After Clause 148 - Mandatory training on learning disability and autism

Health and Care Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:11 pm on 30 March 2022.

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Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Lords amendment 91.

Lords amendment 85, and Government motion to disagree.

Lords amendment 86, and Government motion to disagree.

Lords amendment 87, and Government motion to disagree.

Lords amendment 88, and Government motion to disagree.

Lords amendment 92, Government motion to disagree, and Government amendment (a) in lieu.

Lords amendment 95, Government motion to disagree, and Government amendment (a) in lieu.

Lords amendments 52 to 54, 66 to 79, 82, 84, 93, 94, 96 to 101 and 109 to 122.

Lords amendment 123, and amendment (a) thereto.

Lords amendment 124, and amendment (a) thereto.

Lords amendment 125, and amendment (a) thereto.

Lords amendment 126, and amendment (a) thereto.

Lords amendment 127, and amendment (a) thereto.

Lords amendments 128 and 129.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

It is a pleasure to debate their lordships’ amendments and to serve opposite Dr Allin-Khan for our consideration of this group of amendments—I do not usually do so as our portfolios do not always overlap. The amendments in the group all relate to questions of patient safety, patient engagement, public health and building a learning culture in the NHS.

First, may I put on record how proud I am that the Government are protecting the safety of women and girls through the hymenoplasty amendment, which I know has cross-party agreement? I will run through the amendments and concessions that the Government have made on a number of aspects of the Bill before turning to the perhaps more contentious areas in the group. We have tabled amendments to ban the carrying out, offering and aiding and abetting of hymenoplasty in the United Kingdom. We have accepted all the recommendations of the expert panel on hymenoplasty and agree that the procedure is inextricably linked to virginity testing and violence and that it has no place in our society. I offer my gratitude to all the members of that expert panel, to those who have campaigned so long and so hard on the issue and to my hon. Friend Mr Holden for his continued hard work to protect vulnerable women and girls.

I urge the House to support amendments 84, 96 and 129, which create a licensing regime for non-surgical cosmetic procedures.

Photo of John Baron John Baron Conservative, Basildon and Billericay

In the spirit of accepting amendments and suggestions, may I thank the Minister, his officials and his special advisers for accepting the amendment in this place on prioritising cancer outcomes as a means of encouraging earlier diagnosis? That really will drive survival rates up. I also thank the nearly 100 colleagues here and in the other place who helped and supported the campaign. In that spirit, I assure the Minister that we will do what we can to help the Government in ensuring that the legislation prioritising cancer outcomes will have its desired effect at the frontline.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Again, I think that I speak for both sides of the House on a cross-party basis in saying that we were pleased to be able to accept his amendment, on which he campaigned hard, in this place. I think that will lead to further improvements in cancer treatment and cancer care outcomes for many people in our country.

I return to the amendments relating to cosmetic regulation. I thank the hon. Members for Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) and for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) and Mr Jones on the Opposition Benches as well as my right hon. Friend Caroline Nokes and my hon. Friends the Members for Sevenoaks (Laura Trott) and for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) for their hugely important work in driving forward the agenda. While the amendment is broad, the Government will of course work with stakeholders, including Members of this House, to develop regulations to set out the specific cosmetic treatments that will be subject to licensing and the detailed conditions and training requirements that individuals will have to meet.

Photo of Richard Holden Richard Holden Conservative, North West Durham

I thank the Minister for his comments about virginity testing and hymenoplasty and the work done by other hon. Members on parts of the legislation that affect women and girls. One issue with virginity testing and hymenoplasty relates to the family procedure rules—I know that they fall outside his Department—which still permit spouses to apply for a so-called virginity test on the grounds that a marriage is not consummated. Will he speak to his colleagues and perhaps suggest a meeting with me and other campaigners in the area to see if we can remove from legislation some of those issues affecting women and girls?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

My hon. Friend makes an important and highly relevant point. I will certainly pass his request on to colleagues in the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General’s Office to look at that and, hopefully, meet him to discuss it further.

We are accepting amendments in a number of other areas to improve the quality of services that the NHS provides. First, we are tabling amendments to ensure the full operability of the noble Baroness Hollins’s amendment—Lords amendment 91—on mandatory training on learning disabilities and autism. We have discussed and agreed the changes with her and are content that her amendment, along with our Government amendment, will legislate that all health and social care providers who carry out regulated activities ensure that their staff receive specific training on learning disabilities and autism.

Photo of Caroline Dinenage Caroline Dinenage Conservative, Gosport

On that amendment, will my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the many people who have campaigned for learning disability and autism training for health and care professionals? I think specifically of Paula McGowan—the training will be named after her son, Oliver McGowan. Training frontline health and care professionals to have a better understanding of learning disability and autism will certainly improve people’s interactions with our health and care services, and it will save lives.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I am happy to join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to Paula McGowan and all those who have campaigned for this and other amendments that the Government have been able to accept to the Bill. It is often easier to pay tribute to right hon. and hon. Members who have championed issues in this House, but often they are merely mouthpieces for those campaigners who have done so much to raise the profile of such issues.

The Government have also taken steps to extend the storage limits for embryos and gametes, removing an existing unfairness. Currently, legislation discriminates between those who have a medical need to freeze their materials and those who do not. Amendments 82, 98, 100 and 122 remove that distinction by introducing a new scheme consisting of 10-year renewable storage periods up to a maximum of 55 years for everyone regardless of medical need. Our proposals were welcomed unreservedly in the other place, and I hope that they will receive a similar reception in this House.

The Government have also tabled a number of amendments in the other place on transparency of payments made and other benefits given to the healthcare sector. Lords amendments 52 to 54, 93, 94 and 97 all deliver on a recommendation from Baroness Cumberlege’s independent medicines and medical devices safety review. They will enable the Secretary of State to make regulations requiring companies to report information about payments or other benefits that they have provided to the healthcare sector.

Photo of Alec Shelbrooke Alec Shelbrooke Conservative, Elmet and Rothwell

I thank my hon. Friend for what he said, which, with the Cumberlege review, is very important. I urge him again to go further on that review.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I hear my right hon. Friend’s gentle but firm urgings, and I hope that he will welcome the progress that we have made.

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning Conservative, Hemel Hempstead

The Cumberlege report was fantastic. The Minister accepted some of what it said but not in relation to Primodos, especially in the area of compensation. Can we look at that again?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I am always happy—or the relevant Minister is always happy—to meet my right hon. Friend on any matter relating to the Department’s work.

Turning to the Health Services Safety Investigations Body—HSSIB—and patient safety, we intend to support the development of a learning culture across the NHS. With that in mind, I would like to turn to Lords amendments 66 and 109. The related clauses concern how we balance the need for those who speak to the HSSIB to feel safe to speak openly and candidly to HSSIB staff, while ensuring that coroners can fulfil their judicial functions. This has been, throughout the passage of the Bill, a difficult balancing act with no perfect answer, which has been given much thought and attention, and on which reasonable people can come to equally valid but different views. However, I have concluded that there is significant strength of feeling in both this House and the other place on whether coroners should have access to protected material held by the HSSIB.

I am grateful to my colleagues in the Ministry of Justice, in particular the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend Tom Pursglove, and to the Chief Coroner for considering the different views judiciously. Recognising that, the Government have decided to accept their lordships’ amendment, which removes the ability of senior coroners to access protected material held by HSSIB through relying on certain powers under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. We hope that will give reassurance and strengthen the ability of the HSSIB to deliver what we all want across this House, which is to support an open learning culture across the NHS.

This group of amendments also includes a substantial number of amendments to improve public health. In the other place, we brought forward amendments to enable the smooth and effective implementation of restrictions on the advertising of less healthy food and drink. I urge the House to accept Lords amendments 101, and 123 to 128, which allow the necessary preparatory work to take place before the restrictions are due to come into force on 1 January 2023. They also introduce the ability to delay that implementation date via secondary legislation, should that be deemed necessary.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I welcome very much what the Minister said on the previous Lords amendment concerning safety culture. Can he tell us a little more about what other actions will be taken in lieu of legislation, which is not always the best answer, to encourage the learning, safety and quality culture which is so vital to a great service?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is absolutely right. We heard in this House, a little earlier this afternoon, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care present a statement on the Ockenden review. The review has a number of—not recommendations specifically, but urgent action points. Donna Ockenden was very clear on that and my right hon. Friend accepted all of them. One of the themes that came out in that context is people’s fear of speaking up. We believe that the HSSIB will play an important part in stimulating that culture of openness and transparency, and people coming forward without fear. That is why we reflected very carefully and accepted their lordships’ amendment.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Father of the House of Commons

I want to re-emphasise to the Minister and to others the injustice when Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba, at an inquest three years after an event, led the police to get her prosecuted for gross negligent manslaughter and then the other actions, which I will not rehearse now. If we are going to have doctors as good as Dr Bawa-Garba and others learning from events, we will do better than the previous system. I am glad the Government are accepting the Lords amendment.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I am grateful to the Father of the House, who I believe, in the course of our discussions about whether to accept the Lords amendment, wrote to me, along with other right hon. and hon. Members highlighting that particular case in the context of an open and transparent learning culture.

Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe)

I thank the Government for accepting the amendment. I raised the issue on Second Reading and I can see the Minister smiling at how many times we have talked about it in Committee and in the prelegislative Committee. It is critical that the safe space is safe. Systems make errors or do not prevent errors, so we need people to be candid. I pay tribute to the Government for accepting that, because it allows HSSIB to have a decent start and a decent chance.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady not only for her comments just now, but for her work on this agenda and on HSSIB over many years on various incarnations of this legislation. She has a right to gently tweak my tail that I could have listened to her in Committee and got here faster, but as she will know, occasionally it takes a little time in Government to be able to move to the compromise that often we all seek.

