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Baroness Gould of Potternewton: I thank the noble Lord for giving way. As a founder member of Emily's List, I really do believe that he has read the wrong piece of history. As my noble friend said, the aim of Emily's List was to get more women into Parliament. In fact, if he looked at the names of the women that it helped to get into Parliament he would find that people did get in who were actually anti-abortion.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for saying that. I hope that in due course she will be able to enlighten me as to who those Members were and whether they were asked to give the kind of assurances that I have described. It has been put to me categorically by members of the Labour Party's Life Group, who have expressed this view publicly, that Emily's List provides that kind of funding.
Anyone who observes this issue and observes the political scene will know that political correctness has been a contagion in the past 20 years and that on certain issues you are required to say yea or nay before candidate selection committees will accept you as being fit to be a candidate. Abortion has increasingly become one of those issues.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gould, and the noble Lord, Lord Steel, referred to the figures for Northern Ireland and for the Republic of Ireland. They said that 1,548 women had come from Northern Ireland and 4,500 from
I do not believe that it was in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, in 1967, when he first introduced his Bill that there should be abortion on demand. In fact he specifically and categorically stated during debates that his Bill would not lead to that. He was able to call in aid, for instance, the Church of England Board of Social Responsibility. At that time the Bill did not include the social clause which was incorporated into it during its Committee stage and is now responsible for 98 per cent. of all the abortions that take place. Of all the abortions undertaken under the 1967 Act, 98 per cent. are undertaken entirely under the social clause.
The noble Lord, Lord Steel, also referred to Cardinal Winning. He somewhat oversimplified Cardinal Winning's views. So far as I know, Cardinal Winning has never said that the legislation in its present form should be entirely repealed. He said that it should be fundamentally reformed. For instance, he has contributed to the process of care for a woman and her child by making available money for women who would otherwise believe that they had no choice--that is surely the issue which should concern us all--and who are pressurised into having abortions often by irresponsible men.
I am sure that no one in this House would be in favour of abortion per se. The issue comes down to a debate about whether one believes in the sanctity of human life or whether choice is more important. That surely is the question that divides many Members in this House and in another place. But the issue this evening does not revolve around that question. It revolves around whether Scotland or this place should decide on whether the law should be framed in that manner.
As has been clear from the preceding speeches, and I hope from mine, these are questions on which there are many profoundly deeply held views. Often they are diametrically opposed. They are issues better decided closer to the people they affect. If the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, is right, and Scottish opinion is in the direction she suggests, let that be tested in Scotland among the Scottish electorate. Let Scottish parliamentarians decide those questions. Let people be free to put dissenting views, whether those views are in this place or in their political parties.
Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: I support my noble friend Lady Gould in paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Steel. The noble Lord holds a special place in the hearts of women because of the way he piloted the Abortion Act 1967 through Parliament. For many women who had been confronted with the agony of
In the years between, I qualified as a lawyer. But I still saw on occasions many women who had suffered the consequences of the law before 1967. They told me stories of misery, shame and degradation. It was terrible that women had often to seek the help of other women rather than medical professionals to have abortions which left them unable to function well as women, never mind with the possibility of having other children in better circumstances. That Abortion Act meant much to women in Britain.
In the years that I practised as a lawyer, I also had the opportunity to give advice to organisations which had to deal with the assaults upon that law brought by people such as the noble Lord, Lord Alton. Those assaults were to withdraw from women the right to have abortions. Never made easily, the decision was often a painful one made in the interests of their other children and in extremis.
I say this to the House and to the noble Lord, Lord Steel. I regard him as a friend although we sit on opposite Benches. My fear is that further assaults will be made on the legislation he brought through. Far from there being further liberalisation so that women can make a choice in the very early weeks of their pregnancy, a further assault will be made and Scotland may be the starting ground for that. To have the issue devolved may mean that women will not be able to stand shoulder to shoulder north and south of the Border, able to galvanise women in serious numbers to make their argument and case against what people like the noble Lord, Lord Alton, seek to do.
Many women who share the noble Lord's religious conviction believe that this is an issue of right. They may not choose abortion for themselves, but still believe that women individually should make that choice and would not withdraw it from them. That is where Catholic women would differ from the noble Lord, Lord Alton.
I say to this Committee, please consider with care the question of devolving the issue to Scotland. It may mean the beginning of a war of attrition to remove the right from women. Many women north and south of the Border may wish to be able to argue together, and with men who support them, in favour of the provision being important to women.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, said that political correctness has entered into the subject of the debate. It is not about political correctness; there is no correctness in it at all. Before and since 1967, women have had to make painful decisions and none makes it easily. Often women make the decision in difficult circumstances and in doing so they bring and draw upon their morals and ethics. They do not leave them behind.
However, the issue is one of right, which is why it matters to women. They should at least have the right to make the choice for themselves and not have it dictated to them by men who have never had children or experienced pregnancies.
