I beg to move Amendment No. 49, in page 3, line 38, after 'duty', to insert:
whether by contract or by any statutory other legal requirement'.
I think that it was generally agreed in Committee—I was not a member of the Committee, but I have read the reports—that a conscience Clause on the lines of Clause 4 was essential because, as one widened the scope in which the termination of a pregnancy ceased to be criminal, increasing pressures could be brought to bear on doctors and hospital staffs to perform an operation which might well be against their consciences. I understand that it was in the light of those considerations that the Clause was introduced.
The Amendment seeks to clarify, for .he benefit of the doctor or other hospital employee, exactly the extent of this protection. As the Clause is worded, it is not clear how far that protection extends. In particular, it is not clear that the words "any duty" in the second line of the Clause extend to and include the contractual obligations which may well apply to the employees of the hospital authority taking part or participating in the operation.
It seemed to us to be desirable that liability under contractual obligations should be covered. The purpose of this short but important Amendment is to spell out in as great detail as is deemed appropriate exactly the extent of the protection provided and what is implied by the opening provision of the Clause that
No doctor … shall be under any duty" by adding the words of the Amendment.
Although short, the Amendment is important for a doctor or a hospital employee with conscientious objections. I very much hope that the sponsor of the Bill will accept it.
We come now to a series of Amendments on the very difficult question of a conscience Clause. It is fair that I should say at the outset I hat only recently I have received further representations indicating a desire for more discussions from the medical bodies about this Clause, with a view to altera- tions being proposed in another place. In those circumstances, I am well disposed towards any Amendments put forward at the moment, and it enables me, in resisting other Amendments, to assure hon. Members that the drafting of the Clause is bound to be reconsidered, in any event.
May I remind the hon. Gentleman that this conscience Clause was drafted by him and myself, and that we have proceeded on the assumption that we would do as little as possible to alter the principle of having a conscience Clause which is accepted throughout the House.
Naturally, I hesitate to make any alterations to a Clause drafted so excellently by the hon. Gentleman and myself. Certainly, I will make sure that he is involved in any discussions before Amendments to the Clause are tabled in another place. Amendment No. 49 does not make a substantial difference to the Clause. But if the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Wylie) feels that it adds slightly to it, I will recommend to the House that we should accept it.
I beg to move Amendment No. 44, in page 3, line 39, to leave out 'participate in any operation' and to insert:
'terminate or participate in the termination of any pregnancy'.
This is an important Amendment which, I may say, has the full approval of the British Medical Association. It is designed to take account of the fact that the termination of a pregnancy is not always and certainly may not in the future, be a surgical operation.
I am sure that there are a number of hon. Members who are doctors who can confirm what I have been told, namely that there is no safe or medically acceptable method by which an abortion can be procured by means of drugs. On the other hand, the fact that it can be so procured and is, in cases of criminal abortion, is made clear in Section 58 of the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861, as amended which provides that a pregnant woman who unlawfully administers to herself any poison or noxious thing, or anyone else who does that with intent to procure a miscarriage, is guilty of a felony.
Lawyers who have experience of this in the courts will know that there are, in fact, dangerous substances which are used today by unfortunate women who are driven to this last resort. It would be quite wrong of me to name any of these, but while no registered practitioner in the country would use these substances, biochemical research is proceeding faster than almost any other branch of science. I am told that probably in the next decade, a safe chemical method of inducing therapeutic abortion may be developed and may be accepted by the medical profession.
I cannot put the probability higher than that, but that is what I am told. Therefore, if we are to be sure that the Bill is framed to take account of probable developments, I submit that the Amendment is necessary. If we are to incorporate into the law a right of conscientious objection to participating in the carrying out of an abortion, it is essential to use words which cover therapeutic abortion carried out by any means. The Amendment does this. I do not wish to detain the House further. I submit that the Amendment takes account of the realities of the situation. I am sure that it will strengthen and improve the Bill. In that spirit I commend it to the House, and hope that the sponsor of the Bill will be prepared to accept it.
The hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) is correct in saying that the B.M.A. wish to achieve this Amendment to the Bill, for the reasons which he outlined. The B.M.A. discussed the same point with me.
I draw attention to the fact that the Clause as it stands relates simply to an operation, but with the developments which are taking place it is possible that in a few years' time termination may be carried out by some means other than an operation, in which case it would be difficult to see how this conscience Clause would take effect.
I am in a little difficulty over the Amendment, because I am advised not to accept it, I think on a very minor technical ground. Unless the Minister of Health says that we cannot make this Amendment, I am inclined to accept it, because I believe that the point of the Amendment has not been fully grasped by those who were giving the advice.
This is a defect in drafting, and if the Amendment were accepted by the House I think that it would have to be tidied up in another place. If it were accepted, the Clause would refer to pregnancies authorised by the Act, and not terminations authorised by the Act. Apart from that, I have not much advice to tender to the House.
In reply to the point raised by the hon. Member for Chelmsford on the last Amendment, may I say that I do not think it is universally accepted that a conscience Clause is necessary in the Bill. I consider that it is unnecessary, and I rather think that it is undesirable. This view is shared by some leaders of the medical profession. However, I agree that that would seem to have been the general view when the Bill was in Committee.
Perhaps I might reply with the leave of the House. I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I would not wish to be a party to writing defective provisions into the law, but I rather gather from what the Minister says that if there is to be a conscience Clause he accepts the sense of what I was saying, and on the understanding that the proper wording can be inserted in another place, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
The Amendment poses the question of what flows from the provisions of Clause 1 whereby operations which are not at the moment legal become legal. The question posed is this: if the ambit of criminality is altered in this way, is there imposed a duty on persons participating in the operation? If there is a duty enforceable by law, then liability in damages can result if the operation is not performed and injury results. It would appear from the way in which the Clause is worded that provided the criteria set out in Clause 1 are satisfied and the act is not criminal, a duty arises. The provision is worded in a rather negative way, in that it provides that no doctor shall be under any duty if he has conscientious objections. The Amendment is designed to deal with the situation where conscientious objections do not come into the picture, but where, in the exercise of a medical judgment, the opinion reached by the medical practitioner performing the operation and satisfying the criteria laid down in Clause 1 is not shared.
Perhaps I am not very clear at this hour of the morning. My mind is not working as clearly as I would have liked, but the position is that it ceases to be a criminal act provided that the criteria under Clause 1 are satisfied. Does it follow that there is a duty to participate in this operation, or is a discretion left o someone qualified to exercise discretion in this matter who would, notwithstanding the criteria laid down in Clause being satisfied, refuse to participate in this operation?
As the Clause stands at the moment it seems to me that that is not so. Provided the medical practitioner who is to terminate the pregnancy is satisfied under Clause 1 it would appear, unless there it a conscientious objection—and I am not concerned with that point now—that there is an obligation on other hospital employees, including doctors—because an anaesthetist may be involved—to participate even though he, in his medical judgment, does not share the view of the medical practitioner who s carrying out the operation.
In these rather special and perhaps narrow circumstances it seemed to us desirable that a discretion should be written into the Clause enabling a qualified person who has reached a medical judgment in this way, and is satisfied that there is no medical justification for the operation being carried out, not to be under an obligation to participate in the operation, and that he should be free from any liability which might otherwise result by his refusing to take part in it. That is the purpose of the Amend- ment and I suggest that it is at least an Amendment which requires careful consideration. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will even be prepared to accept it.
I am sorry to tell the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Wylie) that I cannot extend my generosity in accepting Amendments to this one. He would probably agree that the right hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir J. Hobson) tabled the Amendment in an attempt to counteract what he regarded as the then rather wide wording of Clause 1(1,a), including the reference to wellbeing. I am sure that if the right hon. and learned Member were here he would not feel bound to press the Amendment, considering that the earlier part of the Bill has been amended on Report. The Bill imposes no obligation on anyone to participate in an operation. Simply because Clause 4, the "conscience" Clause, says that there is no duty on a doctor, the hon. Gentleman should not think that a duty is put on him elsewhere. The Clause is not necessary, but it was felt right to spell this out.
The doctor would still have the general duty to care for his patients, and someone with a conscientious objection could still be guilty of negligence if he declined advice or did not refer the matter to a colleague, with disastrous results for his patient. The Clause also gives nurses and hospital employees a clear right to opt out. But it would be impossible if, after a decision that an abortion was necessary, there were conflicting views between the nurses and the doctors about what was medically justifiable. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that this is a valid objection to the Amendment and will withdraw it.
I am not happy with the hon. Gentleman's statement that the Bill imposes no obligation. If so, what is the harm of making it clear by accepting the Amendment? The Amendment brings out that abortion is different from other forms of medical care—that is the important element. I do not agree with the Bill, but hon. Members who do surely would not think abortion, which involves the destruction of another human being, comparable to any other medical practice. The hon. Member recognised that by his statement that no obligation was imposed, so his position is inherently illogical. We have now come to the bones of the matter—that abortions are different from other medical practices because they involve the destruction of another being.
Therefore, I hope that the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles, who has taken a generous view of the Clause as a whole, and whose difficulties I understand in having accepted the principle of such a Clause, will understand the reasons why those who are not in favour of the Bill think this Amendment important. If no one is bound to perform this operation, surely he will at least agree that the Amendment will not do harm.
If I advise the House, it is in the sense of what has been said by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel). I have one other argument which might help meet the difficulties of the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Maddan). I share the view of the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles that the Bill will confer no duty on any doctor to operate.
The supporters of the Amendment are in difficulty in that the prop of the Amendment has been removed once "well-being" has been taken out of the Bill, and there is the further difficulty that termination is now only possible on medical grounds and therefore a termination for which there was no medical justification could not possibly be legal. There could not possibly in any circumstances be a duty on any doctor to commit an act which was unlawful. For these reasons, it stands out that the Amendment could not possibly be acceptable.
I hope that the Amendment will be rejected. First, it is clear that it is not necessary. Secondly, it would be quite unworkable. How could a nurse or an employee—which, I suppose, can mean a hospital porter—be expected to know in all the circumstances whether an abortion is justifiable?
Mr. Geoffrey Wilson:
I am rather worried about this from the other direc- tion because the point made earlier that abortion is really rather different from most operations is true. It seems to me that a nurse, although she may not be qualified to express a medical judgment and although, as the Bill stands, only abortions on medical grounds will be justifiable, might still have grave doubts as to whether there is a justification for what many people regard as the taking of a life.
I hope that this aspect will be carefully looked at so that we do not get a person persecuted, in effect, for making a judgment which might not be on grounds of conscience or religion but on other grounds which trouble her. I hope that this difficulty will be overcome or taken into account in the operation of the Bill.
I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Maddan) about the reasonable approach of the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) to this Amendment, and I hope to be equally reasonable. Even from the short debate we have had, it is apparent that there are at least two possible views about several of the matters referred to.
I make a plea that these matters should be further considered before a final decision is reached. I do not think that we can reach a final decision this morning. The problems involved are much too difficult. They are most complicated matters of law. If we try to reach a final decision this morning, we are bound to get it wrong.
The sponsor suggested—and was supported by the Minister—that now that well-being has gone there should be no necessity for this. With respect, that is not right, because medical justification is a matter of opinion. There is no absolute test for it. There could be three doctors, two of whom considered that there was medical justification and one of whom, equally sincerely, considered that there was not. If the third, who sincerely disagreed with his colleagues, might be required to participate but for an exception such as this, then we agree that there should be some exception for him. That is one reason why I should like the sponsor and the Minister to look at this again.
Secondly, I doubt what has been said about the absence of a general duty. I understand that it is not the intention of the sponsors of the Bill to impose duties, bat obviously my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Wylie) feels that that is by no means as clear as has been suggested by the sponsor and the Minister. One must read the Statute as a whole. It exempts a wide range of people from duties. If they are under no duty, that is unnecessary. But once it is there and the courts have to read the Act as a whole, they will say, "Unless Parliament meant to impose a duty, Clause 4 is otiose, and therefore we must assume that there are some duties".
I agree that it would e of value. What worries me, particularly in Clause 4, is that it postulates that somebody might be under a criminal liability for refusing to take part in an abortion. This is an exception Clause protecting someone who has refused to take part in an abortion. It protects him from criminal and civil liability. At the moment I can think of no circumstances in which a doctor would be under criminal liability for refusing to take part. I can see where he might be liable for agreeing to take part but not for refusing. The Clause postulates that he might be under such a liability. It might be the view of any court that after the passage of the Bill a doctor had some rights to perform an abortion where the conditions under Clause 1(1) are satisfied. I ask that the point be considered again.
I accept that the application of the Amendment might be very narrow and that it would have no application to the doctor carrying out an abortion because ex hypothesi, having regard to the Clause, he has formed the opinion that there is medical justification. I take the point of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Crowder) that one is not contemplating situations in which the nurses and the hospital orderlies are seeking to put their opinion in the place of that of the doctors. But even though we narrow the scope, there is one category where this may be necessary. In a National Health Service hospital one has assistant anaesthetists, who are under contract. They are qualified people and entitled to an opinion on medical jusification. Under their contract of service they might be obliged to participate in a termination of pregnancy for which they considered there was no medical justification.
Mr. Geoffrey Wilson:
Could my hon. and learned Friend explain a little further what he means about the nurses? What does he envisage the Clause means with regard to them on the question of conscience? Is he assuming that it must be because of a religious conviction that a nurse wishes not to take part in the operation?
