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The Lord Chancellor has appointed a Legal Aid Board whose task is to improve the administration of legal aid and to consider the arrangements for the delivery of legal services under the Act. The board will formally take up its role on 1 April this year. The Government are also addressing themselves to other issues concerning the funding of claims. The House will have in mind the Green Paper on contingency fees that was published in January, in which the Government have invited views on whether some of the existing restrictions
Column 560on contingency fees might be removed, thus allowing the introduction in England and Wales of speculative actions based on, or perhaps going beyond, the Scottish model. Also, in accordance with the suggestion made by the civil justice review body, the Government are exploring the case for extending the availability of representative or class action. That is of great importance for such cases as Opren. I have already mentioned that a large number of recommendations resulting from that review are designed to help all litigants, with a special commitment to personal injury claimants. The Lord Chancellor hopes to consider the feasibility of a no-fault scheme that could be set up to cover claims--I believe that that is important because small claims also cause much suffering--arising from less serious road accidents. The Lord Chancellor hopes to make an announcement concerning the implementation of the civil justice review recommendations in the near future.
The Government's belief is that the primary need is to enable the courts to work smoothly and efficiently, rather than risk any impediment to their progress by imposing a new superstructure to tell them how to do any specific part of their business. The courts should not be constrained as to the use which they should make of the evidence adduced before them. The civil justice review has recommended the loosening up of the evidence rules in civil cases, and that process would in fact be partly undone by the proposals of the Bill. One of the main purposes of setting up the civil justice review was to speed up civil justice cases and we believe that that purpose might run a real risk of being impeded by the creation of the new superstructure examining compensation levels.
It is evident from our assessment of the proposals put forward in the Bill that the provisions relating to bereavement damages are partly covered already by the existing powers given by the legislation that introduced bereavement damages. Neither the remaining provisions on bereavement damages nor the provisions relating to actuarial damages would, by themselves, justify specific statutory measures.
The leading proposal is, of course, the setting up of the Compensation Advisory Board which would be intended to affect all personal injury cases. The Government are listening and the hon. Gentleman has put his case clearly, but we remain to be persuaded that the board, imposed as a superstructure on the court system, would amount to a significant improvement on the present system or a significant step forward towards the greater aim--it is a common aim--of improving the position of those who have the misfortune to be involved in accidents and to suffer injury.
Ms. Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) : I shall be brief as we have already had a lengthy debate, to which I have listened carefully, and I know that many of my hon. Friends want to participate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Cunliffe) who introduced the Bill. I hope that the Solicitor-General's speech means that the Bill will command the support of the Government if, as I hope, it goes into Committee.
When we are dealing with personal injury cases we should not ignore the huge tragedies with which families must live. It is bad enough that people must cope with the
Column 561personal hardship and tragedy caused as the result of injuries and accidents, but they must also fight hard to receive compensation at the same time. People's ability to fight so hard in such dreadful circumstances always amazes me. I hope that the Bill commands the support of both sides of the House.
I have two specific comments, one of which relates to legal aid. We have heard a lot about that today and how it is able to support those families who need to make claims. From my constituency work experience, however, I know that legal aid is not always easily available. In one case with which I have dealt it has taken three years to ensure that my constituent has access to legal aid to pursue a specific claim for compensation. I urge the Government to consider the declining availability of legal aid for such claims and to act in the best possible way.
I know that the Bill is a marker and the first stage in the process. I do not think that anyone believes that it will solve all the problems relating to compensation, although I know that many of my colleagues would like it to do that. I realise that if the Bill goes into Committee our discussion will be restricted to it, rather than to the wider issues. It is important to consider, however, people's ability to make claims for compensation. There are many families, including some in my constituency, who want to make claims for compensation but who will be unable to benefit from the Bill should it become law because it is so difficult to prove negligence. That difficulty must be addressed.
I am particularly perturbed about a constituency case involving a woman who was badly injured in a serious gas explosion. Because of the delaying tactics used by British Gas, it was almost impossible even to get the matter to court. I have campaigned for three years to get something done about that case and I would dearly have loved to come to the House claiming that my constituent would benefit from the Bill, which I hope will become law in the not-too-distant future. Sadly and tragically, that lady has now died.
I know that there are many similar cases throughout the country in which, because of delaying tactics, people do not obtain the compensation that they are seeking. Such matters are connected to the Bill and I hope that in future legislation the Government will give serious consideration to speeding up the way in which we deal with compensation claims. I hope that they will look at ways of making it clear to companies--British Gas or whoever--that we are not prepared to accept years of delaying tactics to prevent compensation cases from going to the courts.
Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone) : I am grateful to have an opportunity to speak in this debate since it is now obvious that I shall not have an opportunity to speak in another debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Cunliffe) on the way in which he introduced the Bill. I wish to clarify certain matters which will affect the support given to the Bill by many people and I hope that the hon. Member for Leigh will intervene during my speech. I am particularly disturbed by the inadequate provision under our existing law for women who suffer after unwanted abortions to which they consented as a result of an incorrect diagnosis of handicap.
Column 562There is a case before the courts now involving a woman who had to wait six years before being able to bring an action in respect of an abortion she did not want. She agreed to the abortion because she was told that her unborn child was severely handicapped. There is also the case, very much in the public eye, of the Carlisle baby. That mother wanted her child but was also told that it would be severely handicapped. The handicap turned out to be an inherited skin disease that would not have been life threatening and nor would it have impaired greatly the quality of life. She was told, in the alleged parlance of the consultant involved, that her child would be a monster. Therefore, she reluctantly consented to an abortion. The abortion was carried out at 21 weeks gestation and the child was born alive.
Miss Widdecombe : No. I said that in the first case the woman had only just managed to obtain a decision after six years and that the second case was in the public eye. I understand that the mother is still considering action but it is not yet before the courts. I understand what the hon. Gentleman would have said.
The Carlisle baby lived for three hours during which time the NHS personnel did not know what to do and there was no ventilation equipment available. Also, the child did not have the handicap for which it was aborted.
That mother is having substantial difficulties. Is there anything in the Bill that will make it easier and swifter for mothers in such circumstances --those I have mentioned will not be the only cases--to obtain compensation, even though, in the words of one of my hon. Friends, there is no compensation for the loss of a child and even £10,000 million would be too little? I can find nothing in its provisions--unless the mother suffers from a severe nervous disorder--but if the Bill could be extended to cover such cases it would generate a tremendous amount of support and would be welcome. Will the hon. Member for Leigh clarify that point?
Mr. Cunliffe : I shall make two points to the hon. Lady. First, the cardinal principle of my Bill is not to deal with fault or liability, which is the job of the courts, but to raise the level of compensation. I have extreme sympathy with the two cases that the hon. Lady quoted, but it is not for me to judge where responsibility lies. If possible, I should like my Bill to embrace all types of personal injuries. If, after judgment has been made and liability accepted, the cases mentioned by the hon. Lady appear to fall within the framework of the Bill, I would relish the idea of supporting her aims.
Another large group of women who might benefit from compensation for an injury which is not generally recognised and receives too little attention from the medical profession are those who suffer from what is now recognised as post-abortion syndrome. This affects women who have undergone abortions and received too little counselling.
Often--particularly where young girls are involved--pressure is imposed. Sometimes parents want their daughters to take a particular course of action. Often the
Column 563options are not fully set out and--as in the two cases that I described--women are panicked into having abortions by being told that their babies will be grossly handicapped.
The physical and psychological effects of post-abortion syndrome are considerable. However, at present they are too little recognised by the medical profession, and it is difficult for such women to come before the courts and ask for compensation.
Those are important considerations that I would have raised later had I been given the opportunity. I should be grateful if the hon. Member for Leigh would address them in more detail. I believe that more explicit provision could be made. If so, it would be very welcome. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for introducing the Bill.
Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, South) : I join hon. Members on both sides of the House in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Cunliffe) on introducing the Bill. As someone who has been heavily involved professionally in the pursuit of damages and accident claims for personal injuries, I recognise that the Bill is a modest measure. However, it reflects the difficulties we face when the Government are not prepared to consider no-fault compensation--at least, I thought that was the case until I heard the
Solicitor-General's comments. I was pleased to hear that the Lord Chancellor is considering such a scheme, albeit a limited one. While the Solicitor-General's comments are fresh in my mind--although he is no longer present--let me make a couple of comments about what he said which are important and reflect the Government's attitude to the Bill. He rightly spelt out the principle that is applied when a court considers damages. He said that the court had to consider different compensation and heads of damages depending on the particular circumstances of each case. He suggested that the Bill attacked that principle in some way. I find it difficult to see how that can be read into a Bill that tries to assist the court in determining the levels of compensation which should apply. The Bill in no way takes away from the court's position.
