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Lord Sewel: The general principle is one of criminal justice. The general approach is that criminal justice should be devolved. There is a specific body of legislation that deals with abortion. Quite rightly, that raises a debate about whether that specific body of legislation should be devolved or reserved. There is no separate body of legislation on euthanasia. I believe that the argument comes down to that rather simple distinction. I take the point that has been raised by the noble and learned Lord. If there were a separate established body of law on euthanasia that could be revisited and decisions could be made as to whether that matter should be devolved or reserved. We have anticipated that by the way in which the list of reserved matters can be reviewed by agreement between the two parliaments.
Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to intervene again. This issue was discussed last week. The noble Lord will recall that he introduced very complicated amendments that dealt with the definition of reserved matters. In the amendment to paragraph 3(a) to Schedule 4, which is helpfully included in the document that the Minister has made available in the Printed Paper Office today, the
Lord Sewel: I have tried to explain as best I can the Government's thinking in relation to this distinction. Clearly, I have not been able to persuade some members of the Committee on the opposite side of the Chamber. I must accept that that is the case.
Most of the debate has been about abortion and about whether the parliament should control abortion. Many of the other issues have been brought in perhaps to try to indicate a difference of approach from area to area. I believe that the general principle that we have adopted in the Bill is right. It is the general approach that health and criminal justice should be devolved, but that there are exceptions in the legislation where the benefits of maintaining a united UK or GB approach seem to outweigh the benefits that would be brought from applying the principle of devolution. Abortion is one of those.
This is not a matter of trusting the parliament. It is simply a matter of the value that we put on the benefits of maintaining a united approach on this area of policy within the framework of Great Britain. We should reflect on that. As I said at the outset, it is not a matter of the pros and cons of abortion. That is a totally separate matter. It has to do wholly and completely with the vires of the parliament and what happens if there is a different degree of liberalisation or illiberalism north and south of the Border. As I see it, the inevitable consequence would be a cross-Border trade, which I should have thought everyone would seek to avoid. On that matter, I very much take the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Balfour. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Steel, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: I agree with the two Front Bench spokesmen that we have had an exceptionally high quality and intense debate on this subject. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, will not mind me saying that when he began these debates so many days or weeks ago and announced that he was a convert to devolution, I doubted it. But tonight, for the first time, he actually sounded like a convert to devolution. We on these Benches thoroughly enjoyed the passion that he brought to his speech.
We have had a serious debate. The Minister has accepted that the burden of proof lay on the side of those who want to exempt abortion from the normal scope of the criminal law in Scotland and health matters in
Lord Hughes of Woodside: It is not simply an issue of whether or not the Scottish parliament can be trusted to take into account the problem of cross-Border traffic. The fact is that the Westminster Parliament might decide to have a different law as compared with the Scottish parliament. There would therefore be a cross-Border trade one way or the other. That is why it is essential that both are in unison and why the matter should be reserved.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: I like to think that my faith and confidence in the Scottish parliament applies equally to the Westminster Parliament. I do not think that the parliaments in these islands will be so stupid as to mess about with the abortion law so as to create cross-Border traffic. That is my basic proposition.
I shall put my cards on the table. I am a supporter of the Bill. I want to see it proceed. We are well behind time. I do not believe that we would gain anything by having a revisitation of this issue at Report stage. For that reason, having had a good debate and having had Members opposite not only exercising their consciences but exercising their common sense and their individual judgment, I wish to test the opinion of the Committee and deal with the matter in a well attended Chamber.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.