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With the introduction of a cooling-off period, whenever a woman says to herself “If only”, she would in future be able to reassure herself that she was helped,
31 Oct 2006 : Column 157
that she had thought long and hard and that she was given all the knowledge and advice that she needed. She will take comfort from the fact that a decision was not rushed or panicked, but well thought through. That does not happen now. The British Pregnancy Advisory Service website advertises that from the point of seeing a doctor, abortion will be performed in five days. That is abortion on demand.

In the countries where informed consent has been introduced, the number of requested abortions has dropped dramatically. With a period of informed consent in this country, together with a reduction in the number of late abortions, the Bill will achieve its aims and objectives—to reduce the number of abortions performed each day and to assist women in making calm and well-thought-through decisions.

The third part of my Bill is designed to ensure that after the 10-day cooling-off period, when the woman decides to proceed with the termination, those 10 days are not added to the waiting period. Time has moved on, science has moved on, and so has public opinion. Respected medical opinion—the country’s leading neonatologists and foetal development consultants—thinks that it is time to reduce to 21 weeks. Even the public agreed in a recent study that late abortion was cruel and believe overwhelmingly—85 per cent.—that it should be abolished. I believe that it is time for Members to respond. After all, we passed the Act a long time ago.

I do not have all the answers. As with any Bill, the detail would need debate and amendments, and there are hon. Members with far greater wisdom and knowledge than me who would like to contribute. The Bill at least brings the debate into the open. It is wrong that it has been suppressed for 16 years. As I have said, it is not about a woman’s right to choose, but about a woman’s right to know.

3.42 pm

Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley) (Lab): I rise to speak against the Bill with a feeling of great responsibility—in particular, responsibility to the silent majority, the one in four women in this country who have had a termination of pregnancy in the past, but who do not talk about it. After all, this is the last great taboo. Those women will listen to the debate with concern—not, perhaps, for themselves, but for their daughters and grand-daughters and their right and ability to make similar choices, if necessary, in the future.

Abortion has recently been made a matter of debate by those who want a reduction in the upper time limit or even the complete abolition of abortion in this country and abroad. It is a campaign that is fuelled and funded by religious conservatives from Washington to Rome— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Bill’s promoter was heard in silence and the same courtesy should be given to the hon. Lady.

Chris McCafferty: The campaign has then been extended to these shores, where it has no place. The Abortion Act 1967, which made abortion legal in this country, was a great gift of choice from that Parliament
31 Oct 2006 : Column 158
to the women of Britain. Parliamentarians like David—now Lord—Steel and my own predecessor in Calder Valley, the late Lord Houghton, who developed and enacted that legislation, showed great courage and are owed a huge debt of gratitude by any woman who has ever found herself with unplanned and unwanted pregnancy. By a single legislative Act, they consigned the harrowing spectre of back-street abortion and back-street butchery to the history books.

In 21st century Britain, there is no place for a law that discriminates against individual and entire groups of women, that encourages confusion about entitlement and that allows some individuals the right to impose their will and their morality on others, risking the physical and mental health of thousands of women. All those who believe in rights and taking responsibility, freedom of choice and personal autonomy will oppose this ill-informed Bill. It aims to reduce the abortion time limit from 24 to 21 weeks, introduce a 10-day cooling-off period after a woman has already decided that she wants a termination, and insist that the woman undergoes counselling during that 10-day period, whether she requests it or not, yet it perversely proposes that an abortion should be accelerated if a woman confirms that she wishes to end the pregnancy.

I am gravely concerned about the Bill’s impact on women generally. No new scientific evidence exists to suggest that foetal viability is now 21 weeks. The British Medical Association, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Nursing do not believe that there has been sufficient technological improvement to merit a reduction in the current limit. The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has no documented evidence of survival below 24 weeks.

A very small proportion of women need late terminations. Those who do have compelling reasons and often face extremely difficult or unusual circumstances, perhaps the catastrophic long-term illness of another, older child. No one involved takes decisions about late terminations lightly. Contrary to tabloid disinformation, no scientific breakthroughs have occurred to cause a reduction in the current limit. Restrictions on legal rights would leave some women in a desperate predicament.

Reducing the time limit of 24 weeks would have an adverse impact on the small number of girls or women who seek late abortions. Some women would be forced to give birth to unwanted children, some would travel abroad at great expense at a time when they were vulnerable, and some would inevitably resort to illegal abortions and risk their lives. In 1967, the UK Parliament rightly decided that those alternatives were no longer acceptable.