Turning back to the advertising restrictions, the overall policy direction has been set out effectively through last year’s Government consultation response, this proposed legislation and the debate that has taken place in both Houses.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

If I may just finish this point. I suspect my right hon. Friend may speak later on the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend Greg Smith.

A consultation on secondary legislation will be launched shortly and consultations on the wider guidance to the restrictions, which will support industry and provide further clarity on what to expect, are anticipated later in the year. Therefore, we do not believe there is a need to incorporate a requirement in primary legislation to specify a gap between the date of publication of guidance and implementation of the restrictions, as proposed by my hon. Friend, but I look forward to hearing his speech later. I reassure him that the Government will of course continue to work closely with industry and with him to ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible.

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns Conservative, Vale of Glamorgan

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and he pre-empts some of my comments. Does he recognise the significance of the change to the broadcasting and advertising industries? It seems to me that the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend Greg Smith is very reasonable in giving 12 months minimum for the industry to prepare for such significant changes.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I know him well but I was not sure if would be able to predict exactly what he was going to say, so I am pleased that I have managed, to a degree, to pre-empt him. I recognise the impact, and that is why we believe we have struck the appropriate balance, both in terms of the time for preparation and implementation, but I will of course listen to what my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham says when he speaks to his amendments.

Finally, amendment 79 relates to the international healthcare arrangements clause, which amends the Healthcare (European Economic Area and Switzerland Arrangements) Act 2019 to enable the Government to implement comprehensive reciprocal healthcare agreements with countries outside the EEA and Switzerland. The clause will give the devolved Governments a power to make regulations giving effect to such agreements in devolved areas of competence. This minor and technical amendment to the definition of devolved competence and the consent requirement in new section 2B(2) reflects the fact that the consent of the Secretary of State under section 8 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 is given in relation to an Assembly Bill, rather than an Assembly Act. It has no impact on the policy intention of the clause and I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will be content to pass the amendment.

On Report in the other place, the Government committed to accept in principle Lords amendment 95 to change the process for regulations that give effect to healthcare agreements, so they are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. While we continue to support the intention of the amendment, I move that this House disagrees with Lords amendment 95 and moves an amendment in lieu, Government amendment (a). This amendment achieves the same objectives, but amends the international healthcare agreements clause rather than the regulations clause for the Bill to ensure that all regulations made under the soon-to-be-named healthcare international arrangements legislation are subject to the affirmative procedure. This includes any regulations made by the devolved Governments and achieves the objectives of the Lords amendment. This conclusion has been reached following constructive engagement with noble Lords for which the Government are extremely grateful.

In addition, to make parliamentary scrutiny of our healthcare agreements even more robust, we will set out a forward look in annual reports produced under section 6 of the 2019 Act, highlighting any agreements with other countries that are under consideration. We will publish all non-legally binding agreements and their associated impact assessments. I urge the House to accept all those Lords amendments as beneficial to the public and the NHS.

Although I have sought to compromise and reach agreement on many areas, I am afraid that there are a number of Lords amendments that we urge the House to reject. First, let me deal with Lords amendments 85 to 88. I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend Bob Blackman, the chair of the all-party group on smoking and health, for its proposals to help the Government to achieve a smoke-free country by 2030. However, the Government cannot accept these Lords amendments, because the proposals would be very complex to implement, take several years to materialise and risk directing a lot of Government resource into something that we do not see as a sustainable or workable way to fund public health. This would also rightly be a matter for Her Majesty’s Treasury.

The Javed Khan review is under way and I encourage colleagues to wait patiently for that and to be guided by what emerges from it.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

If I can just finish this point, I will give way to my hon. Friend. Our preference is to continue with a proven and effective model of encouraging tobacco cessation. Ultimately, given the review that is under way and the forthcoming tobacco control plan, which will be published later this year, we do not believe that this Bill is the right place for the proposals.

I will give way to my hon. Friend, but then I wish to turn to the final, important set of Lords amendments on abortion.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 3:30, 30 March 2022

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and for what he is saying about tobacco control. The recommendations are due to come out next month and most of those—indeed, most of these Lords amendments—refer to carrying out consultations without decisions actually being made. Does he not accept the point about having a consultation, taking people’s views and then deciding what to do?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

To a degree, that is why I mentioned the Javed Khan review. We are undertaking a lot of work and let us see what emerges from that, as well as from consultations and other pieces of work, and draw it all together. I can see where my hon. Friend is coming from, but I think that the Government have set out the right approach, so I encourage right hon. and hon. Members to reject their lordships’ amendments.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I will if my hon. Friend is brief, but I know that a lot of colleagues wish to speak on the abortion amendment and I want to give them enough time to do so.

Photo of Steve Brine Steve Brine Conservative, Winchester

Further to the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East, when I published the tobacco control plan in 2019, with the smoke-free ambition for 2030, we in the Government promised to consider the “polluter pays” approach to raising funds for tobacco control and smoking cessation services. The Lords amendments just require the Government to fulfil that commitment, which was barely three years ago, and to consult. I press the Minister on that again because we as a Government committed to doing this less than three years ago.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

My understanding—although my recollection may fail me, so I caveat my comment with that—is that this was initially looked at that stage, but was not proceeded with. I know that my hon. Friend will continue to press that point and I pay tribute to him for being the policy Minister at the time and for making huge progress on this agenda. I suspect that we will return to this matter subsequently, and I look forward to the comments of the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Tooting, in due course.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I will not now, but I may during my wind-up speech, if I have time. I want to conclude my remarks so that colleagues can make their contributions on the matters that I have referred to, but if there is time, I commit to taking an intervention from the hon. Lady at the end of our consideration of this set of Lords amendments.

We come, finally, to Lords amendment 92 and the amendment offered in lieu relating to abortion. I am aware of strong and sincerely and genuinely held views from Members on all sides of this debate and this issue, and I respect the integrity of their views. Although I will set out why the Government took the action that they did and the procedure that is in place, I emphasise at the outset that, given that this matter is before the House because of an amendment by their lordships, it is right that this is properly considered and that this will be—in line with how we normally treat these matters—a free vote, in which how individual Members vote will be a matter of conscience.

In response to the covid pandemic, an approval was issued in accordance with the Abortion Act 1967 that allowed women to take both pills for early medical abortion at home. That temporary measure addressed a specific and acute medical need, reducing the risk of covid-19 transmission and ensuring continued access to abortion services. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced last month that the approval will end at midnight on 29 August 2022.

Photo of Tonia Antoniazzi Tonia Antoniazzi Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

Does the Minister acknowledge that, in Wales—[Interruption.]—and in Scotland, telemedical abortion will continue to be available to all women after the covid-19 pandemic has finished? To be honest with the Minister, that needs to follow suit in England.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I would not suggest for a moment that Wales or Scotland should follow England or that England should follow Scotland and Wales. They are devolved competences. Each devolved Administration will rightly form their own view of the balance of benefits, the pros and cons, and that is right. That is what our devolution settlement is for. This House is considering the amendment that was brought here from the Lords and this is an opportunity for Members to express their view on what should happen in this country.

The Government remain of the view that the provision of early medical abortion should return to pre-covid arrangements, and face-to-face services should resume, given that the temporary change was based on a specific set of emergency circumstances. However, we recognise that their lordships have made an amendment in that respect and it is therefore right that this House considers it.

In normal times, we prefer and believe that decisions about the provision of health services are more appropriately dealt with through the usual processes, rather than through primary legislation. We have a number of concerns about the approach taken in the amendment. Parliament has already given the Secretary of State a power to issue approvals under the Abortion Act. That allows the Secretary of State flexibility to make decisions about how healthcare in this area is provided, which can be adapted quickly and easily to respond to changes in service provision or other external circumstances, as was the case with the temporary approval in response to concern about the risk to services from covid-19.

From a process perspective, it is not appropriate, in our view, to insert into primary legislation the intended detail regarding home use of both pills. That would mean that should any issues arise, there would no longer be scope to react quickly, as the Secretary of State did during the pandemic. However, we recognise that that is now a matter for debate and decision by this House.

In addition, Lords amendment 92, as drafted by my noble Friend Baroness Sugg, would not have the intended effect. If agreed to, it would create legal uncertainty for women and medical professionals by including wording on the statute book that does not, in fact, change the law in the way it appears to. On a procedural point, we therefore urge all right hon. and hon. Members to disagree with the Lords in their amendment.

All Members have the opportunity, however, to vote on our amendment (a) in lieu, which we have drafted to ensure, irrespective of colleagues’ views, that the provision does the job it was intended to do. We all agree that it is crucial that the law is clear in this area and does not create any uncertainty for those who rely on it. That is why we have tabled our legally robust amendment in lieu, which stands in my name and which would achieve the intended purpose of Baroness Sugg’s amendment.

It is for right hon. and hon. Members, in a free vote, to judge how they wish to vote on the amendment in lieu. I encourage them to reflect and make their decision when the amendment is pressed to a Division.

Photo of Rosena Allin-Khan Rosena Allin-Khan Shadow Minister (Mental Health)

The Opposition congratulate the Lords on their hard work on the Bill, which is much improved from when it left the Commons. We support the Lords amendments, which are sensible and proportionate and will go some way to tackling health inequalities that are still sadly far too prevalent.

Over the past two years, we have seen the very best of our NHS. Publicly owned and free at the point of use, it is the best of us and has protected our families for generations; I hope it will continue to do so for many years to come. Unfortunately, the Government are set on a power grab, and refuse to act to tackle workforce shortages and ever-growing waiting lists. Waiting times for cancer care are now the longest on record, patients with serious mental illnesses are being sent hundreds of miles away for treatment, and one in four mental health beds have been cut since 2010. We deserve better. Our NHS deserves better.

