||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)|
|Carmichael, Neil||Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Murray, Albert|
|Coe, Denis||Hamling, William||Norwood, Christopher|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Haseldine, Norman||Ogden, Eric|
|Davidson, James(Aberdeenshire, W.)||Henig, Stanley||Orbach, Maurice|
|Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)||Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret||Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town)||Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles|
|Dell, Edmund||Hooley, Frank||Pardoe, John|
|Dewar, Donald||Hornby, Richard||Parker, John (Dagenham)|
|Dobson, Ray||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)|
|Dennett, Jack||Howie, W.||Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)|
|Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)||Huckfield, L.||Quennell, Miss J. M.|
|Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'tti & C'b'e)||Hughes, Emrye (Ayrshire, S.)||Reynolds, G. W.|
|Richard, Ivor||Silverman, Julius (Aston)||Walden, Brian (All Saints)|
|Ridley, Hn. Nicholas||Sinclair, Sir George||Watkins, David (Consett)|
|Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)||Skeffington, Arthur||Whitlock, William|
|Robinson, Rt. Hn. Kenneth(St. P'c'as)||Snow, Julian||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)||Spriggs, Leslie||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Rote, Paul||Steel, David (Roxburgh)||Winnick, David|
|Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.)||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.||Winstanley, Dr. M. P.|
|Scott, Nicholas||Swingier, Stephen||Wyatt, Woodrow|
|Sheldon, Robert||Taverne, Dick|
|Shore, Peter (Stepney)||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Short, Mrs. Renée(W'hampton, N.E.)||Varley, Eric G.||Mr. Edward Lyons and|
|Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)||vickers, Dame Joan||Mr. John Hunt.|
|Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)||Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)|
|Alldritt, Walter||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Percival, Ian|
|Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n)||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Baker, W. H. K.||Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Hirst, Geoffrey||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Braine, Bernard||Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)||Knight, Mrs. Jill||Small, William|
|Cullen, Mrs. Alice||Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)||Taylor, Edward M.(G'gow, Cathcart)|
|Cunningham, Sir Knox||MacArthur, Ian||Tilney, John|
|Currie, G. B. H.||McBride, Neil||Tinn, James|
|Dance, James||Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham)||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Dempsey, James||Maddan, Martin||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|English, Michael||Marion, Peter (Preston, S.)||Wylie, N. R.|
|Farr, John||Marion, Simon (Bootle)||Younger, Hn. George|
|Fortescue, Tim||Marten, Neil|
|Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh(St'fford & Stone)||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Clover, Sir Douglas||Miscampbell, Norman||Mr. James A. Dunn and|
|Goodhew, Victor||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||Mr. Harold Gurden.|
|Grant-Ferris, R.||Murton, Oscar|
|Hall, John (Wycombe)||Page, Graham (Crosby)|
|Division No. 462.]||AYES||[2.18 a.m.|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Ennals, David||Kirk, Peter|
|Archer, Peter||Ensor, David||Luard, Evan|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Faulds, Andrew||Lubbock, Eric|
|Ashley, Jack||Fernyhough, E.||MacColl, James|
|Astor, John||Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||MacDermot, Niall|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Marquand, David|
|Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)||Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.|
|Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice||Forrester, John||Mikardo, Ian|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Foster, Sir John||Millan, Bruce|
|Barnett, Joel||Fowler, Gerry||Miller, Dr. M. S.|
|Bessell, Peter||Fraser, John (Norwood)||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Binns, John||Freeson, Reginald||Molloy, William|
|Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward||Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)|
|Bradley, Tom||Goodhart, Philip||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)|
|Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.||Murray, Albert|
|Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)||Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)||Ogden, Eric|
|Brown, Bob(N'c'tIe-upon-Tyne, W.)||Gresham Cooke, R.||Orbach, Maurice|
|Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury)||Griffiths, Will (Exchange)||Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)|
|Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles|
