Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Division No. 3


Alton of Liverpool, L.
Ashbourne, L.
Astor, V.
Attlee, E.
Blatch, B.
Carnegy of Lour, B.
Courtown, E. [Teller.]
Cross, V.
De L'Isle, V.
Dean of Harptree, L.
Dixon-Smith, L.
Dundonald, E.
Hylton, L.
Kingsland, L.
Kintore, E.
Knight of Collingtree, B.
Lyell, L.
McConnell, L.
Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Mackay of Drumadoon, L.
Mancroft, L.
Marlesford, L.
Molyneaux of Killead, L.
Montrose, D.
Mountevans, L.
Northesk, E.
Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Rawlings, B.
Renton, L.
Renwick, L.
Rowallan, L.
St. John of Fawsley, L.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Selkirk of Douglas, L. [Teller.]
Sempill, L.
Shrewsbury, E.
Skelmersdale, L.
Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.
Stair, E.
Strange, B.
Torphichen, L.
Wilcox, B.


Alli, L.
Amos, B.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Barnett, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L.
Berkeley, L.
Blackstone, B.
Borrie, L.
Burlison, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.
Carter, L. [Teller.]
Clinton-Davis, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.
Currie of Marylebone, L.
Davies of Oldham, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.
Desai, L.
Dixon, L.
Donoughue, L.
Ewing of Kirkford, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Fitt, L.
Gallacher, L.
Gilbert, L.
Gordon of Strathblane, L.
Goudie, B.
Gould of Potternewton, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L.
Grenfell, L.
Hacking, L.
Hanworth, V.
Hardie, L.
Hardy of Wath, L.
Haskel, L.
Hayman, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Hoyle, L.
Hughes, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L. [Lord Chancellor.]
Islwyn, L.
Janner of Braunstone, L.
Jay of Paddington, B.
Judd, L.
Kennedy of The Shaws, B.
Kilbracken, L.
Lockwood, B.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
McCarthy, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller.]
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.
Merlyn-Rees, L.
Milner of Leeds, L.
Monkswell, L.
Murray of Epping Forest, L.
Peston, L.
Pitkeathley, B.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Prys-Davies, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Rendell of Babergh, B.
Sefton of Garston, L.
Sewel, L.
Simon, V.
Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Stone of Blackheath, L.
Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Thomas of Macclesfield, L.
Thornton, B.
Turner of Camden, B.
Uddin, B.
Walker of Doncaster, L.
Watson of Invergowrie, L.
Whitty, L.
Williams of Mostyn, L.
Young of Old Scone, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

27 Jul 1998 : Column 1284

8.56 p.m.

[Amendment No. 211 not moved.]

Lord Steel of Aikwood moved Amendment No. 212:

Page 81, leave out lines 2 to 4.

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 212 standing in my name on the Marshalled List.

27 Jul 1998 : Column 1285

The Bill quite clearly devolves the whole of the criminal law of Scotland to the Scottish parliament; it also devolves all health matters in Scotland to the Scottish parliament. It is my first contention that the law of abortion as a subject falls entirely within these two categories and therefore the burden of proof lies on those who wish to remove it from those two categories and make it a reserved issue, as is suggested in the current text of the Bill. It is illogical. The proper place for future discussion on the law of abortion is in the Scottish parliament.

I listened to much of the Commons debate on the Bill. This issue was debated briefly in the other place. At the end of the debate there was some confusion. There was a free vote among the members of my party, a free vote among the members of the Conservative Party and for all I know among the members of the SNP. There was not a free vote on the government side, except that at the last minute the Whips were told that they could have a free vote. Therefore we had the unusual constitutional doctrine of a free vote for the Whips and a whipped vote for everybody else. There was some irritation the next day when everybody else discovered that that is what had happened. That is one reason why we should have another look at this issue.

The Secretary of State for Scotland, who replied to the debate in the other place, said that I, as then Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles, when I was piloting the 1967 Bill through the House of Commons, had included Scotland in the Bill and that the arguments put in 1967 had some force. I hold the Secretary of State in high regard but, with great respect to him, he really did not know what arguments had gone on behind the scenes on this issue. It is only right that I should inform your Lordships' House of what exactly happened.