We can all agree that the amendments in this group are wide-ranging, so I will be covering a range of subjects. A number of amendments in the group speak to women’s health. We have seen time and again that the Government are dismissive of women’s health and have ignored the needs of half the population. In its original form, the Bill was far too scant on tackling health inequalities; it is only because of colleagues in the other place and Labour votes that we are making ground on tackling them at all.

Along with the rest of our health team, I am proud to support the continued provision of telemedical abortion services in England. Maintaining the existing provision of at-home early medical abortion following a telephone or video consultation with a clinician is crucial for women’s healthcare. Not only did that preserve access to a vital service during the pandemic; it enabled thousands of women to gain access to urgently needed care more quickly, more safely and more effectively. Women’s healthcare must reflect the needs of those whom it serves. Scrapping telemedical abortion services would drastically reduce access to that vital service, and would simply serve to increase the number of later-term abortions. Everyone should have access to safe and timely healthcare. I say to Ministers: please do not ignore clinical best practice and the expert opinions of organisations and royal colleges.

We welcome provisions to ban hymenoplasty, and the power to create a licensing regime for non-surgical cosmetic procedures. Those too were a result of Labour votes, because the original Bill did not even mention them. Ministers must stop treating women as an afterthought in healthcare provision. However, we are glad to see that the Government have accepted the Lords amendment to remove coroners’ access to material held by the Health Service Safety Investigations Body.

On the NHS frontlines, I see at first hand the pressure placed on staff. Staff must feel protected, and must be encouraged to come forward. It is crucial for the Bill to promote a learning culture, so that any investigation can establish what training and procedures need to change in order to prevent any future mistakes. Only by enshrining that culture can we ensure that staff will feel comfortable about coming forward.

We welcome Baroness Hollins’s amendment to introduce mandatory training on learning disabilities and autism for all regulated health and care staff, and we are pleased to see that the Government support it. Everyone deserves access to safe, informed, individual care, and hopefully the amendment will go some way towards reducing health inequalities that are faced all too regularly by people with learning disabilities and autism.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Labour, Brent North

I agree with much of what my hon. Friend is saying. For instance, I too believe that it is a woman’s right to choose. One of the features of a physical consultation was that it gave the woman an opportunity to do so in a free environment. Does my hon. Friend share the concern that I know exists among many of our constituents that if the consultation is done by telephone, it is possible that a woman who is being coerced will not be understood to be being coerced by the consultant who is dealing with her? It is important that, in preserving the right to choose for the woman, we do not allow a situation in which that woman could be coerced, by a coercive partner, into making a choice that is not her own.

Photo of Rosena Allin-Khan Rosena Allin-Khan Shadow Minister (Mental Health)

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. There are widely held variations in views across the House, but I stand by the principle that everyone should have access to safe and timely healthcare, and that scrapping telemedical abortion services would drastically reduce access to a service that is incredibly important for women, and, as I have said, would simply increase the number of later-term abortions, which can have physical and mental impacts on the mother herself.

As for Lords amendments 85 to 88, it is disappointing to see the Government going against their own ambitions and targets. The consultation referred to in Lords amendment 83 would be on a statutory “polluter pays” scheme to make tobacco manufacturers fund measures to reduce smoking prevalence and improve public health. Smoking is responsible for half the difference in life expectancy between the richest and the poorest in society. Will the Minister please explain why we are still waiting to see the Government’s tobacco control plan, which we were promised by the end of 2021? The Government need to stop kicking public health matters into the long grass. They say that they recognise the stark health inequalities associated with tobacco use, but delays will do nothing to level the playing field and eradicate health disparities.

Ministers need to make sure they listen to the Lords, whose amendments go a long way towards eradicating the vast health inequalities that exist across society today. Rather than wasting time trying to overturn the changes, Ministers should now focus relentlessly on bringing waiting times down.

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton

I rise to speak to Lords amendment 92 and the Government motion to disagree, and to the amendment in lieu. A few months ago, in my role as the co-chair of the all-party parliamentary pro-life group, I wrote to the Health Secretary, supported by more than 60 parliamentarians—not an insignificant number—urging him to discontinue the temporary provision to allow for the taking of both sets of abortion pills at home. We said that we were deeply concerned about reports that taking both sets of abortion pills at home without direct medical supervision had led to a number of deeply concerning, unacceptable health and safety risks to women and girls in this country. These included a lack of basic checks by abortion providers before sending abortion pills, and the occurrence of severe complications and later-term abortions due to the lack of in-person assessment. We were also, notably, concerned about the greater risk of coercion by a partner or family member where the doctor does not see the woman in person.

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton

Please let me continue. I am sure the hon. Lady will have put in to speak. I thank Health Ministers for listening, and for recently cancelling this temporary emergency provision from August, fully in accordance with the Government’s intention at the outset of the covid pandemic, which was that the measure would be temporary. To delve a little deeper into the issues and concerns, having no in-clinic assessment means that gestational age is, and can only be, an estimate. Many women cannot be sure that they are within the legal—and, I presume, safe—limit of nine weeks and six days for taking such pills. Indeed, several women who have needed hospital treatment after taking an at-home abortion pill were clearly many weeks over that limit.

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton

I feel that I must be fair, and I have said that I will not take interventions—

Photo of Alec Shelbrooke Alec Shelbrooke Conservative, Elmet and Rothwell

I am genuinely grateful to my hon. Friend, and I am not intending to speak in the debate. I know that she has deeply held beliefs, which I respect very much. She is giving examples and details. Can she give data referring to the examples she is giving? I have been struck by the fact that in this debate, I have heard a lot of anecdotal evidence that has not been backed up by any reference to data, and I think that data is important for this debate.

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton

Yes; the organisation Right to Life, which is the secretariat to the all-party parliamentary pro-life group, has collated such data. Freedom of information data analysis also shows that one in 17 women taking abortion pills requires hospital treatment. That means that more than 14,000 women have been treated in hospital following the approval of pills-by-post abortion. A similar study of FOI data in February 2021 showed that every month, 495 women attended hospital with complications arising from abortion pills, and that 365 of them required hospital treatment. Thirty-six women every month are making 999 calls—that is more than one a day—seeking medical assistance because they are concerned about complications arising from taking abortion pills.

Women, especially vulnerable women, deserve the care and attention given in an in-person meeting with an experienced clinician before making such an important decision. Indeed, 74% of GPs have indicated concerns about women finding it distressing to terminate a pregnancy themselves at home. More than 600 medics signed an open letter to the Prime Minister in May 2021 calling for an end to pills-by-post abortion, and a clear majority—70%—of the respondents to the Government’s consultation on this subject said that the temporary measure of pills-by-post abortion should end.

However, whatever one’s views on abortion, the Government very recently made a decision to cease the authorisation of these pills from August this year, due to this being a temporary covid provision that was never intended to outlast the covid pandemic period. The Government—our Health Ministers—have made an informed, carefully considered, evidence-based decision. We should respect that, but once more, those pressing for an even more easily available abortion regime in this country are not willing to accept it. Instead, they are seeking to make a serious change to the law through an amendment, as is frequently their practice. That gives us far too little time to debate such fundamental issues. There is too little opportunity for us parliamentarians to scrutinise this serious issue, which is literally a matter of life and death. Whatever our views on abortion, that is simply wrong. I urge colleagues to vote against this proposal to make at-home abortion pills permanently available.

Photo of Martyn Day Martyn Day Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

I come to this Bill rather late, so I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Dr Whitford, who did most of the heavy lifting on it for the SNP. I have turned up for the fag end of the process. I hope the House will oblige me by listening to a few general comments before I address the Lords amendments.

Overall, this Bill is a missed opportunity for England to go back to a unified service, similar to the one we have in Scotland. Whatever system we have, I am sure each of us on these islands would wish to extend our gratitude and thanks to the staff who delivered such a focused patient care service in difficult times, throughout the pandemic. I also acknowledge the Government’s progress on recognising the need for consent from the devolved nations; that should have been included in the Bill from the get-go. Still, better late than never.

As we know, health is mainly a devolved matter. Following discussions with the UK Government, the Scottish Government were able to bring forward a legislative consent motion in December, further to which, in the light of securing acceptable amendments, the Scottish Government recommended consent to the Secretary of State’s power to transfer or delegate functions under clauses 88 to 94.

The UK Government made amendments to introduce two new clauses to the Bill—on hymenoplasty offences in Scotland, and on information about payments, et cetera, to persons in the healthcare sector—that also require legislative consent. The Scottish Government are content to recommend that the Scottish Parliament grants that consent.

In summary, the SNP supports Lords amendments 66 and 109 on the Health Services Safety Investigations Body to protect safe spaces and reduce any future harm to patients. These amendments largely rehash some of the amendments we tabled at previous stages, and I welcome the Government’s acceptance of the Lords amendment to remove coroners’ access in this regard.

A key health driver on which we can make a big difference is encouraging people to stop smoking, which is one of the best things people can do at any time of life. We support Lords amendments 85 to 88 on a tobacco products statutory scheme for the regulation of the prices and profits of tobacco manufacturers and importers, and they would require the Secretary of State to carry out a consultation on the scheme.

Although I understand that the Minister does not wish to prejudge the options for England’s tobacco control plan, we should remember that these would be UK-wide measures, and public health and smoking cessation are devolved to Scotland. The Scottish Government’s programme for government committed to a refreshed tobacco action plan built on the pillars of prevention, protection and cessation to achieve their target of lowering Scotland’s smoking rate to 5% or lower by 2034, which would put tobacco out of sight and out of mind for future generations. These Lords amendments, particularly on the “polluter pays” charge, would be beneficial in that regard, and Scotland’s progress should not be held back by decisions in this place.