The Solicitor-General waved about a large tome, Kemp and Kemp, and often referred to it. As a Scottish solicitor, I frequently--though perhaps not as frequently as the Solicitor-General--used that tome when assessing the worth of particular claims.
The Solicitor-General seemed to be contrasting the weight of Kemp and Kemp with the fairly lightweight provisions--as he seemed to consider them--in the schedule specifying the injuries covered by the board's deliberation. I do not accept that criticism. I come from a legal system based on principle rather than precedent. That English common law is based mainly on precedent is clear from Kemp and Kemp, which is a catalogue of court decisions on the level of damages in different kinds of case. The weight of the volume is to do less with principle than with precendent, and I welcome the way in which the Bill attempts to establish the principles on which compen-sation will be determined, rather than employing the present convoluted, complicated but nevertheless haphazard method, which allows judges to bring their personal views and prejudices to bear.
Column 564I had intended to say more about no-fault compensation, but I think that every hon. Member who has spoken, except for the hon. Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe), has mentioned it already. The Solicitor-General suggested that there could be no move away from the complexity, difficulty and stress involved in making claims. I consider the most important principle in no-fault liability to be the shift away from the establishment of fault to the establishment of injury. That is the issue that causes the most difficulty and legal argument. Questions such as whether there was negligence and whether there was a duty of care are what consume the time of lawyers and courts. Once the issue of fault has been dealt with, it is not too difficult to deal with compensation. In the vast majority of cases it is negotiated without too many problems.
I have a considerable interest in the North sea. At present 30,000 men are working in one of the most dangerous environments not only in Britain, but in the world, and at times that number has been much greater. I have been closely involved with the Piper Alpha disaster, to which a number of hon. Members have referred. Out of the 167 men who died in that tragedy about 38 were employed by Occidental, the platform operators.
There is a class structure in the North sea. The men employed by the operators--few women work in the North sea--have premium terms and conditions of employment. Their salaries and wages are far higher than those of men employed by contractors ; their terms and conditions, holidays, facilities and fringe benefits are far superior. The 38 men employed by Occidental who died in the Piper Alpha tragedy had one significant fringe benefit--an insurance scheme, paid for by the employers, which provided a death-in-service benefit without any question of the establishment of blame. The simple fact of a man's dying in service meant that his relatives were entitled to immediate compensation, in this case £100,000.
The 130 or so other men had no such scheme, being employed by a multiplicity of contractors. That opens up a major issue of principle. All of the relatives of those poor, unfortunate men are now involved in pursuing legal claims. They have been fortunate in that Occidental has been desperate to settle the claims as quickly as possible : eight months after the tragedy I am delighted to learn that the majority of claims have been agreed, and only the details of the negotiations need to be concluded. In the majority of claims for personal injury or death, long, detailed, protracted and stressful legal arguments take place. I ask the Government to consider insurance and employment. The anomalies in the conditions that existed on Piper Alpha exist on every platform in the North sea, and that can be extended to all employment.
Successive Governments have insisted that employers, regardless of the nature of circumstances of employment, provide compulsory liability insurance for their employees. It is a criminal offence for an employer not to provide that insurance or not to publicise or publicly display a certificate of insurance. It is a short step to require employers to provide compulsory insurance, which would offer a death-in-service benefit and remove from the courts and legal system the bulk of cases that require the payment of damages for death or injury. There would be a number of spin -off benefits. I would hope that, under pressure from insurance companies, employers would
Column 565improve their practices. In addition to other benefits, pressure on the legal aid and court systems would be reduced.
I recommend that step reluctantly, because my main interest is a no-fault compensation scheme that would allow payment of benefit without the stress of legal action and proof of fault. Within the current structure, the proposal for compulsory death-in-service benefit is fairly modest and would lead to a vast improvement. I base that on my experience of the Piper Alpha disaster, but the same arguments would apply to all the recent disasters.
Many hon. Members have spoken about the actuarial clause. The Solicitor- General tried to belittle the Bill's proposals. He suggested that the courts frequently had recourse to actuarial evidence, which they do, but they rely on precedent. Scottish courts use the multiplier system, and the maximum considered is about 15 years. In England and Wales it is slightly higher--18 or 19 years. In the majority of cases, the multiplier bears no relation to reality. I agree with the Solicitor-General that the multiplier is not an exact science and that there are imperfections, but it is impossible to be precise, because many imponderables must be considered. Scientific evidence or the best estimate of lifespan must be considered. Actuarial evidence is the most scientific and best estimate available.