The mental picture I have of conscientious objection is that there is a dichotomy between medical objection and conscientious objection. People may just have a feeling inside that they do not want to be any part of the termination of a pregnancy—and I thought that the House acknowledged that people might have that feeling and that we should respect it—or because of a denominational religious feeling or humanist feelings nurses might not want to be any part of such an operation. I thought that the object was to recognise that people might have these feelings and to excuse them.
That is where I think that the conscientious objection comes in with the nurses. I do not visualise excluding nurses and orderlies on medical justification, but just the small category of people that I have mentioned. Unless somebody can satisfy us later that the example I gave is not a practical possibility, as I believe it to be, I suggest that the Amendment has substantial practical merits.
I regret that the sponsor brushed aside the cogent argument of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Wylie). I hope that there can be reconsideration of this whole question, not necessarily now, but when the Bill enters another place.
I favoured the conscience Clause in the first place much less on behalf of doctors than of nurses, if only because, unlike the former, nurses are part of a team and in the operating theatre take their orders directly from a doctor.
It was not surprising that the Royal College of Nurses, the Royal College of Midwives and, I think, also the Association of Hospital Matrons, asked for the provision of a clearly drafted conscience Clause in order to safeguard the position of nurses. This was not merely because of circumstances whether the consciences of nurses might conflict with the duties they were called upon to perform but to obviate any deterrent effect the Bill might have upon nursing recruitment.
In the case of doctors, however, it is not only their religious and moral convictions that may bring them into conflict with the somewhat more permissive situation that the Bill is expected to create but also their medical judgment. It is true that there is nothing in the Bill that relieves the doctor from the obligation that he owes to his patient. It is equally true that no doctor is compelled to terminate a pregnancy if for any reason he feels unable to do so since he can refer the patient to another practitioner.
It is also true—and this is why I would not go to the stake for the Amendments—that the British Medical Association is not particularly in favour of the Clause as it is drafted where doctors are concerned. This is why I hope that the door will be kept open and that there can be reconsideration of the whole matter when the Bill reaches another place.
What I would say to the House is this: If we are to have a conscience Clause, then I think the Amendments do represent a step in the right direction; they strengthen the Clause. There are thousands of Roman Catholic doctors who may well have a clear conscientious objection on religious grounds and who may feel themselves in hazard of litigation if they do not agree to terminations of pregnancy. The right hon. Gentleman came to the Box and said that the Amendment is unnecessary since, with the removal of the word" well-being" from the Bill the operation can now only be permitted on medical grounds, and his argument is, as I understand it, that if a doctor considers the operation not justified medically then he will consider it unlawful, and it follows, therefore, that the doctor would not be under any duty to perform the operation which he believes to be unlawful.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned Catholic doctors. Is he asking the House to believe it is only Catholic doctors who will have an objection to performing the operation or only Catholic nurses? If that is the case, I can assure him and others that there are thousands of people who are not Roman Catholics who have exactly the same objection.
I fully accept what the hon. Gentleman says. Indeed, I will go further and say that it is within my knowledge that many gynaecologists, some serving my constituency, up and down the country who are not Roman Catholics and whose training, whose whole ethos, is dedicated to the preservation of life, and who share the same objections on moral grounds which Roman Catholic doctors would have. That I readily accept.
But what I was saying was that there may be quite a substantial number of doctors who would have a medical objection and who may fear that, in the circumstances, they would be laying themselves open to the possibility of litigation. That view has been expressed to me. There may be no grounds for it, but that view has been expressed to me.
What I want to say is that the right hon. Gentleman did not tell the whole story, because he overlooked the fact that we have retained in the Bill the extraordinary provision in Clause 1(1,a) that abortion is permissible where
the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk to the … future well-being"—
of the mother and
her other children".
This is a different criterion from the one which—
If what I have just said is wrong, then this is something which can be taken care of when the matter is discussed, I hope fully, in another place, but I venture to think that what I have said is not wrong and will bear examination when the record is seen in HANSARD.
What I am saying is that leaders of the medical profession have indicated to me that they object to this very much. This could lead to doubt and confusion. Why the health of the other children and no: that of a sick husband?
This is part of the business, Mr. Speaker, of performing a proper medical judgment. However, I will not pursue the point, because I think I have made it. It is my contention that as long a s there is to be a conscience Clause in the Bill then something along the lines of the Amendment proposed by my hon. Friend would strengthen it, and I hope that before we complete this discussion we shall have an assurance that this matter will be further considered.
I am puzzled by the Amendment. I understand that we are now dealing with the case of a doctor who has conscientious objections to carrying out this operation; that in a particular case he considers that an abortion is not medically justified, although in other cases he may think otherwise. I suggest that we should not take this matter too far.
In 1963 I was very ill and spent a lot of time in hospital. The medical profession was confused about my case. Eventually I had a major operation. The physician thought that I should have the operation while the surgeon was against the idea, although he performed it. There is always a good deal of confusion about cases and experts often disagree. When discussing our cases at the bottom of our beds or while we are on the operating table, the professional men frequently argue about the best course of action. However, these disagreements are part of a hospital's team spirit, and if we do anything to disturb that spirit we will not be doing that hospital any good. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friends will not press the Amendment too far.
I have listened with interest to the remarks for and against the Amendment, and I still consider that it has considerable merit. If the doctors had no grounds for taking the initial decision, it could not be a legal act, anyway. The Amendment deals with the case in which another medically qualified person takes the view, notwithstanding the initial decision, that there is no justification for the operation.
This proposal is designed to preserve that element of discretion, in the light of the drafting of the Clause. In view of what the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) said, I suggest that the Clause is still in a somewhat fluid state. In the hope that the aspect covered by the Amendment will be further considered, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
I beg to move Amendment No. 45, in page 3, line 40, to leave out from 'objection' to the end of line 42.
It is no secret that doctors are very worried about the "conscience" Clause, and so are nurses, and one of their main objections is to the last part, which the Amendment seeks to delete.
I draw to the attention of the House precisely what I seek to remove from the Clause, because it is of very great importance. It first states:
No doctor, nurse, hospital employee nor any other person shall be under any duty, nor shall they in any circumstances be required, to participate in any operation authorised by this Act to which they have a conscientious objection."—
and then we come to the words which I and many members of the medical profession feel strongly should be withdrawn:
provided that in any civil or criminal action the burden of proof of conscientious objection shall rest on the person claiming it.
There is no doubt that the Clause as it now stands suggests that failure to carry out an abortion will put a doctor or a nurse in the courts for neglect. That is extremely serious, because it means that the burden of proof will rest on the doctor or the nurse, and that would be an entirely new departure from the principle that has governed our courts for so long, that the burden of proof rests on the person bringing the charge and not on the person who is accused of whatever the crime may be.
I believe that I am right in saying—and here I should like the guidance of someone on the Treasury Bench—that in a criminal prosecution the burden of proof, subject to certain statutory exceptions that are fairly rare, rests throughout on the prosecution. A man brought to court suspected of, say, a criminal attack or a burglary, stands in the dock innocent until he has been proved guilty. The Clause would completely change that position. Again, in a civil action, the party making the claim normally has to establish it.
A person accused of embezzlement or any crime of that type is innocent until he has been proved guilty—not so the doctor or the nurse, or other people who may have been involved in a refusal to carry out an abortion. On them, because of this so-called "conscience" Clause, rests the burden of proof. This is something that the House should not sanction because of the very important change it seems to herald.
It may be fairly simple to refute charges of involvement in burglary or embezzlement, but to refute a charge based entirely on one's own conscience is a terribly difficult task to ask of anyone. A man's conscience is his own special voice, no one else even hears it, and how on earth it is imagined that it is fair, right or reasonable by this Clause to put a doctor or a nurse in the dock and then say "Right—you prove that your conscience has stopped you from carrying out this abortion," I do not know.
I was dealing with the extreme difficulty of proving that a voice inside one has been a sufficient reason to make one refuse to carry out an abortion, and I was pointing out that this is almost impossible. Suppose that the doctor does not have a religious objection. Earlier we have referred to doctors who have a religious objection which is clearly defined by the religion to which they belong. I do not belong to that religion, but if I were a doctor there would be circumstances in which my conscience would forbid me to carry out an abortion. Not all conscientious objections will be on religious grounds. A doctor who has examined a patient may say that in all conscience he could not carry out an abortion because he did not feel that the abortion was justified.
A very worried doctor has put to me the question, suppose that he had carried out an abortion before? This would make it even more difficult for him to clear himself in the dock. Those making charges against him could say, "It is clear that you do not have a conscientious objection because you have carried out this operation before." [Interruption.]
The objection may have nothing to do with religion. The objector might still dictate through his or her conscience that a nurse or doctor should not carry out an abortion in a particular case.
Would my hon. Friend agree that many doctors are indeed worried about the provision in Clause 1(1,a), which refers to the health of the other children? Would she agree that this is causing a great deal of confusion and anxiety to doctors who would not be prepared to include this in making a medical judgment?
Since one of the causes for which abortion will be legal is if the health of the other children would be impaired, I take it that if a doctor refused to carry out an abortion on those grounds he would have difficulty in proving it. The so-called safeguards are entirely illusory. I make reference to three communications I have received. The first is a letter from the Medical Defence Union, for whom, hon. Members will readily recognise, this Clause has special importance. The letter, dated 5th May, says:
Needless to say, the Union is quite clear in its position that any of its members who are attacked as the result of their advice upon a request for termination of pregnancy, will be vigorously defended.
This applies whether their advice has been purely on obstetric or psychiatric grounds, or to some extent modified by conscientious grounds. We can envisage a situation where a practitioner might be criticised by a patient who assumed that there had been a conscientious element in unwelcome advice given by a doctor, when, in fact, the advice had been based purely on a clinical assessment of the patient.
The Medical Defence Union is in a difficulty about this and intensely concerned over this Clause and the way in which it is worded.
I would like to refer to a letter from a consultant gynaecologist, Mr. Anthony Alment, who writes,
Is it the intention of the Bill, as the wording: of the conscience Clause 'seems to imply, to coerce the majority of gynaecologists into its agency by the threat of exposure to civil litigation?
This man is definitely worried about this "conscience" Clause, and he goes on to say;
No one should be in any doubt about how the majority of us will respond. In matters so deeply explored in our own thinking as decisions to terminate or not, we have no fear of civil action, but only deplore the sad and futile exercise of time, skill, and patience involved.
This raises another objection to this particularly objectionable Clause. Mr. Alment rather courageously writes that
he and his colleagues have no fear of civil action, but this Clause, without my Amendment, would mean that men in great demand in hospitals have the risk of having to stand in court defending themselves against these accusations.
Another gynaecologist wrote,
This is a most unfortunate Clause. It assumes that all abortions are good, and that not to abort is an evil. For this so-called evil, society proposes to put doctors in the dock to defend their actions and prove their innocence".
I was surprised to see the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) come, as it were, starry-eyed and surprised at the beginning of the debate on this "conscience" Clause and to hear him say that the doctors have just recently put forward objections and that he was ready to meet them. But, surely, this could have been no surprise to him. He has known that the doctors have been worried about this and, to pinpoint this, I would say that it seems to be in an important point for hon. Members to realise that the sponsors of this Bill fully understood, as long ago certainly as 4th May, what was the attitude.
The hon. Member then had a meeting with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the B.M.A., and the findings which were reached were as follow:
The profession's spokesmen said that the wording of 'conscience Clause' had seemed to some to be an invitation to litigation—directed at the practitioner who exercised discretion on ethical and clinical grounds in recommending termination".
The hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles said,
… he would welcome such views as the medical defence organisations gave, and agreed that the Clause could be improved".
The Amendment which we are now moving seeks to ensure that the "conscience" Clause would have the support of the professions concerned and, because it raises points which have a great potential, I would hope very strongly that it will be accepted.
I am sorry that in an otherwise fine presentation of her case the hon. Lady the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) saw fit at the tail end of her speech to cast doubt on my intentions. What she recited is true. This is the difficulty that I explained to the House earlier. When I last met the Royal College and the British Medical Association, they had nothing better to suggest. They said that this raised certain problems in their minds. I said that when they came forward with considered views obviously I would give them serious thought. That is the position. Those bodies have now come forward with certain views, but there has not been time—they accept in their correspondence with me that this will probably have to be dealt with in another place because of the shortage of time—to take all the advice which is necessary and to consider all the implications of their suggestions. I therefore hope that the hon. Lady will cease her accusations of some form of bad faith or innocence on my part.
To deal with the substance of her argument, it is true that the profession as a whole is greatly concerned about the difficulty of the conscience Clause. As the Minister of Health said earlier, it is the view of a substantial body of the profession that this Clause is unnecessary and raises all sorts of unnecessary complications. I said that, despite this, I think that we should pursue the effort to secure a Clause which will satisfy those who believe that there should be some clear conscience Clause in the Bill. We must be careful that—this is what we think would happen if the Amendment were accepted—in providing a conscience Clause we do not leave a loophole in the Bill which will leave the situation wide open for an open defence which could never be substantiated in the event of any criminal or civil action against a medical practitioner.