|Buck, Antony (Colchester)||Hamling, William||Pardoe, John|
|Cant, R. B.||Haseldine, Norman||Parker, John (Dagenham)|
|Carlisle, Mark||Henig, Stanley||Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)|
|Carmichael, Neil||Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret||Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)|
|Coe, Denis||Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town)||Quennell, Miss J. M.|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin||Reynolds, G. W.|
|Davidson, James(Aberdeenshire, W.)||Hooley, Frank||Richard, Ivor|
|Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)||Hornby, Richard||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas|
|Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway)||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Howie, W.||Robinson, Rt. Hn. Kenneth(St. P'c'as)|
|Dell, Edmund||Huckfield, L.||Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)|
|Dewar, Donald||Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.)||Rose, Paul|
|Dobson, Ray||Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh)||Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.)|
|Dunnett, Jack||Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak)||Scott, Nicholas|
|Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)||Jeger, Mrs. Lena(H'b'n&St.P'cras,S.)||Sharples, Richard|
|Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Sheldon, Robert|
|Eadie, Alex||Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)||Shore, Peter (Stepney)|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)||Short, Mrs. Renée(W'hampton, N.E.)|
|Ellis, John||Judd, Frank||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)|
|English, Michael||Kerr, Russell (Feltham)||Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Silverman, Julius (Aston)||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Sinclair, Sir George||Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.||Winnick, David|
|Skeffington, Arthur||Varley, Eric G.||Winstanley, Dr. M. P.|
|Snow, Julian||Vickers, Dame Joan||Wyatt, Woodrow|
|spriggs, Leslie||wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)|
|Steel, David (Roxburgh)||Walden, Brian (All Saints)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.||Watkins, David (Consett)||Mr. John Hunt and|
|Swingler, Stephen||Whitlock, William||Mr. Edward Lyons.|
|Taverne, Dick||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W)|
|Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n)||Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Page, Graham (Crosby)|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Hirst, Geoffrey||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Braine, Bernard||Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Cullen, Mrs. Alice||Knight, Mrs. Jill||Taylor, Edward M.(G'gow, Cathcart)|
|Cunningham, Sir Knox||Lever, L. M, (Ardwick)||Tilney, John|
|Currie, G. B M.||MacArthur, Ian||Tinn, James|
|Dance, James||McBride, Neil||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Dempsey, James||Maddan, Martin||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Farr, John||Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)||Younger, Hn. George|
|Fortescue, Tim||Mahon, Simon (Bootle)|
|Goodhew, Victor||Marten, Neil||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.||Mr. R. Grant-Ferris and|
|Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)||Murton, Oscar||Mr. Harold Gurden.|
I beg to move Amendment No. 31, in page 2, line 5, to leave out from 'that' to 'there' in line 6, and to insert 'without immediate termination'.
I should like, Mr. Speaker, if I may, to ask your guidance on a matter of some difficulty that arises in regard to this and the next following Amendment—Amendment No. 57—standing in the name of the sponsor of the Bill, in page 2, line 5, to leave out from 'necessary' to the end of the line and to insert
'to save the life or to prevent'.
It is quite clear that the two Amendments overlap in the text of the Bill, and therefore cannot both be carried in their present form. Mine is a purely drafting Amendment intended to tidy up the wording and put the meaning beyond doubt. Amendment No. 57 embodies a substantial point. While I believe it to be very difficult to discuss the two Amendments together, I do not quite see how, as they overlap and are incompatible, we can take them separately and carry both of them. I would therefore like your guidance whether or not it would be in the interests of the House that they should be taken together.
What the hon. Member says makes good sense. We will discuss the two Amendments together. If, when we come to the end of the discussion, the hon. Gentleman wished to press his Amendment, it would be possible to put the Question in a form which would save the sponsor's further Amendment. We will, then, take together Amendments Nos. 31 and 57, and with No. 57 we are already taking Amendment No. 32, in page 2, line 6, to leave out 'where there is a definite possibility of' and insert 'in order to avoid'. At the end I will, if necessary, put two Questions.
