Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 51

Supplementary evidence from the British Medical Association

  During the BMA's appearance before the Science and Technology Select Committee's oral evidence session on 17 October 2007, the Committee asked for clarification on several issues. Dr Tony Calland has asked me to send you the information below.


  As noted by Dr Tony Calland during the oral evidence session, the BMA has focused primarily on first trimester abortion. The BMA has clear policy that two doctors' signatures should not be required up to around 13 weeks. This is based partly on the view that the risk of pregnancy and childbirth are invariably higher than the risk of early abortion, but also that women should be able to access earlier safer abortions without unnecessary barriers.

  The BMA does not have specific policy on two doctors' signatures during the second trimester, and beyond when there will be an increasing risk associated with abortion.

  The BMA's general policy is that "the Abortion Act 1967 ... is a practical and humane piece of legislation", and therefore considers the Act, as it stands, to be appropriate (which includes the two signature policy for second trimester and beyond) except where the BMA has specific policy calling for aspects of the Act to be changed (the recent policy about first trimester abortion).


  As this issue was raised during the BMA's oral evidence session, I thought it would be helpful to the Committee to explain the clear democratic procedures by which motions are submitted, debated and voted on at the BMA's Annual Representative Meeting (ARM).

  The annual conference agenda usually includes some 800 motions and it is therefore necessary to order and prioritise issues to ensure that the meeting runs effectively. This task is undertaken by the ARM Agenda Committee which is democratically elected each year. The Chairman of Conference chairs the Agenda Committee. At the June 2007 conference this was Dr Michael Wilks. The deputy conference chairman was Dr Peter Bennie. Dr Wilks completed his term of office after the 2007 conference, and Dr Bennie is the current chairman.

  Many motions on the agenda are similar in wording and intent. They may reflect existing BMA policy; or there may have been a substantial debate at a recent ARM. For example, the BMA had a substantial debate on abortion time limits at its 2005 ARM, where a motion on the reduction of time limits was debated and overwhelmingly rejected. The ARM had not, however, discussed the issue of first trimester abortions. Therefore, priority was given to debating the issue of first trimester abortion.

  The ARM agenda is published with the British Medical Journal and on the BMA website, and is mailed to all ARM representatives (along with guidance on submitting alterations to the agenda), three weeks in advance of the ARM. Representatives then have the opportunity to submit amendments to the agenda before the beginning of the ARM. Therefore if a representative is unhappy with the order of the agenda, and the motions which have been prioritised for debate, they have over three weeks to submit an amendment for consideration. A further opportunity is available, in that if they feel that an important issue is missing from agenda, they can submit an emergency motion. In addition there is a procedure by which any motion on the agenda which is not prioritised can be voted as a "chosen motion" to which time is specifically allocated.


  There was some discussion in the hearing of the term "registered medical practitioner". This term is used in legislation to relate to a medically-trained doctor who is on the General Medical Council's register and therefore holds a license to practise. It cannot be used to describe another health professional such as a nurse or midwife.

  The legal status of the term is found in the Interpretation Act 1978—"Registered medical practitioner" means a fully registered person within the meaning of the Medical Act 1956—and subsequently Section 55 of the Medical Act 1983.

October 2007

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