I shall give some examples of how courts have considered the multiplier. A ship's nightwatchman was injured in an accident in May 1982 that rendered him permanently unfit for employment. At the time of the accident he was aged 53, but was 58 at the time of proof, which emphasises the delay before the case reached court. His employer asked for a multiplier of six and a half years to take him up to retirement. The defence asked for a multiplier of two years. The court argued and applied a multiplier of three years. At the time of the accident, he was 12 years below proper retirement age, yet the multiplier applied was three years.
In another Scottish example, the 32-year-old father of a six-year-old and a two-year-old was killed in an accident in December 1978. The mother was not married to him. The court decided that the appropriate multiplier would be 13 years from the date of death. By the time the multiplier expired, the children would have been 19 and 15, one of them still undergoing compulsory education and requiring support. I am conscious of the late hour so shall not go into a mass of similar cases.
I support clause 5 because it brings a greater principle to the consideration of the courts, rather than what can be disparagingly called the hidebound, precedent-based system of common law, which unfortunately has crept north of the border. It is important that we look at the practicalities of the system and what it means for a person who needs compensation. The courts operate on the principle that they should attempt to assess monetary compensation at a level that would put the injured person as near as possible to the position he would have been in had the accident not occurred. The multiplier's application is not based on scientific evidence or principle, except that of precedent, so the courts are manifestly failing to provide adequate compensation.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh for introducing the Bill. This has been a worthwhile and valuable debate. It has been enjoyable, too, especially for a Scottish solicitor who, like the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), has had to sit here
Column 566listening to praise being heaped on the Scottish legal system. That is happening increasingly. We feel confident that we in Scotland have got the system right over the past 500 years and that this part of the country is now just beginning to catch up.
Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay) : Like many hon. Members, I have a strong basic sympathy with the intentions of the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Cunliffe) to remedy a shortcoming or wrong in society. I should have thought that it was a natural instinct for almost everyone to want to provide remedies for people who have to wait ages for compensation for injuries, bereavement or loss of earnings. I share that gut feeling.
I am worried that in measures such as this we shift the emphasis from the operation of the law--which should deal with these matters--towards other bodies which we set up, be they industrial tribunals, compensatory bodies or whatever, to plug gaps. I was interested to see my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General in the Chamber and am sorry that he has left. The legal profession is responsible for much of the time that we must spend in the Chamber--not least on Friday mornings--trying to concoct measures to give ordinary citizens access to law that has been made difficult and complicated by the selfishness of the legal profession.
I applaud the Lord Chancellor's moves to simplify and open up the legal profession. I look forward to the day when there is a law shop on every street corner--along with the betting shop, the pub and so on--so that ordinary citizens can walk in off the street and obtain advice and access to an arbitration service that will solve problems quickly and simply. For that reason, I believe that the Bill is not desirable. Those who govern the least govern the best. Yet we are always adding to the body of law or Government orders, as I call them, with which our society is already overburdened.
There are three aspects to this business. The first is the role of the law itself and the Government have a strong responsibility to make the law accessible to ordinary citizens cheaply, quickly and simply. That is important. Secondly, there is the role of the individual and what he or she can do to take precautions against injury and the possibility of loss of earnings. There are many ways in which that can be tackled. Thirdly, there is the role of the market structure in providing the means whereby people can obtain suitable compensation. It is part of the seductive lure of this place that we think that we can ravel up all the ragged edges of society. Life is a messy business, yet there are many times when people of good intent think that they must step in and do something. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) made the point about people who go through pregnancy and are than affected by depression. Women can be depressed by a termination of pregnancy that they think was unwise but, equally, they can become depressed by being made to go through with a pregnancy that they do not want. My hon. Friend's long-term intentions would increase the incidence of that, especially for people who have to bear a child after rape, because such women would be forced to go through with the pregnancy. However, I shall not dwell on that.
There are many areas in which people feel that they have a legitimate cause for asking for compensation. Most
Column 567of the legal technicalities have been dwelt on at length and I do not want to go over them again, or over the fact that the Bill, in trying to lay down specific amounts, is bound to create many anomalies. When we start laying down crude sums, such as a mimimum of £10,000 or a maximum of £50,000, that can work both ways. The amounts suggested often become maxima and, may often not be appropriate. In normal circumstances, damages should possibly be much greater, but the courts tend to lean on the criteria set down by law and that may be to the detriment of people who feel that they have some claim against the system.