I say to the Committee, please, please let women north and south of the Border argue in favour of the provision as something important to them, to their ultimate fulfilment and to the betterment of us all, men and women, in the bringing up of children who are wanted and desired and can be given a good life.
The reason why I oppose the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, having stood with him on so much of what he has fought for, is that I am concerned that it will be used to divide us rather than to join us in our efforts to make the provision available to women as a matter of right.
Lord Sanderson of Bowden: I wish to intervene on two points. I strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Steel. I have not always supported him politically, but on this issue I do so as, among other things, a member of the Church of Scotland.
Two major points must be made, and he made them most succinctly. First, it must be clearly said that if we are to have a parliament in Scotland it must be responsible. The Government are devolving health to Scotland and it is a major issue for the Scottish parliament to consider. Abortion falls into that category. If we are to have a responsible parliament in Scotland, I cannot for the life of me think why this important subject, which raises so many passions on all sides of this Committee and elsewhere, should not be considered by it. The noble Lord's second point, which I support entirely, is that on such an issue Members on all sides of this Committee should have a free vote.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: I have the most enormous respect for the views expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and for the way in which she so eloquently and forcefully expressed them. In the context of devolution, we are considering a basic principle; what is the Scottish parliament to be about? Such ethical issues--"conscience questions", as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, termed them--depend upon personal belief rather than party politics. I believe that a Scottish parliament would be best able to resolve them because it will have time to do so. Here we are, debating this issue within the space of perhaps half an hour or an hour in your Lordships' unelected Chamber. In the Scottish parliament such an issue will have time devoted to it by elected representatives who will be able to reflect upon the feelings of their constituents--the people who put them there. They will be able to express the views of Scottish people today rather than their own views.
It is not as though the Scottish criminal law has been particularly illiberal in the past. Before 1967 under Scottish criminal law it was a crime to carry out an improper act calculated to destroy the foetus, but the need to terminate pregnancy in the interests of maternal health was not considered to be a criminal act. Therefore therapeutic abortion was acceptable to Scottish public opinion. Nor did the 1967 Act change that in any material respect because the common law continued and there were differences between the law in Scotland and England and Wales.
Hence, in 1963, before my noble friend's Act was passed by Parliament, it was possible in Aberdeen, under Sir Dugald Baird, for 2 per cent. of the women to have abortions on the National Health Service. There were never any Crown prosecutions in Scotland where there were genuine medical issues involving the maternal health of the woman.
That is a position that I think all liberal-minded people would always have adopted. It seems to me therefore that when one considers this issue, my noble friend is absolutely right; it is a question to be determined with full debate by elected representatives.
I recall, perhaps over a year ago, before the last election, debating in this House at two or three o'clock in the morning--which no doubt we shall be doing as regards this legislation--a Scottish criminal law Bill with perhaps seven or eight people present, of whom I recall three were Scots. What we were doing was legislating on Scottish criminal law. It seemed to me at the time that the case for devolution was fully made out. This is the kind of issue that a Scottish parliament should deal with.
Baroness Young of Old Scone: I think that tonight we are not talking of the rights and wrongs of abortion, though I must confess that I pin my colours to the mast in being concerned about 180,000 unwanted children being born if the noble Lord, Lord Alton has his way. I would voice the sentiment that it is distressing to speak against the noble Lord, Lord Steel. He was something of an icon for us when I was a child in that we all took part in his campaign and were delighted with the outcome.
For me this is not about whether abortion is right or wrong, nor is it about the competence of the Scottish parliament to make decisions on these issues. I have the feeling that a substantial number of women in the new Scottish parliament could give Cardinal Winning quite a fright. I do not think that any of those matters are the issue. The issue is the difference between the north and the south. I believe we might well see more liberal and effective laws in Scotland if that were to be recognised.
The Northern Ireland issue is one, I think, that is a lesson to us all. I should like to dwell tonight on some of the things that happen as a result of women in Northern Ireland having to come to the mainland for their abortion service. Whether you agree with them or not, they have gone through the process of counselling. As my noble friend Lady Gould pointed out, they have gone through the process of scraping together the money to get this service. They have made their decision, whether you approve of it or not. They have decided to come here for an abortion. They come, often unable to bring with them supporters, friends or even partners who have been involved in an unwanted pregnancy. They come to the company of strangers to have this important moral, as well as physical, procedure, carried out.
I do not think that is something that we should live with. If we see a difference in the law between the north and south, irrespective of where it is more liberal, we will find that happening more and more. It used to be
Any future change in the law on abortion in the United Kingdom would inevitably be hotly contested and widely debated. It would pull upon the widest range of opinion, including views from Scotland and Scotland's new MPs. We should take great heart from the fact that we can produce a system across the United Kingdom which is common, consistent and in the best interests of women. With great regret, I have reached the conclusion this evening that in spite of being a great fan in my youth of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and all that he achieved, this amendment would not be in the interests of the women of the United Kingdom.
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