7 pm

I note that this is a time of improved, or the best-ever, UK-Irish relations, as the Prime Minister has said; relations are at an all-time high. He calls them “Anglo-Irish relations”, but I am of course working my hardest to make sure that those words are indeed accurate after September. Yesterday, the Irish President Michael D. Higgins, a lovely, charismatic and inspirational man, said that people-to-people connections have never been closer between these two islands—no doubt because of their independence.

I must say that I am grateful to a visiting Member of the Dail Eireann, Frank Feighan TD, the Member for Roscommon Leitrim South. He reminded me that not only are the number of routes shooting up in Ireland—the 20 routes that I mentioned—but the ending of APD will increase visitors’ spend. Irish politicians can see clearly, far more clearly than Westminster, that such spend will more than replace what was lost in APD revenue.

It puzzles me that the UK Government are quite comfortable with Ireland, with which we share a sea border, having zero APD—saying that relations are the best ever and are at an all-time high—but are absolutely petrified of Scotland managing to reduce its APD by 50%. That is illogical, incoherent and daft. If the UK Government lost their imperial control mania, they would find themselves living in an island whose aggregate GDP was going up. We would all benefit from that—not just in Scotland, but in England and, I hope, particularly in the north of England, a part of the world for which I have a real soft spot.

I will finish with a PricewaterhouseCoopers study, which says that the UK picture last year suggested that the abolition of APD would yield 0.46% of UK GDP in the first year, and add at least £16 billion to GDP within three years, while creating 60,000 new jobs. The figure for Scotland would be about £667 million. APD raises £2.8 billion to £3 billion in the UK, which is £13 billion less than what could be made. In Scotland, the figure is £234 million.

I say to Treasury Ministers that, given a UK net gain of £13 billion, perhaps the Treasury is thrawn or uninterested in what is happening in Scotland. I appeal to them to get out a calculator and to act in their own self-interest, because if they do, they will see the wisdom of what Ireland, the Netherlands and many other countries have done and the wisdom of what every voice in the industry is saying. Only intransigence and a thrawn, thrawn Westminster attitude has left us in a situation where, year after year, we have to use poetry or any other device to try to get it into the minds of bods at the Treasury that here is something to be listened to and noted for the prosperity of many people, and for those who would fill the 60,000 new jobs.

David Rutley: It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone, as we debate the Bill on the Floor of the House. One thing we have learned is that if Scotland made the mistake of voting yes, at least those wanting to leave could do so at a lower cost, given the benefits coming through from the proposal on APD.

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Mr MacNeil: In the light of the events of the past few days, does the hon. Gentleman think that Irish independence is a good idea?

David Rutley: I have no idea what that matter has to do with APD.

Mr MacNeil: The hon. Gentleman may have heard me say in my speech a few moments ago that the Irish have reduced APD to zero. The President of Ireland has been here on a state visit this week, showing how warm relations are, and we are looking for such warm relations. We are looking to control our APD, and to have very friendly and very warm relations, especially with the people of Macclesfield.

David Rutley: I am a regular visitor to Scotland—I normally drive—but I think we should move on to wider issues.

As they stand, the changes to air passenger duty from April 2015 will save business-class, long-haul passengers more than £100. It makes sense to abolish the very high bands of APD. They have caused understandable concerns, with the widespread perception that they were just another example of the unfair tax changes that we inherited from the Labour party. It is right that, as a result of the Government’s decisions, all long-haul flights will carry the same lower band-B tax rate that is paid to travel to the United States, for example. A family of four flying economy to visit relatives or communities in the Caribbean or south Asia will pay £56 less in APD. It is also right and fair that the Government have brought private jets into the scope of APD and that the share of the burden is more easily spread across air passengers.

Government Members believe in tax fairness, and we believe in reducing the burden of tax wherever possible. As my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) pointed out, however, it must be a fiscally responsible approach, although that seems to have been completely ignored in the comments of some Opposition Members.

By cutting APD, the Chancellor is again helping to support British exporters, not least first-time exporters looking to make their first steps into high-growth export markets, perhaps by attending international trade fairs or visiting prospective clients and customers abroad. Virgin Atlantic says:

“The Government has rightly recognised the damage APD is having on exporters and the travelling public alike.”

There is a real need to encourage more exports and exporters. As I indicated in my earlier intervention, Lord Livingston recently pointed out that

“only 17% of UK mid-sized businesses generate revenues outside of the EU compared to 25% in Germany and 30% in Italy.”

I am delighted that action is being taken across Government to meet that challenge. Our small and medium-sized businesses have the potential to be economic powerhouses for our economy and to create more wealth and more jobs across all regions of the UK, including Wales and Scotland. To realise that potential, we need to rediscover our great trading heritage and embrace the global opportunities for Great British services and manufactured goods. By cutting APD, we are underlining the commitment of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Foreign Office and UK Trade & Investment to provide support. Those are positive steps.

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International aviation links are not merely important for exporting goods and services from the UK to other countries, or to make more sales missions feasible; lower APD will support UK tourism and help to improve our competitive position in the market for inbound tourists, be they leisure tourists or business travellers in the meetings, incentives, conferences and events sector.

According to Kurt Janson, the Tourism Alliance’s policy director, the Bill’s proposed savings

“will be a benefit for attracting visitors from the growth markets of China, India and Brazil as well as the traditional market of New Zealand and Australia.”

Indeed, PricewaterhouseCoopers suggests that the studies it reviewed for its research

“all point to a link between whole economy productivity and airline sector output.”

By encouraging greater connectivity between the UK and the global economy, reductions in APD can add to the mix of supply-side measures introduced by this Government since 2010. APD is another barrier to productive growth that the Government seek to remove.

This Government believe in long-term thinking. Difficult decisions have had to be made to save us from the appalling legacy that we inherited from the previous Government, but we are now seeing the results of that approach. It has become affordable and fiscally responsible to cut APD and other taxes that have been holding back this country’s businesses and people from realising their ambitions. The Government are helping people to realise their ambitions and objectives in life by working progressively to de-risk entrepreneurialism and support the export industry. For that reason, the measures have my full support.