I do not wish to detain the House at any length on this Amendment, which is a minor drafting Amendment. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir J. Hobson), who is absent abroad in the service of the House, and my hon. Friends take the view that this is a Clause which has been altered substantially several times.
This is one of the matters which have been drafted and redrafted in Committee in an attempt to get wording which was legally unexceptionable and to meet the widely divergent points made by those who have interests in the reform of the law on abortion. We take the view that the wording which we have proposed, which refers to "immediate termination", completely meets the point which the promoters of the Bill wish to have met and which is in fact subject to no doubt or risk of being misinterpreted, whereas the words, "immediately necessary" are nothing like as clear. The word "immediately" in those circumstances might be considered to mean "very", or something fairly doubtful of that kind. I hope that the promoter will agree that this would make the legal meaning of the Clause clear beyond doubt and that it improves the wording of the Bill.
Amendment No. 57 arises as a result of trying to draft and redraft a difficult matter of this kind in Committee and on Report. Since there is clearly an overlap in these two Amendments, I should be perfectly happy if the promoters would give an assurance that they will look at the wording of the Clause again and if and when the Bill goes to another place try to tidy the wording. In that case I would not press this minor drafting Amendment to a Division.
It was recognised in Committee that because we had accepted one Amendment which was not fully effective, subsection (3) would have to be looked at again on Report. As reported at col. 467 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Committee, I said:
I am not at all satisfied that even the revised version which the hon. Member has produced is what we will eventually want in the Bill, but we should take the Parliamentary draftsman's advice on this."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee F, 16th March, 1967, c. 467.]
I have since taken the Parliamentary draftsman's advice and as a result I tabled Amendment No. 57, which does not make any point of substance but takes out the rather clumsy phrase,
where there is a definite possibility of the death or grave permanent injury.
This is a tidying of the wording. If we were to carry Amendment No. 31, to take Amendment No. 57 as a whole would not make sense. I am faced with the alternative of taking one Amendment or the other. I hope that the House
will accept Amendment No. 57, but I shall look at the phrase, "termination is immediately necessary" and, if this is found to be a point of substance, we can change it.
I shall look at what the hon. Member has said. The Amendment I have submitted should help to tidy this up, but I shall draw attention to the point the hon. Member has made.
I rise to make my first intervention of this evening. It is the first time that I have managed to get called, and I rise, first, to say that I consider this is an important Amendment to an important Clause—or perhaps I should say, group of Amendments—and it would indeed be ironic if the situation developed whereby, as a result of the passage of this Bill the position of a woman in an emergency would be worse than that prevailing before the Bill was passed.
Hon. Members may recall that it was during the Committee stage that I drew attention to this particular danger. There was, and there still is, some confusion as to the position under the common law and whether, in fact, the common law gives protection or is itself protected. My view was that it is not. The right hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) said that the common law was protected and that, therefore, a provision of this kind was not necessary. The Clause as it stands requires that before an operation can be carried out, there has to be a second opinion and that the operation can be carried out only in certain hospitals and places designated by the Minister.
That is what is laid down, but it is quite clear that emergencies may arise—indeed, will arise—and it would be quite wrong that a doctor should be fettered by these conditions. There are cases which I will not go into, but the present drafting of the Clause was moved by my noble Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North (Earl of Dalkeith) and, with great respect to him, I think that the words as they now stand do not make a
great deal of sense. If one reads the last part of the Clause it will be seen that these conditions
… shall not apply to the termination of a pregnancy by a registered medical practitioner in a case where he is of the opinion, formed in good faith, that the termination is immediately necessary where there is a definite possibility of the death or grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman".
I say that there are too many Clauses all in that one part—[Interruption]—yes, too much in one subsection. Something has to be done to give that any literal sense, let alone any legal sense. This is yet another example of hasty drafting because the scope of the Bill was not sufficiently thought out in advance.
