Motion J1 (as an amendment to Motion J)

Health and Care Bill - Commons Amendments and Reasons – in the House of Lords at 7:36 pm on 5th April 2022.

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Lord Crisp:

Moved by Lord Crisp

At end insert “, and do propose Amendment 88B in lieu—

88B: Insert the following new Clause— “Smokefree 2030 consultations(1) The Secretary of State must, no later than the relevant date, consult on—(a) any recommendations of the independent review into tobacco control announced by the Secretary of State on 4 February 2022 which in the opinion of the Secretary of State require consultation before implementation, and (b) any other options for tobacco control considered appropriate by the Secretary of State.(2) The Secretary of State and the Treasury must, no later than the relevant date, consult on one or more statutory schemes to regulate the price of tobacco products which fund delivery of— (a) the Government’s Smokefree 2030 ambition, (b) a reduction of inequalities related to health, and (c) improvements in public health. (3) In subsections (1) and (2) the relevant date is the earlier of—(a) the last day of the period of 6 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed;(b) the last day of the period of 3 months beginning with the day on which the report of the independent review referred to in subsection (1) is published; (c) 31 December 2022.(4) The Secretary of State must lay reports before Parliament on the consultations carried out under subsections (1) and (2) and a Minister of the Crown must, within 12 weeks of completion of the consultation, arrange to make a statement to each House of Parliament setting out in detail any steps which will be taken to implement the findings of the reports, and the proposed timescales for doing so.””

Photo of Lord Crisp Lord Crisp Crossbench

My Lords, this amendment replaces the “polluter pays” tobacco levy Amendment 85 and consequential Amendments 86 to 88, which were passed by this House on Report by 213 votes to 154.

I very much thank the Minister for the time that he and other noble Lords and colleagues in the Bill team and Treasury have taken to explore with us opportunities for reaching an agreement. We are disappointed that we have not yet been able to achieve a compromise. I also thank other Lords very much for their support for this Motion, which has come from all sides of the House.

The reasons for moving this amendment are very obvious. They are about the impact of smoking on health and about inequalities and levelling up. First, Members of your Lordships’ House understand very well that smoking is the leading avoidable risk factor in health and is responsible for years of ill health—chronic illnesses, years of misery, early death and, for the country, loss of talent and productivity to the nation as a whole. What noble Lords may not appreciate—I did only relatively recently—is that it is also a leading factor, perhaps the leading factor, in the differences in health outcomes between different sectors of the population. Some 50% of the difference in health outcomes between those in the highest socioeconomic group and those in the lowest socioeconomic group is due to smoking.

I am a great enthusiast for talking about the social determinants of health and addressing all the factors such as housing, which I have talked about in your Lordships’ House before. However, at the bottom of it, we also need to understand that there are some very straightforward health issues, and smoking is the biggest single issue that makes a difference around inequalities. The other point I will make in these opening remarks is that the smoking rate is coming down generally but it is not coming down as fast in that lowest socioeconomic group as it is in other groups within the country, and there needs to be intervention.

I do not think that on any of this there is any difference between my view and the Government’s view or indeed in our purpose. However, levelling up— addressing these inequalities—requires precise, practical, timely and funded action. As the Minister for Levelling Up, Neil O’Brien, has said, it is time to put the foot to the floor, and that is the point of this amendment.

There is also a curious addendum here that I will just make. Tobacco companies have seen the writing on the wall and want to move out of smoking tobacco, but I understand that they have not found anything yet remotely as profitable as tobacco and smoking tobacco. While this is so profitable—indeed, it is very profitable—they will keep finding new ways of promoting their product. In other words, the tobacco companies too are addicted to cigarettes, and this proposal of a levy will of course incentivise them to change.

On the discussions that we have had with the noble Lord and others, I will first address the Khan review. I and other noble Lords very much support the review and look forward to seeing its outcomes in due course. We in no way wanted to prejudice the outcome of this but we believed that it is important to address our concerns with this revised amendment in parallel with that review. I have therefore put two points in this amendment. The first requires the Secretary of State to consult on any of the recommendations of the independent review or other options for tobacco control

“which in the opinion of the Secretary of State require consultation before implementation”.

The way we have phrased that deals with the point that the Minister has already raised about the possibility that the review itself will produce recommendations which the Government do not want to implement or consult on.

The second consultation requires the Secretary of State and the Chancellor to consult on funding mechanisms. This takes into account the concerns raised, both in Committee and elsewhere, that financial matters are for Her Majesty’s Treasury by ensuring that the consultation is the responsibility of both the health and finance ministries. I have also removed the detail of implementation from those earlier amendments so that this amendment is therefore very much about the need for consultation in a timely fashion.

