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Volume 885: debated on Tuesday 28 January 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what representations she has had from the Abortion Law Reform Association in connection with its campaign for abortion on demand; and what answer she has given.

In common with other hon. Members, my right hon. Friend has received a letter setting out the association's current aims. It did not call for a reply.

Many who would not wish to see the Abortion Act repealed would nevertheless resist a movement towards abortion on demand. Will the hon. Gentleman take into account the fact that this is a social matter of continuing controversy and that any move by the association to gain Government approval for the object of its campaign should be resisted by Ministers?

Abortion on demand is the case in which a woman asserts a legal right to abortion, regardless of medical opinion. Abortion on request is the case in which she has a right to abortion without regard to statutory criteria but subject to medical approval. That is the present situation. Views on the matter are usually expressed in free votes in the House.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the enormous amount of money being made in this area by private consultants, many of whom can best be described as butchers? Has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State any evidence of offers made by such consultants to those who wish to open private hospitals in hotels?

We are deeply concerned about the way in which the Act has operated in the private sector. A good deal of toughening up has taken place in recent years. We have started, through administrative means, to take further toughening-up measures to try to control the abuses that were demonstrated by the Lane Report.

In view of the rather technical, medical nature of the changes needed in the law following the Lane Report, do not the Government think that it would be better if they introduced their own Bill to make those changes, because the changes need to be carried out quickly? Cannot the Government act?

Many of the powers that the hon. Gentleman sought, in his Private Member's Bill, to take through statutory power we are now attempting to take through administrative power. We shall leave the House to judge whether that is sufficient. We are still consulting on some of these measures. We have already announced a considerable toughening up in the private sector in the past few months.

In view of the concern expressed throughout the country on this matter, will my hon. Friend give the House the opportunity to have a debate at the earliest possible moment on the reasoned approach of the report of the Lane Committee? Such a debate might help to overcome some of the fears of women generally on the question whether abuses occur in the national health sector or the private sector of medicine.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The House is likely to have the opportunity to discuss this subject on 7th February, by means of a Private Member's Bill. The Government will then give some indication of their attitude on various aspects of the Lane Report. We had hoped for a rather longer time, but the initial period of consultation has taken place and we shall give as much advice as possible on the recommendations contained in the report.