Late-term abortions are rare. In 2005, less than 1.5 per cent. of all abortions took place after 20 weeks. Of those, less than 0.6 per cent.—a tiny fraction—were carried out at 22 weeks or later. Those that take place do so for specific and often heart-breaking reasons. This ill-informed measure does not even take into consideration the plight of women who have a wanted pregnancy but discover a foetal abnormality at a later stage. The first opportunity of detecting an abnormality is often by scan at approximately 18 to 20 weeks. The current 24-week limit allows a woman and
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her partner time to consider a very difficult decision. Reducing the limit could mean that they would be rushed into making a decision or were unable to decide in enough time to allow the abortion to go ahead, if that is what they wanted.

A cooling-off period would simply prolong the anguish of a woman who has already decided that she cannot continue with her pregnancy. It would effectively reduce the time limit further and might prevent a woman from getting the termination that she desperately needs, even if she presents before 12 weeks because, in many parts of the country, access to post-12-week abortions is restricted. The earlier the abortion takes place, the less invasive it will be, and the possibility of complications is also reduced.

Of course, counselling should be available to those who want it, but it should be non-directed and non-compulsory. Making it a requirement to accessing an abortion goes against the rationale of counselling. Unless it is properly regulated, it could be distressing and misleading. There should be no delays for a woman who seeks an abortion. The stop-start approach in the Bill will unfortunately lead to even longer delays than those that currently occur.

I heard the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries) on the radio this morning, saying that the Bill’s objective is to reduce abortion rates per se. Ultimately, we all want to reduce abortions. [Interruption.] Of course we do. Nobody likes abortions. We also want to reduce the gestation period following which abortions take place. However, restricting access to services is not the solution, and reducing the time limit is certainly not the solution.

As I have said many times in the House, the best way of reducing the number of unintended pregnancies is to improve women’s access to contraception, as well as educating women and men about sexual health. This cruel Bill—for it is a cruel Bill—is an attack on women’s reproductive rights. It would force a very small number of very vulnerable women to continue pregnancies against their will and would deny every woman seeking an abortion the ability to make her own choice within the time scale that is appropriate to her.

I say to hon. Members: “By all means vote for the Bill if you really believe that a woman should be required to continue a late-diagnosed pregnancy, even if her health is at risk or the foetus is abnormal. Vote for the Bill if you do not believe that such difficult decisions should, wherever possible, be made within families.” But I also say to hon. Members: “Vote against the Bill if you are pro-life, if you are pro-quality of life, if you are pro a woman’s life. Vote against the Bill if you are pro-women’s rights, because women’s rights are human rights. Vote against the Bill if you are pro-reproductive rights, because reproductive rights are also human rights. Vote against the Bill if you are pro-humanity, because it is cynical, cruel, ill-informed and, above all, inhumane.”

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 23 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):—

The House divided: Ayes 108, Noes 187.
Division No. 329]
[3.51 pm


Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Bacon, Mr. Richard
Baker, Norman
Beith, rh Mr. Alan
Bellingham, Mr. Henry
Benyon, Mr. Richard
Binley, Mr. Brian
Bone, Mr. Peter
Bottomley, Peter
Brady, Mr. Graham
Brokenshire, James
Burrowes, Mr. David
Campbell, Mr. Gregory
Chope, Mr. Christopher
Clark, Greg
Conway, Derek
Davies, David T.C. (Monmouth)
Davies, Philip
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice and Howden)
Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan
Dodds, Mr. Nigel
Dorries, Mrs. Nadine
Duncan Smith, rh Mr. Iain
Ellwood, Mr. Tobias
Evans, Mr. Nigel
Evennett, Mr. David
Fallon, Mr. Michael
Farron, Tim
Field, rh Mr. Frank
Field, Mr. Mark
Fox, Dr. Liam
Francois, Mr. Mark
Gale, Mr. Roger
Gauke, Mr. David
Goodwill, Mr. Robert
Gove, Michael
Gray, Mr. James
Greenway, Mr. John
Hague, rh Mr. William
Hammond, Stephen
Hands, Mr. Greg
Harper, Mr. Mark
Hayes, Mr. John
Heath, Mr. David
Hendry, Charles
Herbert, Nick
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Hosie, Stewart
Howarth, Mr. Gerald
Hurd, Mr. Nick
Jack, rh Mr. Michael
Jackson, Mr. Stewart
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard
Kawczynski, Daniel
Laing, Mrs. Eleanor
Laws, Mr. David
Letwin, rh Mr. Oliver
Lewis, Dr. Julian
Lidington, Mr. David
Lilley, rh Mr. Peter
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Mackinlay, Andrew
Maclean, rh David
MacNeil, Mr. Angus
McDonnell, Dr. Alasdair
McGovern, Mr. Jim
McLoughlin, rh Mr. Patrick
Miller, Mrs. Maria
Moss, Mr. Malcolm
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Neill, Robert
Newmark, Mr. Brooks
O'Brien, Mr. Stephen
Oaten, Mr. Mark
Osborne, Mr. George
Paisley, rh Rev. Ian
Pelling, Mr. Andrew
Pickles, Mr. Eric
Pound, Stephen
Pritchard, Mark
Redwood, rh Mr. John
Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm
Robertson, Angus
Robinson, Mrs. Iris
Robinson, Mr. Peter
Rosindell, Andrew
Russell, Bob
Scott, Mr. Lee
Selous, Andrew
Spelman, Mrs. Caroline
Spink, Bob
Steen, Mr. Anthony
Streeter, Mr. Gary
Stuart, Mr. Graham
Stunell, Andrew
Swayne, Mr. Desmond
Swire, Mr. Hugo
Syms, Mr. Robert
Taylor, David
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Vaizey, Mr. Edward
Walter, Mr. Robert
Weir, Mr. Mike
Williams, Mr. Roger
Wilson, Sammy
Wright, Jeremy
Yeo, Mr. Tim
Tellers for the Ayes:

