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Points of Order

3.31 pm

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Will you confirm that it is entirely a matter for the House to decide on the progress or otherwise of any Bill and that as, so far at least, we remain an independent country, it is certainly not for those abroad, whoever they may be and whatever high authority they may have--be they Chancellor Kohl or anyone else--to tell us how to go about our business? Will you confirm that, because it would be most unfortunate if there were any feelings in the House that pressure is being applied from outside the country by Heads of Government to influence how and when we should decide on the Maastricht Bill?

Madam Speaker : I do not think that any of us in the House, including all 651 Members, give any thought to what anyone else says outside about the way we proceeed. It is for the House itself--all 651 of us--to decide what we are going to do.

Mr. David Harris (St. Ives) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Although I very much welcome the Prime Minister's remarks on the disgraceful blockading of fish by the French, is it possible for a statement to be made in the House today on the precise action that the Government will take, in view of the mounting anger of fishermen and fish merchants, especially in Cornwall, who find that they cannot get their fish to France?

Madam Speaker : I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not seeking a continuation of Prime Minister's Question Time, but I have no doubt that those on the Government Front Bench have heard what he has to say.

Mr. David Jamieson (Plymouth, Devonport) : Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Has the Minister of Agriculture asked to come to the House to make a statement about the disgraceful actions yesterday of French fishermen in Roskoff, who have caused the suspension of the ferry service from Plymouth which takes our exports abroad?

Madam Speaker : I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I have just given.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will recall that, on 3 December last, I had to bring to the attention of the House the fact that the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) had been using pre-paid stationery in connection with a fund-raising exercise for the Tribune group. As a result of my having brought that to the House's attention, I understand that he was admonished by the Serjeant at Arms and subsequently refunded the money. Needless to say, I gave the hon. Gentleman notice of what I intended to say on that occasion, and have done so again. Unhappily, I have now discovered that this practice has not finished. I have before me an unsolicited letter which was sent to a member of the public, inviting him to go to a fund-raising dinner. It apparently builds on the success of the first dinner, when 200 guests raised more than £500

Madam Speaker : Order. I think that I understand the hon. Gentleman's point of order. I am not interested in all

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the frills on this, but if he puts a point of order directly to me, I shall hear it [Interruption.] Order. Hon. Gentlemen will not be wasting time like this when they see how many wish to speak in today's major debate.

Mr. Nicholls : The point of order that I have for you, Madam Speaker, is straightforward and simple. Although the matter came before the House previously, the complaint was not dealt with, and the hon. Gentleman is still using pre-paid stationery for private purposes. Given that clear abuse, what steps can you take to ensure that the taxpayer does not have to pay for fund-raising activities on behalf of a political party?

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) : Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I have had absolutely no notice of this complaint. I reject the hon. Gentleman's assertion, which is a disgraceful attempt to divert attention from the real business of the House, and I deprecate his intervention.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Madam Speaker : Order. Let me deal with the point of order. The hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) has alleged that a second offence has occurred and I take that seriously. The hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) says that he had not been notified. I take the point of the hon. Member for Teignbridge, that the hon. Member for Neath had been notified, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman has not yet received that notification. In any event--

Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley) rose --

Madam Speaker : Order. I am on my feet.

I shall of course report this alleged second offence, which I take seriously, to the Serjeant at Arms and the appropriate Committee.

Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am sure that it would not be the intention of any Minister to mislead the House, but in the response that I was given to an earlier question about the provision of secure units, information was given to the House which is simply not true. The Minister sought to suggest that a Labour-controlled council, South Glamorgan, was preventing the provision of secure places for young people. I wish to tell the House--

Madam Speaker : Order. I am not here for the hon. Gentleman to give information to the House. I am here to deal with a point of order, namely a breach of either our standing orders or our procedures. Will he raise a point of order that I can deal with?

Mr. Michael : I understand your point, Madam Speaker, and I hope that I am correct in putting it this way. Two years ago, South Glamorgan asked for the money to provide secure places

Madam Speaker : Order. I am sorry, but the hon. gentleman is not understanding me correctly. I have to deal with a strict point of order that concerns the proceedings of the House. I understand entirely what the hon. Gentleman is trying to bring to my attention, but he must do it more precisely and more briskly so that I, as Speaker of the House, can deal with it. I am not in a position to deal with a political argument.

Mr. Michael : I hope that I will get it correct now, Madam Speaker. How can I put right the misinformation that was given to the House when the Minister suggested

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incorrectly that South Glamorgan, which asked for finances to provide secure places locally, but has been blocked for two years by the Welsh Office--

Madam Speaker : Order. Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman. I do not give guidance across the Floor of the House, but if I can point him in the right direction, I have no doubt that the Table Office will be able to help him.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : In view of what happened last night when the Government Whips, or perhaps it was the Government themselves, did not seem to know what to do, can I ask you, Madam Speaker whether there are any facilities under your jurisdiction for what I would call Government whipping classes so that they can understand how to do their job. If you cannot take the Chair in these proceedings, perhaps you could ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because he is an expert on whipping.