Amendment No. 31 would make an improvement to the Bill, but naturally one prefers one's own words and in my Amendment, which we are also discussing—that is, Amendment No. 32, I seek to leave out
where there is a definite possibility of",
in favour of inserting the words, "in order to avoid". This, again, is a question of choice of drafting, and I should be quite satisfied with an undertaking that in another place—and we are still, fortunately, a bicameral legislature—the opportunity will be taken to improve the Bill in this as well as in other ways.
I want to refer to Amendment No. 57. A number of rival Amendments were discussed in Committee. The Minister of State said that she was not satisfied with any of the wording that had been used and indicated that her Department would look into the whole question of the drafting and produce a suitable draft. Has the wording contained in Amendment No. 57 her approval? Was it drafted by her advisers? It is not a mere drafting Amendment. It contains a. considerable change of principle, because, whereas the Clause says that the particular safeguards supplied by the Clause can be suspended if the medical practitioner
is of the opinion, formed in good faith, that tie termination is immediately necessarily where there is a definite possibility of the death or grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman".
Amendment No. 57 provides that he should be
of the opinion, formed in good faith, that the termination is … necessary".
The Amendment would lay down a very different standard. "A definite possibility" is preferable wording to "is necessary". It provides for a possibility which is wide, but there is a qualifying adjective there that it must be definite—that is, it must be real.
The wording is particularly important, for two reasons. Adequate protection must be given to the mother who is faced with an emergency threat to her health or life. Adequate protection must also be given to the doctor so that he can freely act in an emergency. There must not be wording which is so loose that it enables such safeguards as there are in the Clause to be avoided and permits a horse and cart to be driven through the Bill by means of the Clause, which has quite another purpose. Therefore, the Minister of State should give a full explanation of how this wording was arrived at and what her reactions are to—[Interruption.] If hon. Members wish to interrupt—
I shall ignore the provocation to which I have been subjected. In fact, I have concluded the substance of my remarks. It is a foolish habit to provoke people when they are about to conclude. I had already been closured when I was rising to say we did not intend to divide the House against drafting Amendments.
Whether the right hon. Gentleman believes it or not does not concern me. I do not require him to withdraw his remark. It reflects more on his incredulity than on my veracity.
As several hon. Members have said, the clumsy wording of this provision is a result of an Amendment accepted in Committee to extend emergency provision by providing not only for danger to life, but also for cases where there is a possibility of permanent injury to health and, as has also been pointed out, I said in Committee that the wording would probably need altering on Report.
We have three alternatives. The Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude), the one in the name of the sponsor of the Bill, and that in the name of the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas). In each case, I dissent from those who say that the meaning is being altered. There is an attempt to improve the wording without altering the meaning of the subsection. I can tell the hon. Member for Chelmsford that the sponsor of the Bill sought our advice, and the Amendment he put down has been drawn up by Parliamentary draftsmen. This improves the wording without altering the meaning of the subsection. I think the House might well accept what the sponsor has suggested in Amendment No. 57. The hon. Gentleman has given an undertaking that he will look at the matter again, but I believe that all three Amendments would improve the wording without altering the meaning. We prefer the version suggested by the sponsor.
The right hon. Lady has referred to the Amendments as alternatives. That is hardly the case, but she is right that an undertaking was given at an earlier stage to look at the wording. I think that the wording suggested by the promoter is an improvement on what we have and I am happy to accept it.
What disturbs me is that the promoter took the advice of, and has had the advantage of, the help of Parliamentary draftsmen, but that it has apparently not occurred to them that the words to which we take exception, "termination immediately necessary" must be, to say the least, ambiguous and capable of leading to misunderstanding, and need correction.
It is characteristic of what has happened in all too many stages of this Bill. I accept what the right hon. Lady says about the Amendment, that it is an improvement and represents the best advice. What is one to do when every effort has been made to bring the subsection to a satisfactory conclusion? Without our Amendment, and if we pass that put down by the promoter. the words "immediately necessary" remain in. I hardly regard that as satisfactory. They will have to be looked at again at a later stage.
