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Nuclear Industry

20. Mr. McAllion: To ask the President of the Board of Trade what recent discussions he has had with the Trades Union Congress and the Scottish TUC in relation to the privatisation of the nuclear industry. [5800]

Mr. Page: My right hon. Friend has had no such discussions.

Mr. McAllion: Did the Minister read last weekend's press reports in Scotland, which stated that Scottish Nuclear and Nuclear Electric plan to build eight new nuclear power stations in the early years of the next millennium? Given that the Government's current policy is that there should be a moratorium on the construction of new nuclear power stations, and the fact that there is increasing concern about radioactive leaks and leukaemia clusters around nuclear plants, does the Minister agree that it was the height of irresponsibility for the Government to push ahead with privatisation of the nuclear industry?

Mr. Page: The day the hon. Gentleman starts believing what he reads in newspapers is the day he is in real trouble--just as he cannot believe, for example, that the Labour party will win the next general election.


21. Mr. Purchase: To ask the President of the Board of Trade which countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development invest more per person than the United Kingdom. [5801]

Mr. Greg Knight: Investment can take many forms, both tangible and intangible. No figures are available to

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make international comparisons of total investment in all its forms. Nevertheless, the investment climate in Britain is excellent. Cash flow is strong, taxes and interest rates are low, and domestic and overseas markets are growing. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome that.

Mr. Purchase: Of course we welcome the fact that the climate is improving. It is a great pity, however, that the improvement has not been manifested in actual investment. As I pointed out at a previous Question Time, gross investment in the United Kingdom is not on a par with that in other OECD countries: we are 18th in that league--well behind Germany, France and Japan--and the position is not improving, but worsening. Gross investment has fallen by about 15 per cent. since the most recent general election. Will the Minister deal with those problems?

Mr. Knight: If the problems exist, it is because we started from such a low base due to the appalling lack of investment under the last Labour Government. Since 1979, total investment has grown faster in the United Kingdom than in France and Italy, and we have kept pace with Germany.

Working Time Directive

22. Mr. Michael Brown: To ask the President of the Board of Trade what plans he has to ensure that the United Kingdom is no longer required to implement the working time directive. [5802]

Mr. Lang: We shall insist that the intergovernmental conference addresses our concerns. As I told the House on 12 November, that means both ensuring that the working time directive no longer affects the United Kingdom and securing measures to prevent any other "social engineering" directives being forced on the United Kingdom by similar manoeuvres.

Mr. Brown: While I wish my hon. Friend success in those discussions, have not we learnt a clear lesson? Whatever opt-outs we may have on a single currency, the social chapter or whatever, will the Minister confirm that, when we sign those deals, we need to ensure that we are satisfied, five or 10 years down the track, that we have obtained something that means something to us? If we do not join the single currency and if we sign a special deal on the stability pact, is not the lesson to be learnt that we should ensure that we and the European Union agree on the meaning of that deal?

Mr. Lang: Of course I agree with the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend, but he will be aware that the working time directive did not form part of the social chapter. Our objection to the working time directive is the way in which it was artificially brought into force through article 118A of the treaty, which is a health and safety

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measure. By no stretch of the imagination can the working time directive properly be called a health and safety measure.

Mr. Sheerman: Surely the President of the Board of Trade is being dishonest in this matter--

Madam Speaker: Order.

Mr. Sheerman: Misleading the House--

Madam Speaker: Order. I ask the hon. Gentleman to re-phrase what he has said and to use proper language in the House, and not to accuse Ministers of misleading or anything else.

Mr. Sheerman: I withdraw it--economical with the truth, then. The President of the Board of Trade knows that that was the reason why the Government went to the European Court, but the decision went against them. If they are a party of law and order, they should now follow the court's judgment and implement the directive. That is the truth, is it not?

Mr. Lang: The hon. Gentleman may not be aware that the Government have already made it clear that we will implement the directive. At the same time, however, we will ensure at the intergovernmental conference that arrangements are made so that it ceases to have effect in the United Kingdom. Moreover, very soon we shall publish a consultation paper, and then take account of industry's attempts to reduce the burden that the directive will impose on us. We shall then introduce appropriate legislation.

"Industrial Action and Trade Unions"

23. Mr. Winnick: To ask the President of the Board of Trade what representations he has received on the Green Paper, "Industrial Action and Trade Unions". [5803]

Mr. John M. Taylor: The Green Paper was published on 19 November and the consultation period lasts until the end of February next year. As I said earlier, to date I have received one representation--from the Trades Union Congress.

Mr. Winnick: Clearly the rest have taken no notice of the Green Paper, which is irrelevant to industry and its needs. Is it surprising that people are beginning to wonder whether the Green Paper is part of the Secretary of State's political agenda to build up his prospects of succeeding the Prime Minister as Tory leader?

Mr. Taylor: To take the slightly serious part of that question, will the hon. Gentleman share his thoughts about the irrelevance of the Green Paper with those who have been inconvenienced by strikes on the underground, strikes in the postal services, strikes on the railways and strikes by the fire service, not least in Derbyshire? If the hon. Gentleman wants to be trivial about that inconvenience, he can suit himself, but the rest of the British people do not think like that.

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Partial-Birth Abortion

3.30 pm

Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen): I beg to move,

Partial-birth abortion is defined in the Bill as

    "an abortion in which the person performing the abortion partially vaginally delivers a living foetus before killing the foetus and completing the delivery."