In conclusion, I draw Members’ attention to the Cancer Research briefing:

“Implementing a ‘Smokefree Fund’ would require tobacco manufacturers to pay for the harm caused by tobacco but without letting them influence how the money is spent. It would provide much-needed investment in evidence-based measures such as public education campaigns and Stop Smoking Services, without further squeezing the public purse.”

Who could argue with that?

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

A lot of people want to contribute to this debate, and this first group must come to an end at 10 minutes past 5. Those who make long contributions really are doing other people out of an opportunity to speak.

Photo of Greg Smith Greg Smith Conservative, Buckingham

I will be as quick as I can, Mr Deputy Speaker. The point underlying my amendments to Lords amendments 123 to 127 is relatively straightforward and simple. I heard what the Minister said in his opening remarks, but I feel that if we act in a way that impacts an industry—in this case, UK broadcasters—as severely as the advertising restrictions will, and we are talking about a £200 million a year loss to our great British broadcasters, it is a matter of fairness and equity that we should give them enough of a lead-in time, enough notice and enough ability to adapt, remodel their services and find a way of surviving, to put it bluntly.

I have spoken before in the House about the fact that I do not agree with the nanny state and telling advertisers what they can and cannot advertise. The Lords amendments that we are considering, and my amendments to them, are very much about the implementation of a policy, and about giving British broadcasters—public service and fully commercial ones alike—a fighting chance. It would be much fairer to give broadcasters at least a year to comply from the point at which Ofcom publishes its guidance and puts it in the public domain. Broadcasters and advertisers will have to go through a lot of processes once this Bill receives Royal Assent, and that cuts the time that they have to put in place new policies, compliance checks and mechanisms to comply with the legislation. Two months on from Royal Assent, Ofcom will not even have got its statutory powers in this regard, and so will not even be able to start work with the Advertising Standards Authority and other bodies on the detail, and the ways and means of implementation.

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns Conservative, Vale of Glamorgan

I strongly support the amendments that my hon. Friend has tabled. Does he agree that the definition of some of the products, and the work that needs to be done, needs to undergo significant consultation, because of the way in which the efficacy, strength and merits of the policy will be judged?

Photo of Greg Smith Greg Smith Conservative, Buckingham

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that point, as the argument that I am making is very much that these things take time. Two months on from Royal Assent, Ofcom gets its statutory powers. Only then can it start the consultation, and the work of defining the restrictions on advertising that come under the broad categories in the Bill. Let us assume that two months on from Royal Assent is some time in the next couple of months. There would then be 10-week or perhaps three-month consultations to get the detail right, for a go-live date of 1 January 2023. That does not give our broadcasters sufficient time to put in place their processes, remodel their whole service, and find a way of working when they are so many hundreds of millions of pounds down on their operating models.

Photo of Steve Brine Steve Brine Conservative, Winchester

I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend. I joined the Department of Health and Social Care in 2017 and we made it very clear that this was our direction of travel. Our child obesity plan part 2 made it very clear that this was our intention. The truth is that broadcasters have known for a long time that this is the Government’s intention. My fear is that what lies behind what he is proposing is not questions of practical implementation, but argument with the principle.

Photo of Greg Smith Greg Smith Conservative, Buckingham

I make no secret of the fact that I am against the principle of these restrictions. The Government’s own data shows that the restrictions will save only 1.74 calories a day, which is less than what is in a Tic Tac. However, that is not the place we find ourselves in today; these amendments are specifically about implementation. Given that it is clearly the will of this House and the other place to push the legislation through, I want us to give our broadcasters a fighting chance to survive, adapt and continue being successful, great broadcasters.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office) 4:00, 30 March 2022

I had not intended to be here at all today. Sadly, my mother-in-law died of a heart attack very suddenly on Friday, so women’s health and how we treat it is at the very top of how I am feeling at the moment. My mother-in-law, much like my own mother, who sadly died as well, sent her children to women’s liberation playgroup. She would not have forgiven me for not turning up for the opportunity of a free vote, so here I stand. Her name was Diana, and I feel that days like this are often dedicated to the Dianas of this world.

I want to respond to some of what has been said about coercion and control. I respect Fiona Bruce and her firmly held views, and I would go down fighting for her right to hold those views. Had she allowed me to intervene on her earlier, I would have asked her whether she could tell me which expert agency that deals with violence against women and girls agrees with her. I represent the entirely alternative view. Maybe she and I could just both be honest and say that, largely, the detail in front of us does not necessarily matter: she thinks one way and I think another, and we should just be honest about the reality of that situation.

There is no evidence that coercion will be a concern any more than it already is. That is not my experience, from years of working with victims of sexual violence, sexual exploitation and abuse. The problem is not usually that they are forced to have abortions but the alternative: they are forced to go to term. They are scared. I worked with a beautiful woman called Natasha who was killed when her violent ex-partner found out that she had had an abortion. He murdered her. That is the normal pattern.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Father of the House of Commons

The evidence that has been given to me is that virtually every group concerned with violence against women and girls supports the use of telemedicine, as do Dame Clare Gerada and Dame Lesley Regan, who are leading doctors, gynaecologists and obstetricians. Lastly, with telemedicine consultations, the period of time before an abortion has been halved, not increased.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I agree 100% with every word that the Father of the House has just said. There is no expert opinion group that agrees with the view put forward by the hon. Member for Congleton, who cited the secretariat of a pro-life group. By the way, I am pro-life: I am pro the people who live being able to make choices. I am incredibly pro-life—I am just also pro-choice. I hate the terminology that suggests somehow one side is pro-life; what is the alternative?

Photo of Alec Shelbrooke Alec Shelbrooke Conservative, Elmet and Rothwell

First, may I offer my condolences for what must be a very difficult time for the hon. Lady and her family?

There has been a lot of conversation in which people have said, “You’ve got no way of knowing that it is going to be less than nine weeks and six days.” Will the hon. Lady address that particular point, which is very important to how people have been trying to frame the debate?

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I have heard similar framing, with some saying people will take the pills after 10 weeks. If we look at the actual data, we see it shows that the change increased from 25% to 40% the proportion of abortions happening before six weeks. Telemedicine has dramatically reduced the gestational period, making it much less. I am afraid to say that these are not a good faith arguments. They are based not on fact, but on the idea that women will lie. Women are concerned about their health. They are frightened about their health. We do not make decisions about our health in the hope that we will be harmed; we do what is best. We should not be treated like children; we should be treated like adults.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

I thank the hon. Lady for giving way and add my condolences to those of others for her sad loss.

The hon. Lady is right when she says that these issues can be entrenched and people have entrenched points of view. When we have that situation as a House, we look at the facts and at what the experts say. The experts who support Government amendment (a) in lieu of Baroness Sugg’s Lords amendment 92 include the vast majority of professionals: the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Midwives, the British Medical Association; and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges. Does the hon. Lady agree that, when it comes to trying to find a way forward through entrenched views, we should look at the experts, and the experts are giving us a very clear way forward, followed by my hon. Friend the Minister?

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I absolutely agree. It is difficult to be dispassionate. I have never been accused of being dispassionate about anything. I am passionate about what I eat for my breakfast. I am just not a dispassionate sort, but the right hon. Lady is absolutely right that we must look at column A and column B in this instance. Column A is full of experts—medical experts, women’s rights experts, and women themselves—and a huge amount of evidence.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

I just wanted to add to the list that Mrs Miller just read out the World Health Organisation, which also says that telemedicine is safe, and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, based in the United Kingdom, which made a recommendation in 2019 about the safety of telemedicine for abortion.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I totally agree with my right hon. Friend. Actually, if people are against telemedicine for abortion, they might have very strongly held views about not liking telemedicine for anything. By that virtue, they should be against it for everything. For all the people who are desperately worried about vulnerable women—victims of domestic abuse and victims of sexual violence—not being able to access healthcare, I say come on and join me. They are absolutely right: there is zero availability of most mental health support. There is zero chance of getting a GP appointment any time soon, but somehow, people are against telemedicine only on this issue.

Often in debates, we do not stand up to seek to convince others. That only happens when there is a free vote—when actually the debate is really important. To people who are unsure, I say that I understand it—I totally get it—especially if they do not necessarily have so much skin in the game have but a huge load of emails in their inbox. The reality is that if they are not sure, they should either try to be convinced by the debate and the evidence, or they should simply abstain on the issue.

This is not particularly difficult for me. As I have said, I am not a dispassionate sort. I have stood in this House before and said that I have had an abortion. I do not feel devastated by that fact. I think we need to be clear about this. In this place, we only deal in hard cases, because they tell the argument much better. One thing I would say about when I had an abortion is that the worst process of having an abortion is the waiting. I had made the decision about what I was going to do with my body. I had made it the second that I saw I was pregnant on a pregnancy test, because I am an adult woman, completely capable of handling my own body and knowing my own mind, and that is how we should treat every woman in this country.

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton

On that point about adult women, and the point about the number of professional organisations that have been quoted, as if there were universal support for the continuation of telemedicine, I will mention two organisations, with particular reference to young people. The National Network of Designated Healthcare Professionals for Children, NHS doctors and nurses who work in the area of children’s safeguarding, has welcomed the Government’s decision to end the provision, and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health recently released a statement:

“Children and young people under the age of 18 and Looked after Children up to the age of 25 must be offered and actively encouraged to take up a face-to-face appointment to assess gestation, support their holistic needs and assess any safeguarding issues as part of the pathway for early medical abortions.”