Madam Speaker : Had I not such a busy schedule myself, I would be prepared to take on some seminars for hon. Members in all parts of the House.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh) : While noting with satisfaction the court decision in relation to the Belfast, West seat, and not missing the irony of those who appealed over the heads of the electorate of the Belfast, West to a court for a decision in their favour, may I ask you, Madam Speaker, to use the weight of your office to look at the entire electoral regulations, which are anachronistic in many ways, so that no other hon. Member will be put through the difficulties that my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Dr. Hendron) had to endure?

Madam Speaker : That is not a matter for the Speaker of the House. It is governed by an Act of Parliament. Some time may be found in the future to look at the entire matter.

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Hare Coursing

Mr. Harry Cohen, supported by Mr. Tony Banks, Mr. Gerald Bermingham, Mr. Andrew Bowden, Mr. Roger Gale, Mr. Peter Griffiths, Mr. Roy Hattersley, Mr. Doug Hoyle, Mr. Simon Hughes, Mr. Alan Meale, Sir Teddy Taylor and Mr. Andrew Welsh presented a Bill to make hare coursing illegal : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon 12 March, and to be printed. [Bill 140.]

Offensive Weapons (Scotland)

Mr. John McFall, supported by Mr. Tom Clarke, Mr. Henry McLeish, Mrs. Maria Fyfe, Mr. Gordon McMaster, Mr. David Marshall, Mr. William McKelvie, Mr. Michael Martin, Mr. Ernie Ross, Mrs. Margaret Ewing, Mrs. Ray Michie and Mrs. Irene Adams, presented a Bill to create in Scotland an offence of having an article with a blade or point in a public place ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon 26 March, and to be printed. [Bill 141.]


Madam Speaker : With permission, I shall put together the motions relating to statutory instruments.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(3) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.).

Redundancy Payments (Local Government)

That the draft Redundancy Payments (Local Government) (Modification) (Amendment) Order 1993 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

Council Tax Benefit

That the draft Council Tax Benefit (General) Amendment Regulations 1993 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

That the draft Council Tax Benefit (Permitted Total) Order 1993 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. Mackay.]

Question agreed to.

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Children (Prohibition of Sex Selection)

3.40 pm

Mr. David Amess (Basildon) : I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit the use of techniques designed to influence the sex of a foetus at conception ; to amend the Abortion Act 1967 ; and for related purposes. The House will be relieved to know that the Bill is not about Basildon and that I do not intend to mention my constituency in my speech. It has come to my attention that there is confusion about the intentions of the Bill which I seek to introduce. Let me say immediately that it is not a Bill to stop sex. Contrary to what some of my hon. Friends think, I am not that much of a spoilsport. It is also not a Bill to interfere with the time limit in which an abortion can be obtained. It has come to my attention that the preamble to the Bill has caused controversy. I am seeking today to create all-party support. Accordingly, I give a firm undertaking that, if I am allowed to proceed with the Bill, I shall not seek to amend the Abortion Act 1967.

I welcome, and will take careful note of, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority public consultation on sex selection. The sole intention of the Bill is to stop the grubby little practice, which we witnessed on television the other day, of a doctor selling his services on the premise that he could enable people to select the sex they wanted for their child. I am a strong supporter of the enterprise culture, but the practices of that doctor are commercialism taken too far.

The Bill is entirely to do with the dignity of human life itself. It would prohibit the use of techniques designed to influence the sex of a foetus at conception. It would not in any way alter the present arrangements for dealing with sex-linked genetic diseases. There is much that I would like to say on the whole issue, but suffice it to say, when life has never been so cheap, with child killing child and all the rest of it, that I hope that the House will agree that, however the arguments are deployed, it cannot be right to influence the sex of a child. Do we really think so little of ourselves? Is our self-esteem so low? Do we not care about anything any more? I hardly think that it is the view of the overwhelming majority of the general public that sex selection is right and proper.

Many of us are blessed with children. I thought that my circumstances were particularly suitable to one who wished to introduce such a Bill. First we had a boy, followed by a girl. When number three came along, people naturally asked what we would like, to which we answered that it did not matter as long as the child was healthy--it happened to be a little girl, and a right little madam she is. The pressure really started with numbers four and five. Everyone was interested and delighted, but the message was clear : "Won't you be disappointed if you don't have a boy this time?"

I was present throughout the labour and delivery of all my children's births. It is not much fun for someone to lie there thinking, "Everyone is expecting it to be a boy, what do I say if it is a girl?", which it was on the fourth occasion.

By the fifth occasion, pressure was mounting. What a lot of rubbish I had to listen to--all the old wives' tales about the way in which my wife was carrying the child, her shape and even a metal ring dangled by a string above her tummy. There she lay, just about to give birth, knowing

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that everyone, whoever they were, expected her to have a boy. She did not. We had another girl, and what a delight she is.