The right hon. Lady shakes her head, but it is so. I cannot believe that this would be acceptable if it had to be put through the proper process of Parliamentary drafting.
Therefore, while I am willing to accept what the sponsor of the Bill has said, I must persuade the right hon. Lady that the two Amendments are not alternative. They refer to separate points. I am concerned that if the subsection is to make sense we should alter it but that, apparently, it must remain as it is.
This is the first time tonight that I have intervened. I speak very much in the mood of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), with his sincere desire to get a Bill that will be acceptable and not hostile to an alteration in the law.
What worries me, not having been a member of the Committee, is the amount of time that we seem to spend on Report, when there has been a genuine difference of opinion in Committee, when we find time and time again that certain words have been inserted, taken out or put back. We are presented with three Amendments, two of which have been accepted for discussion and the third has not, each of them intended to produce a better form of words for the subsection. In no case—this is a great disadvantage—do we get the authority of a Law Officer of the Crown—
I am debating the Amendment, Mr. Speaker. It is difficult for me to make up my mind whether I prefer Amendment No. 31 or Amendment No. 57. I am not a lawyer. I accept the arguments which have been put for both those Amendments, because I think that each represents an improvement on the wording of the Bill.
This is an important matter. We are dealing with the risk to the life of a person. [Interruption.] What astonishes me with the interjections which come from many sides of the House during the debate is that people seem to forget that the whole debate deals with human life. Therefore, even more importantly than if we were dealing with a Bill about housing, it is essential to get the wording right. We are dealing with something which is fundamental to every person in the House.
Some of the interjections from those who enthusiastically support the Bill fill me with nausea. When dealing with something which will completely alter the law, everybody should realise that we are dealing with some of the most—
I am in a difficulty, Mr. Speaker. I am not a lawyer. I accept, having read it with great care and studied it, that Amendment No. 31 represents an improvement on the Bill. I also think that Amendment No. 57, put forward by the sponsor of the Bill, is an improvement on the wording of the Bill. No one with the authority of a legal background is in a position to give me advice before I make a decision about which of the two Amendments I prefer. The difference may become important when the legislation is the subject of litigation, and it is essential that the wording is right. What worries me is that I am not confident that the Amendments will produce the sort of Bill which nearly everyone wants to see.
It may help my hon. Friend if I tell him that, in my view, what the Minister of State said as she sat down is completely wrong. There is no connection between the two Amendments. They are not alternatives. They are on quite separate points and have nothing to do with each other.
The right hon. Lady who is acting as our guide, philosopher and friend says that there is no difference, but I myself can see a difference. We have had no advice from her as to which—
I am doing my utmost not to delay the House. In a matter which is vital to the lives and well-being of a great many people, surely the House ought to have more authoritative advice as to which form of words is the right one. Unless we get that advice, I shall vote against both Amendments.
In view of the assurance which we have received from the sponsor of the Bill that he intends to look at this again and try to do something about Amendment No. 31 in another place, and if it is clear that there is no question of there being alternatives or of one being preferable to the other—they are different words, dealing with different parts of the Clause on quite different points—I beg to ask leave to withdraw Amendment No. 31.
I am sure that the House appreciates the readiness of the sponsor of the Bill to look at this matter again. However, that can only be done in another place.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) and others, I had a hand in seeking to strengthen this subsection in Committee, and I recall the promise being made in Committee that the matter would be looked at again on Report. It is for this reason that I rise in particular to support the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. JohnStevas).
As to the merits of Amendments No. 57 and No. 32, I prefer the latter, and I would like to tell the House why. We are here concerned with circumstances in which the fact that a patient is pregnant may be unknown to the doctor who is carrying out an emergency operation, or, if the fact is known to him, he is faced with making an immediately decision to save his patient's life, or to avoid grave injury to her health. I have discussed this matter with leading members of the profession, and they are anxious that the law should be put beyond doubt in situations like this, however rare they may be.