In particular, one of the comments that was brought to our attention by the Treasury is that this amendment was in danger of putting the cart before the horse to investigate how much could be raised by a proposed “polluter pays” funding mechanism before the Treasury knew how much was required to deliver the Smokefree 2030 ambition. My point here is that we can do these things in parallel. These are consultations; they do not tie the hand of the Government but rather enable considerations of the policies needed to deliver the Smokefree 2030 ambition in parallel with developing the plans. Therefore, very simply—I know that other noble Lords will speak to some of these other concerns—the issue here is one about making progress: getting on with it. We know what needs doing and we know how money can be found to pay for it, and I do not believe that there are any other routes for finding that money at this moment. In the words of the Minister in the other place, we need to put the foot to the floor. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Young of Cookham Lord Young of Cookham Conservative 7:45 pm, 5th April 2022

My Lords, I rise briefly to support Amendment J1, so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Crisp. I also join him in thanking my noble friends Lord Howe and Lord Kamall, the two Ministers involved, for their engagement with movers of the amendment on Report and for the genuine attempt they made to seek agreement to narrow the small gap between the Government’s position and ours—an attempt which, I fear, was blocked by HM Treasury.

On this subject, on Report, my noble friend Lord Howe said:

“Our strong preference is to continue with high tobacco taxation and excise as the best means and the most efficient process through which to generate revenue that can be put back into public services.”

I wish I shared his optimism, given the current pressure on the public purse and the recent experience with the levelling-up White Paper, published in February. The Institute for Fiscal Studies said that

“the White Paper contains no new funding; instead, departments will be expected to deliver on these missions from within the cash budgets set out in last autumn’s Spending Review. Departments and public service leaders might reasonably ask whether those plans match up to the scale of the government’s newfound ambition—particularly in the face of higher inflation.”

The same is true for tobacco control. Even before the rise in inflation, budgets for tobacco control and smoking cessation had been cut by a third since 2015. Already by 2019, it was clear that the Treasury’s claim that the tax system would provide funding for tobacco control was misplaced. That is why, when the Government announced the smoke-free 2030 ambition in 2019, they also promised to consider a polluter pays approach to funding tobacco control and smoking cessation, which is the substance of the amendment before your Lordships this evening.

On Report, my noble friend Lord Howe said:

“The proposal may look simple on the surface but it is complex to implement. It may also take several years to materialise.”

Our proposals build on the pharmaceutical pricing scheme operated by the Department of Health, which is a far more complex industry with far more complex products. If the Department of Health can successfully run a scheme for pharmaceutical products—an industry and set of products that are complex and evolving—I fail to see why it cannot operate such a scheme for cigarettes. These are simple, commodity products produced by an oligopolistic industry, with four main manufacturers responsible for more than 95% of sales.

The noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Birmingham, who I am pleased to see in his place, said on Report that

“if it is deemed appropriate to have a form of price and profit regulation for the medicines industry, which delivers products that are essential and life-saving, it does not seem too far a stretch to think that an equivalent mechanism might be used for an industry whose products are discretionary and life-destroying.”—[Official Report, 16/3/22; cols. 294-98.]

I agree. However, I also accept that further investigation of our proposals would be needed, which is precisely why a consultation without commitment is the appropriate way forward, as the all-party parliamentary group’s amendment proposes.

I hope that, even at this late stage, my noble friend might demonstrate some flexibility in order to try to bridge the narrow gap between the Government’s position and that in the amendment.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour

My Lords, I, too, support the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, in his amendment. My noble friend Lord Faulkner would of course have been in his place to speak in favour, but he is unable to be here, so perhaps I may make a few remarks which I think he might have made.

Going back to Report, the Minister suggested that the tobacco industry is already required to make a significant contribution to public finances through tobacco duty, VAT and corporation tax. But I do not think that states the case as accurately as possible, because we know that tobacco manufacturers are skilled at minimising the amount they pay. For example, between 2009 and 2016, Imperial Brands, the British company that is market leader in the UK, received £35 million more in corporation tax refund credits than it paid in tax. The largest amount of tax collected by the Government comes from excise tax and VAT. This, of course, is not paid by the manufacturer; it is passed on to the consumer. That was a point HM Treasury made in 2015, when the Government consulted but, alas, decided not to put an additional tax on tobacco products to pay for tobacco control.