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I could not agree more. People should absolutely be able to access a face-to-face appointment where they want and need one, and there is not a single thing in the legislation that would prevent that. I go back to this idea: “If you don’t like abortion, don’t have one. No one’s forcing you.” This is exactly the same. No one is forcing anybody to take through the procedure at home; it is a choice that we should allow adult women to make.

When I made that choice, after I made it I had to wait another eight weeks. It was some time ago, long before the pill was even necessarily widely available. I had made the decision, and I did not feel sad about it. I did not feel bad about it. I had made the decision on behalf of my son, who had only just been born—although, actually, I do not even need an excuse. I did not want to have a baby, having just had one, and it is perfectly well within my gift to make that decision. The argument is often made about all the children who have been lost because of women like me, but my younger son, Danny, would not exist if that baby had been born, so we end up equal, and he is a cracker of a kid.

The reality is that I had to wait, and I started to feel pregnant. I started to feel unwell, I started to feel tired and it started to affect my work. That was horrendous for me, knowing that I was not going to go ahead with it—not horrendous because of guilt, but because it made me feel sick and it made me feel that people had expectations of me. I had to hide it. I could not tell people I was pregnant; I had to hide that fact from people at work and other places, because I had to wait. Had I been able, at the four-week point when I found out I was pregnant, to just stay in my house and ring up, it would have been a far better situation for me.

People do not want to think about me, but rather obsess about the difficult cases, not the vast majority who are adult women and should be trusted to take medication in their own homes. We are treating those women as if they are going to get a methadone allowance from a surgery, as if they cannot be trusted when they say, “Actually, I’d prefer to stay at home and not maybe have a miscarriage on the bus on the way home because I live in a rural community.”

If people want to hear about the hard cases, I am currently handling one. It is the case of a young woman who has been sexually exploited since she was 13 years old. She is 23 now. She has had 10 years of being raped repeatedly, pretty much every weekend of her life, by multiple men, and it continues. Obviously, she falls pregnant—well, she does not fall pregnant; she is raped and then she gets pregnant. She has very little trust in agencies and in the police, and she is right to have so little trust. She has been failed time and again. Without the opportunity of telemedical abortion, I have no idea how she would cope. It is a vital service for people who really need it.

I ask hon. Members to vote Aye on Government amendment (a) in lieu of Lords amendment 92, or, if they are not sure, to abstain. Adult women can be trusted to decide what they want to do with their health, and any other vote would suggest otherwise.

Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 4:15, 30 March 2022

I would like to draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial International, and particularly, since these organisations have been mentioned, to state that I am a member of the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

The measure relating to amendment 92 was introduced in the context of the pandemic. The reason that the rules were brought in the first place was to protect women from coronavirus and to reduce its spread within society at a time when we did not have a vaccine. For me, this debate is not about ideology at all—it is not about the rights or wrongs of abortion, whether women should or should not be able to have abortions, whether or not life begins at birth, or anything of that nature. Society and Parliament have decreed that abortions may take place and that women should have the right to choose, and I support that. For me, this is a debate about women’s safety, particularly the safety of the most vulnerable and marginalised women and girls.

Previously, women would have attended a clinic and been given a tablet and another tablet to take a day or so later, and usually the bleeding would begin in the hours after the second tablet is taken. Under the new process, a woman or girl can speak to somebody on the telephone to arrange for the tablets to be delivered to her, or to be collected by her, and then take the tablets at home. It is very difficult for a clinician to tell whether the woman they are speaking to on the telephone is indeed pregnant. There are not necessarily visible signs of pregnancy below 10 weeks, and palpation of the abdomen would not be expected, so it is not clear to the clinician on the phone whether the woman is pregnant. Clearly, someone believes a woman when she says she is pregnant, but there is no way to be certain. In particular, there is no way to be certain of gestation. Although a woman may know when she has had sex and when her last period was, quite a number of women will bleed in the early stages of pregnancy, and some women mistake those early bleeds for a period, which means that women may believe that they are less pregnant than they are. If they go to a clinic, that can be determined, whereas over the telephone it cannot.

The NNDHP, which my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce mentioned, has found a number of examples since March 2020 of women who have had babies delivered quite significantly later in gestation; they had mid-term to late-term abortions believing that they were early in pregnancy when they were not. The examples included 12 babies who were born with signs of life, so the pregnancy would have been quite advanced. The women thought that they were at less than 10 weeks, or told the doctor that they were at less than 10 weeks, but they were not. In six of those cases, the woman giving birth was herself a child. One can only imagine the distress felt by these women and children when they take an abortion pill to deliver what they believe to be a foetus of less than 10 weeks and out comes a baby of up to 30 weeks’ gestation who may at that point have been alive. It is not rare to have side effects from these tablets. One in 17 women have to attend hospital and 36 women call 999 each month because of complications of taking these medicines at home.

If this measure had been introduced in a proper fashion rather than as part of the coronavirus regulations, we would have discussed it quite thoroughly and made it very clear that it should not apply to children. I do not think that many people in this House would think that a 14-year-old girl should be ringing up and receiving abortion medicines over the telephone, but that is indeed what the legislation allows. People may say that doctors would not do that, but we know that six of the children who delivered babies that they thought were at a much earlier stage were themselves under the age of 18.

Photo of Steve Brine Steve Brine Conservative, Winchester

Surely the point is that this measure was brought in hastily in a pandemic. Therefore, if Members are not sure today, far from abstain, they should be returning to the status quo pre-pandemic. Then this Government can should consider the issue properly and seriously on its own and ask the House to make a decision.

Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I can only absolutely agree with my hon. Friend’s intervention.

I also want to talk about coercion, because we know that some women may be coerced into having an abortion.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

Before the hon. Lady moves on, I want to raise something with her. Obviously she has a clinical background, and she will know jolly well about the range of safeguarding measures that all clinicians, the royal colleges and all those involved in abortion care have to follow. She makes it sound as though no safeguards are in place. For instance, if a 14-year-old telephoned a clinician to seek advice around abortion, that clinician may well say, “I want to see you face to face.” There is nothing to stop that happening, and that may well be a proper safeguard that would carry on, irrespective of whether telemedicine carries on today.

Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

With respect, the right hon. Lady makes my point for me, because that is right: there is nothing to stop that happening, and it may be that the doctor would say that they wanted to see the patient, but they do not have to do so. We know that abortions are being prescribed by telemedicine to children under the age of 18. If this measure had been looked at properly by the House as a single issue, rather than as this amendment to something else, we would have stipulated that children under the age of 18 should not be receiving abortions over the telephone without proper appointments, as I think they should and as the right hon. Lady, if I understand her correctly, also seems to be saying that they should.

We know that sometimes women and girls can be coerced into having abortions that they do not want, perhaps because the baby is of a gender or sex that the father does not want, perhaps because they are being abused, or perhaps they are being trafficked or sexually assaulted. It is very difficult for a woman to tell someone about that over the telephone, whereas if a woman is seen in clinic, she has that one-to-one opportunity.

Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I am going to finish my point. In person, the woman has a one-to-one opportunity with that clinician and a chance to say, “Please can you help me?” Clinicians are alert to that opportunity to provide that help. It is true that if the woman receives the abortion by post, the problem of her being pregnant is solved, but the problem of her being abused is not. That is what can continue.

Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

No, I am going to continue. The other problem with giving tablets—[Interruption.] The hon. Lady spoke for 16 minutes, which is considerably more than a fair share, given the number of Members who want to speak, so I will keep going.

The other problem is who will take the tablets. If someone is prescribed something of such severity over the telephone, the clinician does not know who will take the tablets. Will they be taken by the woman speaking to the clinician on the telephone? Will they be given to somebody else? Are they going to be sold to somebody else? Is somebody else going to be forced to take them? The reality is that we do not know and we cannot know, and that is another safety issue.

I will summarise my concern by saying, as a woman— I have not had an abortion, but I guess in the future I could become pregnant and not want to be—if I were having an abortion, I would rather have the inconvenience of having to go to a clinic than the worry of knowing that some women are having abortions without going to a clinic. Essentially, for me this is an issue of whether we want to make things more convenient for the majority of women, or we want to protect the women who are the most vulnerable, the most marginalised and the most at risk.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I intend to call the Minister at 5 o’clock to give him 10 minutes to wind up. We have not got long, so will Members please keep their contributions as short as they can?

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

Thank you for calling me, Mr Deputy Speaker, to speak in this debate. I am pleased to follow the hon. Members for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson) and for Congleton (Fiona Bruce). I thank them both for the contributions.

It will be no surprise to the House that I am here because I abide by the absolute view that both lives matter—the unborn child and the mother. I know that many people believe that if someone is anti-abortion, they are anti-woman. I am not—I never have been, never will be and it is not the case. I believe in life and helping people. My career and all my life have been based around that, and I will continue as long as God grants me the strength to do so.

The Minister referred in his introduction to the fact that the regional devolved Administrations will make their own decisions. They can make that decision in Scotland and Wales, but we cannot make that decision in Northern Ireland, because the Government made it here. They took that decision away from us, and I am particularly concerned about that.

I have several concerns about the approach adopted during the pandemic in relation to so-called telemedicine to access abortion, which was recognised at the time as short-term. Without a face-to-face appointment, there is no confirmation of how many weeks pregnant a woman is, which makes a difference to the experience of an abortion at home. As reported in the summary of consultation responses, women who had experienced an abortion said that information should be provided on

“how inaccurate dating of pregnancy may mean increased pain and bleeding”.

A woman whose pregnancy is later than 10 weeks could find herself unexpectedly passing a mature baby at home, which could lead to significantly more complications. I understand that those advocating for the Lords amendment argue that complications have decreased since the pandemic, but I question the evidence, given that the Government and the Minister’s Department say that

“data on complications is incomplete” and they are working on reviewing the system of recording abortion complications.