Catherine McKinnell: It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. It is clear from the contributions and amendments tabled by the hon. Members for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) and for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) that APD remains an important issue for many hon. and right hon. Members. Indeed, we have debated APD on the Floor of the House on many occasions, so it is worth briefly reflecting on the coalition Government’s record on APD since they came to power in 2010— a record, as I am sure many hon. Members will agree, of prevarication, indecision and lack of direction.

Before the election, the Conservatives made a commitment to look at a per-plane duty. The report that resulted almost a year later, contrary to the manifesto commitments of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats and the coalition agreement, was not taken forward, and for very good reasons. The industry certainly did not support it. Although right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will be all too conscious of the need not to take a Liberal Democrat promise at face value, we had certain expectations concerning the coalition agreement.

The Government promised a further review of APD. The consultation covered several areas including private jets, different tax bands, premium economy flights, flights from regional airports and the possible devolution of APD. The consultation paper raised the concern that the existing four-band structure was damaging the UK’s competitiveness and contained several anomalies, such as a higher rate for Caribbean flights than for other destinations in the USA. That was a source of concern

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for many hon. Members, which, given the announcement in this year’s Budget, the Government seem to have taken on board. The consultation lasted the best part of a year and numerous interested parties took considerable time and effort to respond constructively and in good faith.

What was the result of that long and arduous process, which, including the first consultation, spanned the best part of two years? It was next to nothing. Aside from the extension of APD to cover business flights, we have seen no changes to APD across the UK. That period of time has been described by industry players as

“a sham and a waste of taxpayers’ money.”

There were three full years of promises, yet the Government delivered next to nothing. Three wasted years—a phrase that is synonymous with the coalition Government, whether in respect of APD or, more broadly, the flatlining economy that we have seen for most of the Chancellor’s time in office.

In this year’s Budget, choices were made that, notwithstanding the years of delay and the further year of delay ahead, have been cautiously welcomed by much of the industry. The third coalition U-turn in this area in as many years means that there will be some relief for long-haul flights in the form of lower rates of APD. Let us not forget that APD on all flights of more than 2,000 miles will be uprated by RPI this month. That comes on top of the large increases over the past few years, including the 8% rise that the Chancellor announced in Budget 2012, which was double the rate of inflation.

Budget 2014 saw the announcement or re-announcement—I am not entirely sure which, as Ministers will not give me a straight answer—that the Government will provide funding to aid start-up routes at smaller airports. The regional air connectivity fund, as it will be known, will help new routes from regional airports according to the Red Book, but Ministers do not seem to know which airports or new routes will be eligible or what the fund may be spent on. Although any new support for new air routes is clearly welcome, the proposal seems to bring yet more uncertainty for the aviation industry, the like of which it has already endured for years.

Clearly, that support could be of most value to the constituents of the Members who have tabled the new clauses and the new schedule. Perhaps the Minister will enlighten the Committee and reassure hon. Members about what support their regional airports can expect to receive from the fund.

Hywel Williams: While the hon. Lady is talking about enlightening the Committee, will she enlighten us as to where her Welsh Labour colleagues are? There is a Welsh Whip lurking at the far end of the Front Bench. Perhaps he will give us a clue.

Catherine McKinnell: We have been very clear on numerous occasions that Labour remains to be convinced of the merits of devolving APD. We do not believe that it is necessarily the correct way forward at this stage.

We acknowledge that the Government have made some notable changes to APD in Northern Ireland. The Chancellor announced in September 2011 that APD rates on long-haul flights using airports in Northern Ireland would be cut because of the threat of competing

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routes from the Republic of Ireland to the transatlantic route from Belfast to Newark airport in New York, which is critical to the Northern Irish economy. Continental Airlines had been paying APD, unsustainably, at a cost of £3.2 million a year. Following the Finance Act 2012, APD on long-haul flights departing from Northern Ireland was devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly, which abolished it on 1 January 2013.

I know that right hon. and hon. Members, and anyone who has engaged in this debate over the past few years, will be all too aware of those facts. However, it is important to remind the House of them, so that it can better understand the new clauses and new schedule. Flights in Northern Ireland clearly face specific challenges. As I and other Labour Members have noted before, it is the only part of the UK that shares a land border with another EU member state. George Best Belfast City airport and Belfast International airport compete directly with Dublin in attracting airlines, routes and passengers. The Opposition supported the Government’s move on APD on long-haul flights from Northern Ireland, given its unique international land border and the fact that Northern Ireland largely relies on air transport for its link to the rest of the UK.

7.15 pm

Mr MacNeil: Is aviation not about more than competition? It is also about growth. When Governments get their head around that, we will surely see a sea change in their approach to APD. They should focus on growth, not just competition.

Catherine McKinnell: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and I entirely agree that the Government should be absolutely focused on economic growth. The debate about APD is part of that discussion, and the regional air connectivity fund must also be part of the conversation. The Government need to provide clarity on those issues in this Finance Bill and in the future.

As I said, Labour remains to be convinced of the merits of devolving air passenger duty. The Calman commission proposed that it be considered, and the Labour Government committed to keep it under review.

Jonathan Edwards: The hon. Lady made a telling point in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) when she said that the Labour Treasury Front-Bench team remained to be convinced of the position taken by the Labour Government in Wales. As she knows, the Labour Government are in direct intergovernmental negotiations with the UK Government’s Treasury team. If the First Minister and the Welsh Government cannot convince their own party, what credibility can they have in those vital negotiations with the UK Government?

Catherine McKinnell: I have said clearly that the Labour party remains to be convinced of the merits of devolving APD, but let us remember that the Wales Bill that is currently going through Parliament contains a number of devolved tax powers for Wales and is the appropriate place to debate these issues in the round. Labour’s devolution commission in Scotland considered the matter again and argued that devolving APD within the mainland of Great Britain would generate unhelpful tax competition within the UK.