My understanding is that, in total, smokers spend nearly £11 billion on tax-paid tobacco products, more than three-quarters of which goes to the Government in taxes. We know that the majority of smokers are not well off; they often suffer multiple disadvantages. We must compare that huge tax take with the pitiful amount that is actually spent by the Government encouraging people to stop smoking. It is certainly not enough to make England smoke-free by 2030.

I listened carefully to the Minister’s introductory remarks. The noble Lord, Lord Kamall, objected to the terms of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, because, he said, the independent review had not yet reported and therefore we were seeking to pre-empt what the review will say. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, responded to that incredibly well. I do not think he is seeking to pre-empt the review; his amendment asks the Government to consult on recommendations in the review if the Secretary of State thinks that it is required. It is left entirely in the Secretary of State’s hands to act according to whether he or she considers that the recommendations should be consulted on.

This is a sensible amendment, it points us in the right direction, and I hope that, even at this late stage, Ministers may be sympathetic.

Photo of Lord Rennard Lord Rennard Liberal Democrat

My Lords, if I understood the Minister correctly in his introductory remarks, he was saying that the Government’s case against the amendment is that they do not want to consult on something to which they are not already committed. So what is the point of consultations if they are only on things to which the Government are already committed? Should the Government not consult on what they might do, and take into account the opinions of experts and others?

Amendment 85B, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, has the support of these Benches. It is in accordance with my party’s policy but, more importantly, it is essential to the Government’s stated objective of reducing the prevalence of smoking to below 5% by 2030. The amendment does not require the Government to do anything that they do not want to do; it just asks them to consult on something which they have said that they would consider—namely, to make tobacco companies pay more towards helping save and prolong the lives of their customers.

Last year, I found myself outside the HQ of British American Tobacco. It is an enormous headquarters: it looked like a palace of which any Russian oligarch would be proud. This company makes huge profits that could be diverted towards ameliorating the damage done by its products. The amendment would mean taking action to help people live longer and more healthily, with fewer families living in poverty because of smoking.

I expect we will have more warm words from the Minister and from the Department of Health and Social Care, but I believe that Parliament wants to adopt the polluter pays principle in relation to tobacco. So I end with a quote from a great parliamentarian, John Pym, who, in 1628—I am sorry that I do not have the Hansard reference—said: “Actions are more precious than words”.

Photo of Baroness Eaton Baroness Eaton Conservative 8:00 pm, 5th April 2022

My Lords, I speak to Amendment 92B in my name. It seeks to reinstate essential, in-person safeguarding checks for girls under 18 when seeking abortion. I have no doubt that the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, had the best of intentions when she brought her abortion-at-home amendment to your Lordships’ House in support of women’s right to choose in respect of pregnancy. Unfortunately, Amendment 92A leaves a glaring gap: that of the interests of young and vulnerable females. My Amendment 92B is simply about requiring a face-to-face consultation with a qualified health professional for girls under the age of 18.

This is an amendment purely about child safeguarding: specifically, minimising the risk of harm to children through the use of abortion pills. It is not an amendment about the moral question of abortion. There would be no change to where the pills are taken or administered. The amendment is supported by the NHS body made up of doctors and nurses who are the leading experts in the field of children safeguarding, the National Network of Designated Healthcare Professionals for children, or NNDHP.

The NNDHP, which supports safe access to abortion for young people, has released a statement saying:

“All children and young people—those under 18 and in care under 25—must be seen face to face, and the age of the other applicants must be confirmed. The purpose of this position is to clinically assess the mid-trimester risk and prevent coercion and exploitation.”

The network expressed particular concern that phone and video consultations

“enable unseen and unheard coercive adults to influence the patient” and

“enable pills to be obtained under false pretences.”

These NHS child-safeguarding experts have also raised concerns about the effects of trauma and neglected birth, pointing to evidence of the home use of abortion pills resulting in highly traumatic incidents. These are traumatic episodes, and they point out that children do not have the emotional resources and the brain maturity needed to access support in these cases. Even worse, they are aware that the policy has led to the births of very premature but potentially viable infants.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the UK’s leading professional body for paediatricians, which represents more than 20,000 child health professionals in the UK and abroad, has backed the amendment. It has voiced its support for the amendment due to concerns about the risks to girls under the age of 18 with the at-home abortion amendment that passed in the Commons. The RCPCH has warned of a “glaring gap” in the legislation—namely, children and young people. Moreover, it has asked for children’s vulnerabilities to be taken into greater account as the Health and Care Bill reaches its final stages. The college points out that

“telemedicine can present particular challenges” for children and young people, and points to the need to

“assess any safeguarding issues as part of the pathway for early medical abortions.”