To take one of the cases the hon. Lady instanced, what about the doctor who cannot produce a particular religious objection to abortions as such, the doctor who has in fact in certain cases performed abortions in the past? The hon. Lady said that he might have a conscientious objection. Clearly, he does not have a conscientious objection. If a doctor has performed a termination of pregnancy, he clearly does not have a conscientious objection to the process of terminating a pregnancy. What he may have, quite rightly, is an objection to carrying out the termination of pregnancy in a particular case. The basis of that objection is not a conscientious one. It is a question of his medical judgment, that he has come to the conclusion that in his view, which may be quite different from that of another doctor, in a particular case the process of termination is unnecessary, that he has weighed up the balance of factors and in his view the criteria do not exist to enable him to carry out a medical termination. He is perfectly entitled to come to that conclusion, but if manifestly it turns out that there has been negligence in a case and that as a result a patient dies—if there is obvious evidence of negligence in his coming to a professional conclusion—it must be open for the State to prosecute and it must be open for civil actions to be taken against a doctor in respect of this operation as it is open for them to be taken in the case of other operations.
Given that this is so, and given that the law must operate in respect of this operation as it operates in respect of any other, we cannot leave a bolt hole in the Bill as a result of which a doctor could say when charged with negligence, "I had a conscientious objection" so that that would be the end of the case. This would be the situation if we left out the latter part of the conscience Clause. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, it would.
Therefore, in Committee—the hon Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) and I came to an agreement on this—it was recognised that any conscience Clause must have some matter in it making it quite clear that in normal circumstances the conscientious objection would be known and would be stated beforehand. It need not necessarily be so, but if someone is to seek to use the Clause in a case of negligence the burden of proof of the existence of a conscientious objection must rest on the person claiming it.
I will give another example. There is the case of a nurse. I have a great respect for the nursing profession and I am not saying that my example is likely to happen, but it could. In an evening's operating theatre list there are two cases of terminations and two nurses on duty suddenly discover they have an important date and are not in the theatre, but have suddenly left.
I said this need not happen, so the hon. Lady need not shout indignant noises, and we have said that we accept the basic reason for having this in the Clause. I recognise the concern about the wording here. I do not believe it is an incitement to a civil or criminal action. I accept that there are difficulties and that hon. Members are concerned about wording.
That is why I said I am not closing my mind to representations made here, and I am certain that the views put forward here will be carefully considered by me and by the leaders of the medical profession when we come to consider Amendments for the other place. But the principle of safeguard in the conscience Clause is one we must preserve, and I cannot advise the House to accept the Amendment.
I rise to speak for the first time, because this is a part of the Bill which gives me concern. It is unusual to put the burden on a person to prove his or her innocence, but it is not right to say that the criminal law does not do that. In certain cases it does put that burden on the man in the dock.
The case I wish to mention is that of a doctor who in desperate circumstances has once performed an abortion. The most ardent opponent of the Bill would agree that it might be necessary. In those circumstances, if a doctor performed an abortion, would he be unable subsequently to raise the conscience Clause at all if an abortion was on trivial grounds? It may come within the Bill if one of the doctors thought some of the grounds trivial. Does the fact that he once performed an abortion in desperate circumstances make him liable for ever and ever to have to prove himself innocent?
This is a difficult point, as the sponsor has indicated. He should feel sure that there is a great deal of feeling among people like me who have supported every Clause. It is unusual and I can see the dangers for the medical profession. I hope he will consider this.
I wish to address the House on the burden of proof. On a criminal matter, such as this could well be, this is a fundamental of our criminal law and the liberty of the subject. It is singularly unfortunate that we have not had legal advice from the Government. I am glad, however, to see the Leader of the House here. I read an article written by him about his father some years ago in the Sunday Times in which he said that he had told him that it he had gone to the Bar he would have gone to the criminal Bar. I suppose that it is on that basis that we are being advised at this moment.
One of the difficult features of the Clause is that it is quite impossible to look into a man's mind as one can look into a mirror or a book. It will present a very great difficulty for any doctor or nurse to prove to the satisfaction of a jury that he or she had a conscientious objection.
I should say in passing that there is a difference between the burden of proof in criminal cases in certain instances when it is placed very rarely upon the defendant. The difference is this. The Crown has to prove its case to the satisfaction of the jury so that the members of the jury can feel sure of it. If there be hesitation in their minds, there is present what is sometimes called a reasonable doubt. If such doubt of substance be present, it must, by the law of England, be resolved in favour of the person in the dock and he or she is entitled as of right to be acquitted in those circumstances.
Consider, however, an occasion where the burden shifts, where a man is found with housebreaking implements, which can either be innocent or not, in the back of his car—torches, screwdrivers and the like. The burden of proof shifts upon him to show that he had reasonable excuse for having those instruments in his possession. The burden of proof is nothing like so strong in those circumstances, however, because he has to satisfy a jury only on the balance of probabilities and not on the basis that they can feel sure of it. Those principles must apply to the Clause. It is something to which I ask the House to give further thought.
The hon. and learned Member for Ruislip—Northwood (Mr. Crowder) has stated accurately the principles governing this matter. For myself, I do not think that the general principles are a great deal of help to us in this case.
The difficulty is simply this. It is easy enough for anybody to say that he has an objection, but how is he to establish that it is a conscientious objection? For a Roman Catholic like myself, it is easy, for a Quaker it is easy, but a man who does not belong to one of the established and accepted religious denominations has to go into his mental processes. If he is an articulate man, perhaps he can succeed; but if he is not, this is a very heavy burden and one which, in my view, no defendant should be asked to bear.
Will my hon. and learned Friend take it from me that I do not surrender the rights of conscience to Roman Catholics or anybody else? As long as deeply personal, conscientious conviction is held, that is enough. I remind my hon. and learned Friend that in the standing orders of this party of ours we recognise a deeply-held conscientious conviction. I feel rather strongly on this. The idea that a Catholic can somehow prove a conscience rather more easily—
I entirely accept what my right hon. Friend says. He has elaborated with much greater force and clarity than I am capable of the very point I was seeking to make. An agnostic might be placed in a position of difficulty in explaining himself to a jury. In the Parliamentary Labour Party, we understand the rules, and they are carried out in a very humane spirit. But for someone having to explain himself to a jury to be placed in the position of having to establish that he has a conscientious objection, unless he has a very simple explanation of the character which I gave, is a burden which, in my view, no defendant should be called upon to bear.
If the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) goes on making lengthy interventions, we shall have to move the closure on him.
The sponsor of the Bill has told us that the whole of this Clause is under close reconsideration. He has been very generous in his reconsideration of certain matters at an earlier stage. There is now a mood in the House to get on, and I think that we could have got long past this point if the hon. Gentleman had removed all difficulty by indicating without reservation that he would reconsider this point so that it could be discussed again in another place. If he were to intervene and remove the reservation which he made in the closing words of his last speech, probably we could make better progress.
There are two very short matters which stick in the gizzards of many. First, unintentionally I am sure, he misled the House in his interpretation of the legal position. Taking the case of the hypothetical nurses, a clear case of negligence would stand regardless. He must examine the matter with greater care.
The second point is that the Clause refers, among other matters, to such a doctor or nurse being required to participate. Imagine the situation of a young doctor who is required to participate. If there is a straightforward conscience Clause, the matter ends. If there is not, he has to go through some kind of process to establish his conscientious objection. Any of us who have had dealings with the tasteless business of claims against the medical profession know how deeply reluctant many doctors are to go into courts of law and appear before tribunals and inquiries.
I cannot see that this need be the sticking point that it appears to have become. It needs a little more elasticity from the hon. Gentleman, and then we can get on.
Inadvertently, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) did not notice my attempts to intervene during her speech, and I want to deal with the two points which I wanted to put to her.
The first is with regard to the burden of proof. I am a member of the legal profession, but I cannot claim to be an expert in the law of evidence, and I would defer to hon. and learned Members who are members of what is described as the "senior branch" of the profession. However, I remember reading in my student days that facts which were within the peculiar knowledge of the person who was averring shifted the burden of proof on to him. I thought that that was logical in the case cited by the hon. Lady, who referred to a person's conscience as being something peculiar to and known only to himself. What will be the burden of proof in a civil or criminal action in an attempt to prove that a doctor or nurse had failed in his or her duty? Obviously it would have to be proved, first, that there was a failure in a duty.
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. He is right in saying that I did not notice him when I was speaking. Had I done so, I would have given way to him. I thought that the point I was making was absolutely clear, that the burden of proof for this particularly and peculiarly difficult thing, a conscience, should be thrust not on the person who is accusing the doctor or tie nurse, but on the doctor to prove that he is innocent.
I am coming to that. I have said that the prosecution would, in the first place, have to establish the offence that a failure to perform a duty had occurred. Could it possibly be laid on the prosecution to prove in addition that the doctor had no conscientious objection to doing it? How can one prove the negative of the existence of a conscientious objection? Obviously it must be within the province of anybody claiming to object, because his conscience tells him to, to establish that his conscience is clear.
I pass now to another question, not on the criminal or civil law, but in my view related to it. I cast my mind back to instances during the war when people whom I knew conscientiously objected to the taking of life. I think that there is a certain similarity here. They were given the opportunity of attending before a tribunal, and they had to prove to the satisfaction of the tribunal that their conscience was such that it would not allow them to take life. In what respect is asking a doctor to prove his conscientious objection—
I am glad that my hon. Friend referred to the tribunals for conscientious objectors which were set up during the war to establish the conscientious objections of an individual to engage in military service. Does my hon. Friend know, or recall, the many questions which were put by members of these tribunals, which made it almost impossible for some people to establish a conscientious objection?
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for supplementing and strengthening my case. He has emphasised the difficulties which a conscientious objector had to overcome before a tribunal, but the hon. Lady is suggesting that what applied to a young man in his early 'twenties in endeavouring to satisfy his conscience should not be applied to the more sophisticated doctor, with the aid of his Medical Defence Union.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The conscientious objections of the young man were within the knowledge of that young man only, and it was right that a tribunal should castigate and question him closely to establish whether he was putting forward a genuine claim.
I see no reason why a doctor—or a nurse—who is not carrying out a duty which would normally be expected of him should not be expected to prove the truth of the case. I refer again to the point made by my hon. and learned Friend about the difficulties which confronted people who had no specific or apparent objection on conscientious grounds. Obviously the task was very much easier for the tribunal to establish the truth of the case if the person concerned was a Quaker, a member of the Society of Friends, or of a religious persuasion which objected to the taking of life, but there were many instances of people who objected to the taking of life, not on religious grounds—even some agnostics were conscientious objectors—but on political grounds, but this did not excuse them from the onerous task of establishing the case.
For 15 years I have been intimately associated with a medical organisation. I therefore cannot be accused of not knowing the doctors' side of the question. I appreciate all their difficulties, but I cannot think that any reasonably-minded doctor would object to having the opportunity of establishing his objection to taking part in something in which he disbelieved wholeheartedly.
The question is one of extreme difficulty and it would be appropriate at this stage to have really expert legal guidance. The Parliamentary Secretary will reply with great courtesy, but this is a matter of such difficulty that one of the Law Officers should be here to advise the House. I apologise to the House in advance in that although I am a lawyer I have been up for the whole night except for the last one-and-a-quarter hours, which I have spent having a bath and doing other things, so my mind is not clear at this stage.
I have the greatest sympathy with the Amendment, so ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight), but I am doubtful whether the Amendment has, in law, the effect she desires. The Clause provides that
No doctor, nurse, hospital employee nor any other person shall be under any duty, nor shall they in any circumstances be required, to participate in any operation authorised by this Act to which they have a conscientious objection …".
As I see it, this will mean that a person will be able to be brought before a court and will have to establish—even with the Amendment—that he has a conscientious objection to participating in the abortion. If that be the case my hon. Friend's Amendment does not have the desired effect. The doctor will have to prove that he did not participate because of his conscientious objection.
The conscientious objection which a doctor may have is of a twofold character. He may have a conscientious objection to performing any type of abortion. This would be the view taken by some Roman Catholic doctors. If such a doctor were able to sustain the argument that he did have a conscientious objection to any form of abortion, he would not be liable to either civil or criminal action.
The second type of conscientious objection is to performing the specific abortion which he was at one stage asked to perform. He could have a legitimate conscientious objection to performing an abortion on a woman where there was a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from physical or mental abnormalities. He may, for quite good conscientious grounds, think that we had gone too far in the Bill, and that his conscience did not allow him to follow the views of the majority of hon. Members on that issue.
I would like to see it made as easy as possible for such a doctor to be able to establish his conscientious objection. At the moment I cannot see how the Amendment would affect the situation. The Government have taken much trouble with the Bill, and have kindly allowed us to debate it for a whole night. They have given second-class Government time for us to do so. We take the view that they should be able to think of some form of words which will make it easier for a doctor to establish his conscientious objection to performing an abortion under the Bill.
I understand the desire for legal expert advice, but more can sometimes be achieved by commonsense and an understanding of the humanities of the matter. Opinions are often expressed from this Box by someone like myself who is not a lawyer but who has studied the matter deeply and has received legal advice. The hon. Lady the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) thought that the burden of proof should rest not with the person who claimed conscientious objections but with the challenger, because it might be difficult to prove conscientious objections.
This is a nebulous conception, and it is not clear how it would be interpreted by the courts, and there might be difficulties for anyone whose objections were not religious or who objected to some operations and not to others. In the first case, the sort of operations which a doctor would not perform could be recorded in his terms of engagement. In the second, he could secure another opinion or refer the case. The proviso is intended to deal with the risk of a negligent doctor excusing himself with a spurious objection which might be difficult to disprove.
