Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 77: debated on Monday 15 April 1985

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

House Of Commons

Monday 15 April 1985

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Transport

Airports Inquiries

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport how many representations he has received concerning the report of the inspector on the airports inquiries 1981–83; and if he will make a statement.

I wish, first, to convey the apologies to the House of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for his absence on export business in India.

The reply to the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) is that between 10 December 1984, when the inspector's report was published, and 1 April 1985, my right hon. Friend received 1,164 written representations on this subject.

Does the Minister accept that airports policy has a major impact on wider issues of economic development? Will he therefore try to ensure that when the Secretary of State is making his decision, full account is taken of the need to encourage economic investment in parts of Britain other than south-east England?

My right hon. Friend will take into account all the evidence that was put to, and the recommendations of, the inspector in respect of the regional dimension which the hon. Gentleman mentions.

Will my hon. Friend assure the blouse that the main consideration that will be given when arriving at a conclusion will be that of the national interest?

Will the Minister convey to his right hon. Friend the message that export business is no valid excuse for failing to be at the service of the House?

I shall convey the right hon. Gentleman's view to my right hon. Friend. I must, however, remind hon. Members that India imports about £800 million worth of goods from this country and that it is the duty of a Minister of the Crown to assist that business.

Luton airport was outside the terms of reference of the inspector's inquiry, but will my hon. Friend confirm, nevertheless, that it will be in order for those who wish to see the expansion of that airport, perhaps rather than the contemplated expansion of Stansted, to make representations accordingly, and have any been so made?

Luton is an integral part of the London airport system and was mentioned in the inspector's report. Any development there would be subject to the appropriate planning procedures.

Will my right hon. Friend's decisions on the applications that are at the heart of the inspector's report be subject to the approval of the House?

No, Sir. The Secretary of State has already said that there will be a debate on airports matters, including the matters to which my hon. Friend refers, subsequent to the announcement of the decision by him and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

What proposals does the Minister have for the further development and expansion of Carlisle airport?

Carlisle airport is a good airport, which the hon. Gentleman espouses rigorously and vigorously, and which I visited recently. It has certain problems, notably to do with Customs and Excise, into which we are currently looking.

Did my hon. Friend say that the House would not be further consulted by his Department about the development of Stansted? If so, is he aware that some of us will take no notice of that but will regard it as nothing less than our duty, in the national interest, to do what we believe to be right, when his Department has made up its mind, on an issue that affects the whole nation?

The statutory planning procedure now requires the two Departments, of the Secretaries of State for Transport and of the Environment, to produce their decisions to the House.

Bus Services

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what representations he has received from Scotland in the last three months concerning the likely effects of the new policy on bus transport; and if he will make a statement.

I have received representations from several organisations and members of the public in Scotland.

Does the Minister not understand that there is virtually unanimous opposition in Scotland to the terms of the Bill, not least among the old and the disabled, whose interests will be jeopardised severely by the privatisation of bus services? Does the Minister understand also that the Government have no mandate for the Bill and that there is opposition not only in rural areas in Scotland but elsewhere throughout the United Kingdom?

I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman is correct in referring to widespread opposition to our proposals. That opposition is based largely upon misinformation, much of which has been distributed widely by the hon. Gentleman's parliamentary colleagues.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the manager of the Gosport depot of the National Bus Company, Mr. McQuade—

Mr. McQuade came from Scotland, Mr. Speaker. Is my hon. Friend aware that Mr. McQuade has made representations about guarantees for the ex-employee pensioners of the NBC after privatisation? Is he yet in a position to make a statement on this issue?

Like Mr. McQuade's family, my own and many others spread from Scotland south of the border. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to pensions, which is an area of some unease. The company will have to make proposals to the Government. We accept fully that the position of the staff has to be protected.

Does the Minister realise that transport was municipalised in Scotland and in the rest of the United Kingdom after private ownership many years ago, which utterly failed the people? That is why it was municipalised and, ultimately, nationalised. That was done in the interests of the people.

The hon. Gentleman portrays the Labour party's ongoing approach, which is to look back instead of looking to the future. It is not prepared to face the challenges of the present and to recognise that past systems have failed and that the industry has been in a state of chronic decline. That decline is well demonstrated in Scotland by the fact that in the past 12 years no less than 43 per cent. of jobs in the Scottish NBC have been cut. If the hon. Gentleman wants to continue to defend a system which is declining as rapidly as that, he will not find much support.

Bus Safety

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what recent representations he has received concerning the safety of the public on transport following deregulation of buses.

Since the publication of the Transport Bill at the end of January we have received about 800 letters and a number of petitions about various aspects of the policy, including the implications for safety.

Is the Minister aware of the great concern of the general public and of workers in the industry over the great dangers that will result from poor maintenance following the privatisation of the buses? Do the Government intend to employ more staff to keep tabs on cowboy operators, who will flourish when the Bill is enacted?