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Hywel Williams: I am intrigued. The hon. Lady says that Labour remains to be convinced about devolving APD. Has she told Carwyn Jones?

Catherine McKinnell: As I said, the Wales Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, contains a number of devolved tax powers for Wales and is the appropriate place to debate these issues. That is why Labour will abstain on the issue of APD devolution tonight, but we look forward to the Exchequer Secretary providing clarity on the various queries that have been raised today, particularly about the regional air connectivity fund, which is clearly linked to the issues of certainty for investment, growth, which all Members are focused on, and the role that aviation plays in our economy.

Mr Gauke: In 2010, the Government inherited an air passenger duty system that needed to be fixed. The changes that the previous Government made in late 2009 caused aggravation to the UK’s overseas friends and frustrated diaspora communities. Clauses 72 to 74 will fix the system by implementing air passenger duty rates for this year and by reform of the rates for next year.

I will address new clause 2 and new schedule 1, tabled by Plaid Cymru Members, and new clauses 6 and 7, tabled by Scottish National party Members. The Plaid Cymru proposal broadly follows the form that was taken to devolve the duty on direct long-haul flights from Northern Ireland, and requests a similar devolution for direct long-haul flights from Wales. The SNP proposals seek the devolution of duty on flights to all destinations.

I remind hon. Members that the devolution of duty for Northern Ireland was in specific response to Northern Ireland’s unique circumstances. It shares a land border with Ireland, leading to a risk of flights relocating from one part of the shared land mass to another. We recognised that risk and acted to ensure that Northern Ireland was not disadvantaged.

The current situation is that airports on the Great Britain mainland face the same APD rates, but the SNP and Plaid Cymru proposals could well lead to the introduction of the same market distortions that our devolution to Northern Ireland sought to prevent, namely the reallocation of flights from one part of the UK to another, leading to distortion in competition, and winners and losers across the UK.

Regional airports are doing well: 2013 was the third consecutive year of passenger growth and our APD banding reform is another confidence boost for the air travel market. Relevant examples include Cardiff airport, which in 2013 saw a 4% increase, equating to around 44,000 extra passengers, with new routes announced to Germany and the Caribbean. In Scotland, there has been 3% growth at Glasgow airport, with almost 206,000 additional passengers. New routes have been announced for this summer to Croatia and Greece. Edinburgh airport has grown 6%, equating to more than 580,000 additional passengers. In the past six months, new routes to Qatar, the USA and Norway have been announced.

Mr MacNeil: Is the Minister happy, or does he agree with industry figures in Scotland, particularly the managing directors of airports, who believe that that growth has been constrained by APD?

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Mr Gauke: My point to the hon. Gentleman is that the Government must reduce the deficit and APD is a valuable source of revenue. One cannot look at the effects of APD in isolation; one must look at the overall effects on the economy. We have taken measures in the Bill to reduce the burden of APD, but it is worth noting that airports in Scotland and Wales, and regional airports elsewhere in the UK, have been doing well in recent months.

Guy Opperman: I wish to praise Newcastle airport, which has welcomed the changes to APD. It is pleased that officials are indicating that the regional air connectivity fund will extend to airports beyond the 3 million passenger mark to those with upwards of 5 million passengers in certain circumstances. Does the Minister agree that that is a further example of the Government assisting regional airports and allowing them to grow as we know they can?

Mr Gauke: I am grateful to my hon. Friend because he brings me to my next point. I agree with him. The Government recognise the importance of aviation connectivity for all parts of the UK—for example, domestic flights are not subject to VAT. As he says, we are extending the scope of the regional air connectivity fund to include start-up aid for new routes from regional airports, and increasing funding to £20 million a year. Clearly, exactly how that works is a matter for the Department for Transport, but I welcome the fact that the Government are consulting the regional airports to see whether those that have more than 3 million passengers per year can receive extra support. That includes Newcastle airport, which has 4.4 million passengers. One could also mention East Midlands International, Liverpool John Lennon, Belfast International, Aberdeen, London City and Leeds Bradford, all of which have more than 3 million passengers a year. We are trying to do what we can to ensure that those airports can gain support from the connectivity fund.

Catherine McKinnell: Obviously, we broadly welcome any support for expansion and new routes from regional airports, but would the Minister accept that making an announcement without any details about the type of activity that will be covered by the funding can add uncertainty to the already difficult environment for the industry at present? It is imperative to bring some clarity to the issue as soon as possible. Will he tell us when he will be able to clarify what might qualify for the funding?

Mr Gauke: The hon. Lady is being uncharacteristically glass half empty. We have announced an expansion of the connectivity fund. We have said that we are seeking to take that beyond airports that have more than 3 million passengers per annum. As it happens, the Department for Transport is consulting on and developing guidelines for accessing support, and the results will be published in the summer. I am sure that the hon. Lady is as keen as my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman) to ensure that the best happens for Newcastle airport.

Guy Opperman: It is surely a relevant factor that the Budget was only a few weeks ago and the guidance on which we are consulting was published by the European Commission only at the end of February. One could hardly have done it any earlier.

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Mr Gauke: My hon. Friend is right. As I say, the Department for Transport is developing these guidelines with the intention of publishing in the summer.

Catherine McKinnell rose—

Mr Gauke: I am sure that the hon. Lady—I think she has Newcastle airport in her constituency or at least nearby—will take this opportunity to welcome what the Government are doing.

Catherine McKinnell: Newcastle international airport is in my constituency—[Interruption.] However, I speak on behalf of all the regional airports. I am not being churlish about the potential funding that has been announced, but I hoped that the Minister would realise the increased commercial uncertainty that can be created by making announcements that lack clarity about what may or may not be included. The Government need to move as fast as possible to create—

The Temporary Chair (Mr Peter Bone): Order. Interventions are getting longer than some of the speeches.