The proviso is useful, because it is not clear where the burden of proof would rest. Therefore, its mere removal would not meet the hon. Lady's object. I was disturbed by this matter in Committee, and, had there been a Division on Clause 1(1,b), I would have voted against it as it is, but the Government's advice is that it is desirable to have the safeguard that the burden of proof should rest with the person claiming the objection.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am grateful. It is not my intention to hold up the proceedings but, as has been made clear by many hon. Members, this matter does not deserve to be dropped at this point. I am always ready to defer to those who know better than I, particularly in such specialties as the law and medicine. But, in the debate, members of the legal profession have confessed themselves to be not clear as to what the precise implications of the Amendment might be.
My Amendment was put forward in good faith in an attempt to rectify a bad situation, and I recognise that it may not be the best form of words to adopt. But, with the legal advice of the right calibre, we would surely know precisely
This is obviously a complicated matter and I do not want to repeat the arguments, but I must draw attention to a difficulty which arises in Scottish civil practice if the onus of proof is fairly and squarely put on the doctor in this way. It will not arise in Scottish criminal practice because there is no necessity for corroboration of an accused person putting up a defence of this nature or any other. It is sufficient, if he is uncorroborated, for him to satisfy the jury or to leave it in an element of reasonable doubt sufficient to justify his acquittal. But that does not apply in civil practice and in a civil action of damages. The way in which the Clause is drafted means that it would be necessary for the doctor to prove not only by his own evidence but by corroborative evidence that he had a conscientious objection. That may be very difficult for him to do.
Accordingly, if the matter is to be reconsidered I hope that this point arising from the law of evidence in Scotland in civil cases will be borne in mind. But this is only one of the many difficulties that this complicated Clause introduces—and all this arises, as we know, because we are extending the circumstances in which abortion can be carried out far beyond the border of what many people consider justifiable.
|Division No, 469.]||AYES||[9.34 a.m.|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Bradley, Tom||Dobson, Ray|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)|
|Ashley, Jack||Brown,Bob(N 'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.)||Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)|
|Astor, John||Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury)||Eadie, Alex|
|Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice||Cant, R, B.||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)|
|Barnes, Michael||Carter-Jones, Lewis||Ellis, John|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Cattle, Rt. Hn. Barbara||Ennals, David|
|Bessell, Peter||Coe, Denis||Ensor, David|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard||Evans, Gwynfor (C'marthen)|
|Binns, John||Dalyell, Tam||Fitch, Alan (Wigan)|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Davidson, james(Aberdeenshire, W.)||Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Davies, Dr. Ernest (Strettord)||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)|
|Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward||Dell, Edmund||Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)|
|Forrester, John||Luard, Evan||Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.)|
|Fowler, Gerry||Lubbock, Eric||Ryan, John|
|Fraser, John (Norwood)||Lyon, Alexander W. (York)||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Gardner, Tony||Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)||Scott, Nicholas|
|Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)||MacColl, James||Shore, Peter (Stepney)|
|Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)||MacDermot, Niall||Short, Mrs. Renée(W'hampton,N.E.)|
|Grey, Charles (Durham)||Mackie, John||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.||Mallalieu, J.P.W.(Huddersfield,E.)||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Hamling, William||Marquand, David||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Harper, Joseph||Mason, Roy||Snow, Julian|
|Haseldine, Norman||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Mikardo, Ian||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Miller, Dr. M. S.||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.|
|Howie, W.||Molloy, William||Taverne, Dick|
|Huckfield, L.||Murray, Albert||Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)|
|Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.)||Neave, Airey||Urwin, T. W.|
|Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak)||Newens, Stan||Vickers, Dame Joan|
|Jeger,Mrs.Lena(H'b'n&St.P,cras,S.)||Norwood, Christopher||Watkins, David (Consett)|
|Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Oram, Albert E.||Weitzman, David|
|Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Orme, Stanley||Wellbeloved, James|
|Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)||Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)||Whitaker, Ben|
|Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)||Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Jones,Rt.Hn.Sir Elwyn(W.Harn.S.)||Pardoe, John||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West)||Parker, John (Dagenham)||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)|
|Judd, Frank||Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Kelley, Richard||Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)||Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)||Winstanley, Dr. M. P.|
|Kerr, Russell (Feltham)||Price, William (Rugby)||Wyatt, Woodrow|
|Kirk, Peter||Probert, Arthur||Yates, Victor|
|Lee, John (Reading)||Quennell, Miss J. M.|
|Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)||Reynolds, G. W.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Lomas, Kenneth||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas||Mr. John Hunt and|
|Loughlin, Charles||Robinson,Rt.Hn.Kenneth(St.P'c'as)||Mr. Christopher Price.|
|Loveys, W. H.||Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)|
|Alldritt, Walter||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Baker, w. H. K.||Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.)||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Braine, Bernard||Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)||Rowland, Christopher (Meriden)|
|Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)||Knight, Mrs. Jill||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Buck, Antony (Colchester)||Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)||Sharples, Richard|
|Corfield, F. V.||McBride, Neil||Small, William|
|Crowder, F. P.||Macdonald, A. H.||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Cullen, Mrs. Alice||McGuire, Michael||Taylor, Edward M.(G'gow,Cathcart)|
|Cunningham, Sir Knox||McNamara, J. Kevin||Temple, John M.|
|Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford)||Maddan, Martin||Tinn, James|
|Dempsey, James||Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)||Van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Dodds-Parker, Douglas||Mahon, Simon (Bootle)||Wall, Patrick|
|Elliott,R.W.(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,N.)||Marten, Neil||Ward, Dame Irene|
|English, Michael||Maude, Angus||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Farr, John||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Fortescue, Tim||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William|
|Galpern, Sir Myer||More, Jasper||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Glover, Sir Douglas||Nabarro, Sir Gerald||Wylie, N. R.|
|Grant-Ferris, R.||Oakes, Gordon|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Ogden, Eric||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||O'Malley, Brian||Mr. James A. Dunn and|
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian||Mr. Harold Gurden.|
|Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)||Page, Graham (Crosby)|
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
At this hour of the morning I am not capable of making a long speech. I shall, therefore, speak in fairly general terms about the Bill as it now stands.
This has been a very long struggle for many people, both inside and outside the House, although it has been a relatively short struggle for me, as I have been associated with it for only the past year—even though it now appears to me to be about 10 years of my life. But no worthwhile social reform is ever passed through the House easily. The fact that it has been a hard-fought reform has made it none the worse, and probably both its opponents and supporters would recognise that in our deliberations on the Bill a great deal has been achieved in the arguments to and fro, here and in Committee.
It is appropriate that I should thank those who have supported the Measure, not only through this past night but on r. previous night; those who sat on the Committee; and those who helped to organise, without the benefit of experience of the Government Chief Whip, to get people to vote for the Measure. I personally owe a great deal of gratitude to them.
I should also like to pay tribute to the opponents of the Bill. A great many harsh things have been said, as naturally happens on a Bill such as this, which arouses such deep feelings and emotions. Probably many of us on both sides of the argument have said things which, in a week's time in the cool light of day, we would possibly like to think we had never said.
On the whole I would like to say to the opponents that as a member of—at the moment—a minority party in the House I am, more than anyone, perhaps, sensitive to the rights of minorities to advance their points of view and to try to make their points of view prevail against all difficulties. That the minority have done, and, I think, with great distinction to themselves.
If I may just make a particular reference to the views of the Roman Catholic Church, and, in particular, to the views of the Roman Catholic Members in this House, I do this not because I am one of those who believe that the opposition to the Bill is centred on Roman Catholicism, because, of course, it is not, but because, as a Christian, and one who is associated with the ecumenical movement in religious politics, I recognise that this whole subject of abortion is one which has caused very great difficulties and disquiet to those who hold the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church.
I recognise that. Indeed, I would go further and say that the only logical and consistent case which can be advanced against the Bill is one which stems from the basic conceptions of the Roman Catholic point of view. Therefore, I would I like to say to those hon. Members who hold that point of view that we who are pressing the Bill respect it very much indeed.
In deciding whether or not to give the Bill its Third Reading I suggest that our criterion should be: is the Bill what a reasonable man would regard as a reasonable statement of the law on this difficult question of abortion? It is my submission that it is.
It sets out for the first time in this country firm ground on which it may be lawful for termination to be carried out. By Clause 1(1,a) the grounds are those which have already been accepted by many members of the medical profession and put into practice by some of them, but for the first time they are told clearly what may be lawful.
In Clause 1(1,b), an abnormality in the foetus, which, as I have said before, I personally find ethically the most difficult of all the parts of the Bill, we state for the first time a new point of law. I think that it is significant for those who are or have been troubled by that paragraph. I think that they should stop to note that the British Medical Association's report before the war to the interdepartmental committee of inquiry contained no such recommendation as is now in that paragraph (b), but that its report of a year or so ago did, in fact, contain precisely that recommendation in Clause 1(1,b), for the good reason that, with the development and advance of medical science, a body of professional men and women came to the conclusion that it is right that such a provision should be there included. If we voted down the Bill we would be going back to the system where we had no definition at all of precisely what are the grounds on which a termination may be carried out.
Secondly, the Bill introduces safeguards for the first time into our law and which do not exist at present. We require two opinions. This is, perhaps, not an important point, because in practice, of course, this is regularly done in any case. Secondly, we require for the first time that abortion be carried out in particular places, either in a National Health Service hospital or a place approved for the purpose by the Minister of Health. Thirdly, for the first time, we require notification of every termination of pregnancy, so that not only can we see—and evidence be found—whether racketeering is going on, but we can for the first time obtain realistic and valuable information on this subject. Again, if the Bill is voted down all these three safeguards in the provisions of the Bill will be lost to the law of our land.
I think that I should say a word about the nature of the abortion operation itself. This is the point on which emotions are most easily aroused. I think it true to say that the bulk of the illegal abortions, the back-street abortions, which go on today occur not at the stage where the foetus is fairly advanced, for the obvious reason that at that stage the operation requires an abdominal operation, and it is not carried out in the back streets, but at an early stage.
It is this that we are trying to check. It is this we are trying to bring within the purview of the medical profession. I have with me an early seven weeks old embryo, given to me by an official of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Members who know little of the subject should have a look at it, because it is only half an inch long. To talk of it in terms of crying or wriggling, or anything like that, at the early stage of pregnancy when these abortions are carried out, is quite misleading, and, I think, over-emotionalising.
This is what we are weighing against the life and welfare of the mother and family, when talking about abortion in most cases. Of course, there will still be cases where, because of grave circumstances, a doctor may decide that at a later stage of pregnancy, when abortion is more repugnant, it should be carried out, but the law has not changed because it happens at present.
Anyone advancing the Bill has in no way been advocating abortion. I must make this clear, because I detect, from some of the mountain of correspondence I have received over the last year, a belief that some who advance the Bill think that abortion should be encouraged and more widely practised. I must say that this is not so and that the Bill does not relieve society of the obligation to improve social conditions or of attacking the question whether our adoption laws are as effective and correctly organised as they should be, and, certainly, it does not relieve society of the obligation of considering whether there are adequate facilities for family planning, or from appealing to some form of responsible moral code.
So often this is not understood by those outside the House who believe that those advancing the Bill have done so on quite spurious grounds, that we are advocating abortion as something desirable and to be encouraged. The main case for the Bill and for clarifying the law rests on the grounds that we are hopeful that the scourge of criminal abortion will be substantially removed from our land. We do not say it will entirely be wiped out. That would be a pipe-dream. It has not been entirely wiped out in any country.
We think that the Bill will succeed in this effort because I am told by gynaecologists that already, before the Bill is passed, there is a change of climate and practice, where more patients are being seen by general practitioners and more are being referred to specialists by general practitioners. That is happening under the present law.
One example has been given to me by a general practitioner of a girl, unmarried, and, therefore, one of the minority of cases of illegal abortion, who came to him about two or three months ago, said she was pregnant, and that she wished to have her pregnancy terminated. He told her that he did not think she had grounds. She said to him that she had come because of the Bill. "I believe that I have grounds under that", she said. He told her, "I happen to know the sponsor of the Bill. I have looked at the Bill and do not think that under it you have grounds." He talked to the girl and put her in touch with people who could help her. Her pregnancy is now going through in the normal way. It does not follow that because women desire termination it will automatically be carried out. If we can manage to get a girl such as that into the hands of the medical profession, the Bill is succeeding in its objective.
If the Bill had not been before Parliament, if the girl had thought that what she sought was something illegal and was not to be talked about, and had, therefore, not gone to the doctor, she might have had the baby after nine months of great anxiety; she might, as often happens, have taken some substance, or have inflicted some injury upon herself which might have aborted the baby, admitted her to hospital to take up time in a gynaecological bed, and, possibly, have left her with a permanent injury.
Worse than that, she might have been driven to the desperate situation of committing suicide. Worst of all, she might have been among the statistics of the average of 30 women a year who die of operations at criminal hands. None of those things happened, because she thought she would get a good hearing from that doctor. If the Bill encourages that kind of climate, it will have been worthwhile.
I draw the attention of the House—and I am surprised that it was not mentioned at any time during the night—to the fact that at the annual meeting of the British Medical Association, only last week, a motion was brought forward from Birmingham—from the area of the country that has been most opposed to the Bill—that the Measure should be opposed, and that a Royal Commission should be appointed to look into the whole matter. That motion was discussed by a full meeting of the B.M.A., and was overwhelmingly rejected by about 300 votes to 100 votes.