The Bill is flawed in trying to lay down actual amounts of money. That could work against people. As an example, let us consider the industrial tribunal, which was originally thought to be one of the protections for workers against employers, who are always reckoned to be the bad guys. In many cases, trade unions and employees believe that the tribunal system works against them. Such tribunals were set up with the best will in the world, but they do not have the long-term effect for which the people who instigated the legislation hoped. That in turn leads to calls for yet more legislation. It is often forgotten that people have free will and can make arrangements for themselves. They could do more about taking up insurance. It is easy to say that people never do that. However, it is legitimate for the Government to ask for people to be insured against certain things so that the burden does not fall on society. Long before the Beveridge report, we had legislation that required people to carry insurance against sickness. As a result, there were hundreds of little friendly societies which provided that opportunity for people. The process was not difficult because people did not have to go to complicated insurance brokers, as they do today. Somebody came round to the house and collected the sum each week. The levels of compensation and assistance during sickness were often better than they are under the present legislative structure. Individuals could be asked now to carry insurance for injuries, for example. Employers are required to have liability insurance so that they have the financial back- up for possible damages claims against them when people are injured at work. There is a legitimate case for the Government to insist that people have insurance of their own. It need not be complicated or difficult. I am sure that the insurance industry would look for ways of meeting that need.
Similarly, one can insure oneself against the payment of legal fees. Much has been made of the cost of litigation, and I sympathise with those who have referred to it. I have legal expenses insurance ; some may think that I need it more than most. It is not the most expensive thing in the world and it is very useful. It means that if one feels that someone is trying to rip one off or that one has a case one does not have to say, "I can't do anything about it." If I need to, I can phone someone up and say, "Look, old boy. You may think you can swing this one on me, but I am legally insured, and as far as you want to go, I'll go too." That sharpens up people's wits and may make them decide not to go ahead after all or persuade them to compensate me out of court. The individual should have insurance of his own.
Column 568The Government have a role to play in making the courts more open. I am sorry that the Solicitor-General has gone out again, because I wanted to tell him what I think about the legal profession making it difficult for the rest of us to get justice. The Government should make the courts more accessible, cheaper and quicker. All in all, there are better ways of trying to compensate people and get help for the helpless.
Last, but not least, we must remember the role of the welfare state. In addition to any compensation that one might receive the state will support one--albeit perhaps not in as grand a style as one would like. No one in this country goes without, even if injured. We have a tremendously well- developed system for helping people who are in some way unfortunate, whether because of physical injury or mental inability. That is an important part of the way in which we can help those needing compensation.
Although it is well meant, the Bill is not well thought out. We should pay far more attention--as I am sure the Solicitor-General and his colleagues now intend to do--to making the normal process of the law more accessible to individuals so that the courts can take each case individually and work out the compensation that should be arrived at. That is likely to be the best deal that the citizen can get.
Sir Hal Miller (Bromsgrove) : A common theme of the last two speeches has been the role that could be played by insurance in helping to solve some of the problems that the Bill rightly addresses. There is widespread concern not only about delay in gaining access to the courts and a decision in court on liability but about the amount of compensation awarded.
Before I go further, I must apologise to the House that I have not been present for the whole debate, although I have been here since half-past nine. I have been trying to deal with a very important constituency matter- -the western orbital route. In case hon. Members think that that is rather far from the subject of the Bill, I refer them to a recent campaign and to the scientific agreement, which I think has now been reached, that much damage, injury, pain and suffering can be caused by lead poison. But that is not the purpose of my remarks.
I hope that I will not be subjective, as some hon. Members have been, in speaking about the claim by the supporters of the immediately following Bill that there is a deliberate attempt to filibuster. My record is clear. I have always voted in favour of a reduction in the period of termination and think that a much shorter period could have been achieved much earlier if the necessary good will had been shown by the sponsors of the appropriate Bills. We are debating injury, pain and suffering. Much attention has been devoted to recent disasters and accidents, but I should like to speak about industrial, occupational and criminal injuries. There is a widespread feeling that the levels of compensation for people affected by such injuries simply do not match some of the awards recently handed down by the courts in libel cases. It has reached such a stage that many of us wonder how we could get a suitable libel against us so that we could bring a successful action and secure a considerable sum of money.