I have mentioned the views of the NHS safeguarding experts and the royal college that specialises in children’s health, but I would like to end by touching on the story of a 16 year-old girl in his country that demonstrates the need for this amendment. The BBC reported on a girl called Savannah, who took abortion pills at home after a telephone conversation with an abortion provider. The clinic she had spoken to had calculated that she was less than eight weeks pregnant, but she was neither examined nor scanned. She took the pills and, when she felt terrible pain, she was taken to hospital. It was discovered that she was actually between 20 and 21 weeks’ pregnant, and she gave birth to a baby with a heartbeat. Indeed, she said, “My boyfriend said he could see feet”. Savannah said she had been left traumatised and said, “If they scanned me and I knew that I was that far gone, then I would have had him.”

It is hard to comprehend the trauma of an experience such as this for such a young woman. The BBC report highlighted how her case was just one of dozens. Surely, we in this House owe it to our young women and girls, our daughters and granddaughters, to do more to protect their safety and well-being. This is not an amendment nor a debate about abortion or a woman’s right to choose; it is about children’s welfare and enshrining in law the essential protections for girls under the age of 18. This Government, and, indeed, previous Governments, have rightly prioritised children’s welfare, and all of us in Parliament who make laws should keep this in mind.

I am pleased that my noble friend the Minister has understood the very real concerns of many noble Lords and professional bodies in the medical profession. He has expressed a clear commitment to us today to ensure that the concerns are raised and addressed. It is vital that regulations and guidance deal with the safeguarding of young women. My noble friend has committed to working with the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the NNDHP, and I hope that they will be consulted and will work with the Government to make sure that these extremely challenging and difficult conditions for young women are given great concern and protection in any further work on the Bill. Because my noble friend has given such reassurances, I will not push this to a vote this evening.

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, for raising this issue. I should declare that some years ago when I was a GP, I was responsible for looking after three care homes with children with really quite profound psychological disturbance because of what they had gone through prior to being taken into care. I carefully read the briefing from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. It is very important to listen to that college in particular, which has put out a remarkably strong briefing that also takes account of children up to the age of 25 when they are care leavers.

The last time we debated this I was concerned about contraceptive advice. I therefore contacted an abortion provider to ask about the contraceptive advice provided and was assured that really sound contraceptive advice is part of the telemedicine procedure. Does the Minister have any data on the number of second-time and third-time abortions that are being requested through telemedicine, as compared with those from face-to-face consultation? Certainly, in my time in practice, when one provided contraceptive services, one always felt that when somebody was presenting for an abortion, somewhere along the line one’s contraceptive advice had failed—often because of coercion by the male partner, one way or another. But for those who are emotionally vulnerable it can be very important.

I will address in just one sentence the excellent speech by my noble friend Lord Crisp in relation to his Motion J1. I hope the Government will listen to it, because we cannot carry on allowing the tobacco industry to exploit public health in the way that we have.

Photo of Baroness Barker Baroness Barker Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Voluntary Sector), Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, is a stalwart of these debates and she always takes a view that is contrary to mine. I say at the beginning of my speech that I do not question her integrity in any way at all, but I do question the briefing on which she has based her speech tonight—and I question the briefing from this particular college. It has a public position which says that young women should have the option and be

“actively encouraged to take up a face-to-face appointment”.

That is the policy now; there is no policy that says that people cannot and should not be allowed to have a face-to-face appointment if they need it.

Secondly, this amendment would require there to be a face-to-face appointment, whereas the position arrived at following the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, and in the Commons is that a teleconsultation can happen and that, at that point, if it becomes evident that there is a need for a face-to-face appointment, it must happen. As we explained when we debated this issue a few weeks ago, the greatest coercion is on women not to have an abortion rather than women being forced to have an abortion. Professionals, who took great care to design the telemedicine system at the start of the pandemic, made sure that they included safeguarding as an integral part of what they did.

The noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, is right in one respect and wrong in another. There was one case, within the first month of the scheme being set up, where a woman got her dates wrong. That was discovered and that case was used to change the questions and the training. I have to say that I take exception to her saying that there are dozens of cases, because in the peer-reviewed assessments that have been done in three countries, Scotland, England and Wales, that has not been seen to be the case. If anything, professionals have erred on the side of caution when they think that a woman might be approaching the deadline. I am afraid that in this respect I do not think the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, is correct.

More to the point, throughout the discussions here and in another place, the professionals who have been responsible for not just delivering the services but for making sure that they are within ethical and professional frameworks and are monitored closely took into account all the ways in which they thought that young women and girls might be exploited. They took care to make sure that the services discovered that, and they have. They have found young women who have been trafficked. They have found young women who have been pressurised by partners. They have found young women who were prevented from going out to get contraception and therefore became pregnant.