The chairman, in his concluding remarks, while not dotting every "i" and crossing every "t", said that it would be irresponsible of the British Medical Association to accept the suggestion of shelving the whole matter and having yet another inquiry. If that would be irresponsible for the British Medical Association, how much more irresponsible would it be for Parliament at this stage to go back on its conclusions reached so far?
Last week, the Economist, looking forward to the possible passing of the Bill after this night's long sitting, said that if it were to be passed Parliament would have done something of value this Session. It is in that spirit that I ask the House to give the Bill its Third reading.
The House has been discussing the Bill for almost 12 hours so far, and those who have been here through the night will, I am sure, agree that there have been good debates throughout and that the standard has been high. Those who listened to our discussion of the conscience Clause will realise the complexity of some of the issues we had to consider. I know that it is always said that we should have the Law Officers present to advise on matters of this kind, but I think that in that last debate, particularly, it was a pity that one of them was not present in the Chamber, though he was, in fact, in the building.
The hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) must be congratulated on the way in which, although he was criticised, at times both by his supporters and by his opponents, he has brought a Bill of such complexity to this stage. It is probable that within a very short time he will be able to have something to his credit which very few of us will have during our time in Parliament, and that is a major piece of legislation on the Statute Book. The hon. Member has throughout taken immense trouble to answer all the points that were put to him, and I know that the whole House will be grateful to him for that.
At the same time, it is quite intolerable that the House of Commons should have been called upon to debate a complicated piece of social legislation like this throughout the night and the early hours of the morning. I think it intolerable that the Leader of the House, who is responsible for putting us in this position, should saunter in, having had his breakfast, at this time of the morning. I say that because in my personal capacity I shall vote in favour of the Bill, but I none the less criticise very strongly indeed the way in which the business of the House has been conducted and the way in which we have been asked to consider the Bill.
There is to be a free vote on both sides of the House. Although I shall vote in favour of the Bill, I certainly would not attempt to influence any of my hon. Friends either way in the decision they reach. All I say is, now that we have considered the Bill for a very long time indeed, I believe that the House should come to an early decision on the matter.
If the lives of the citizens of our country came not from the generosity of God, but from the hand of the State or Sovereign, this House would never have found a place in the history of our nation. Our constitution, our laws and our history stand testament to this belief.
Today we are assembled to debate what was described in another place as enlightened legislation. I regret the light and oppose the Bill as outlined. This abortion Bill is about morals and most certainly about life, human life, life which under the most favourable circumstances is transient indeed, about life which on this earth is not an enduring gift or free entitlement, about life which is a gift to each of us bestowed at a price to each of us. The Preston poet, Francis Thompson, had regard to that price when he wrote the verse:
Nothing begins and nothing ends,
That is not paid with moan;
For we are born in other's pain
And perish in our own.
As I have pondered this Bill, two considerations have impressed themselves on me. The first is that my objection to this Bill and the point of differentiation from the supporters of the Bill is not that one side has deep compassion and the other is fettered by religious theory. The difference lies in the esteem given to the human foetus, the value accredited to what, under any consideration, is a potential human life.
My second consideration is that if this Bill becomes the law of our country—and it appears that it will—the logical conclusion and the practical application will be that any pregnant woman should be entitled to abortion on demand. I do not believe—and I assure the House that it is not a callous disbelief—that risk to the human life or physical injury to the health of the woman—these are very serious things, it is the risk ever present in childbirth—justifies the abortion of a potential human life, however lightly the hon. Member appears to judge the position. Still less do I believe that the anguish and state of mind of the woman which could be attributed to a continuing pregnancy would be justifiable grounds for any two medical practitioners lawfully to approve the termination of the life of the child within the womb. Indeed, the first Clause of the Bill lays down that it would be sufficient ground for procuring an abortion if it was proved that mental anxiety for the mother would ensue. This proviso is the Open Sesame to any requirement in this matter as embodied in this Bill.
Those supporting the Bill say that legalised abortion is a product of the humanitarian egality of our age; they suggest that the choice is between the old order and the new, but I claim with all the sincerity of which I am capable the right to ask hon. Members to face this challenge as between life sanctified by God or legalised infanticide. Clause 1(a) asks us to agree that it should be lawful to destroy a potential life on the ground that a continued pregnancy
… would involve risk to the life or of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman …
… or the future well-being of herself and/or the child or her other children",
In other words, carte blanche from the word "go". Destroy, even although life has not begun to function. Eligibility for abortion is no longer limited even to this. Well-being or environment have to be considered. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes. Hon. Members can say "No" but they must not treat this proposition as lightly as they tend to do. Their action will have to be defended in the country, and that, they will find, will not be easy. I maintain that what has been agreed to by the House is the ticket for the 80 per cent. of abortion seekers, the married women whose supreme concern is the strain that an additional child will impose. The effect of the Bill will be that, if they are determined enough, they will find grounds for abortion as often as they wish.
The effect of the Bill on the medical profession will be to place on many an unbearable strain of conscience. I could dilate on that ad infinitum, but I will resist the temptation. The strain on highly skilled and dedicated members of the medical profession appears to have been the last consideration. It was brushed aside very quickly by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel). As every hon. Member is only too painfully aware, in each of our constituencies we are visited week by week by people who are enduring very serious illnesses and who are waiting for long periods to obtain hospital treatment. One cannot contract out of life or avoid death. There are circumstances, some of them embodied in the Bill, which indubitably involve a trail of human misery and sorrow. In my opinion, none of these sorrows can ever justify the destruction of potential life. There are some instances in the Bill which arouse tremendous sympathy, but it must be conceded that fortunately these cases are not comparatively frequent. Those of us in local government whose job it has been through the years to study the vital statistics know that the health of mothers is improving rapidly and that child mortality rates are decreasing rapidly.
Not long ago I voted with pride, as did the vast majority of hon. Members, against judicial murder. Basically we voted that way because we believed it wrong to take a human life, irrespective of the measure of accountability involved. Is the House now about to turn turtle by accepting as a general principle that it would be right to destroy a potential human life? How can the nation which has abolished the legal killing of murderers and ended judicial murder sanction the killing of an unborn child?
I am certain that this momentous question is not being posed exclusively by people in my constituency. This is a question on the lips of mothers, fathers, grandparents, people in all walks of life—spinsters and bachelors as well. Many of the letters which I have received—I am sure that I am no different from any other hon. Member in this respect—have come from unmarried people. People everywhere are proclaiming that Parliament is not God and does not have dominion over life and death. I implore Parliament to vote on Third Reading with its eyes wide open, remembering that mere man must never be so ill-advised as to trespass on the domain of the Creator. Unless any single one of us is prepared to say with truth, "I wish I had never been born", it is wrong to deny life to a potential human being.
Little more than a year ago, not far from my own constituency, a young woman aged 20, a qualified nurse, died. The qualified doctor who aborted her in hospital committed suicide. His friend, also a qualified doctor, who was responsible for the girl's condition, was imprisoned. People were horrified by the ghastliness of that situation. Would it not have been better if that little baby had been allowed to come into the world? I pose the pertinent question, "For God's sake do not let us dodge any issue. Tomorrow may be too late".
Members of Parliament have a responsibility. I believe that they are accepting that responsibility and looking at this question very conscientiously indeed. But we have a very heavy burden of responsibility to carry. How do we abolish the back-street abortionist—by substituting front-street killing of the innocent unborn on the National Health? Is that the way we are to do it? Herod's was no greater crime than this.
Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the Kingdom of God.
That means that each and every one of us must share the trials and tribulations which come our way in an effort to see that little children do not meet this inexorable fate.
Will this Mother of Parliaments respond to this call? In a long life in the political arena, I have held that the words "neutral" and "impartial" were benign, carrying their true meaning. Those words now stink in the nostrils of many hon. Members. From the very inception of this Measure there has been absolute partisanship. The early words of the Home Secretary now have a very hollow ring indeed. Why the machinery of Parliament has been set in motion, at the behest of one little Member of the smallest possible minority party, passes my comprehension.
I have been in politics, a member of the Labour Party, for 44 years and have never had the word "unworthy" used to me. I hope that I will go to my grave without that word ever having been said to me. I have never been an unworthy member of the Labour movement and—
I am grateful for your indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I must calm down. I am rather over-emotional about this. I assure the House that I have never looked on the Bill through the eyes of a Catholic. I oppose it because I believe it to be against the natural law and to be terribly cruel to little children who should be born. It has puzzled me that there should have been so much support in Parliament for the Measure. I never anticipated that, after three years in office, the Labour Party would allow such a Bill to come forward. Not in my wildest imagination could I have imagined such a thing happening.
I fervently believe that there is no glory for a living soul in the Bill. People might think that I am being churlish in not congratulating the young hon. Gentleman the Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles who, on very different standards, might consider that he has an achievement to his credit. I suppose that it is a good achievement for a young hon. Member, but in all sincerity I do not consider that he is worth my congratulations. He is deserving of my sympathy and, in the years that lie ahead, he may himself come around to this way of thinking. I do not wish him ill. I wish him luck, success and happiness in his political future. He is a very able young man, but on this occasion he has traversed the wrong path.
As I say, there is no glory for a living soul in the Measure, and posterity's judgment will be censorious. Indeed, future generations will be appalled that in our own day Parliament allowed its splendid traditions to be sullied and tarnished, even by giving consideration to such a Measure.
In the whole of my public life I have never felt so badly about anything as I do about the Bill. As a human being who has lived and fought to protect all that is best in mankind, and as one who respects the rights and dignity of all people, I protest vehemently against the Bill and all that it contains. Life is the most precious gift on earth. Man can take it away, but he cannot give it back again. Life is man's most precious possession, since if he loses it, he loses everything. He therefore has a right to life, and a right which no one make take away from him. Man disregards this most fundamental right at his peril.
Let there be no doubt in anyone's mind as to how the Universal Declaration of Human Rights applied to the child. That representative body of all civilised peoples was proud to declare that mankind owes to the child the best that it has to give. Without equivocation, it is stated that by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, the child needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection before as well as after birth. The Bill makes a mockery of the Declaration of Human Rights and opens the door wide for an increasing disregard for the rights of the child.
It has never been shown that the life in the embryo stage is not alive—I thought that it was unworthy of the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles but I said that I will not chastise him, and I will not; I will skirt round that little note of denigration. It has never been shown that the child in the embryo stage is not alive, not human and not a unique individual organism. It has never been shown that at some time in advanced pregnancy the child suddenly becomes alive. The child, whether born or unborn, is not the chattel of its mother to be treated or disposed of according to her wishes or whims. This would be a travesty of motherhood. She is the first and greatest guardian of her child's safety and right.
It has always been the glory of a mother to defend her child, in the womb or outside it, against any aggression. There are two equal rights: the right of the mother and the right of the child. The child in the womb cannot, and must not, be deprived of its life because either his mother or society does not want him. Let me remind Parliament, if with the smug complacency of Englishmen it is anxious to forget, that we have had a Prime Minister and a Foreign Secretary who were the illegitimate children of servant girls.
It is true that a mother, or anyone else for that matter, has the right to have done to her whatever is necessary for her health, but not if it involves the direct killing of another person, whether unborn, child or adult. What is supreme cannot be taken away because of what is partial. If a mother is psychologically disturbed through other factors, whatever the cause, the unborn child is not responsible and cannot be punished as though he were.
No one suggests today that, terrible crime though it be, the person responsible for raping a woman or child should be put to death, yet that is precisely what is being done to the innocent unborn child who is by no means responsible. If our conscience is not outraged at the thought of this being done, what in heaven's name has happened to us?
Back-street abortionists are rightly abhorred, but whatever the harm done to the woman the first and greatest injustice is the taking of the unborn child's life. Tie injustice is by no means abated by having the abortion carried out by doctors in the best aseptic conditions.
It is indeed our sacred duty to maintain the dignity and the rights of mothers, but however deep our emotions at the sight of afflicted mothers, we will neglect at our peril the rights of the child. Nor must it be forgotten that this legislation will brutalise our country in the eyes of the world. The age-old argument that a mother's life is more important than a life before birth is no argument for the destruction of the child. The same argument would apply to the killing of the defectively born. What a hue and cry there would be, and rightly so, had it been suggested that the thalidomide babies should not have been allowed life.
The more one looks at the Bill and studies it closely, the more one is appalled by it. It is proposed to allow abortion when there is a substantial risk that the child will be born suffering from physical or mental abnormalities that would be a serious handicap. But how is one to know that a child will be born like that? Certainly not by an examination of the foetus can anyone diagnose that a child wilt be born blind or deaf. It can be only a mere guess in particular cases.
It is argued that if a mother has a particular disease in pregnancy—rubella, for example—there is a chance that her child will be deformed in some way. Others say that deformities would be minor. But the real tragedy would be that a large number of perfectly normal unmaimed human lives are to be sacrificed for the sake of one who would be born with some physical deformity. What kind of morality is that?
Nor can the destruction of human life for social reasons be defended. The Bill's provisions said that an abortion should be allowed when the woman's well-being or that of her other children is involved. Who is to decide on this? Is it the pregnant woman who is to decide on the destruction of her own child, or is it to be the doctor? How logical it is to reason that the sane, sensible and moral way of solving these great difficulties is not by killing but by bettering social conditions, and the hon. Gentleman was generous enough to concede that point.
Rooted objection to the Bill by so many hon. Members is not based merely or chiefly on moral grounds. It is based, first, on human rights and the right of every individual to his life unless in some way he has forfeited that right by his own actions. Second, it is based on social and economic grounds. The accent should be on medical research and the provision of greater social facilities.