Column 569Some awards for libel far exceed the cost of the actual harm and bear no comparison at all to the pain and suffering caused by personal injury.
I have read the title, the interpretation and the clauses in the Bill and it seems that it is not confined to personal physical injury. That was why I alluded earlier to the pain and suffering caused to people who live adjacent to motorways or to motorway construction. Considerable pain and suffering are caused by the noise and the obstruction of light, quite apart from the lead poisoning about which I have already spoken. Is the Bill restricted to physical injury?
My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) talked about nervous depression induced by a mistaken medical judgment. In slight contradistinction to her argument I recall the case of a constituent from a poor family--
Mr. Orme : Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would allow me to intervene. I know that he has come to the debate at a late stage and has given the reason for that. Is he attempting to talk the Bill out or is he prepared to sit down in two or three minutes so that we can proceed with the vote?
Sir Hal Miller : I have never had any intention of talking Bills out and I do not know which other hon. Members wish to speak. As the right hon. Gentleman well knows, it is open to him to move. That the Question be now put. I do not know how the Chair would respond to that. I have received letters from my constituents asking me to take part in this debate and that is what I am doing.
I am speaking about the different types of injury for which people genuinely and correctly feel they are given inadequate compensation a long time after liability has been established. That is why I welcome what my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General said about some progress being considered towards the introduction of no-fault compensation, which could apply in a limited range of matters. Steps should also be taken to speed up the legal process.
I am thinking of people other than the lady about whom I was speaking when the right hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) intervened, who tried to provide sensibly for her family. She had an operation to prevent her conceiving further children above the four that the family already had. However, despite that operation she conceived a fifth child. That was a serious matter for that family and the difficulty encountered by that lady in achieving compensation for that medical mistake drew my attention to the difficulties that people experience.
There is a great deal of argument in industrial occupations about the responsibility for industrial injury. I am thinking of a big firm in my constituency where there is an occupational disease called white finger. I have been trying to establish for several years that that disease should be treated as--
Mr. Cunliffe rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to. Question put accordingly and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).
Order for Second Reading read.
I am grateful for the opportunity to have a few minutes in which to introduce the Bill. The Bill seeks to reintroduce the provisions of the Abortion (Amendment) Bill that was brought before the House last year. Our reasons for doing so are simply that last year, despite widespread support for that Bill, we were unable to obtain a final vote despite having concluded the debate on Report. It is our belief that, in the interests of parliamentary democracy and in the light of the considerable interest in this subject in the country, there should be an opportunity to vote on the Bill.
At the moment this country has a law that allows one child to be kept alive in an incubator, to be loved and cherished and to have all the resources of medical science poured upon it, and a child of identical age, gestation and sentience to be dismembered alive in its mother's womb. That is not a civilised law. It is those excesses and abuses of the Abortion Act 1967 that many hon. Members who would not support me in my absolute stand on abortion nevertheless wish to see eradicated.
Our first duty is to the unborn children who suffer horribly from some of the methods of abortion that are most commonly used in the private clinics where 88 per cent. of late abortions are carried out. We have a duty to them to introduce a law that will afford them exactly the same protection as we afford to children of the same age who are in incubators, that we afford to children when they are born, and the same protection that we afford to children regardless of what tragedies might strike them in later years.
The unborn have no less right to protection than the born. The unborn who have developed to a stage such that once born we would recognise them as fully human, with full civil rights, should have exactly the same protections. What we would not do to a child in an incubator we should not do to a child in the womb during abortion. Our law asks for equality of treatment between children. It is a law that would recognise the rights of the mother not to be pressurised or misinformed. It is a law that seeks to protect those least able to look after themselves--that is, not only unborn children who have no voice and who rely entirely on us to protect them, but pregnant women who want to continue with their pregnancies but who sometimes find that the pressures of society, particularly eugenic pressures, combine to force them into operations which they later regret and from which they suffer continually.
One of the good results of the extensive debate on this subject last year is that at last we are beginning to recognise the effects on mothers who suffer--
It being half past Two o'clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker interrupted the business.
Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 7 April.
Column 571Private Members' Bills
Order for Second Reading read.
Order for Second Reading read.
Second Reading deferred till Friday 17 March.
Order for Second Reading read.
Second Reading deferred till Friday 17 March.
Order for Second Reading read.
Second Reading deferred till Friday 17 March.
Second Reading deferred till Friday 14 April.
Order for Second Reading read.