I do not for one minute question the noble Baroness’s motivation, but I say to noble Lords that if they really want to protect young women and particularly girls, they should reject this amendment and accept the government amendment, which has been informed not just by the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, and others but by the majority of the royal colleges that practise in this field.

Photo of Baroness Verma Baroness Verma Chair, EU Goods Sub-Committee, Chair, EU Goods Sub-Committee

My Lords, I want to raise one thing that may be an unintended consequence of telemedicine abortion pills. In communities such as the one that I come from, having a girl is still seen as not a good sign of family life. I hope that when we discuss this, we discuss it in the round. There are communities in this country that may take advantage of the facts that women do not have to have a face-to-face and that women in those communities as often as not cannot communicate. We must ensure that we do not become complicit in them being forced into abortions. It is not about not wanting an abortion to be available if you require it. That is my point and my fear. I see it often in my community. It is not as if it is distant. It happens because those women and girls—some of them get married very early in life—do not have the ability to speak up, simply because of the confines of the communities they live in. I do not want it to be an unintended consequence that we end up being complicit in something that by and large is a choice issue but here may well become normalised within families where women and girls have very little say.

Photo of Lord Morrow Lord Morrow DUP 8:15 pm, 5th April 2022

My Lords, I rise to speak to Motion N1 and Amendment 92B. I want to put on record that it is extremely regrettable that a profound change in the way that abortions are delivered has been rushed through at the end of this Bill, without the opportunity for scrutiny and consideration in Committee and on Report of whether additional safeguards needed to be added. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, for proposing a modest, child-safeguarding amendment through Motion N1, Amendment 92B, to the amendment agreed in lieu to continue telemedicine abortion in England.

The concerns about the telemedicine regime were stated, albeit briefly, on 16 March. They focused on concerns about whether all pregnancies really are below the 10-weeks limit set out in Amendment 92A, that complications at home are not properly monitored, and that telemedicine abortions mean that women can be vulnerable to coercion. However, this revised amendment specifically and simply states that the consultation must be in person for a pregnant woman under the age of 18. I welcome that, and hope that young women who want such a consultation will not feel pressured into a remote consultation. As was said in another place last week,

“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”.—[Official Report, Commons, 30/3/22; col. 879.]

While either an in-person or a remote consultation meet the requirements of the law as drafted in Amendment 92A, it does not mean that they both meet the health requirements of all sections of the population. Two key organisations qualified to speak on this matter have specifically said that remote consultations do not work for children. Both the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the National Network of Designated Healthcare Professionals for Safeguarding Children have called for face-to-face appointments. In a letter to the Times last Friday, the president of the royal college said:

“However, the change in the legislation through the Health and Care Bill leaves a glaring gap. Children and young people are a distinct group, and telemedicine can present particular risks. We must consider their safeguarding and holistic wellbeing as well as their physical health needs.”

She went on to say that

“a face-to-face appointment would allow a healthcare professional to talk to them, examine them if necessary and spot any safeguarding issues”.

The concerns about telemedicine abortions are more acute for under-18s, so the proposal that we should make a further exception for children in the regime introduced through Amendment 92A on where abortions can take place seems entirely sensible. We do so on a wide range of legislative measures; indeed, the Labour Front Bench only last night advocated for different treatment for children under the modern slavery legislation debated as part of the Nationality and Borders Bill. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, will forgive me and not mind me quoting him when he said, quite rightly:

“We do that in every area of law; we provide differently for children than for adults”.—[Official Report, 4/4/22; col. 1942.]

Amendment 92B does exactly that by requiring in-person consultations for under-18s.

I shall end with the closing paragraph of the letter to the Times, which said:

“The bill is nearing its final stages. The government and parliamentarians must make sure this vulnerable group is taken into account.”

I urge your Lordships to adopt this Motion.

Photo of Baroness Sugg Baroness Sugg Conservative

My Lords, I rise to speak to Motions N and N1. I fully support the Government’s Motion N; it delivers the same outcome as the cross-party amendment supported by your Lordships’ House and received cross-party support from the other place last week. I am grateful to the Health Secretary and my noble friend the Minister for their engagement on this issue, and to the officials and lawyers in the department for their assistance in drafting.

Motion N makes the provision of access to telemedical early medical abortion permanent. It is supported by the vast majority of medical professionals, vulnerable women’s groups and by women themselves. Following the largest ever abortion study, the service was shown to be safe, effective and compassionate.