Anne Main and
Mike Penning

Abbott, Ms Diane
Alexander, Danny
Allen, Mr. Graham
Anderson, Mr. David
Atkins, Charlotte
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Banks, Gordon
Barlow, Ms Celia
Barrett, John
Bercow, John
Berry, Roger
Betts, Mr. Clive
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Blunkett, rh Mr. David
Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Browne, Mr. Jeremy
Bruce, rh Malcolm
Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Burstow, Mr. Paul
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies
Carmichael, Mr. Alistair
Challen, Colin
Clapham, Mr. Michael
Clark, Ms Katy
Clarke, rh Mr. Kenneth
Clarke, rh Mr. Tom
Clwyd, rh Ann
Connarty, Michael
Corbyn, Jeremy
Creagh, Mary
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Mrs. Ann
Curry, rh Mr. David
Davey, Mr. Edward
Davidson, Mr. Ian
Dean, Mrs. Janet
Denham, rh Mr. John
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H.
Doran, Mr. Frank
Dowd, Jim
Drew, Mr. David
Duddridge, James
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth
Eagle, Angela
Engel, Natascha
Ennis, Jeff
Etherington, Bill
Fabricant, Michael
Featherstone, Lynne
Fisher, Mark
Flello, Mr. Robert
Foster, Mr. Don
Gapes, Mike
Garnier, Mr. Edward
George, rh Mr. Bruce
Gerrard, Mr. Neil
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Gidley, Sandra
Goldsworthy, Julia
Griffith, Nia
Gwynne, Andrew
Hall, Mr. Mike
Hall, Patrick
Hamilton, Mr. David
Hancock, Mr. Mike
Harvey, Nick
Hemming, John
Henderson, Mr. Doug
Hodge, rh Margaret
Holmes, Paul
Hood, Mr. Jimmy
Horwood, Martin
Howarth, David
Howarth, rh Mr. George
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay
Huhne, Chris
Hunter, Mark
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Illsley, Mr. Eric
Jackson, Glenda
James, Mrs. Siân C.
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Jones, Lynne
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keen, Alan
Keen, Ann
Keetch, Mr. Paul
Kemp, Mr. Fraser
Kennedy, rh Jane
Key, Robert
Khabra, Mr. Piara S.
Kidney, Mr. David
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Knight, rh Mr. Greg
Kramer, Susan
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Lait, Mrs. Jacqui
Laxton, Mr. Bob
Leech, Mr. John
Lepper, David