One can envisage a situation in which a pregnant woman is involved in a serious road acident. It is necessary to carry out an immediate operation. The family doctor is not available. She is rushed to hospital in order to save her life. In the course of the operation, the surgeon may discover—and I take one example—an ectopic pregnancy, which I understand is a pregnancy that take place outside the uterus, an extremely dangerous condition—where an immediate termination is clearly indicated to save the unfortunate woman's life.
I have been assured also that circumstances could arise in an abdominal operation for some other purpose which, although it could not be said that the termination of the pregnancy was essential to the saving of the woman's life, without it there would be a possibility of the operation itself failing, or of grave permanent damage being caused to the woman's health.
The matter would turn really on the nature of the emergency and on the need to take a decision on the spot. Clearly the doctor must be free to exercise his judgment about removing the foetus from a dangerously ill patient so that his treatment for the condition which he has been called in to deal with is effective.
Having said that, however, I understand that all responsible medical opinion wishes to see subsection (3) worded as tightly as possible. It is essential that we provide no loophole for the medical racketeer to whom reference was made in an earlier debate. The virtue of Amendment No. 32 is that it makes clear beyond a peradventure that the giving of discretion to the doctor to act without seeking a second opinion is to avoid the death of his patient, or grave permanent injury to her health, and that in all other respects the life of the foetus shall be preserved. This is the point.
It is often forgotten when we are considering this matter that a termination of pregnancy is the only operation which involves two lives, one of which of necessity must be terminated. Therefore I think that it is essential to make clear to the medical profession and to the courts exactly what Parliament is seeking to do. I recognise that this is a difficult and delicate matter. For myself, I would have preferred a Bill which, subject to the basic requirements which the Council of the B.M.A. and the Royal College laid down, would have left wide discretion in the hands of the medical profession.
If the advice had been taken to ensure that at least between the two registered medical practitioners—
I accept your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. I conclude by saying that because of the failure to listen to the views of those who sought to ensure that this matter was left in the hands of responsible and experienced practitioners, and because of the abdication of responsibility by the Government in this matter, it is necessary to spell out these matters in much greater detail than would otherwise have been necessary.
Can my hon. Friend explain to people like me, who are genuinely confused, what is the difference between the words "to save the life" and the other words "to avoid the death"?
My hon. Friend may be right; there may be very little difference. On the other hand, there may be the world of difference in the Amendments. Unfortunately there has been no Law Officer of the Crown present to spell out to the House the precise legal meaning of the words which back benchers—
I will give way when I have finished my sentence. There has been no Law Officer of the Crown present throughout the proceedings to explain the precise meaning of these words. The purpose of my argument is to point out that when the sponsor of the Bill considers these matters he would be wise, in the interests of the Bill, the medical profession and, above a, the women whom we are seeking to help, to ensure that the words are as clear as they can possibly be. [HON. MEMBERS: "You have said this before."] I should have thought that clarity in a matter of this kind was important. I should have thought that as the views of the medical profession in this matter had been flouted up to now it was high time to recognise that if the Bill is to work it is necessary to pay some regard to the advice they have given.
I do not think that a Law Officer of the Crown is necessary in order to see that the words
is immediately necessary to save the life or to prevent grave permanent injury
are exactly the same as the words,
is immediately necessary in order to avoid the death or grave permanent injury".
I do not wish to detain the House, except to emphasise once more that—[Interruption.] One would imagine from the hilarity with which same hon. Members opposite treat this matter that this is of no great concern. We are dealing here with matters of life and death. We are dealing here with fie ethics of the medical profession—
I have tried to listen to all the debate. I do not have a great deal of knowledge, but before we leave the Amendments we must know what we are deciding and what the differences are. I am surprised to hear it suggested that the words which are at present in the Bill—
where there is a definite possibility
have been removed. Amendment No. 31 dealt with other words. We have three choices—
The third would be to do nothing at all. We could accept either Amendment or reject both. The difference between the two Amendments may seem largely a matter of semantics, but neither would leave the meaning of the Clause unchanged. The present wording, "definite possibility of", is not directly related to a termination, which might result in a death anyway, whereas the Amendments are. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will help those of us who are confused and explain why we should accept either Amendment.