The presentation of this Bill is in itself an indictment of Parliament. The acceptance of and support for the Bill is tantamount to a confession of failure to deal with the social maladies afflicting our country. I am rather sad to be a Member of a Parliament which is giving the Bill a Third Reading.
As one who did not serve on the Standing Committee, but who has been present throughout both the all-night sittings and has not spoken previously during this one, I have been a supporter of the Bill in principle from the outset.
I want to be as constructive as possible. There is one outstanding point which I should like the House to consider, and I want to make an appeal to the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel), while joining in the congratulations which have been given to him.
In my carefully considered opinion, Clause 1 is impossible in its present form of words. I have discussed it with those who are much better equipped than I to speak about the conduct of trials and instructions to juries.
The language of Clause 1 is such that I do not believe any judge ought to be asked to try to explain it. There are three points that I want to mention in that connection. He would have to deal, first of all, with the word "risk". As I understand the sponsor, according to his view a judge should say that it does not mean just any risk, that it means a serious risk or danger. I think that that is impossible. Any judge would say, "Parliament has said 'a risk'. If I have evidence that there is any risk, that is an end of the matter." He then passes on to the word "substantial".
A substantial risk must be a different thing from a risk that is not substantial. That has to be explained to the jury. Then we have the factor of "other children". No one has been able to explain how those children are supposed to be affected. We just do not know. I think that I have said sufficient to show why I, at any rate, think that Clause 1 in its present form simply will not do.
I want to make an appeal to the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles who, after all, is responsible for the Bill. The Government have adopted the attitude of what is called, I think, by the Leader of the House "neutral support"—which is a very remarkable thing; and only the Leader of the House would have been capable of thinking of that.
I also appeal to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General. I thought it right to give him notice that I intended to refer to him and to the unfortunate fact of his absence when we were discussing those matters. However, I should like to recognise that he has come here and has sat here for a long time waiting to deal with the matter. I therefore feel that I can appeal to him without his feeling in any way that I have imposed anything upon him.
I am using the words of the present Prime Minister in defining the duties of
the Attorney-General. This is what the present Prime Minister said on 27th May, 1963:
The Attorney-General, whoever he may be, is not only the legal adviser to the Crown and to the Government. He is also a servant of this House. It is, from time to time, his duty to advise the House on legal matters. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th May, 1963; Vol. 678, c. 993.]
May I say this to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. We are in trouble over two things. The one matter with which I am most concerned is this question of Clause 1. I believe, if I may respectfully say so, that it is his duty to co-operate with the sponsor to find language that will be acceptable. As I have said elsewhere—and I am sure it is right—I am quite certain that when the Bill goes to another place, as I think it will, it will undoubtedly be subjected to great scrutiny there. I do not believe that Clause 1 will be acceptable in its present form. Therefore, I urge that an effort be made to produce an acceptable version of Clause 1 for presentation in another place.
I am certain that it ought to be fully recognised that during the very many hours we have been here since yesterday—if it was yesterday—no one could say that there has been any filibustering. Apart from anything else, there has been very good temper, and good spirits, and even once or twice we have had quite a good laugh—unintentionally, I think, on one occasion. That is a good thing.
May I humbly say that I appreciate what the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles is thinking. One of the very first things that I did when I came into the House was to draw a leading place in the Ballot and embark on the presentation of a Private Member's Bill which went on to the Statute Book. At one time it was certainly not only moribund, but about to pass out. I got into touch with the then Attorney-General, Sir Hartley Shawcross, as he then was, and he gave me his co-operation. We put on to the Statute rook an Act which involved the repeal or amendment of no fewer than 35 statutes of the Realm. That could not have been done except by that process of cooperation and, of course, the use of Parliamentary draftsmen—not only that, but an agreement on my part to submit to whatever conditions and requirements were put upon me by the Attorney-General.
If that same course is taken in relation to the present Bill, I would see no reason at all why it should have difficulty. I sincerely hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us at the end of this Third Reading debate that he is prepared to co-operate with an open mind with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, taking into account the matters we have discussed and which I have tried to put forward, and thus produce an acceptable result.
As a Roman Catholic, I naturally feel strongly on the question of conscience, morality and theology. I know that other hon. Members feel equally strongly because of their humanist beliefs. I am not going to argue the case from this point of view. It is something we could debate for many days.
I approach this Bill with a natural prejudice against it, and I confess to the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) that this is the fact. But I must confess that, having sat here for two nights and having read the reports of some of the Committee stage of the Bill, it becomes clearer and clearer to me that the main objective of the Bill will not, I fear, be achieved.
The objective of the Bill is to widen and make more humane and better the present laws regarding abortion which, it is perfectly true, are unfair to many and offer to the rich advantages which are not available to the poor. This is perfectly true. Nevertheless, the intention of the Bill is to have control over how far the obligation in relation to abortion should extend. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) has shown, Clause 1 is inexplicable to a court of law. Under no circumstances could a judgment even be given against an abortioner. The Bill makes so wide the area of decision as to what constitutes harm to future or unborn children, as to the question of the health of the women concerned and the social conditions. Here is a field which is totally subjective. As has been suggested, the Swedish system offers far more control than does this Bill.
I believe that in a few years we shall find that the criteria which have been laid down by the supporters of the Bill in an effort to control the practice of abortion will have disappeared and we shall have abortion on demand in this country. I cannot believe that many hon. Members want that. If there were a straight vote now on the question of abortion on demand, there would not be a majority in favour of it. But that is what will happen as inevitably as anything is inevitable in this life, because within the Bill are the seeds of that destruction.
It is a sad commentary—sad, perhaps, but accurate—that after 1,000 days of this Government there has been no extension of freedom save to the bugger and the abortioner.
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) concluded as he did, particularly in view of my recollection that he was an extremely loyal and determined supporter of the Sexual Offences Bill throughout all its stages. I am sorry that he spoiled his speech in that way.
This Bill began its laborious progress through the House as long ago as 22nd July last year, when I spoke, as did many hon. Members, on its Second Reading. There can be fairly general agreement that during this period it has been exhaustively debated both in Committee and on Report, and now on Third Reading. On Second Reading, I said something about the Government's attitude of neutrality, and on that my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Peter Mahon) has made a comment. I have great respect for the deeply held and sincere views of my hon. Friend, and I hope that he will extend his respect to those who hold different views on this matter.
I understand that, during one of my fairly brief absences from the debate, my hon. Friend said that some remark of mine about neutrality on that occasion had a somewhat hollow ring. What I said, and what I repeat now, is that the Government collectively have a neutral attitude to the Bill and believe that it is for the House to decide whether it wishes to have a Bill on abortion, but I myself believed in July last year, and still believe, that the abortion law as it exists at present is uncertain, archaic and harsh and it is extremely desirable that it be reformed on all those grounds.
For that reason, I made clear that I would vote for the Second Reading. Equally, I shall vote today, nearly a year later, for the Third Reading. But for the Government as a whole, every vote has been an unwhipped vote, and some of my right hon. and hon. Friends have gone into a Lobby different from that into which I have gone throughout the various stages of the Bill.
The Government have made time available, and there have been criticisms of this, somewhat contradictory criticisms, either that they have made time available at all or that they have not made enough time available at entirely other times of day.
I take, first, the complaint that the Government have made time available. The Bill went through Committee, a difficult and laborious Committee stage, and it then came to the Floor of the House on Report on 2nd June, on an ordinary Private Member's day. On that day there was, I believe, an almost unprecedented turnout of hon. Members on both sides of the House and both sides of the controversy to express their views and cast their votes. This, I believe, mirrored the great attention and interest in the issue in the country. I cannot believe that hon. Members who have respect for Parliament, whatever view they may take about the merits of the Bill, would say that, on an issue in which there is that degree of interest in the House and outside, it would be right for the House to frustrate itself for want of time from making a decision upon it.
I appreciate what the Home Secretary says, but, in those circumstances, if he thinks that the Bill is so important—as, indeed, I admit it is—would it not have been better to have had time for discussion during the day and not through the watches of the night?
If the hon. Gentleman will contain himself for a moment, I shall come to precisely that question. It was raised by his hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples), speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, in a speech with which otherwise I agreed.
I come now to that question, that is, whether the Government, having decided to give time, should have given time during the day. The deeply felt opposition to the Bill has led hon. Members opposing it to oppose it very strongly and by practically all available Parliamentary means. Does any hon. Member who sat not through this last night but through the night sitting a fortnight ago believe that ordinary time would have settled the fate of the Bill? Does anyone believe that six Fridays or three ordinary days from 4 o'clock to 10 o'clock would have settled the fate of the Bill? I make no complaint. I take the point made by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) that those with strong views are entitled to exploit Parliamentary procedure in order to give expression to those strong views. But a majority who hold equally strong views must also be able to use the devices of Parliamentary procedure in order to reach a decision, and, on the basis of what happened on that previous night, it is clear that no conceivable available amount of Government time during the day would have enabled this Bill to go through.
No, not just now. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam meant that had a Government of which he would be a supporter been in power they would have given that limitless time. I doubt very much that they would have given any time at all for this social issue to be resolved.
What has been the difference between the debate this last night and the debate a fortnight ago? A fortnight ago, we had a debate during which, for example, the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) spoke against his own Amendment, whether realising that he was doing so or not, when there was difficulty about hon. Members coming out of the Lobbies with reasonable speed, when even the most minute drafting Amendment was debated with equal length and weight as Amendments of great importance and when the House refused to take two Amendments together, thus, in effect, making a nonsense of its own procedures, as the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) pointed out.
It was a very different story a fortnight ago from the reasonable and constructive debates which we have had during this past night. Why has there been a different story?—not, I believe, because the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) had a sudden conversion during his excursion to Turkey—I think it was—during the week. It was for no reason of that kind. The debate has been different because, on this occasion, it was open-ended, and the House knew that the debate would proceed until a decision had been taken. Had the House not been put in that position, I do not believe that the opposition, about which I do not complain provided that hon. Members do not complain about the way in which time has been made available, would ever have allowed a decision to be reached.
I take the right hon. Gentleman back to the point in his speech at which I tried to intervene. He spoke of using the devices of the House. I put this simple question: is it not a fact that the Government are now using the devices of the House over this Bill?
It may be the long hours we have been sitting—I suspect that the hon. Gentleman has been here as long as I have—but I do not see what new point that adds to the argument.
What I say on that point, if it is any advantage to the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt), is that the Government have taken the view that a decision should be reached on this Bill, whatever the decision may be. I do not believe that any hon. Member in his heart believes that a decision could have been arrived at in a different way and with a timetable different from that in which it has been arrived at. I do not believe that any hon. Member believes that.
I should like to add my congratulations to those that the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles has received upon his work in endeavouring to get the Bill on the Statute Book. It has been an extremely hard, long and laborious task. There must have been many occasions in the past year when he half regretted that he had ever taken it upon himself. It has been a difficult Bill, and he must have been under great pressure. I think that the hon. Member, as a young Member of the House with a marginal constituency and without a great party machine behind him, has shown exceptional courage in carrying on with the Bill in these circumstances. I congratulate him most warmly on the results which have been achieved. I should also like to congratulate those hon. Members on both sides of the House who have sat long, but sat with some enthusiasm, to get the Bill on the Statute Book.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, as well as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health for the great help that they have given the House and the clear expositions that they gave in Committee and on Report. I believe that by carrying the Bill through—I hope that if the House is so minded it will give it a Third Reading by a decisive majority—we are making a practical contribution towards a solution—there is no perfect solution—of an extremely difficult social problem.
The right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) said that Clause 1 was unworkable. The Attorney-General has certain duties about advising the House, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman pointed out, and I am sure that any advice that my right hon. and learned Friend gave would be extremely clear and lucid, but I am bound to say that I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman exaggerates the extent to which some of the advice that the House has received from some Law Officers in the past necessarily clarified the issue. At the same time I might remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the House that it is I, not my right hon. and learned Friend, with all his great knowledge and responsibility, who is responsible for the state of the criminal law, but while I certainly take the view that one can have varying views about the desirability of the Bill and the desirability of Clause 1, I do not take the view, on all the advice available to me, not least that of my right hon. and learned Friend, that Clause I as it stands is unworkable. I think it is workable.
It is for the House to decide whether or not it wishes Clause 1 and the rest of the Bill. I have no doubt that the House will come to a decision soon and that by doing so it will put at any rate partly to rest a difficult social controversy on which it would have been a great pity for Parliament if Parliament had dodged the issue at this stage.
I want to say something in reply to the Home Secretary, but, first, I should like, on personal grounds, warmly to congratulate the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel). I do so as one who reluctantly will vote against the Bill. Having sat through most of the proceedings, I pay tribute to his industry and fairness. None of us, whatever view we may have taken about the Bill, can have any complaint about the way in which he has played his part in it.
Whether this has been the right way to handle the Measure is something which some of us will feel doubt about. I wish I had more confidence and shared the Home Secretary's confidence about Clause 1. I come much more closely to the view of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald). I am surprised at the confidence of the Home Secretary that Clause 1 is workable. Indeed, I think that very few hon. Members could at the moment say what the position is under Clause 1. I hope that the Home Secretary is right, but after all the proceedings on the Bill I have very strong reservations about it. For that reason, I also share the view that the Third Reading without a reprint of the Bill is very difficult.