I cannot support my noble friend’s Motion N1 for two reasons. First, it was debated in full in the other place, including substantive discussions on whether under-18s should be included. MPs voted in support of this service in its entirety, without requiring any changes. Your Lordships’ House also supported making this service permanent. Both Houses are in agreement, and I do not believe we should reopen an already considered and agreed position.

Secondly, I cannot support it for safeguarding reasons. It is absolutely crucial that we protect young people—I am sure all noble Lords agree on that—which is why the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the DHSC and abortion providers have already agreed to produce a set of best practice standards on safeguarding and abortion care for young people. I appreciate the Minister reassuring us on this; it is how clinical guidelines should be developed. It is standard professional activity for medical royal colleges and does not warrant any additional legislation.

If Motion N1 is agreed, as a result of the inequitable provision, young women will be more likely to have poorer access to and experience of abortion care. It would mean that young women who are physically unable to make it to a clinic, as a result of a health condition, or who live in a very rural area, have no access to transport or are at risk of violence and abuse, will have no legal way to access abortion services in England and Wales. They would be forced either to access illegal pills online or to continue with their unwanted pregnancies.

I will address a couple of the points that have been raised. I also have anecdotes about how this has helped women and girls, but I do not believe it is helpful to share individual cases—we should listen to the experts on this—but the poor girl in the terrible case raised by my noble friend Lady Eaton was actually seen in a clinic, so my noble friend’s amendment would not have helped. On the point raised by my noble friend Lady Verma, of course we want to avoid sex-selective abortions, but this goes up to only nine weeks and six days, and it is not possible to find out the sex of your baby until after then. That would not be possible in early telemedical abortion.

Children must be protected. I appreciate and agree with my noble friend Lady Eaton’s desire to do this. However, as my noble friend the Minister has set out, this should be done through clinical guidelines and safeguarding best practice. I am pleased there will not be a vote on this, as I could not support it.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, I made my substantive points when we debated this on Report, so I will not be tedious in repeating all those arguments about the nature of abortion, why I feel there should be a more thorough consideration of the way the law works in Britain today and why there have been 9 million abortions—one every three minutes. That does not suggest a lack of access to abortion in this country. But I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, said to us about the lack of safeguards in the amendment that we passed, against the wishes of Health Ministers, during the tail end of the Report stage consideration of the Bill.

If the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, was right that there had been substantive discussion, I would feel easier about this, but she will agree that there was no discussion of this at Second Reading or in Committee here, and there was no discussion of it in another place. When this was voted on in another place, there was a relatively close majority at the end of a very short debate—215 votes to 188. This demonstrates that this question is not settled.

If one winds back the clock to 1967, only 29 Members of the House of Commons voted against the Abortion Act 1967. That demonstrates that not only is this not settled but there are deep concerns about the way that this public policy has been enacted. That is why I pleaded, on Report, that rather than making policy on the hoof, it would be far better if—despite our differences of opinion, some of them fundamental, on the substantive issue—at some point, there is a review of the legislation, in which we can at least talk to one another, in a civilised way, about the best approach.

That brings me to this amendment, which was introduced with such sensitivity and compassion by the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, and which deals with safeguarding issues. I will not repeat the quotation that was just given to us by the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, but it comes from a royal college. The royal colleges may be divided about this too—I do not dispute that—but that is exactly the sort of thing that should be laid before a commission of inquiry or a Select Committee of this House to examine the workings of the legislation.

We have heard the quotation about the safeguarding, well-being and physical needs of children from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, but I was also struck by what a designated doctor for child safeguarding said in a briefing which many of us have been sent by the National Network of Designated Healthcare Professionals for Safeguarding Children. Dr Helen Daley says:

“The considered expert position of the NNDHP is that all children (i.e. those under 18) and looked after individuals under the age of 25, should be seen face-to-face when applying to take both sets of abortion pills at home so as to prevent coercion, child sexual exploitation and abuse, and so that clinical assessments can be made to check the risk of an inadvertent mid- or late-trimester abortion.”

I note what the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, said about specific individual cases. I do not know about the individual cases, other than that one was cited, and one is enough. It struck me, as a parent and someone who has worked with children with special needs, some of whom had significant emotional problems, to think how it would be if, in a home abortion, someone was to abort a late-trimester baby and the children in that household saw what happened. I think that would remain with them for the rest of their lives and it could have a deeply distressing and traumatic effect on them. That is why we should listen to Dr Helen Daley when she says

“We have very real concerns about the harm” that this amendment to the Bill

“(which would allow girls to take abortion pills at home without a prior face-to-face consultation for any early abortion) will do to children.”