The sponsor is right; the only sensible thing is to pass the Amendment in this form. The omission of these words would be an improvement, because there is nothing more indefinite than the phrase "definite possibility". I hope that the House can conclude that this is the only possible rational course.
|Division No. 463.]||AYES||[3.13 a.m.|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)||Biggs-Davison, John|
|Archer, Peter||Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)||Binns, John|
|Ashley, Jack||Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice||Bishop, E. S.|
|Astor, John||Barnett, Joel||Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward|
|Bradley, Tom||Hamling, William||Parker, John (Dagenham)|
|Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Hastldine, Norman||Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)||Henig, Stanley||Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)|
|Brown, Bob(N 'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.)||Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret||Quennell, Miss J. M.|
|Brown, R. W. (Shoredltch & F'bury)||Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town)||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas|
|Buck, Antony (Colchester)||Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin||Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)|
|Cant, R. B.||Hooley, Frank||Robinson, Rt. Hn. Kenneth(St. P'c'as)|
|Carlisle, Mark||Hornby, Richard||Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)|
|Carmichael, Neil||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Ryan, John|
|Coe, Denis||Howie, W.||Scott, Nicholas|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Huckfield, L.||Sharpies, Richard|
|Davidson, James(Aberdeenshire, W.)||Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.)||Sheldon, Robert|
|Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)||Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh)||Shore, Peter (Stepney)|
|Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway)||Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak)||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Jeger, Mrs. Lena(H'b'n&St.P'cras, S.)||Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Dell, Edmund||Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Dewar, Donald||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hult, W.)||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Dobson, Ray||Judd, Frank||Snow, Julian|
|Dunn, James A.||Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Dunnett, Jack||Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)||Kerr, Russell (Feltham)||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.|
|Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)||Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)||Swingier, Stephen|
|Eadie, Alex||Loughlin, Charles||Taverne, Dick|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Luard, Evan||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret|
|Ellis, John||Lubbock, Eric||Tinn, James|
|English, Michael||McBride, Neil||Varley, Eric G.|
|Ennals, David||MacColl, James||Vickers, Dame Joan|
|Ensor, David||MacDermot, Niall||Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)|
|Fernyhough, E.||Macdonald, A. H.||Walden, Brian (All Saints)|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||McNamara, J. Kevin||Watkins, David (Consett)|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Marquand, David||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Whitlock, William|
|Forrester, John||Mayhew, Christopher||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Foster, Sir John||Mikardo, Ian||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Fowler, Gerry||Millan, Bruce||Winnick, David|
|Fraser, John (Norwood)||Miller, Dr. M. S.||Winstanley, Dr. M. P.|
|Freeson, Reginald||Miscampbell, Norman||Wyatt, Woodrow|
|Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)||Younger, Hn. George|
|Glover, Sir Douglas||Murray, Albert|
|Goodhart, Philip||Norwood, Christopher||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.||Ogden, Eric||Mr. Edward Lyons and|
|Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)||Orme, Stanley||Mr. John Hunt.|
|Griffiths, Will (Exchange)||Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)|
|Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles|
|Alldritt, Walter||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)||Page, Graham (Crosby)|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Braine, Bernard||Kitson, Timothy||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)||Knight, Mrs. Jill||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Cullen, Mrs. Alice||Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)||Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.|
|Cunningham, Sir Knox||MacArthur, Ian||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Dance, James||Maddan, Martin||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Farr, John||Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh(St'fford & Stone)||Mahon, Simon (Bootle)|
|Gibson-Watt, David||Marten, Neil||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Goodhew, Victor||Murton, Oscar||Mr. R. Grant-Ferris and|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael||Mr. Harold Gurden.|