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Abortion Act 1967

Volume 983: debated on Tuesday 29 April 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he is satisfied with the working of the Abortion Act 1967.

I have no evidence of the existence today of the sort of abuses that were examined by the Lane committee. But I accept that there is no room for complacency, and if my hon. Friend has a particular matter in mind, I shall be pleased to consider it.

Is my hon. Friend satisfied with the upper age limit at which abortions can be carried out under the 1967 Act, and does he think that that limit pays proper attention to advances in medical science? Is he aware that at Southmead hospital in Bristol doctors are having great success in bringing 26 weeks old foetuses, to normal and independent existence? In those circumstances is there not a grave danger that we are asking doctors and nurses to participate in the killing of children aged between 24 and 28 weeks?

I believe that the medical profession is responding to the clinical changes that are taking place. Late abortions will be fewer, and increasingly confined to cases where there are the strongest medical reasons.

Will the hon. Gentleman give a more unequivocal reply regarding the Lane committee report? Is he aware that most hon. Members and most members of the medical profession are satisfied that the Lane committee report was the effective answer to the 1967 Act, and that the subsequent changes have been adequate? The less we tinker about with this basic, important legislation, the better it will be for mothers and children in this country.

I am keeping a very careful watch on the situation. In recent months, for example, I have withdrawn approval from one clinic, refused two applications from other clinics, and closed one advisory bureau because I considered all of these unsatisfactory. I have also taken action to ensure the withdrawal of misleading advertising by advisory bureaux, and I have made sure that every abuse that has come to our notice has been fully investigated.

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that amendment Bills have been introduced into this House by private Members year after year, and all have failed, not on their merits, but for lack of parliamentary time? If he does not wish to legislate himself on this controversial subject, which I can well understand, will he at least arrange through the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip that there are adequate time facilities in the next Session so that we can resolve this problem once and for all?

This is a matter for my right hon. Friend, the Leader of the House. My hon. Friend is correct. There have been six Private Members Bills since 1970, and additionally there have been two Ten-Minute Bills which were both defeated. The House had an opportunity to consider this matter in a Ten-Minute Bill only a few days ago.

Is the Minister aware that there is a great deal of concern about the Government's attitude to the Pregnancy Advisory Service? Will he give an undertaking that he will not impede the provision of legitimate advice to people who ask for it?

I gladly give that undertaking. We wish to see proper counselling carried out and the needs of mothers, who are very anxious about their pregnancies, properly considered. We do not wish to see abuses, by various manoeuvres and procedures, of the intentions of the Abortion Act.