There is one other point, which was not referred to in our early debates. There is evidence about the physical effects on women. For me, this is not a choice between the unborn child and the woman—both lives matter. One in 17 women, or 20 a day, who had taken at least one abortion pill at home in 2020 needed hospital treatment for side-effects. This evidence was provided through a freedom of information request by the previous global director of clinics development at Marie Stopes International. There are significant risks.

I plead with your Lordships: when we make laws on issues such as this, let us always be respectful of each other’s opinions, attitudes, beliefs and principles, and listen to each other carefully, which we are doing in this House tonight; bluntly, I think we are a very good example to others about how this debate should be conducted. When the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, talks about the risks of, for instance, sex-selection abortions, we must take that seriously, because there have been examples of it and we know to what it can lead; we have seen that in other jurisdictions and countries. When the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, tells us there could be risks to children over safeguarding, we must take that seriously. I promised to be brief and will now sit down.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, I rise very briefly, having contributed quite significantly to the debate on Report. I support the Government’s amendment, which is not a position I find myself in very often. I respectfully disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, who said this was not settled. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg—who has been such a leader, working on this issue in the House with great tenacity and determination to defend the well-being of patients—said, it has been settled in both Houses of Parliament and has been debated extensively.

The point the noble Lord, Lord Alton, just made about the sex-selection question was comprehensively answered. The dates do not work; we are talking about early medical abortion and you do not know by that stage. We have to come back to the evidence. We had an unintended experiment as a result of Covid, which showed us that telemedicine not only reduced the rate of abortion complication but increased the level of safeguarding disclosures. It is really important that we think about an equalities issue here. Access to telemedicine is medically preferable and results in more safeguarding disclosures. We do not want to deny that to young women where it is judged that it is medically appropriate.

I note that the National Network of Designated Healthcare Professionals for Safeguarding Children is working with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to develop standards. It says that this should not be subject to discrimination in the law, as the safeguarding standards and guidelines are adequate. If we think about this as an access issue, this minimises the risks of young people going to provision outside the healthcare system. This is a crucial equalities issue.

Photo of Lord Moylan Lord Moylan Conservative 8:30 pm, 5th April 2022

My Lords, I rise briefly to support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Eaton. I listened very carefully to what my noble friend the Minister said about protections and safeguards offered by the NHS, and the system of abortion provision to young people. But it seemed to me that those safeguards related principally to pregnant children up to the age of 16. There is a gap here, because the age of 18 is important in this debate, and it does not seem to be covered. As the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, said, it was only last night that an opposition amendment said that, in the case of child refugees, the Government must give priority to the best interests of the child—and, as I recall, that amendment was passed and is now back in the Bill. But “child” was defined in the amendment as a person under the age of not 16 but 18. So the best interests of the refugee child must take priority but the best interests of the pregnant child are not even mentioned anywhere in the amendment.

If I recall correctly, only last week we were debating a Private Member’s Bill—but one which I believe had government support—which would raise the permitted age of marriage to 18. Marriage is a natural law right, and also arguably a convention right, because there is a right to a family life, but, correctly, we are allowed to moderate how that right is implemented and effected by putting age restrictions on it. We may decide that 16 is an appropriate age or that 18 is an appropriate age; these are all perfectly legitimate decisions to make. But if our movement is in the direction of saying that 18 is the age at which you should be allowed to marry, it seems to me that there is a huge gap in the amendment in Motion N, which my noble friend Lady Eaton is doing her best to correct.

I regret that my noble friend has said that she is not going to move to a vote, so I am left to ask my noble friend the Minister whether he can explain to me, when he replies, what it is that the Government see as being the means of safeguarding pregnant children between the ages of 16 and 18, who are regarded so carefully in relation to other types of protection that are debated in this House and command widespread cross-party support but seem to have fallen through the traps here.

Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I shall be very brief, because it is time we draw this ping-pong session to an end. First, I congratulate the Minister on his introduction to the tele-abortion amendment, and on the reassurance that he gave to the House and the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton. The issue has been expressed very eloquently by the noble Baronesses, Lady Sugg and Lady Barker, and I have no intention of going into detail.

The only other matter before us right now on which we need to take a decision is that of the amendment put by the noble Lord, Lord Crisp. From these Benches, I need to say that we absolutely support the noble Lord in his amendment, and we will vote with him, if he divides the House.

Photo of Lord Kamall Lord Kamall The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate and the debates throughout the day. We managed to stick to the point and tried to be as brief as possible. I am afraid I will not be as brief as the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, but I will try to be briefer than I usually am.