Those of us who occupy the middle ground on the Bill can judge the result only by the criteria which we have tried to hold in our minds from the start. I speak, first, for those of us who have wished to see a change in the law and have accepted that there were abuses and wished to see them removed. I speak, secondly, for those who believe that the grounds should be medical grounds and that what is required of doctors is a medical judgment and that all other considerations which might be brought into the Bill should be within medical criteria I speak, thirdly, for those who have felt that doctors, and nurses, too, should be adequately protected where, on grounds of their own conscience, they found themselves unable to implement the proposals in the Bill.
That is, broadly, the ground on which some of us have stood. Now we have to ask ourselves whether the Bill satisfies those criteria by which, as far as we could, we have marched during these proceedings. I do not feel happy about that. One of the principal reasons for feeling unhappy has been a shortcoming on the Government's side.
Here, I want to reply to something that the Home Secretary said. We are all speaking for ourselves now. I make no complaint about the timing. The Home Secretary is probably right. The only way to get the Bill through was to go on indefinitely. I had no objection to working through the night. Judging by some of the speeches which we have heard, I do not think that the mental process has been much impaired by an all-night sitting. We had a very good speech with cogent arguments from my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) at six o'clock this morning. I think that we can exaggerate the amount of damage that we do to legislation by sitting late or early.
My complaint lies not with what the Government have done with time, but with what the Government have not done with aid to those of us who have been trying to make a success of the Bill. I add immediately my tribute to the tribute which the Home Secretary paid to his right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, and the Minister of Health and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, but I ask the Home Secretary to accept that it has not been possible occasionally when there his been a conflict of advice from two Departments—the Home Office and the Ministry of Health; this cannot be denied—without the advice of the Law Officers—whatever store we set by that—for those of us who have been struggling to produce a result which will make sense and good law to do the best that we should have been able to do. In this sense, I believe that the Government are guilty of a sin of omission. If the Government will the Bill—they are entitled to do so—and they give it time, it seems to me that they owe the Bill some responsibility, and this they have not shown.
This stage has enabled my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey to make a very fair speech in relation to Clause 1 and to say that when the Bill comes to be considered again in another place the Law Officers and other experts are bound to find the gravest shortcomings in the drafting not only of Clause 1, but of Clause 4. Without the presence of right hon. and learned Gentlemen our difficulties there were not resolved. The result is that that Clause goes on to another place with very grave doubts still hanging over it. There are limits to what Law Officers can do in clarifying matters. One must not ask for the impossible, but I still maintain that the Government have not lived up to their responsibilities in the light of what they have asked the rest of the House to do.
I think that it will be for the Government, also, to search their conscience about this. The hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles has now discharged his responsibilities. He has done his work; he has got his Bill through this House. I say all praise to him on personal grounds for what he has done. But the implementation of the Bill, the administrative side, will now lie fairly and squarely on the Government, and I think that they will find themselves in much greater difficulty than they now suppose. It is only right that for those of us who have sought to hold tenaciously to the best aspects of the Bill on the grounds on which I am speaking that I should, in conclusion, strike that very strong note of reservation.
I have sat throughout 12 or 13 sittings of the Standing Committee, speaking only twice, and I have sat throughout the whole of this Report stage without speaking at all except on an unusual sort of point of order intervention. However, I should like to say a few words on Third Reading, because so many hon. Members have represented themselves as the perfect moderates, with extremists on either side.
It is important that I should put forward a point of view which has not been put as strongly during the Report stage as it should have been, but, first, I should like to add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel). I have worked closely with him and I have a great deal of admiration for him.
My first point is that many hon. Members have predicted a sort of headlong, gathering rush to abortion on demand when the Bill is passed. I should like to predict that for several years it will make very little difference. The ground on which this rush has been predicted has been the nature of Clause 1, but that is one of the least important Clauses from the point of view of the effect of the Bill. It is very important from the point of view of showing the will of Parliament and the sort of effect that the Bill should have, but the effect that it will have is not so important.
I wish that all hon. Members could have heard the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) during the Committee stage. From his experience as a solicitor who has had to prepare briefs for prosecutions, he put it that if we had put in Clause 1 everything that the most liberal-minded people wanted, or if we had simply put in one line very much like the case law which exists now, the number of abortions which took place up and down the country would be pretty well identical.
This is because the case law which we have, which many hon. Members have been representing as very narrow—certainly far narrower than the Bill—is interpreted in widely different ways by gynaecologists and doctors. In Aberdeen, there are hundreds of abortions a year; in Glasgow, there are four or five. This is the spectrum which exists and which for a considerable time, until the medical profession is gradually educated to the change in public opinion, will continue to exist.
My second point is that the Bill has been represented as being a sort of mandatory Bill, forcing people to do things. It forces nobody to do anything. It is not even a permissive Bill allowing people to do things. It is a Bill which states that if a doctor, along with another doctor, performs an abortion under certain conditions, he will not be committing an offence. It is a Bill which says what is not unlawful. It forces neither doctors to abort, nor women to have abortions. That needs saying, because the contrary has not been so much explicitly stated, but has been implied in many speeches.
Would my hon. Friend not agree that the Bill, if carried, will give the green light to many girls and women who would not otherwise want to have abortions? That is what worries me.
This point has been put forward, but those who have put it forward underestimate the degree to which Parliament is behind public opinion on this issue. The reason that the Bill has come forward is not so much that the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles wants a high place in the ballot, but because of the pressure of public opinion for it. I will have a word to say about that later.
My penultimate point is that many people have said that the Bill will lead to abortion on demand and shows, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) put it, that Parliament has somehow lost control. In my view, exactly the reverse is true. Because of the very strong safeguards which have been put into the Bill—the one on notification, but particularly the one on the licensing of private premises by the Ministry of Health—it is within the power of the Ministry of Health, according to how it frames the regulations for private premises, to regulate the amount of private abortion which goes on.
I should like to make a plea to the Ministry to consider the amount of legal private abortion which goes on and not do anything in so regulating these premises that it drastically cuts down on legal private abortion and thereby encourages back street abortionists to spring up even more. As for losing control, there are far more safeguards now for abortion than have ever existed before.
Finally, I should like to develop the point about public opinion. The Bill will pass into law because of the demands of public opinion. When I have mixed with people both inside and outside the House who want the Bill, it has often occurred to me that it is not about abortion at all; it is part of the process of the emancipation of women which has been going on gradually over a very long period. The public opinion behind the Bill is millions of women up and down the country who are saying "We will no longer tolerate this system whereby men lay down, as though by right, the moral laws, particularly those relating to sexual behaviour, about how women should behave."
It is a movement of that kind that is behind this pressure of public opinion and I am very proud to be a newly-elected Member of a Parliament that has put the Bill through. I do not think that the Bill could have been put through except by a Parliament which had in 1966 such a large influx of younger Members of Parliament who are far more in accord with the real wishes of public opinion.
We have not reached the final stage of the Bill, because there are two Chambers in the House. The Bill has to go to the House of Lords and it may be amended there—we have had some indication from the sponsor of the Bill of the possibility of that—in which case it may well be back again. At any rate, we have had the final stage here for the time being. It does not do, therefore, to be too apocalyptic about this moment.
The Bill has been through a long, hard battle and that is as it should be, because the day that the House of Commons does not battle over convictions which are deeply and sincerely held, we should be alarmed about its reputation. Some harsh things have been said inside and outside the House. I have said some at times and others have certainly said them about me. But, as you said, Mr. Speaker, one should not be oversensitive. If one is, politics is the wrong vocation to have chosen. In the face of allegations during the debates which which give rise outside to a profitable action for defamation, on the results of which one could comfortably retire, one has to remain undeterred and as resolute and cheerful as circumstances permit.
I extend to the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General a general absolution and I would ask the same in return—
At this ecumenical moment, one might extend it to Northern Ireland.
There are differences of opinion, but 1 do not think that there has been a filibuster on the Bill—[HON. MEMBERS: "Not much."] Well, we could put it in our different ways—but there has been a determination to use normal parliamentary procedures as a legitimate way of delaying a Bill to which strong objections of principle were taken. If we had attempted to filibuster, the debate would be going on at four o'clock and later this evening—though, judging by present progress, it may do so, anyway. One of the lessons which I have learned from the debates is that it is much easier to start people talking than to stop them.
We have made our protest as effectively and sincerely as we can. There has been some provocation from the Government. I do not wish to be controversial, but the Government's equivocal rôle, however constrained they may have been by procedural necessities, was not particularly glorious.
Important Amendments have been made to the Bill. The word "well-being" has gone, and that is a great gain. The conscience Clause is in the Bill, and that is a great gain. Conscience is king not only in this House, but in the country. If the Minister of Health has reservations about the need for the Clause, I can only say that, if a substantial proportion of those who have devoted their lives to healing feel reassured by it, there is a case for it, even if not on the strictly legal grounds.
We should have liked other Amendments, such as that which would have provided for abortions to be carried out under the supervision of a consultant—
We should have liked other Amendments, but I will not go into them.
I would thank those hon. Members of all parties who have given their time and energy to the opposition of the Bill. Since tributes have been flying around—none, alas, has come by way: I do not mind about that—I would pay my tribute to my hon. Friend and colleague the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight), who has played such a distinguished part in our debates. I join also in the congratulations to the sponsor of the Bill on his skill and moderation at all times. I have never had any personal complaint against the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel), even in the debate's most heated moments. I hope that he will forgive my temerity in congratulating him when I am almost as junior a Member as he, not in years but in standing in the House.
One does not, of course, enjoy losing a battle—I presume that this battle will shortly be lost—unless one is a masochist, which I am not, but the fact that one loses does not mean that one is wrong, any more than winning proves one right. Lost causes do not worry me. I have had my fair share in the House and I dare say that I shall have more. The decision, not of the House but of the Queen in Parliament, is legally final and this has yet to be given. If the Bill becomes the law of the land, it will be everyone's loyal duty to accept it as such, but the law of the land can make no claim to final rectitude.
The debates on the Bill have given many of us something which we perhaps prize above all else—an opportunity to state as sincerely and effectively as we can the tradition and the case of Christian humanism against the Bill. That is an opportunity which could have been given only by our system of parliamentary government, and one which I, for one, will always be grateful for having enjoyed.
I must express my admiration for the industry of the sponsor of the Bill, the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel). As one who recently piloted a comparatively minor Measure on to the Statute Book and knowing the negotiations involved in even that exercise, I can appreciate how much time he must have devoted to this matter.
I would say to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that I am disturbed by his defence of the use of the House's time to facilitate the Bill. What is exercising many of my constituents is that the two Bills, the homosexual Bill and the abortion Bill, were so favourably treated when other privately sponsored Bills have not received that treatment, Would my right hon. Friend have been so ready to give these facilities to these Bills had he not known the outcome in advance?
I have no desire to quarrel with wou, Mr. Speaker, but my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made a major issue in his defence of the method of putting the Bill through the House. But I will not pursue the matter.
I come now to a remark made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price), who said that the House had anticipated public opinion and that millions of women welcomed it. Am I to infer from that that millions of women have been seeking abortions and, having been denied the opportunity of being aborted, welcome the Bill? It seems to me, if that is so, that the claim that millions of women are going to "enjoy" the fact that they can have legal abortion is not something to congratulate ourselves on. I take an entirely different view, as do many others. That is surely not the purpose of the Bill.
The hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles expressed surprise that no one had referred to the recent conference of the B.M.A. which gave overwhelming support to the Bill. But he was rather unfair to the House in not stating that the approval was qualified. [HON. MEMBERS: "He did."] I did not hear him. He should have spelt out to us the full conditions that the B.M.A. Conference laid down. In passing a resolution expressing approval of the Bill, the conference laid down firstly, that the operation should be lawful
… only if carried out by or under the supervision of registered practitioners of the required skill and status.
We debated that matter very fully but were unsuccessful in getting an Amendment accepted. The rules of order prohibit me from going into that now, but I understand that the B.M.A. will seek an Amendment in another place. The second qualification was that we should remove
… the express indication in the Bill that pregnancy may be terminated if there was risk of injury to the health of any existing children of the family.
The hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles told us in some detail of the case of a young girl who approached her medical practitioner because she was unmarried but pregnant. As a result, he was able to have discourse with her and it led to the fact that she had the child and everything in the garden was lovely. That is precisely what I am afraid of, as are many others, I am sure. I am afraid that the stigma that attaches to it and the abhorrence which people feel about abortion will no longer remain with them but will be removed and that the case the hon. Member mentioned will be multiplied a thousand-fold.
I am afraid that people who would not have thought of seeking to have a pregnancy aborted will wave the Bill before the medical practitioners and demand, or at least feel that they should be able to demand, an abortion. The hon. Gentleman confirmed that fear because the only case he cited was one which confirmed that the girl would never have gone to a medical practitioner unless she had heard something about the Bill. This implies the grave danger that people who would not have thought of terminating a pregnancy will now go to their medical practitioners and seek an abortion.
Does the Bill attain its objective? It is estimated that about 3,000 abortions take place annually under the National Health Service and the estimate of the number of illegal abortions varies between 50,000 and 100,000 annually. What will be the position if a woman approaches her medical practitioner? Will it, as my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr said, only be for the doctor to initiate the request for an abortion. If he visits a house and finds slum conditions, will he suggest that the woman have an abortion?