Mr Gauke: I am not sure that I can add much, other than to say that if the hon. Lady is concerned about uncertainty she might want to look at some of the anti-business policies pursued by her party.

We also recognise that air services in some of the more remote parts of the UK represent a vital connection to the rest of the country. That is why there is an air passenger duty exemption for flights from the highlands and islands of Scotland.

Mr MacNeil: I am grateful for the exemptions for the highlands and islands of Scotland, but does the Minister think that the devolution of APD to Scotland and Wales would result in an increase in the number of routes, flights, passengers, commerce, tourism and eventually revenue to the public purse? Does he see any advantage to the devolution of APD?

Mr Gauke: I wish to avoid running the risk of repeating myself, but I make the point that I made earlier: the devolution of APD within Great Britain would create unfortunate market distortions. As we said in our November 2013 response to the Silk commission, we are not convinced of the case for devolving air passenger duty to Wales, given the potential effects across the country as a whole. In the case of Scotland, the distortive effects across the country as a whole are harder to diagnose, given that it has more major airports with significant route connectivity. Our opinion remains that this requires careful evaluation if we are to be confident of its potential effects, so I ask hon. Members to withdraw their amendments.

Bob Stewart: Is it the Government’s intention to continue the trend of reducing air passenger duty across the country?

Mr Gauke: What I would say to my hon. Friend is that we have set out in the Budget and in the Bill significant changes that we think fix the problem we inherited from the previous Government.

My hon. Friend gives me the opportunity to turn to clauses 72 to 74. Ahead of our rates reform, clause 72 fulfils the commitment given in Budget 2013 on the rates of duty for 2014-15. This respects the air travel

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industry’s point that tickets are often sold a considerable time in advance of travel. The industry needs up to a year’s forward rates certainty to have sufficient time to prepare its accounting systems and set pricing ahead of advance ticket sales. The rates contained in clause 72 have therefore been anticipated by the industry.

7.30 pm

Clause 73 rolls back the previous Government’s four-band system. That system saw travellers to China, India, Brazil, the Caribbean and a host of other destinations paying more in tax than travellers going to Hawaii, even though Hawaii is further away. We believe this system to be crazy and unfair. Clause 73 restores sense and fairness by reforming the duty bandings. It introduces a simple to understand two-band system: one band for travel to countries up to 2,000 miles from London, and another for travel to countries further away. This puts a host of countries on to the same rate as the USA and delivers a rates cut for travel to growth markets in Latin America, southern Asia and the far east with effect from 1 April 2015. For example, a family of four visiting relatives in the Caribbean will save £56, and a commercial traveller to China will save at least £14 per trip.

Clause 74 updates the list of countries over 4,000 miles from London to reflect changes in the legal composition of several island states in the Caribbean and the south Atlantic. These states are also set to benefit from rates savings with the reform of APD from 1 April 2015.

In 2011, a number of regional airports offered the view that there ought to be an additional charge of duty at congested airports, or a lower rate at uncongested airports. Their thinking was that it would spread demand for air travel more widely across the country. However, other airports countered that this is not the most appropriate way to address congestion, and many airlines felt that it would distort the market without materially affecting decisions about where services are located.

In October 2012, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs published a report that shows that significantly higher prices at congested airports could lead to some passenger redistributions, but it also suggests that the benefits might not be spread widely across the UK. In addition, the report suggests that some regional airports would in fact lose passengers if a difference in price meant traffic and services went to other competing airports. Having carefully considered the idea, we were not convinced that a regional variation of rates would materially help in meeting our objective to rebalance the UK economy. Budget 2013 therefore ruled out varying duty rates by levels of airport congestion. It is of note that the Airports Commission’s December 2013 interim report also concluded that

“an air passenger duty congestion charge is not a promising solution to the capacity problem in London and the South East.”

In more recent times some regional airports have turned their thinking to the idea of a holiday period for new long-haul routes during which duty would not be payable. On this, the Airports Commission’s interim report offers an illuminating view. It says that there are two potential pitfalls. First, if the idea applied to all new routes equally, there would be substantial potential for airlines to game the system by switching existing routes between airports. Secondly, if there were measures to control this behaviour, the idea would run a substantial risk of legal challenge, because it would distort competition

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in favour of particular routes and not others. The commission felt that it could not recommend the use of air passenger duty holidays. It instead referenced how airport landing charges might be used to incentivise new routes. We see nothing to disagree with in the commission’s analysis.

In Northern Ireland, there is a defined devolution of air passenger duty that responds to Northern Ireland’s unique circumstances. Since 1 January 2013, the Northern Ireland Government have had a devolved power to set rates for direct long-haul flights leaving Northern Ireland. They have used that power to set a zero rate, which means that the highest rate of duty on any direct flight from Northern Ireland is £13. The rates of duty for through-ticketed flights using connections at one or more hub airports remain the same as those applying to the rest of the UK, which means that from 1 April 2015 passenger savings will result from the Budget’s rates reform.

The Republic of Ireland’s recent decision to reduce its air travel tax to zero from 1 April this year is, of course, acknowledged, but I must make clear that I cannot accept calls from Members for the abolition of air passenger duty. Outright abolition is an unfunded request that would leave a £3 billion-plus hole in the public finances. If, as a consequence, the Northern Ireland Government wish to argue their case for further devolution, they must consider the fiscal costs, which would have to borne locally.

I can confirm that in total, the rates reform in clauses 72 to 74 provides a £920 million shot in the arm for travel to growth markets. It simplifies the tax system, and supports the UK’s export drive. The clauses maintain fiscal responsibility within a fiscally neutral Budget, with targeted action to fix the problems left by the last Government. I therefore ask the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) to withdraw his motion, because the proposals in the new clauses and new schedule would inhibit fair opportunity and distort the market.