First, the Bill which I introduced in 1967 in the other place had already gone through all its stages in this House. It was this House which pioneered the reform of the law on abortion. The Bill was waiting to be picked up by whichever Member had a high place in the ballot for Private Members' Bills. Indeed, the campaign for the reform of the antiquated laws had had six Bills before mine in the House of Commons, but here, in the House of Lords, Members from the Bishops' Benches, and the noble Lord, Lord Soper--I am glad to see that he is still with us on occasions--took a leading part in the campaign for reform, which was supported both by my own church, the Church of Scotland, and strongly backed by a committee of the Church of England. So, when that Bill had its Second Reading, its provisions covered the whole of Great Britain.

There was a long gap between the Second Reading of that Bill and its Committee stage, during which many arguments raged about what amendments should be made to the Bill. A strong campaign was started to try to exclude Scotland from the provisions on the ground that the Infant Life (Preservation) Act did not apply in Scotland and that the Bourne case--the celebrated case in which Sir Alec Bourne had been prosecuted for carrying out a medical termination of pregnancy--showed that case law in England did not apply in Scotland. It was therefore argued that we should rely on

27 Jul 1998 : Column 1286

the common law of Scotland, under which it was possible for some practitioners to pursue a policy of medical termination of pregnancy.

I was therefore invited to go to Aberdeen. It is significant that we have a distinguished alumnus of that university in a ministerial post and promoting this Bill in your Lordships' House. I went to Aberdeen University to meet Sir Dugald Baird, professor of gynaecology, and his colleague, Professor Miller, who held the Chair of psychiatry. One of our discussions related to the question of whether Scotland should be included in the provisions of that Bill. Sir Dugald was emphatic on the subject. He said, "On no account must you agree to any amendment removing Scotland from the Bill". I said, "But the argument is that people like yourself have been able to carry out a policy which would not be possible in England, so why should you not go on doing so?" He said, "I'll tell you why. Some time ago I had a telephone call from the Lord Advocate, who was concerned at the number of terminations of pregnancy in Aberdeen, which were out of line with the figures for the rest of Scotland. He gave me a warning that I was running subject to prosecution". I asked "What did you do?" He said, "I'll tell you. The next time I had a case in the operating theatre, I put a call through to the Crown Office in Edinburgh and asked to speak to the Lord Advocate. I said, 'Lord Advocate, I have a woman here waiting for an operation. May I proceed?' and the Lord Advocate said, 'How do you expect me to make a decision like that, a couple of hundred miles away and on the end of the telephone?'". Sir Dugald said that he had replied, "Precisely, it is a matter for my clinical judgment". He said to me, "Young man"--that is what I was then--"on no account must you leave the law in Scotland and its application to the whim of passing Lords Advocate". I say that in the presence of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, and facing the benign personage of the present Lord Advocate. I think, however, that he was right. He had made his point--and Scotland was included in the legislation.

The administration of the law on abortion in Scotland has been a good deal more satisfactory than has been the case in England and Wales. Perhaps I may give the Committee the figures. In 1996 in Scotland, 99 per cent. of all abortions were carried out under the National Health Service. In England and Wales, the figure was only 72 per cent. In 1995 in Scotland, 63 per cent. of all abortions were carried out below the tenth week of pregnancy. In England and Wales--it is not a precise analogy--only 40 per cent. were carried out below the ninth week of pregnancy. So, Scotland has already demonstrated that it can cope with the administration of the law on abortion in a rather more satisfactory way all round than is the case south of the Border, where there are still great fluctuations in practice from one health authority to another.

An important point to note is that the 1967 Bill did not apply to Northern Ireland. That is because Northern Ireland had its own devolved parliament. Stormont was in existence and it was never in question but that the issue of the law on abortion in Northern Ireland should

27 Jul 1998 : Column 1287

be left to the parliament in Northern Ireland. Presumably, that is the case again, now that we have the new Northern Ireland Assembly.

In recent years there has been a growing campaign in Northern Ireland to change the law on abortion and to bring it more into line with that in Great Britain. The campaign has had rather an uphill struggle since this is the one issue on which Dr. Ian Paisley stands foursquare behind His Holiness the Pope. In 1995--this is the significance of not having Northern Ireland in the legislation--1,548 women came from Northern Ireland to mainland Britain to have a termination of pregnancy and from the Republic of Ireland--one of the few European countries which has not adopted a positive state of law on abortion--4,500 women came to Britain, and so the argument runs--

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page