Levitt, Tom
Love, Mr. Andrew
Lucas, Ian
Mackay, rh Mr. Andrew
Marris, Rob
Marshall, Mr. David
Martlew, Mr. Eric
McCafferty, Chris
McCarthy, Kerry
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McDonnell, John
McIsaac, Shona
Meale, Mr. Alan
Mercer, Patrick
Milburn, rh Mr. Alan
Miller, Andrew
Mole, Chris
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine
Moore, Mr. Michael
Morley, Mr. Elliot
Mountford, Kali
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan
O'Hara, Mr. Edward
Osborne, Sandra
Ottaway, Richard
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Pope, Mr. Greg
Prosser, Gwyn
Reid, Mr. Alan
Rennie, Willie
Riordan, Mrs. Linda
Robinson, Mr. Geoffrey
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Christine
Salter, Martin
Sanders, Mr. Adrian
Seabeck, Alison
Sheerman, Mr. Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Short, rh Clare
Simpson, Alan
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Smith, rh Mr. Andrew
Smith, Sir Robert
Snelgrove, Anne
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Stewart, Ian
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Stringer, Graham
Swinson, Jo
Taylor, Matthew
Taylor, Dr. Richard
Teather, Sarah
Thornberry, Emily
Todd, Mr. Mark
Trickett, Jon
Turner, Dr. Desmond
Turner, Mr. Neil
Tyrie, Mr. Andrew
Ussher, Kitty
Viggers, Peter
Vis, Dr. Rudi
Wallace, Mr. Ben
Walley, Joan
Wareing, Mr. Robert N.
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wiggin, Bill
Williams, rh Mr. Alan
Williams, Hywel
Williams, Mark
Williams, Stephen
Wilshire, Mr. David
Winnick, Mr. David
Wishart, Pete
Wright, Mr. Anthony
Wright, David
Young, rh Sir George
Tellers for the Noes:

Dr. Evan Harris and
Barbara Follett
Question accordingly negatived.
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31 Oct 2006 : Column 161

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31 Oct 2006 : Column 163

Opposition Day

[Un-allotted Half-Day]


Mr. Speaker: We now come to the main business, and I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister. Also, to accommodate the nationalist parties, I have decided that there will be an eight-minute limit on speeches in the Opposition day debate. That will apply after opening speeches, and until we come to the final two winding-up speeches.

4.4 pm

Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): I beg to move,

It is an honour to move this motion on behalf of my hon. Friends and of right hon. and hon. Members on all sides of the House of Commons. It is the culmination of a long campaign, and it is a debate that is long overdue. The motion has cross-party support because the issue at its heart is far bigger than one of party politics. It is about accountability. It is about the monumental catastrophe of the Iraq war, which is the worst foreign policy disaster certainly since Suez, and possibly since Munich. It is about the morass in which, regrettably, we still find ourselves. It is also about a breakdown in our system of government—a fault line in our constitution that only we, as Parliament, can fix. Fix it we must, if there are not to be further mistakes and other Iraqs under other Prime Ministers, in which case we shall only have ourselves to blame.

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Adam Price: If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I shall not. I intend to be as generous as I can, but I wish to develop my arguments. We need to hear as many voices as possible in this debate, and there is a time limit on speeches, but I shall give way to interventions.

The debate on 18 March 2003 was one of the most momentous—some would say calamitous—debates in the House of Commons in modern times. The Prime Minister gave one of the great performances of his life; it was full of certainty and undaunted by doubt. But unfortunately, we now know that much of what he told us that night was false. It is no wonder that democratic politics has haemorrhaged public confidence. Only we in this Parliament can stem that flow; we can rebuild some of that trust by holding a proper inquiry into what went on.

What could an inquiry usefully do? There will inevitably be a range of views within the House, which is why we need a sufficiently broad remit. But three central questions need to be answered. How could the Government take us to war on claims that turned out
31 Oct 2006 : Column 164
to be false? When precisely was the decision to have this war made? Why has the planning for, and conduct of, the occupation proved to be so disastrous? Maybe the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey) can give us some answers?

Mr. Bailey: I quite understand that the hon. Gentleman feels very deeply about this issue. But do his electorate in Wales and the electorate in Scotland consider it to be the most pressing issue affecting them?

Adam Price: I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that, like many other Members, I have constituents who are now on their third deployment to Iraq, and, yes, they want us to debate this issue. Some would argue—like the hon. Gentleman, no doubt—that we should not even have this debate while troops remain on the ground in Iraq. If we follow the logic of the Government’s argument, the graver the mistake—and, therefore, the greater the danger to which our troops are exposed—the less the Government should be required to defend their record.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Would the hon. Gentleman care to remind the House that the argument that we should not debate these matters when troops are operational is precisely the argument that was made in the Norway debate, and which, happily, was rejected by people like my father, who voted against Chamberlain and brought in Churchill?

Adam Price: The right hon. and learned Gentleman makes the point very well. We need to turn the logic of the Government on its head. We need to do so precisely for the sake of our troops. We have been led into this quagmire by way of a false rationale and without a clear strategy, and we need to debate the Government’s appalling record. The troops deserve nothing less.

Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Adam Price: I wish to make some progress, if I may.

Almost on a weekly basis, we see senior military figure after senior military figure making yet another devastating assessment of the Government’s policy-making capacity. Lord Guthrie said that the policies are cuckoo. Lord Inge said that there was a lack of clear strategy at the Ministry of Defence. Most damning of all was the verdict of the current head of the Army, who said that

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