Jonathan Edwards: We have had an informed and very interesting debate. We have also had an incredible revelation, which I hope the Welsh media will pick up tomorrow. Let me make it clear for the benefit of Labour Front Benchers that Carwyn Jones is the Labour First Minister of Wales.

We heard excellent speeches from the hon. Members for Crawley (Henry Smith) and for Macclesfield (David Rutley), a typically passionate speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil), speeches from both Front Benches, and many good interventions.

The people of Wales own—via the Welsh Government —our national airport, which is a key piece of our national infrastructure, and we need to control air passenger duty if we are to maximise the potential of that asset. This is primarily an issue of jobs and growth, but it is also an issue of gross hypocrisy, given that parties operating in a devolved context say one thing in Wales and something completely different here in Westminster. The Labour First Minister of Wales says that this is an economic priority for his Administration, but he cannot persuade his own bosses here in London, or Labour Members of Parliament based in Wales. This is therefore an issue of the First Minister’s credibility

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and authority. If he cannot convince his own side, why should anyone in Wales take anything that he says seriously, and how can he possibly engage in detailed negotiations with the United Kingdom Government on these very fine and important fiscal matters?

It is necessary for us to divide the Committee so that the people of Wales can see the truth for themselves, and I therefore wish to press new clause 2 to a Division.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The House divided:

Ayes 9, Noes 254.

Division No. 253]


7.38 pm


Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Edwards, Jonathan

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Paisley, Ian

Robertson, Angus

Shannon, Jim

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Williams, Hywel

Tellers for the Ayes:

Pete Wishart


Mr Mike Weir


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Alexander, rh Danny

Andrew, Stuart

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Steve

Baldry, rh Sir Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Baron, Mr John

Bebb, Guto

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, rh Paul

Byles, Dan

Cairns, Alun

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cash, Mr William

Chishti, Rehman

Clark, rh Greg

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, Stephen

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, rh Mr Edward

Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

Dinenage, Caroline

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Featherstone, Lynne

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Garnier, Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Glen, John

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, rh Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, Stephen

Hands, rh Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Sir Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, rh Mr John

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lamb, Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Sir Edward

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Long, Naomi

Lopresti, Jack

Loughton, Tim

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, rh Esther

Menzies, Mark

Metcalfe, Stephen

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, rh Mr Stephen

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, rh Sir Richard

Patel, Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Penning, rh Mike

Penrose, John

Phillips, Stephen

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Pritchard, Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Sir John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Robertson, rh Hugh

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simmonds, Mark

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Soames, rh Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stride, Mel

Stunell, rh Sir Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Thornton, Mike

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Roger

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Tellers for the Noes:

Claire Perry


Mark Hunter

Question accordingly negatived.

9 Apr 2014 : Column 383

9 Apr 2014 : Column 384

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Dawn Primarolo): Does Mr MacNeil wish to move new clause 6 formally?

Mr MacNeil indicated dissent.

The Second Deputy Chairman: No? Okay. [Interruption.] It is very generous of Members to assist Mr MacNeil, but he can manage it by himself and I believe that the new clause is not moved.

Clauses 72 to 74 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.

Bill (Clauses 1, 5 to 7, 11, 72 to 74 and 112 and schedule 1) reported, without amendment (Standing Order No. 83D(6), and ordered to lie on the Table.

Business without Debate

European Union Documents

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(11)),

Climate and Energy Policy 2020 to 2030 and High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing (fracking) in the EU

That this House takes note of European Union Documents No. 5644/14 and Addenda 1 and 2, a Commission Communication: A policy framework for climate and energy in the period from 2020 to 2030, No. 5706/14 and Addenda 1 to 5, a Commission Communication on the exploration and production of hydrocarbons, such as shale gas, using high volume hydraulic fracturing in the EU, and No. 5700/14, a Commission Recommendation on minimum principles for the exploration and production of hydrocarbons, such as shale gas, using high volume hydraulic fracturing; supports the Government’s objective of securing an ambitious EU emissions reduction target for 2030 in order to support the EU in meeting its long-term climate and energy objectives; and further supports the Government’s objective of maintaining maximum flexibility for Member States to choose their own energy mix, including by exploring the potential for domestic resources, in order to secure their emissions reductions in the most cost-effective manner, given their particular circumstances.—(Stephen Crabb.)

Question agreed to.


Humberstone Heights Golf Course (Leicester)

7.51 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I wish to present a petition on behalf of a number of my constituents concerning the proposals of the city council to close Humberstone Heights golf course in Leicester. Some 1,800 people have signed the petition—[Interruption.]

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Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. I am sorry to interrupt you, Mr Vaz, but I am having difficult in hearing your presentation of the petition because of the noise in the Chamber. I ask Members to leave quietly. Mr Vaz, may I suggest that you start again with the presentation of your petition?

Keith Vaz: Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wish to present a petition on behalf of a number of residents of Leicester concerning the proposal to close Humberstone Heights golf club in Humberstone. I was there last Saturday and, as you have correctly said, it is much quieter on a golf course than it is in the Chamber of the House of Commons. I accepted a petition that had been led by Mr Mark Boddice, the club captain, Mrs Heather Smith, the lady captain, Mr Raj Kotak, a past captain, Paul Maurice, Alan Taylor, Jay Marsh, Tony Palmer, Ashok Mistry, Mark Smith, Gaz Kilby, Bruce Frazer, Colin McKenzie, Peter Walker, Michael Pearson and Master David Dewbery. It was signed by 1,800 other people who play regularly at Humberstone Heights golf course. I am grateful to so many right hon. and hon. Members, from all parts of the United Kingdom, for staying for the presentation of this petition. Clearly, the Humberstone Heights golf course has achieved great fame beyond Leicester, reaching the very corners of the United Kingdom. I therefore wish to present this petition on their behalf. If people are able to be more involved in leisure, they will have longer and fitter lives.

The petition states:

The Petition of residents of the UK,

Declares that Humberstone Heights Golf Course is a popular leisure facility in Leicester and further that the Petitioners believe that the planned closure of the Golf Course will have a detrimental impact on the local community.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to encourage Leicester City Council to reconsider their decision to close Humberstone Heights Golf Course, which is an important community facility.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.


Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In the last round of Divisions, I had intended to move new clause 7, but new clause 7 was not called, and new clause 6 was called instead. I realise of course that human error can play its part in some of these things, but I would like your opinion on the matter.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Mr MacNeil, I think there was a genuine misunderstanding with regard to new clauses 6 and 7. I regret to say that the intention was not clear to me at the time in the Chair, and I do not feel that I can take the matter any further than that, but I am sure that the record will show the hon. Gentleman’s intention, even if that was not fulfilled through to a vote because of a misunderstanding. I hope that that clarifies the matter.

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Abortion (Disability)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Harriett Baldwin.)

7.55 pm

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for this opportunity to speak on a sensitive subject. Few would disagree that Britain is a friendlier place for disabled people than it was a few decades ago—better, that is, unless we are talking about a disabled baby in the womb. The contrast between the way we see disabled people before and after birth could barely be starker. A disabled unborn child has effectively no rights up to birth. Many people are shocked to learn that he or she can be aborted right up to birth—as many as 16 weeks beyond the 24-week threshold for able-bodied babies. But the moment after birth, a whole panoply of rights and support suddenly comes into play for the disabled child. I know that from personal experience, and here declare an interest. My own son, Sam, was born with a club foot, one of the defects for which an abortion up to birth can be obtained. Yet within minutes of his birth, the hospital telephoned its specialist in treating club feet, who was on leave at the time and who rushed in within two hours to begin manipulating Sam’s foot.

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): On the issue of abortions up to birth, does my hon. Friend share my belief that where the disability may be relatively minor—a cleft palate or something such as that—the public would be very concerned to learn that these were allowed literally right up to birth?

Fiona Bruce: Indeed I do, and I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Although there are not many such abortions, there are still some taking place for treatable and relatively minor defects, such as a club foot. My son had physiotherapy every day for the first year of his life. He wore a calliper in his early years and he had two operations until into his teens, but now one would never know, unless one was a specialist, that he had been born with a foot defect. Yesterday, Sam was 21, and in the past few days has heard that he has been admitted to Oxford university. It is hard to think that such a treatable disability could have deprived him of life, and he is far from alone. I believe that the footballer, Steven Gerrard, was born with a club foot.

We have allowed a completely inconsistent and contradictory approach to disability to develop in this country with reference to the born and unborn child, and for that reason I am asking the Minister to review the application of this legislation. To clarify, the Abortion Act 1967 was amended in 1990 to provide for abortion up to, and during, birth where there is “substantial risk” of “serious handicap”—often called ground E abortions. But neither of those terms have statutory definitions. Instead, what constitutes “substantial risk” or “serious handicap” is left to doctors to decide, with differing outcomes across the country, and that difference can mean life or death to an unborn child. Professor Gordon Stirrat gives an example of a couple seeking abortion because of a cleft palate at 34 weeks, where there was a significant difference between doctors who refused an abortion under ground E and other doctors who interpreted the law as covering the couple’s situation.

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Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Lady on bringing this very important matter to the House for consideration. It was mentioned in Prime Minister’s questions today, for example. Does she agree that the UN convention on the rights of the child, which protects the rights of children, and the Equality Act 2010, which outlaws discrimination on grounds of disability, would demand that this House should change this grossly offensive law that allows children over 24 weeks to be aborted?

Fiona Bruce: The hon. Gentleman makes a relevant point.

Developments in the law, in medicine and in cultural attitudes have led me to introduce this debate. Because of the lack of clarification, the law is being applied in what one barrister has called a haphazard fashion. In 2007, the Select Committee on Science and Technology recommended that the Department of Health produce guidance that would be clinically useful to doctors and patients in this regard, and in response the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists provided updated guidance in 2010, but there still seems to be a considerable difference in views and working practice about what comes within the law and what does not. That is concerning for parents, practitioners, law makers and disabled people, many of whom believe it is now time to review the framework within which this law operates.

It is hard to see the differing treatment of disabled fetuses and able-bodied fetuses as anything other than discrimination, about which disability groups are particularly concerned. Medical knowledge has changed radically since 1990, and even more since 1967, and there have been improvements in fetal medicine, including the ability to correct disabilities, even within the womb before birth.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): I, too, congratulate the hon. Lady on bringing this important matter before the House. As the father of a disabled boy who had eight years of a wonderful life—he had spina bifida and hydrocephalus, he gave much love and everybody who knew him loved him greatly—I join her in her plea for an end to discrimination against children in the womb who are disabled. She makes an important point about developments in medical treatment, even within the womb, especially in the area of spina bifida.

Fiona Bruce: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention. He makes a pertinent point. Disabled children can enjoy life and can give great joy to their families. Even disabilities such as Down’s syndrome cover a very wide spectrum and we need to remember that. When mothers and fathers hear the news about a child’s diagnosis with fetal disability, it is important that they are given information about the spectrum and about their options.

We have seen changes in neonatal intensive care, palliative care, paediatric surgery, educational care and community support. Conditions that might previously have been grounds for abortion are now treatable, and attitudes towards people with disabilities have moved on greatly.

As has been mentioned, the Equality Act 2010 protects disabled people from being treated differently or discriminated against as a result of their disability. In

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light of all this medical, legal and cultural progress in our society, is it not now time to review the application of the legislation? If we do not consider a disabled person of inferior worth after birth, why do so before?

I want now to turn to a separate point. Many women feel steered, pushed or even rushed into having an abortion once it is determined that they might be carrying a disabled baby. Time and again I heard of that in a commission that I chaired in this House last year, which carried out a parliamentary inquiry into abortion on the grounds of disability. A copy has been placed in the Library. The commission’s committee comprised several Members of both Houses and all parties with different views on abortion but a common concern about the issue. We took oral and written evidence over several months from a total of 299 witnesses. Repeatedly, mothers told us that they had come, as one said,

“under huge pressure to have an abortion”,

because, as another said,

“this is the expectation of the health care professionals”.