I am also persuaded by the concerns about the increased possibility of a woman finding herself pressurised at home to have an abortion that she does not want, as other hon. Members have said. There is a well-known link between abortion and domestic violence. Indeed, the BBC published a survey a few weeks ago reporting that 15% of those surveyed said they had felt pressured into ending a pregnancy. How are we protecting those women? How can doctors know that they are really speaking to a woman who is voluntarily calling about an abortion, or even that they are speaking to the right person at the other end of the phone?

There are many differing and strong views on this subject on both sides of the House, but I question whether the women who find themselves coerced into an abortion from their home, or who have found themselves bleeding unexpectedly at home or having an abortion much later in their pregnancy than they expected, would agree that telemedicine abortion is a positive step in women’s health. I doubt that they would.

I have recently been vocal regarding the need for face-to-face GP appointments. I have been inundated by constituents who simply have no confidence that a diagnosis by picture or telephone call is safe. I have constituents whose cancer has been undiagnosed because the GP was unable to see first hand what would have been clear in a face-to-face appointment. I believe that face-to-face appointments should be available.

I find it difficult to understand how pills to end life—to take away life—in a painful manner for the mother can be given without seeing someone to assess what cannot be seen on the phone. The signs and movements that an experienced GP can see that point to a deeper problem cannot be discussed in the two minutes allocated to such phone calls and I am fearful that the duty of care that we are obliged to discharge will continue to be missed. I am diametrically and honestly opposed to this legislation, because as I said at the outset, both lives matter. Lives could have been saved if abortion had not been available on demand.

I will vote against the permanent extension of this ill-advised scheme today and urge hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber to join me. It is a step backwards rather than forwards in providing adequate support and care for women, and it further normalises the practice of abortion as a phone call away rather than as a counselled decision under medical care, which is what it deserves to be. I, my constituents and my party are clear that this is a massive issue. I fully and absolutely oppose the Government in what they are putting forward today, for the safety of both mothers and the babies, because I am about saving lives, not destroying lives.

Photo of Ben Spencer Ben Spencer Conservative, Runnymede and Weybridge

I rise to speak on the subject of the health services safety investigations body and on abortions. I begin by making a couple of declarations: I am a now non-practising doctor, my wife works as a doctor, and I am a member of the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

On the HSSIB, I will keep it brief. I hugely thank the Minister for supporting the Lords amendment and ensuring that we have those safe spaces for doctors. That is critical for the body to work and for us to learn from it. Hopefully, we can undo some of the harms of previous atrocities and what has happened to previous doctors, as has been referred to.

On abortion, it is important to say that I wholeheartedly support and believe that women should have access to safe and legal abortion services, but the regulatory framework around them is complex and it is a sensitive area. As is clear from the powerful speeches that I have heard from both sides of the House, it is also sensitive for hon. Members. Many of my constituents—on both sides of the debate—care deeply and correspond regularly with me about it; I care deeply about it too. I have looked after women who are contemplating having an abortion and I have looked after women who have had abortions, so although I have never carried out one myself—I am a mental health doctor—I have seen it from both ends.

I am concerned that, having brought in temporary measures, we should have the space to consider and debate this properly, and I do wonder how much of what has been said is ideology and how much is critical appraisal of the evidence. I have to say that I am unclear about whether we really have positive data to support saying that telemedicine abortions are safe. Is it not more a case of the absence of negative data? So what sort of things do we need to look at to understand this better? I would really welcome the Government bringing forward substantive legislation so that we can properly consider, debate and investigate this and other areas of abortion legislation in the UK, and following consultation with my constituents on such proposals, I might support them.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee 4:30, 30 March 2022

I rise to speak to amendment (a) tabled by the Government in lieu of Baroness Sugg’s amendment—Lords amendment 92—which would continue the telemedicine service for early medical abortion that was introduced during the covid pandemic. First, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness Sugg for her persistence and her work in the other place.

This is about how we best provide essential healthcare to women, and remember that one in three women will have an abortion during their lifetime. It is about making access as straightforward and women-centred as possible. The Secretary of State recently made a pledge in his speech to the Royal College of Physicians when he talked about the need to

“empower patients and fulfil the promise of the technological leaps we’ve seen throughout the pandemic.”

Scrapping telemedicine abortion at this stage goes completely against what the Secretary of State was talking about. This is also about trusting women, as the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Caroline Nokes, has talked about and as my hon. Friend Jess Phillips has said today.

Such is the strength of the evidence that the Welsh Government recently announced that they will be making telemedicine for abortion permanently available. This sends a clear message that, while women in Wales can be trusted to use a healthcare service in a way that meets their needs, women in England cannot. Not only will there be unequal abortion access between the devolved nations, but this decision will lead to health inequalities within England for the most vulnerable and marginalised. I struggle to see how the decision to bring this service to an end after August is in line with the Government’s commitment to put women at the centre of their own healthcare, as detailed in the vision for the women’s health strategy.

Telemedicine has already enabled an estimated 150,000 women to access abortion care at home. Its removal means that every woman, regardless of her personal circumstances and health needs, will be forced to attend a clinic. Lords amendment 92 would ensure that women can continue to access a consultation with a clinician by telephone. To make it crystal clear to everybody, very importantly, face-to-face consultations will still be available. We have heard concerns about younger people, and face-to-face consultations will be available—

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

I am going to carry on because I know time is short.

Those consultations will be available if the clinician feels that that is appropriate or the woman wants to see somebody face to face. Let us all be clear: this is about choice. The continuation of telemedicine means that a woman would not have to travel long distances to attend a clinic if, for example, she lived in a remote area or had to make arrangements—

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

I am talking about women’s experience, so I will continue, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.

The woman may have to make arrangements if she has childcare or caring responsibilities, or she may have to take time off work. In the case of a coercive and controlling relationship, she would have to explain where she is going to a perpetrator, such as the Mumsnet user who said she had to visit a hospital to access abortion care and was “terrified” of her abusive ex-partner finding out where she was. She spoke of having to construct “various lies” about where she was that day and why she had to have someone look after her children.

I referred to NICE and the World Health Organisation in an intervention, but we should be aware that since telemedicine was introduced the risk of complications related to abortion has reduced, as women are able to access care much earlier in their pregnancy. I will rehearse the long list of supporters of the measure continuing: The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the British Medical Association, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health, the TUC, Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis, Karma Nirvana, the Terrence Higgins Trust, End Violence Against Women, Mumsnet, and many others. What I find most disappointing is that the Government are going against a wealth of robust and widely accepted peer-reviewed evidence from medical professionals and women’s charities, and appear to give greater weight to anecdote, erroneous opinion and misinformation focused on campaign groups with extreme views who bombarded a consultation. Sadly, that further emphasises that this is not an evidence-based policy decision.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

I want to address the issue of safeguarding. Let me be clear: creating more barriers to access does not help women; it helps abusers. The End Violence Against Women coalition and other major VAWG organisations reject the claim that telemedical abortions put women at greater risk of coercive abortions. The fact is that coercive pregnancies are far more common than coercive abortions, and since the introduction of telemedical abortions providers have seen a rise—a rise—in safeguarding disclosures, highlighting that the system provides a safe space for women to come forward if they are being coerced. Nurses are highly trained to assess safeguarding issues, and if concerned they will ask the women to come to the clinic for face-to-face assessment.

Finally and crucially, women themselves strongly favour keeping telemedicine for early medical abortion. A clear majority want it to continue.

As a country, we have an opportunity to be seen to be a shining light for women’s reproductive rights around the globe at a time when those rights are being rolled back elsewhere. The weight of the evidence in favour of maintaining this essential women’s healthcare pathway is overwhelming. I ask Members to support the amendment in lieu.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

First, I apologise for being late to the debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. I appreciate your calling me to speak, and I will be brief.

Amendment (a) in lieu of Lords amendment 92 is all about increasing women’s choice, not about taking choice away from anyone. The basis on which the amendment can be judged is the evidence we have gathered, not in a short period of time, but during two years in which 150,000 women have used telemedical abortion care. Judge the amendment against that backdrop; it is done not on a whim or a fancy, but after two years of intensive analysis.

While I might want to agree with those of my right hon. and hon. Friends who are calling for a reasoned debate in the House of Commons on the broader issues of abortion, the truth is that we do not have those debates because the Government talk about changes to abortion provision coming from Back Benchers when that provision is now so out of date in our country that we need the Government to look at it more broadly. I will support the amendment because it is the right thing to do. The amendment is backed by a huge range of organisations and a significant body of evidence, and it requires the Government to look more broadly at abortion—to take this as a responsibility and to stop shoving it back on to the Back Benches.

Continuing telemedical abortions will be supported and regulated in exactly the same way as face-to-face abortion care, and to suggest otherwise is to be factually incorrect. Members really need to think about the evidence showing that online sales of abortion pills from unregulated providers have decreased since telemedical abortion was made legally available. Rather than push people back into an unregulated market, let us keep what we have, which has worked for 150,000 women over the past two years. But please, please, Minister, let us have a reasoned look at abortion more broadly. Stop saying that this is an issue for Back Benchers. It is not.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

I will speak specifically to Lords amendments 85 to 88 on tobacco control. First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mary Kelly Foy who put so much work into tobacco control amendments in Committee but is unable to be here. Like her, I am an officer of the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health, and I strongly support amendments 85 to 88 on the “polluter pays” levy on tobacco manufacturers. I heard what the Minister said about a levy being complicated and how it might take years to implement, but a way must be found to make big tobacco pay for the crisis that it sustains every day that it remains in business.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham, I represent a constituency in north-east England, which is the most deprived region of the country and has high rates of smoking. We have reduced smoking significantly in recent years, but, despite that progress, it is still the leading cause of premature death, killing more than 400 of my constituents a year. In my constituency, smoking costs society more than £62 million, which is money that our community can ill afford. I also worry that nearly 15% of local pregnant women are still smoking at the time of delivery, which is 50% higher than the national average. We all know that smoking in pregnancy significantly increases the risks of miscarriage, stillbirth, sudden infant death syndrome and foetal growth retardation. The levy would raise vitally needed money for investment in deprived areas such as ours in the north-east to break the cycle of addiction, disease and premature death. At current rates of decline, Cancer Research UK has calculated that the smokefree 2030 ambition will not be achieved for our most disadvantaged communities until 2047.