Every time that we had a child, we were not bothered about its sex, but were concerned about its health. If we have another one, its sex will not matter : we just hope that it will be healthy. We have observed that it does not matter whether one has a boy or a girl--in our case, they are all rather badly behaved.

What is my real argument against sex selection? I have never believed in the equality of men and women--they are quite different, and if pressed I would say that women are superior to men. Nature has a mystical way of balancing the sexes. I do not know what it is called, so let us call it the mystery of life, and I think that it works quite well. I have no doubt that sex selection would probably discriminate against women, and it is especially offensive to women and to feminists.

I do not think that I am being too fanciful in imagining the day when sex no longer matters. One will be able to make a phone call and nine months later order a blonde-haired blue-eyed little girl. The practice of sex selection appears to have come from across the Atlantic, and I deplore it. The success rate of the technique is questioned by many leading medical authorities. Are we certain that the egg would not be rejected?

Finally, it is not acceptable to interfere with the natural balance between the sexes. Nature is best left alone ; so let us take this opportunity to restore dignity to life itself. Let legislators and public representatives proclaim our humility at a time when so much that we hold dear has become grubby, and let us leave Mother Nature to take her own course when determining the balance between women and men on our planet.

3.47 pm

Ms. Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate) : I rise to oppose the Bill presented by the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess), on the grounds that I believe it to be both misguided and premature. I could also argue that it is flippant in the extreme, and that it makes a mockery of the subject under discussion and the debates and decisions reached by the House, not least the creation of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority which, unlike the hon. Gentleman, has issued a public document on sex selection, in which it has asked for the widest ranging responses to the issues raised, not least the consideration of

"the ethical, social, legal and practical issues surrounding sex selection".

The hon. Member for Basildon told the House that he has dropped the amendment that appears on the face of the Bill regarding changes in the Abortion Act 1967. I presume that he has done that because he has recently learnt that it is already illegal to obtain an abortion solely on the ground of foetal sex. A legal abortion is dependent on there being medical reasons, such as a mother tragically being a carrier of a disease that expresses itself only in the male line. Of the 200 such genetic diseases that medical science has discovered, the most obvious examples are haemophilia and Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

The basis of the hon. Gentleman's argument is that there should be no human intervention in deciding the sex of a child. Yet over generations and centuries, the human animal has placated the gods in some form in the hope that they would be able to produce male issue. The ancient

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Greeks believed that a male child would be born if the left testicle was bound. Why that should be regarded as an old wives' tale is beyond my comprehension. Even today, couples are advised to go to bed with boots on or with boots off, to make love when a north wind is blowing, when the moon is full or when the sun is going down, or to use liberal applications of lemon juice. Those ideas are as flippant as the hon. Gentleman's arguments in favour of the Bill. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority published its public consultation document in January this year. The Bill is premature, because the authority will not publish the results of that consultation until June. It seems absurd for the House, having set up an authority whose basis is the ethical issues surrounding human fertilisation, to dispense with the debate, argument, concern and compassion that went into setting up the authority before it has reported to the House and to the country at large.

It is given to few individuals to make a difference, to make a change and to leave the world a better place than they found it. Among that elite pantheon will undoubtedly be the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel). There is also a place for the House in that, in passing the Abortion Act 1967, it released women from the dark cage of fear into which the possibility of an unwanted and an unplanned pregnancy had plunged them. The House should remember the care, compassion, consideration and quality of debate that brought the Act into being. The House should dismiss the Bill out of hand.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 19 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business) :--

The House divided : Ayes 87, Noes 106.

Division No. 160] [3.52 pm


Alexander, Richard

Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)

Alton, David

Amess, David

Ancram, Michael

Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)

Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)

Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)

Banks, Robert (Harrogate)

Beith, Rt Hon A. J.

Bendall, Vivian

Benton, Joe

Bowden, Andrew

Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes

Brazier, Julian

Browning, Mrs. Angela

Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)

Campbell-Savours, D. N.

Channon, Rt Hon Paul

Churchill, Mr

Clappison, James

Colvin, Michael

Congdon, David

Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)

Dafis, Cynog

Davies, Quentin (Stamford)

Day, Stephen

Deva, Nirj Joseph

Dicks, Terry

Duncan, Alan

Elletson, Harold

Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)

Evennett, David

Faber, David

Fenner, Dame Peggy

Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)

Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)

Fry, Peter

Gallie, Phil

Gill, Christopher

Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)

Grylls, Sir Michael

Harris, David

Hawksley, Warren

Hughes, Simon (Southwark)

Jessel, Toby

Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine

Kilfedder, Sir James

Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)

Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)

Lawrence, Sir Ivan

Lidington, David

Lord, Michael

Lynne, Ms Liz

McAvoy, Thomas

Macdonald, Calum

Maitland, Lady Olga

Marshall, David (Shettleston)

Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)

Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)

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