Other mothers told us that they were not given support when making the decision, or they felt fearful that they would not be able to cope in future due to limited financial resources or community support in their locality. One said:

“My son (who is now eight years old) has Down’s syndrome. He was diagnosed in the womb at 35 weeks and I was actively encouraged to seek a termination by the doctor who gave me the diagnosis. I was given no support by my local hospital in my decision to keep my baby. I had to actively seek support elsewhere and I’m sure you will appreciate how difficult this was as I was heavily pregnant and in a vulnerable state.”

Parents may find that they are given only a leaflet on abortion, with plenty of advice on having an abortion, but no information specific to the condition that has been diagnosed, or information about what support they could expect if they kept the baby, or an alternative such as adoption. One said that

“choosing to keep the baby effectively meant I was on my own.”

Some mothers were made to feel irresponsible bringing a disabled child into the world on the basis that the child would be a drain on public resources. Many felt guilty about allowing their disabled child to be born. Recently we heard how distressed mothers were in Leeds general infirmary when they felt under pressure to abort babies with treatable heart defects. Was it ever Parliament’s intention that a treatable condition should come within the scope of ground E?

We also heard from a doctor, Mr Jayamohan, about particularly good practice such as counselling; expert support from trained clinicians; the provision of information about the child’s potential disability and treatment; the offer to speak to another family with a child with a similar condition; palliative care; and the opportunity to meet specialists as soon as possible after diagnosis, and so on, to enable parents to make their decision. One parent said:

“Guidelines and standards need to be set in place, which all hospitals need to meet, to ensure all families are given support on education of disabilities when faced with such a situation. To give a family a diagnosis of a disability and then to immediately follow that up with the advice that they can have a termination without any other information is simply not acceptable in a civilised society”.

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Does the Minister agree that there is a need for better, more consistent, balanced information, trained counsellors, increased awareness of palliative care for newborns, and comprehensive information and support from the medical profession, whatever parents’ decision about the pregnancy? Would she consider developing best practice guidelines to encompass that?

We even heard of misdiagnoses. Parents told the commission about diagnoses that had proved to be incorrect. One said that

“we were advised my daughter be aborted up to birth due to the results of an antenatal test. The most serious result indicated Dandy Walker Malformation of the brain. In fact when scanned after birth there was no such malformation. Our daughter is now 6 years old and a happy normal child.”

Mr Jayamohan told the commission that of 32 post-mortems of late-stage terminations he had examined, two indicated that the diagnosis had been profoundly wrong. It is worth remembering that these are wanted babies, and parents who choose an abortion suffer grief from their loss. As one has said, it is a

“bereavement like any other person”.

Last year, more than half of ground E abortions were diagnosed by ultrasound alone, which I understand can carry a 10% to 15% rate of false positive diagnosis, meaning that of the 1,367 ground E abortions diagnosed by ultrasound in 2012, as many as 200 may have been falsely diagnosed. What steps are in place to help the Department assess the accuracy of prenatal diagnostics? Should not all be done that can be done to reduce the option of an abortion where it is not necessary or wanted? To that end, does the Minister agree that improvements need to be made in data collection, as there seem to be weaknesses, gaps and limitations in the collection of information on abortions that take place due to disability. One professor has described it as “very inaccurate”. We should be collating more information on the reasons for abortion beyond 24 weeks and analysing such data appropriately. We should consider a report to a coroner for all late-term abortions and carefully consider the need for post-mortems. There should be a national register for all congenital abnormalities, not just for Down’s syndrome. All this would help to improve future diagnosis and, I hope, lead to lower numbers of abortions.

Let me touch on the increasing concern about fetal pain. A new scientific consensus is emerging that babies in the womb can feel pain, even from 20 weeks—certainly, as seems incontrovertible, from about 26 weeks. Yet we permit disabled babies to be aborted at up to 40 weeks. One mother, when asked whether her child would feel pain, was told, “He’s going to feel it.” Is it because we believe that disabled babies do not feel pain, or because we do not care that they do, that we allow abortion at up to 40 weeks for them? During the passage of the Bill that became the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008, the age of viability was agreed at 24 weeks; it can of course be even younger. Why does this threshold not apply to the disabled?

The logical corollary is that society is saying that disabled babies who can survive outside the womb should not be allowed to do so. I cannot escape the conclusion that this is discriminatory. It simply cannot be right that, as a society that purports to respect disabled people, we act to prevent their very existence in

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this way. These are arguments open to anyone who values human life and deplores discrimination against disabled people.

My final request of the Minister is whether she would be good enough to take time after this debate to consider the 2013 parliamentary inquiry into abortion on the grounds of disability and respond to the recommendations within it, not all of which I have been able to touch on tonight for reasons of time.

8.12 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Jane Ellison): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) on securing a debate on this subject, in which she has a long-standing interest. She made a very personal, moving and thoughtful speech to which we all listened intently. I thank other Members for their interventions. I know that there are views on this issue that are deeply and strongly held.

I am aware of the independent inquiry into abortion on the grounds of disability, which my hon. Friend chaired and which reported in 2013. Although I was not in post at that time, I have looked at the report. I have not had a chance to look at all the detail, but I have seen some of the recommendations. I have responses to one or two of the recommendations that she highlighted. As she knows, I will always go away and look at the points she has made, and those that I cannot cover tonight I will of course write or talk to her about.

Obviously, the House remains divided on the issue of abortion, which is a very personal matter. A number of concerns have recently been raised that we in the Department are working hard to address. On some issues, such as abortion on the grounds of gender alone, there is a strong parliamentary consensus. My hon. Friend has raised this with me in the House and in private, and we are working hard to deal with it. In other areas of abortion law, there are a range of views and differing interpretations.