Photo of Steve Brine Steve Brine Conservative, Winchester

This is such an important subject, so it is good that we are discussing it as part of the Bill. I am so puzzled by the Government’s approach because money is clearly short in the Treasury and the levy would be a new source of income that could help with a public health aim and save millions in the long run. The reason for it was summed up beautifully by the chief medical officer when he said that

“a small number of companies make profits from the people who they have addicted in young ages…to something which they know will kill them.”

We have an opportunity to do something about that at no cost to the Exchequer.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

It is exactly that; I could not agree more. I am sure that Ministers will work hard to try to find ways in which we can make the polluter pay—that is a polluter who pollutes the bodies of our people.

Achieving the smokefree 2030 ambition is the most effective way to achieve the health missions in the Government’s levelling-up White Paper to reduce the gap in healthy life expectancy between top performing and other areas by 2030 and to increase healthy life expectancy by five years by 2035. Becoming smokefree will also improve my constituents’ employability by reducing levels of sickness, disease and disability.

I am pleased that tobacco control is not a party political issue, and I am pleased to work closely on it with Bob Blackman. We have very different political views on many things—he has heard me say this—but we are as one on this issue. It was a Conservative Government who committed to making England smokefree by 2030, but that ambition is shared by all political parties in Parliament. It is also supported by the public, but, like the all-party parliamentary group, they recognise that this ambition needs substantial funding to be delivered.

A survey of 13,000 people carried out last month for Action on Smoking and Health found that making tobacco manufacturers pay for measures to end smoking was supported by more than three quarters of the public, with little opposition—I think that 6% of people were opposed. Let us remember that, over the last 50 years, smoking has killed an average of 400 people a day year in, year out, which is far more than covid has or will. It is only right that big tobacco, which has lined its pockets from the human misery caused by polluting the bodies of our people, is forced to pay the price of ending this lethal epidemic. I urge the Government to accept the amendments as a step on the track to achieving the smokefree 2030 ambition that we all share.

Photo of Laura Trott Laura Trott Conservative, Sevenoaks

It is a pleasure to follow Alex Cunningham. I will speak briefly to Lords amendment 84 and to the Government amendment in lieu of Lords amendment 92.

On Lords amendment 84, on the licensing of cosmetic procedures, I just want to thank the Government for putting this in. Non-surgical cosmetic interventions such as Botox and fillers are the wild west of the healthcare world. We do not expect something that we can easily and legally get done in the safety of our own home to be able to blind us, but that is the case. It is high time that this was sorted and it is a huge step forward for women’s health, so I thank the Government very much.

On the Government amendment (a) in lieu of Lords amendment 92, I fully respect that this is something a lot of hon. Members feel very, very strongly about. I want to read a quote:

“Telemedicine for early medical abortion has been a success story of the pandemic and the removal of this service would be an infringement on women’s rights to access the healthcare they deserve.”

That is from Dr Edward Morris, chair of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. I agree. Keeping the option of this service is supported by all women’s groups working with vulnerable people, including: End Violence Against Women Coalition, Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis. They all say it is a lifeline for women in vulnerable situations and that taking it away will put them at risk. Some 86% of women who experience rape or assault by penetration know the perpetrator. Privacy and flexibility in accessing services in relation to sexual violence is crucial for women’s safety.

I want to make a point about the dignity of women going through this process. I have a close family member who had an abortion. There is a reason why the first pill is known as “abortion on the bus”. One goes to get the pill and the effects can happen very quickly. She was driving home and had to pull over at Sainsbury’s, where she vomited in a toilet. She had severe diarrhoea and she was bleeding very heavily. That was forced on her because of an artificial constraint that we put on how women can access abortion. That is not right. The safety concerns are just not there. It has been proven to be safer since we have allowed telemedicine during this period. It is what women want.

I understand that people feel strongly about this issue, but honestly, this is a matter of human dignity, of women’s dignity. I urge hon. Members to think very carefully when this is put forward today, because it really will make a huge difference to a huge number of women.

Photo of Carla Lockhart Carla Lockhart DUP, Upper Bann 4:45, 30 March 2022

I speak today in opposition to the amendment which aims to make the provision of home abortion pills a permanent part of the law. When the decision was taken to allow women to carry out their own abortions at home for the first time, we were told it was a purely time-limited emergency approval, similar to all other emergency approvals. Two years on, the Government have lifted remaining pandemic restrictions, including the temporary at-home abortion policies, specifically by allowing six months for providers to prepare. It is sad and concerning that the other place has amended the Bill to frustrate the Government’s decision and so seek to block the revocation of the temporary change. The changes to allow abortions at home were introduced without parliamentary scrutiny or public consultation. Now that we have evidence about how it works in practice, we know the policy presents huge risks to women’s health and safety.

Since the policy has been in place, the media have reported several heartbreaking stories of women who were traumatised by their experience of at-home abortion. Sadly, we learned of another just this morning. As reported by the BBC today, 16-year-old Savannah received abortion pills far beyond the safe and legal 10-week gestational limit. She disclosed that during her phone consultation the abortion provider calculated she was less than eight weeks pregnant, so she went to a British Pregnancy Advisory Service clinic to collect abortion pills. She was not scanned or examined. As the BBC reports, on taking the second pill she began to experience, in her words, “really bad” pain. She shared:

“My relative called another ambulance, because when I was pushing my boyfriend could see feet.”

Members, this baby was born with a heartbeat. They were both taken to hospital, where Savannah was found to have been between 20 and 21 weeks pregnant. Unsurprisingly, she said she had been left traumatised and that if she had been scanned to determine her gestation, she “would have had him”.

Savannah’s story should make us all pause and consider what this policy actually means. Perhaps it would be different if her story was an anomaly, but it is not. Tragically, delivery of near-viable or viable infants from a failed medical abortion is more common than abortion advocates would care to admit. Early on in the pandemic, just weeks after this policy was approved, a leaked “urgent” email sent by an NHS regional chief midwife quoted the “escalating risk” around at-home abortions and cited

“the delivery of infants up to 30 weeks gestation.”

Similar reports have been made by the body that comprises all senior NHS doctors and nurses who fulfil statutory child safeguarding functions in the NHS, the National Network of Designated Health Care Professionals for Children. Specifically, it has recorded 47 cases of early medical abortions that resulted in mid-to-late pregnancy terminations, across all ages, since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. Six involved girls and in half those cases, and 12 instances in total, there had been signs of life.

I find it very interesting that, as reported by the BBC, those in favour of at-home abortions—such as abortion provider the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, which is usually all too ready to comment on abortion—could not comment on these cases, perhaps because they know that individual cases matter and that there is truly no excuse for allowing these tragedies to occur.

Women and girls deserve better. We have the opportunity today to champion women and girls everywhere and to ensure that these scenarios, which are so easy to avoid, are prevented. Women simply need to be seen in person prior to receiving abortion pills, especially young people and vulnerable women up to 25.

As it stands, abortion providers are unable to guarantee that they know who takes the pills, when or where they are taken or whether an adult is present, given the risk of complications, such as the delivery of live babies. A Sky News documentary found that 96 women every week—14 each day—who have at-home abortions will suffer from complications that may need follow-up treatment or surgery.

We owe Savannah and her child, and indeed, all women and girls, better than this. Abortion harms the voiceless, the most vulnerable in our society, and it harms women and girls. The Government have rightly prioritised the safety of women and girls. I therefore urge hon. Members to look at the risks posed from continuing this policy and to do the right thing by voting to end at-home abortions.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Three Members are standing and I want to get you all in, so we will have a four-minute time limit.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

Obviously, abortion is a deeply emotional issue and we probably all know where we stand, but this is not a debate about abortion. At-home abortions were brought in as a purely temporary measure to defend women’s health. It was always the understanding that the measure would continue just as long as the pandemic continued.

There are many different arguments about this issue. I could go through the statistics that have been given to me that some people might deny, but it is undoubtedly the case that more than 10,000 women who took at least one abortion pill at home provided by the NHS in 2020 needed hospital treatment. There is therefore an issue around safety and women’s health and we need a proper debate. This amendment was brought in in the House of Lords at night-time. Barely a seventh of the Members of the House of Lords actually took part in the Division. We need a proper, evidenced debate on this issue. There is nothing more important when a human life is at risk.

Of course, we all support telemedicine; I chaired a meeting yesterday on atopic eczema and we are making wonderful steps, but as important as curing atopic eczema is, it is nowhere near as important as a situation where a life is at stake. I know that there are different views about coercion, but surely the whole point of the Abortion Act, for those who supported it, was to get abortions into a safe medical location and to get them away from the backstreets. People surely did not want them to be done at home, where there is risk. Carla Lockhart spoke about the case of the 16-year-old girl who delivered a foetus who, apparently, was 20 weeks old. That is why, as my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce said, the National Network of Designated Healthcare Professionals for Children welcomes the Government’s stance, and why children and young people will be provided with protections.

I urge hon. Members, whatever their view, to think, to consider the evidence and not to rush in. The amendment goes completely against the whole spirit of the Abortion Act. Whatever we think of that Act, the amendment would be a huge new step that I believe would put more women’s health at risk and possibly lead to coercion—we need more evidence on that. I therefore support what the Government are doing today.