The procedure, which originated in the United States, is usually used after the 20th week of pregnancy, and often much later. The practitioner, guided by ultrasound, pulls the living unborn child through the mother's vagina, except for the child's head, which is deliberately kept just within the uterus. The practitioner then puts surgical scissors or another medical instrument into the back of the skull, inserts a catheter and sucks out the brains.

In 1992, Dr. Martin Haskell of Dayton, Ohio, wrote an eight-page paper explaining step by step how to perform the procedure. Haskell himself has performed more than 1,000 such procedures, for which he coined the term "D and X". It is also known as brain-suction abortion. A diagram illustrating the procedure has been circulated widely to hon. Members. It was confirmed as accurate by a spokesman for the American National Abortion Federation in evidence to the House of Representatives judiciary sub-committee in June 1995.

The Bill would amend the Abortion Act 1967 to prohibit the partial-birth abortion procedure. Under the Bill, any person performing a partial-birth abortion would be guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or both. No proceedings would be brought without the consent of the Attorney-General. It would not be an offence for a medical practitioner to perform a partial-birth abortion if he or she reasonably believed that the procedure was immediately necessary to save the life of the mother, and that no other procedure would achieve that.

It is not known to what extent the technique may be practised in the United Kingdom. Provided that the terms of the 1967 Act are complied with, there is nothing to stop a practitioner from using it. Replies to parliamentary questions show that abortion notification forms do not specify whether abortions are carried out by that method.

The Secretary of State for Health has stated that the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has asked all its members and fellows to ensure that they record details of any abortions involving intra-uterine decompression of the head of the foetus on HSA4--the form that notifies the chief medical officer of all abortions. However, there is no legal requirement for practitioners to notify the use of the technique.

In the partial-birth abortion method, a woman visits the abortion clinic on three successive days. On the first two days, her cervix is mechanically dilated with material called laminaria. The baby is removed on the third day. American Medical News reported on 5 July 1993 that two leading practitioners of the method, Dr. Haskell and Dr. McMahon, had stated in interviews:

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Dr. Martin Haskell, the principal exponent of the technique in the United States--he has performed it more than 1,000 times--said in a tape-recorded interview with the American Medical News:

    "In my . . . case, probably 20 [per cent. of abortions by this method] are for genetic reasons. And the other 80 per cent. are purely elective."

Elective abortion is another name for abortion on demand. Dr. Haskell's statement refutes the claim by some advocates of abortion that the procedure is used only where the woman's life is in danger or in cases of extreme foetal abnormality. The RCOG has claimed that the procedure would be used in Britain only in extreme cases of disability. Nevertheless, under the Abortion Act 1967, there is nothing to prevent a practitioner from using the technique in abortions certified under any grounds.

In the previous parliamentary Session, an early-day motion calling for a ban on partial-birth abortion was tabled. Several hon. Members signed an amendment objecting to such a ban, in which they cited the objections of the RCOG and the British Medical Association, and argued that it was not the role of Parliament to regulate the details of clinical procedures. No one suggests that the opinions of those bodies should be excluded from the debate, but there is particular cause for concern about the RCOG's opposition to a ban of the procedure in view of its guidelines on termination of pregnancy for foetal abnormality, which stipulate that, to avoid the possibility of prosecution,

That means that steps must be taken to ensure that the unborn child is dead before being expelled from the mother. The practice of partial-birth abortion would conform with those guidelines.

In a paper opposing a similar Bill, which was sent to members of the other place at the time of the Bill's introduction by my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Braine, the RCOG stated:

As the editor of The Sunday Telegraph aptly commented, "respectful" is not the first word that springs to mind at the description of the sucking out of a baby's brain.

The fact that an unborn child has a disabling condition is no reason for killing the child, and in such an appalling manner. Furthermore, disability in the child does not mean that the procedure is indicated for the benefit of the mother. Even in cases of hydrocephalus, a condition which enlarges the head of the foetus, there are alternative methods of clinical management. If necessary, a caesarean section can be performed.

Former abortionist Dr. Bernard Nathanson wrote in 1983 that the "destructive operation" in which a baby's head was crushed to allow vaginal delivery became obsolete towards the end of world war two as a result of medical advances that greatly improved the safety of caesarean sections. In the light of Dr. Nathanson's observation, it is ironic that, despite continuing advances in modern obstetric care, partial-birth abortion is defended as though medicine had not progressed since the 1940s.

Furthermore, there is evidence that the procedure could endanger the mother. Dr. Pamela Smith, head of the obstetrics teaching programme at Mount Sinai hospital in Chicago, told the US Senate Judiciary Committee that the

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partial-birth abortion procedure is an adaptation of a procedure occasionally used to deliver a baby in a breech position, but that that procedure carries risks for the mother and its use is recommended only to deliver the second baby in the birth of twins.

The Bill allows a medical practitioner to perform a partial-birth abortion if he or she reasonably believes that it is immediately necessary to save the life of the mother and that no other procedure will achieve that. Evidence that before the 10th week of human development foetal structures relating to pain are present and functional supports Dr. Giles' and others' opinion. Even many of those among us who do not agree with the principle of the right to life of the unborn child accept that avoidable suffering should not be inflicted on the foetus. Under current practices, there are more restrictions on how the remains of aborted babies may be disposed of than on how they may be killed.

It is perplexing that several hon. Members who called on the Government to ensure more humane treatment of veal calves signed the amendment opposing a ban on partial-birth abortion. Surely Parliament has no less interest in protecting the young of our own kind from cruel and unusual punishment than in protecting the welfare of animals. I hope that the House will give me leave to introduce the Bill.

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