It is crucial that everyone, regardless of their views on abortion, feels assured that the law on abortion is operating as Parliament intends. This is particularly important for clinicians directly involved in certifying and performing abortions, who need to know that they are operating within the law, and for women seeking an abortion, who need access to safe, legal, high-quality abortion services. I recently had discussions with the General Medical Council and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and we will be publishing strengthened guidance and revised procedures for the approval of independent sector places. That puts the debate into some context.

In 1990, Parliament decided that in some circumstances abortion should be available without time limit, including abortion where

“there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.”

I should clarify that abortions for fetal abnormality are listed as ground D in the Abortion Act 1967 but are set out differently in the regulations and certification forms, where they are listed as ground E. The grounds in the regulations are those most commonly referred to, but that is why there is sometimes a discrepancy with regard to grounds D and E.

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In 2012, it was reported that 2,692 abortions had taken place under ground E of the regulations and that 160 of them took place at gestations beyond 24 weeks. It is important to note, as my hon. Friend has said, that Parliament did not define “serious handicap” in the Act. Indeed, it chose to leave it to the expert clinical judgment of the two doctors involved, who were required to form their own opinion about the seriousness of the handicap the child would suffer when born, taking into account the facts and circumstances of each individual case.

Some Members have expressed the view that the Act and, in particular, the provision that allows abortion on the grounds of disability should be revisited. Of course, by convention it is for parliamentarians, not the Government, to suggest amendments to the legislation, but that does not mean that the Government do not reflect carefully on any points made and there will be opportunities to provide clarification in some areas through guidelines.

Concerns have been expressed, not least this evening, that abortions are taking place for abnormalities that are rectifiable after birth. The Act requires doctors to assess the level of risk that the child would suffer from serious handicap if it were born. It should be noted that conditions such as cleft lip and palate, which have been mentioned this evening, can in some circumstances be an indicator of far more serious problems with the fetus.

The availability of remedial treatment that might alleviate suffering is obviously a factor that doctors will take into account in making their assessment. Guidance from RCOG states that the assessment of serious handicap should be based on a careful consideration of a list of factors, one of which is the probability of effective treatment either in utero or after birth. RCOG already says that that must be taken into account. However, the fact that remedial treatment may be available does not automatically mean that it will be successful, and the child may suffer from a serious handicap. Remedial treatment may be prolonged and painful.

I firmly believe, and I hope my hon. Friend will agree, that such decisions are exceptionally difficult ones for patients, women and parents to make, and that they are often finely balanced. Doctors and other professionals need to work hard to ensure that parents are properly supported and have all the information they need to come to a decision. I think we all share my hon. Friend’s concern that some people have reported feeling rushed and that they have not been given proper information. Ultimately, such decisions should be taken on a case-by-case basis and always according to the Act.

Fiona Bruce: Will the Minister confirm that she will look at the production of best practice guidelines, because there is a clear indication that practice differs across the piece? If she agrees that we should give every mother and father in this situation the best possible opportunity to make the right decision, appropriate guidelines, which do not appear to exist in a functional format at present, would be the best approach.

Jane Ellison: I will certainly reflect on that point. RCOG has published best practice guidelines and I am sure it would be concerned to hear that my hon. Friend feels they are being inconsistently applied. I will give her

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some information from the guidelines. I have regular conversations with RCOG representatives and will raise her point with them. There is no absence of guidance, but she is clearly concerned that it might be being inconsistently applied.

RCOG has published guidance for its members on terminations for fetal abnormality. It notes that palliative and other care must be made available to women who decide to continue with their pregnancy. The guidance also makes it clear to women and their partners that they should receive appropriate information and support from a properly trained, multidisciplinary team who must adopt a supportive and non-judgmental approach, regardless of whether the decision is to terminate or to continue the pregnancy. Support for parents faced with a similar diagnosis is available through the charity Antenatal Results and Choices.

The RCOG guidance also states that women and their partners must be fully supported before screening for fetal abnormality and during any decision that they may need to make about termination, as well as in continuing the pregnancy following a screening and during any aftercare. That should include referral to other professional experts, including palliative experts, as I have mentioned, and referral for counselling, where it can be part of a co-ordinated package of care. I will of course put my hon. Friend’s concerns about that not being consistently applied to RCOG, which I am sure will want to consider that matter. However, as I have said, RCOG has looked to address the issues, and I know that it is aware of her commission of inquiry and its report.

My hon. Friend mentioned adoption. That is a matter for the Department for Education, but I will of course draw the concerns she has raised in this debate to its attention.

With regard to information, the RCOG guidance does not make specific reference to the element of the life ahead that the child might have, but that is a matter for RCOG and other professional and training bodies, such as Health Education England, to take forward in their training procedures. Again, I undertake to bring that point to their attention.

On my hon. Friend’s concerns about a discrepancy between the numbers, I know that the independent inquiry recommended that funding should be made available to ensure that there are independent congenital anomaly registers covering all congenital anomalies across the whole country. She made another point about inconsistency. I can confirm that work is under way to support the increased coverage of congenital anomaly registers across the whole of England. That work is led by Public Health England. I have regular meetings with Public Health England, and I will draw to its attention Parliament’s interest in this matter. I undertake to update her on the progress of that work.

My hon. Friend made several other points. If she will excuse me, I will come back to her about fetal pain. RCOG has looked at and written about fetal pain in some detail, and has offered guidance about it. I will revert to her on that, as well as on some of the other matters that she raised about which I cannot now comment in any detail.

I thank my hon. Friend for her very thoughtful speech, for drawing the attention of the whole House to this issue and for how she expressed the potential

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that people have in their lives. I think that the whole House was thrilled to hear the story she told about her own family, and to hear about the great success that her son has enjoyed. I congratulate her on securing this debate, and on the tone in which she always conducts

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such difficult and sensitive debates. I will return to her with more detail when I have given her points further consideration.

Question put and agreed to.

8.22 pm

House adjourned.