I should just make some acknowledgements, looking at the whole group. First, on learning disabilities and autism, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, in her absence, for her constructive engagement with the Government.

On tobacco, I once again urge noble Lords to reject Amendments 85 to 88 and 88B. The independent review is not scheduled for publication until May, when we will of course consider our next steps. I understand that the noble Lord told us to get on with it, but we do not want to pre-empt the independent review. As it is in the process of being drafted, we really want to make sure that we have proper consultation and agreement, both across government and across the UK with the devolved Administrations.

I hope the noble Lord is in no doubt that we are also committed to the tobacco plan and the reduction of smoking. We just do not feel that this is the right amendment, but the noble Lord may feel otherwise. Any changes to tobacco legislation proposed by the Khan review, a plan supported by the Government, will be consulted on. We firmly want to make sure we reach our smoke-free 2030 ambition or get as close to it as feasibly possible.

There is a debate about the polluter pays principle. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, will recognise the debate about Pigouvian taxes, taxing negative externalities and who is responsible. Who is the polluter? In the car industry we tax the driver, as they put more petrol in. Should it be the smoker or the industry? There is a debate about this, but I hope these issues will be considered by the Khan review.

I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, for his constructive engagement on reciprocal healthcare. I am pleased that we were able to narrow the gap and get to the same place.

I turn now to the telemedicine abortion issue. The Government felt that we should have gone back to pre-pandemic measures, but it was right that there was a free vote. We saw the results of the votes in your Lordships’ House and the other place, and we accept them. The democratic will of both Houses is quite clear. At the same time, we also accept that there were some concerns, as my noble friend Lady Eaton rightly said, about underage women being forced to have abortions and safeguarding. My noble friend Lady Verma also made a point about issues in certain communities; we know that these things go on in certain communities and that there are close relationships.

After the reassurances I gave at the beginning, my noble friend Lady Eaton said she was reassured enough not to push her amendment to a vote. I hope that remains the case and that my noble friend has not been persuaded otherwise. It is important that we consult, treat this sensitively and get the appropriate guidance, but the decision has been made by both Houses and we have to make sure that it works and that we address some of the legitimate concerns that noble Lords have raised in this debate.

Given that, I ask this House to accept the Motions in my name.

Photo of Lord Crisp Lord Crisp Crossbench

My Lords, let me first say how much I respect the Ministers and appreciate the time they have given to me and other noble Lords to discuss the “polluter pays” amendment. I really appreciate it and found it very useful. I think it was the noble Baroness—I cannot remember the name.

Noble Lords:


Photo of Lord Crisp Lord Crisp Crossbench

No, forgive me. It was the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege—my apologies for that very public senior moment—who earlier commended the Ministers on their patience and good humour, right to the end of this long Bill.

I think there is very little difference between us and that what I am arguing for is very much government policy, but there still is a difference. Let me also thank the other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate for their support. I was reflecting on this difference while the debate was happening and, at bottom, it is about making sure that something happens. It is not just about consultation, which we did not discuss. It is about the timetable too. It is about ensuring that we have a consultation to a timetable and that there is scope for action.

It is also about the reality. The noble Lord, Lord Young, spelled out for us that we have seen cuts in tobacco control over recent years and that there was a commitment given to considering “provider pays”—I think it was two or three years ago. We are all familiar with the fact that things can slip. At the moment, I suspect that we are going in the wrong direction on tobacco control and that it is slipping down the agenda.

I am left with two questions. First, where will the funding come from for the action that needs to be taken to intervene on tobacco control, which is something that we all want? I absolutely accept the noble Lord’s point on that. Secondly, will action actually be taken? I was very struck at our meeting with the Treasury, which the Minister kindly arranged, to find that the Treasury officials are rather opposed to any levy, despite the attractions and success of the pharmaceutical levy referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, in Committee.

While there is also enormous waiting list pressure, which we all know about and which I suspect has already been discussed many times during these debates, how will we find the money for something that is going to have a long-term impact, as opposed to dealing with the emergency right in front of us? Of course, we will all be aware that an election will be coming in due course. I suspect some things will rise up the agenda and some slip down it. You do not have to be a cynic to think that this could slip very easily. Therefore, for those reasons, I want to test the opinion of the House.

Ayes 130, Noes 132.

Division number 5 Health and Care Bill - Commons Amendments and Reasons — Motion J1 (as an amendment to Motion J)

Aye: 130 Members of the House of Lords

No: 132 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Motion J1 disagreed.

Motion J agreed.