The initial approach and request will come from the pregnant woman. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I do not disapprove of that, but it was not the argument put by my hon. Friend. He put the fact that it would be the doctor who would go, look around and suggest that the woman should be aborted. My supposition was that it would be the pregnant woman who would make the request and then it would be for the doctors, whether just qualified or in practice for 40 years, whether skilled in gynaecological problems or not, to judge her request.
Clearly I did not put what I was trying to say clearly enough for my hon. Friend. I was trying to make the point that the Bill forces no one to do anything and that the woman could either go for an abortion or not. I never intended to imply that the Bill would mean that doctors would try to make women have abortions or—
The hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles refuted that argument. He gave the instance of a woman who would never have thought of an abortion had she not seen the Bill. The two medical practitioners who must be involved will only act, in my opinion, when the pregnant woman feels that she has some case to argue. It will be for the patient largely to initiate the argument and try to substantiate her case by going into all her troubles and worries and it will be for the two doctors to adjudicate on her submission.
In that respect, the whole case is wrong. What is going to happen to the number of pregnancies? I do not see that this Bill will in any way lead to a reduction in the number of illegal abortions. If a woman is determined to be aborted, and if her own medical practitioner is not prepared to yield to her request and feels that she is not legally entitled, she will obviously go to the back-street abortionist. In this respect, the Bill fails lamentably and in relation to the duties we are placing on general practitioners I want to quote from an editorial in The Times of 1st February 1966. It said:
It would place on medical practitioners the onus of deciding whether to destroy the potentiality of human life by criteria which are so loose as to be capable of almost any interpretation and about which it is scarcely possible to form a scientific opinion. Who is to say what is meant by a reasonable enjoyment of life, or can predict an unborn child's capacity to possess it? What agreement is to be expected in the assessment of a woman's adequacy as a mother before her child is born?
I sat through our proceedings on this Bill a fortnight ago and have been here almost all the night but I have not heard an argument which could answer that excellent editorial published as far back as February, 1966. I therefore feel that a public opinion poll in my constituency would be overwhelmingly against the Bill. I shall vote against the Bill. I think that it is bad in principle. I still believe that the proper method of dealing with the problem would have been to deal with it socially and to tackle it by referring it to a Royal Commission.
My excuse for intervening, I hope quite briefly, is, first, that I have a certain family relationship to abortion and, secondly, that I have sat through most of the 24 hours or so of the Report stage and Third Reading and up to now I have not taken part in the debate.
May I begin by joining other hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel), who has piloted the Bill through the House, on his performance. May I say to him with all humility that he, one of the youngest Members of the House, has had to face the same difficulties and has overcome them with the same skill as one of the oldest and most experienced members of the other place has found in dealing with the same subject. I will make only two points. One is a very general point on the Bill and the other concerns the conscience Clause, Clause 4.
For the benefit of one of my hon. Friends, would my hon. and learned Friend explain his reference to a family connection with abortion? There is a risk that my hon. Friend might think that it was a relationship with the Patronage Secretary.
I think that most hon. Members understand the reference even if my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland (Mr. Tinn) does not. No doubt in another place the connection will become clearer as time goes on.
Throughout the Report stage, I have noticed time and again that it has been suggested that the conflict of principle or of interest is a conflict between the life, the health, even perhaps the convenience of the mother, on one side, and the unborn child on the other. I do not believe that that is the true antithesis or, at any rate, the complete antithesis. One must realise, in addition, that it is not only the mother's life, health or happiness which is at stake. To me there is nothing more tragic in this world than the thought of a child, perhaps a deformed child, perhaps a mentally subnormal child, who, in addition to that, has to go without the love and affection which a true family life brings. That is the tragedy, I believe, in so many of the cases in which abortion will become possible under the provisions of the Bill.
Hon. Members must realise—as has been emphasised by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price)—that abortion will take place only if the mother wants it to take place. Although examples have been given again and again of parents who have had the deepest love and the deepest affection for children who are misshapen or who suffer from physical and mental handicaps, nevertheless there are also, unhappily, many, many cases in which, because the children are born, or it is believed that they are likely to be born, misshapen or with handicaps of that kind, the parents do not have that love and affection but, on the contrary, have a feeling of hatred which reflects itself upon the child. It is that kind of attitude, and that sort of life which the child will have to live in those conditions, which produces more tragedy in the world than anything else.
I am glad that the promoter of the Bill said that the conscience Clause will be looked at again. I want to raise a point about the Clause which has not been raised in this form in our lengthy debates upon it. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health said, as I understand him, that in his view, and on the advice which he has been given, the Bill in itself imposes no new duty upon any doctor or, indeed, any other person concerned with abortion. I accept that entirely. What he did not say, and what I do not believe he meant, was that it in any way affects the duty which exists today, the ordinary duty, when one person, particularly a skilled person, such as a doctor, has charge of the health of somebody else. There is the ordinary duty to take care—a duty which, if it is not obeyed, can give rise not merely to civil proceedings but, in extreme cases, to criminal proceedings, too. That duty has to be obeyed.
While I accept entirely that there is every reason why a doctor, for example, who has a conscientious objection to taking part in an abortion which is being undertaken on grounds which he believes to be quite wrong, should have the opportunity of refraining from doing so, when it comes to the question, as it will, of the life of the mother against the conscientious view of the doctor, then to me the higher conscience is the conscience which preserves the life of the mother. I believe that the Clause as it is framed gives too much latitude. It goes too far, because it allows the doctor in those circumstances to say, "Notwithstanding the fact that my refusal to have anything to do with this case might cost the life of the mother, my conscience says that I will not do it". I do not believe that that is right. I do not believe that the ordinary member of the medical profession would think it right. I very much hope that when the Bill goes to another place the re-thinking, which the hon. Member has promised will be done, in fact will embrace this principle of the conscience Clause above all.
I am not prepared to accept that Motion at this stage. The Chair is in difficulties. It must protect the right of minorities. That has been done right through the night. But hon. Members have been debating for quite a long time and I sense a feeling that the House would soon wish to come to a decision. I hope that hon. Members will forgo the luxury of attempting to catch my eye.
I will be very brief. [HON. MEMBERS: "We have been here all night."] I have been here all night, too.
This is a very sad moment for me. I should like to join in the congratulations to the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) on his success in getting the Bill thus far. We all acknowledge his zeal and his industry. But to me it is a sad moment, though I welcomed the Bill in the first place, and voted for it on Second Reading. I made it plain when it reached Committee that I was strongly in support of reform of the law regarding abortion. The Home Secretary was not very generous to me, but I will acknowledge that he was absolutely right about the existing state of the law. It is harsh, archaic and confused.
I was one who strongly hoped that we could find a broad measure of agreement right the way through. I expected that in a matter of this kind, where the success of the Bill depends so much on the cooperation of the healing professions, due regard would be paid to their views. I much regret that this has not been so. The hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles referred to the rejection at the representative meeting of the B.M.A. of what might be called the Birmingham school of thought. He was right about that, but he did not add that the B.M.A. accepted abortion law reform, as I and many of my hon. Friends have done, on four conditions.
It would not be proper for me to refer to two of them, because they are not in the Bill. They were rejected. One objectionable feature is in it and the B.M.A. has said firmly that it wants to see it out. This is one of the realities of the situation. My complaint against those who have piloted the Bill through so far, and against the Government too, is that they have not paid sufficient regard to the realities. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price) claimed a moment ago that the Bill would not make much difference, that there would not be any great increase in therapeutic abortions. But the sponsor of the Bill told us, and genuinely believes, that already there is a change in the climate of opinion. More patients are being referred to gynaecologists for abortions, presumably at the hospitals. I prefer to think that he is right. Indeed, the Bill has no meaning unless it has encouraged a view outside the House that therapeutic abortion will be obtained more easily—I do not say on demand.
The idea has been spread around that it will be available on the National Health Service. But again what are the realities? I hope that when we send the Bill to another place it will face up to them. Only last week the Minister of Health revealed to the nation that the number of women waiting for urgent gynaecological treatment in National Health Service hospitals is now 84,000–10 per cent. more than last year. Are our consultant gynaecologists going to make that list longer by making beds available to those who want abortions?
May I continue? I do not want to take too long. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] But I want to establish that the Bill does not mean that women will get more easy abortion through the National Health Service. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] For the simple reason that the hospitals cannot cope, as everyone, and the Minister of Health above all, knows.
My point—I say this with sadness; I wish that I did not have to say it; and I wish that I were wrong—is that the Bill in fact is a licence to medical practitioners in the private sector to carry out abortions, certainly in accordance with Clause 1, but in return for fees. That is what the Bill does. It does not bring a remedy to the poor, to the people who cannot pay 150 gns. It is high time the House faced these realities and the fact that defiance of the wishes of the leaders of the medical profession has alienated large numbers of them. This is a fact which the country will discover, if my colleagues have not. I say that with the greatest sorrow—[HON. MEM-
|Division No. 470.]||AYES||[11.45 a.m.|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.||Molloy, William|
|Ashley, Jack||Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)||Morris, John (Aberavon)|
|Astor, John||Gregory, Arnold||Moyle, Roland|
|Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice||Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Murray, Albert|
|Barnes, Michael||Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.||Neave, Airey|
|Barnett, Joel||Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)||Newens, Stan|
|Bell, Ronald||Hamling, William||Norwood, Christopher|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Harper, Joseph||Ogden, Eric|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Oram, Albert E.|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Hart, Mrs. Judith||Orme, Stanley|
|Binns, John||Haseldine, Norman||Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Hastings, Stephen||Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, s'tn)|
|Booth, Albert||Heffer, Eric S.||Owen, Will (Morpeth)|
|Bradley, Tom||Henig, Stanley||Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles|
|Bray, Or. Jeremy||Heseltine, Michael||Pardoe, John|
|Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury)||Hill, J. E. B.||Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)|
|Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Hordern, Peter||Pavitt, Laurence|
|Buck, Antony (Colchester)||Hornby, Richard||Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)|
|Cant, R. B.||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)|
|Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara||Howie, W.||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Clark, Henry||Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.)||Prior, J. M. L.|
|Coe, Denis||Hunt, John||Probert, Arthur|
|Coleman, Donald||Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n&St.P'cras,S.)||Quennell, Miss J. M.|
|Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Reynolds, G. W.|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)|
|Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)||Robinson, Rt. Hn. Kenneth (St. p'c'as)|
|Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard||Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn(W. Ham, S.)||Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)|
|Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)||Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West)||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|Davidson, James (Aberdeenshire, W.)||Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)||Roebuck, Roy|
|Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)||Kerr, Russell (Feltham)||Rose, Paul|
|Diamond, Rt. Hn. John||Kirk, Peter||Rowland, Christopher (Meriden)|
|Dickens, James||Leadbitter, Ted||Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.)|
|Dobson, Ray||Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)||Scott, Nicholas|
|Dunnett, Jack||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Sharpies, Richard|
|Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'tti & C'b'e)||Lipton, Marcus||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)|
|Eadie, Alex||Lomas, Kenneth||Sheldon, Robert|
|Edwards, Robert (Bliston)||Loughlin, Charles||Shore, Peter (Stepney)|
|Ennals, David||Loveys, W. H.||Short, Mrs. Renée(W'hampton,N.E.)|
|Ensor, David||Luard, Evan||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)|
|Evans, loan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley)||Lubbock, Eric||Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Faulds, Andrew||Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Fernyhough, E.||MacDermot, Niall||Smith, John|
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||McKay, Mrs. Margaret||Snow, Julian|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Fowler, Gerry||Marquand, David||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.|
|Fraser, John (Norwood)||Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard||Taverne, Dick|
|Freeson, Reginald||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Thomson, Rt. Hn. George|
|Gardner, Tony||Mendelson, J. J.||Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy|
|Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)||Mikardo, Ian||Urwin, T. W.|
|Goodhart, Philip||Miller, Dr. M. S.||Varley, Eric G.|
|Vickers, Dame Joan||Whitlock, William||Worsley, Marcus|
|Watkins, David (Consett)||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)||Yates, Victor|
|Weitzman, David||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)|
|Wellbeloved, James||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Whitaker, Ben||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)||Mr. Peter M. Jackson and|
|White, Mrs. Eirene||Winstanley, Dr. M. P.||Sir George Sinclair|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Percival, Ian|
|Alldritt, Walter||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n)||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch|
|Baker, W. H. K.||Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Pym, Francis|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John||Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Braine, Bernard||Kershaw, Anthony||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Knight, Mrs. Jill||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)||Sandys, Rt. Hn. D.|
|Corfield, F. v.||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Sir Oliver||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)|
|Crowder, F. P.||McBride, Neil||Tinn, James|
|Cunningham, Sir Knox||MacColl, James||Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.|
|Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford)||Macdonald, A. H.||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Dempsey, James||McNamara, J. Kevin||Wall, Patrick|
|Dodds-Parker, Douglas||Maddan, Martin||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)||Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)||Weatherill, Bernard|
|English, Michael||Mahon, Simon (Bootle)||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Farr, John||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Fortescue, Tim||Mellish, Robert||Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William|
|Fraser,Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'flord & Stone)||Miscampbell, Norman||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Galpern, Sir Myer||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Gibson-Watt, David||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Clover, Sir Douglas||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Wylie, N. R.|
|Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B.||Nabarro, Sir Gerald|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Oakes, Cordon||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Grieve, Percy||O'Malley, Brian||Mr. R. Grant-Ferris and|
|Hall, John (Wycombe)||Page, Graham (Crosby)||Mr. James A. Dunn.|