Photo of Matt Warman Matt Warman Conservative, Boston and Skegness

I rather think that men should enter the debate on abortion with a degree of trepidation and humility. In that spirit, I will make three simple points.

First, it strikes me as absolutely right that parliamentarians in this place and in the other place should seek to use every vehicle before them to enact the improvements in our constituents’ lives that we all want. It is right and fair to say that the measures were temporary and were brought in only for a certain purpose, but it cannot be right to say that now that we have done that extraordinary experiment, seen how many women have benefited from the change in telemedicine and got the data, we cannot let the vehicle of the Bill pass us by without trying to make this improvement.

Secondly, the reason that all the expert bodies—including the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Women’s Aid and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, where I have to declare that my wife works—support this approach is that they have seen the evidence. They look at that evidence as organisations that have the safeguarding of their patients absolutely at the heart of every single thing they do. They have looked at what we have done and the evidence we have gathered, and they say it is right to continue with the measures brought in for the pandemic. That is why Wales and Scotland have continued them.

We have to trust the evidence; we have to trust the science. We have to understand that we are in the position that we are in as a result of the covid vaccine programme because we trusted the science. Today, we have an opportunity to trust the science yet again. That seems to me an incredibly powerful argument.

We are not making telemedicine compulsory; we are making it a choice. Yes, we are putting a huge burden on doctors to say that the person on the other side of the screen is not someone who should have pills by post, so to speak. We are saying that they should make that calculated judgment. We ask the professionals, be they in charities or in hospitals, to make those judgments every day. We do so because they are the experts.

I say simply to hon. Members that there are issues on which we profoundly disagree—of course there are; these are fundamentally ethical issues—but if we are in favour of abortion, we should be in favour of the choice that is provided by the very safest options. We can see today from the evidence of the past couple of years that it is safer for women who are at their most vulnerable to have the option that we are talking about today. It is not compulsory; it is an option. For me, supporting that today is the definition of being pro-choice.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I have had more correspondence on Lords amendment 92 than on any other in the past 12 years. I shall vote accordingly, against Baroness Sugg’s amendment and against the Government’s amendment in lieu.

As chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health, I support Lords amendments 85 to 88, which require the Government to have a consultation on the polluter pays levy on tobacco manufacturers. The levy was the central plank of our recommendations to the Government to deliver their smoke-free 2030 ambition. We had other recommendations, but that was the central one because funding for smoking cessation and tobacco control has been reduced every year since 2015 and has not been reinstated in the spending review or the recent spring statement.

Additional funding is vital to reducing smoking rates among the most disadvantaged in society and particularly among pregnant women. The current target to reduce the national prevalence of smoking in pregnancy to 6% by 2022 will be missed, and I think we should be clear about that. Last year alone more than 50,000 women smoked during pregnancy, which caused damage to them and to their unborn children. If we want to create a smoke-free society for the next generation, we must step up our efforts now.

The APPG’s recommendation for a levy was strongly supported in the other House, which is why we are discussing it today. We are discussing a number of amendments today, but the Government received its heaviest defeat on these amendments. They were backed by 213 votes to 154, and those voting for them included two former Health Ministers and two former chief executives of the NHS, one of whom was also a former permanent secretary to the Department of Health. Lord Naseby spoke against, using a quote from the Exchequer Secretary about the Treasury’s 2015 consultation, when she said it had concluded that a levy would

“add complexity and additional costs, while the amount of revenue it could raise is uncertain.”––[Official Report, Finance (No. 2) Public Bill Committee, 5 January 2022; c. 77.]

That may have been true in 2015, but it is not the case today. In 2015 we could not prevent tobacco manufacturers from passing the cost on to consumers because we were in the European Union. One of the benefits of Brexit is that, now we are out of the EU, we can. Lord Young of Cookham said in the other place that the levy would allow the Government to

“put the financial burden firmly where it belongs, on the polluter”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 6 March 2022; Vol. 820, c. 290.]

We should not forget that tobacco manufacturers have the highest profit margins of any consumer companies in the world. Imperial Tobacco, for example, which sells about four in 20 of the cigarettes smoked in the UK, makes £71 in profit for every £100 in sales, far more than the average for consumer businesses, which is £12 to £20. Big Tobacco can afford to pay to fix the damage that it does. The Government first promised to consider a “polluter pays” levy three years ago, in the 2019 prevention Green Paper, but they have failed to do so. Economists from the University of Bath have estimated that if the levy were introduced, we could raise £700 million a year. At a time when the public purse is depleted, that is not to be sneezed at.

As I said on Report, the Government

“may resist these measures”

—and they may resist them today—

“but we on the Back Benches who are determined to improve the health of this country will continue to press on with them, and we will win eventually.”—[Official Report, 22 November 2021; Vol. 704, c. 74.]

I know for a fact that when Javed Khan produces his recommendations, he will recommend even more stringent measures that the Government will need to introduce.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care) 5:00, 30 March 2022

Given that I spoke at length in my opening remarks, I will endeavour to use the few minutes remaining to me to cover some of the key points made in the debate. First, I should have said in my opening remarks, and say now to Martyn Day, that I am grateful to the devolved Administrations for the constructive manner in which they have engaged with me and with my Department. I hope that that process has been collegiate and satisfactory from their perspective as well.

Let me clarify my response to a point made by Tonia Antoniazzi. Health is, of course, devolved in Wales and Scotland. Were the Government’s amendment in lieu in respect of abortion to be passed, it would apply to England and Wales, but it would simply do what the Welsh Government are already doing.

We have called for Members to reject Lords amendments 85 to 88, in respect of tobacco. We heard from Alex Cunningham, who rightly cited Mary Kelly Foy. I am sorry that she could not be here today, but in Committee she took a close and well-informed interest in these issues. We have also just heard from my hon. Friend Bob Blackman.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I did promise not to take interventions, given the time, but I will take one from the hon. Lady, because I was not able to do so during my opening remarks.

Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Scotland)

May I add my backing to the call for support for Lords amendment 85? Yesterday many of us attended a reception organised by Cancer Research UK, which has highlighted this issue. Will the Government please bite the bullet and support the amendment?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

Before responding to the hon. Lady, I must correct myself. I should have said “With the leave of the House” before starting my wind-up remarks.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her work on this issue. Although this does not normally fall within my ministerial portfolio, she and I have debated this issue across the Floor of the House, and I know her interest and her passion for this issue, and the hard work that she has done on it. While I recognise that, I believe that the Government’s approach of resisting the Lords amendments in this space is the correct one, and I therefore fear I may disappoint her. We will see whether the House divides on this matter; I suspect it will, but that will be up to shadow Ministers and other Members. I welcome the debate, and I suspect it is a debate we will continue to have.

I have listened extremely carefully to my hon. Friend Greg Smith, as he would expect. I would encourage him not to press the point further at this stage, and I will of course continue to reflect carefully on the points he has made. They are important points about the impact on industry and on the broadcasting industry, and I will consider carefully what he said, but we believe that we have struck the appropriate balance in the legislation as it stands. I am grateful to him for his intervention in this debate and his comments.

It was perhaps predictable when looking at the nature of the amendments in this group that Lords amendment 92 and amendment (a) in lieu would inform the bulk of the contributions across the House. This is an issue that Members quite rightly hold strong views on, and there are sincerely held and informed views on both sides of the debate. It is important that this debate is well informed. We heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer), for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson), and Jim Shannon, Dame Diana Johnson and Jess Phillips. May I offer my condolences to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley and her family on the loss of her mother-in-law, Diana, on Friday?

We also heard from my right hon. Friend Mrs Miller, my hon. Friend Laura Trott and my right hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh, as well as from my hon. Friend Matt Warman, who gave a typically powerful speech on the subject. We also heard from Carla Lockhart.

I have made it clear throughout the debate that this is a free vote, but I would urge Members, in reaching their decisions, to be cautious about some of the figures that have been used in support of some of the arguments today. We do not have all the detailed figures, and I understand that some of them may be based upon extrapolations from freedom of information requests conducted in this respect. I am not drawing any conclusions beyond that, but I would urge caution among Members in how they use those figures.

It is absolutely right that this issue, having been inserted into the Bill by the noble Baroness Sugg, should have been carefully considered by this House. The volume of contributions reflects the importance attached to it by Members. The Government have been clear that these were temporary provisions put in place to reflect an extraordinary set of circumstances, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been clear that, as we move out of the pandemic, such temporary pandemic-related measures should cease. However, the House has had the opportunity to debate this matter today, and the views expressed on both sides are important for the House to hear.

As I have said, I hope that Members will be clear about the process that we will follow. We hope that, on the voices, the House will reject the Lords amendment tabled in Baroness Sugg’s name purely on the basis that it is legally defective and will not do the job that was intended for it in policy terms by the noble Baroness. We have therefore tabled what we believe is a legally effective amendment in lieu of that amendment. Uncertainty in this area of policy and of law does no one any favours, and we would not wish uncertainty for anyone in this space. That is why we were unable to accept the noble Baroness’s amendment and why we are asking the House to reject it, but we have come up with something that we believe provides clarity and is legally effective in what it does. As I say, it is for hon. Members to consider their own position on this matter of conscience, which is of import to our constituents up and down the country, and I suspect they, too, will have strong views either in favour or against. It is right that the House brings such matters to a debate and a vote.

Two hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order, this day).

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83F), That amendment (a) to Lords amendment 91 be made.

Question agreed to.

Amendment (a) accordingly made to Lords amendment 91.

The Deputy Speaker then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83F).

Lords amendment 91, as amended, agreed to.