There is always concern about safety standards. It is because of that concern that, quite apart from the Bill, we have been reviewing numbers and priorities for both vehicle and traffic examiners. I shall be having meetings about the issue later this week. The Government are already committed to making additional resources available for vehicle and traffic examination. Following deregulation, the quality of long-distance services has improved immeasurably. There is no reason why services cannot improve, irrespective of the operator, provided that they are supervised properly, and that will be done.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the safety standards of many municipal and public services leave much to be desired and that the steps that are being taken by herself and her ministerial colleagues will ensure that the safety standards of private operators in future will be an improvement on those which now exist in the public sector?

The comments of the chairman of the West Midlands traffic commissioners and others, which take into account the experience of private operators as against public and passenger transport executive operators, suggest that the private operator is generally no worse and no better than other operators. There is variability. In 1983, pass rates for private operators were about the same as the average pass rate but well above the rates of the PTEs and, at that time, of London Transport. I have no doubt that proper vehicle examinations annually and spot checks will ensure that safety can be as good as at present, if not better, and we shall ensure that it is improved.

Does the Minister agree that the present regulations will not be able to cope adequately with both the large number of companies and the small companies? Does she agree that if the regulations are inadequate the spot checks will be completely useless, no matter how many more people are put into the inspectorate?

I am aware of some concern about the regulations. I would review those regulations regularly in any case. Clause 31 of the Transport Bill, which is being considered in Standing Committee A, provides for the extension of the public service vehicles prohibition powers to those vehicles which are not for hire or reward. There are nearly 10,000 such vehicles. We are already doing what the hon. Gentleman asks.

Surely the Minister must acknowledge that there is growing concern about the fact that the deregulation of buses will result in a vast reduction in expensive maintenance services, especially in inner-city areas, and will be liable to cause breakdowns and accidents in busy city streets.

Just because the hon. Gentleman keeps on repeating his concern and keeps on whipping up concern among people who do not know the facts, he cannot expect—any more than I do—dead silence on the issue from the press. There is a need for improvements in maintenance standards, but that need is in no way restricted to private operators. We are in the business to ensure that the maintenance standards of all operators are improved.

Why are the safety requirements on carriage for hire and reward that are laid by the House on British Rail so much more stringent than those laid on coach operators?

In the past, more people—sadly, not as many today—chose to travel by British Rail, and I am sure that that aspect was considered in framing the original legislation. I have made it clear to the House this afternoon that the safety standards imposed on buses should not be lower than those imposed on British Rail. That is exactly what we are working for.

Did the Minister see the party political broadcast last week on behalf of the Conservative party? Does she agree that the bus shown in that broadcast does not operate in Hereford, despite the commentary? Is it a fact that one of the two passengers concerned is an active member of the Conservative party? Is it true that the other passenger admitted afterwards that she had never used a bus? Is it not disgraceful that the Conservative party should seek to mislead the country in this way? Bearing in mind this type of appalling conduct, how on earth is the House supposed to accept the hon. Lady's views on future safety standards?

I have sufficient confidence in my party not to have to be persuaded by party political broadcasts on its behalf. I did not watch the broadcast, but I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman did so. Conservatives and members of every other party, including many hon. Members, regularly travel by bus. There are others who do not travel by bus regularly, but do so at times. am sure that if the hon. Gentleman analysed the antecedents of some of the actors in Labour party political broadcasts he would find them wanting. The hon. Gentleman knows well enough from past debates and discussions that what I have said about safety is absolutely correct. We are not prepared to have safety standards that do not meet the regulations. We shall increase the staff by the number necessary when we know how many private operators will come forward. Their buses will need to be checked on an annual and spot-check basis.

M25 Motorway

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what is his latest estimate of the date of the completion of construction and opening of the last link of the M25 London orbital motorway.

The last contract, for the length from the A405 to the A6, is due for completion in November 1986.

If there is no slippage in the timetable for the completion of London's orbital motorway, my hon. Friend will know that fate, if not, her Department has decreed that the last link to be completed will be near to my constituency and deeply affect my constituents. In view of the undoubted and exceptional congestion that will take place on the roads in that area during that period, may I have my hon. Friend's assurance that there will be personal monitoring at ministerial level of the congestion of those roads so that exceptional and temporary traffic management schemes can be introduced if necessary?

My hon. Friend may not be aware that last month I did a tour with the Hertfordshire police of the A405, the M25, the A1, the Al(M) and the new section that is being built. I have discussed traffic control and traffic signing with the police and my traffic engineers. I can assure my hon. Friend that we will check the matter regularly and, in particular, when the junction 8 works on the M1 have to take place for up to a fortnight at the beginning of July. I shall keep in touch with ny hon. Friend and with the travelling public through the media about those works.

As the Minister's Department will be able to "trunk" roads in London without a public inquiry, will the hon. Lady tell the House what motorway-style improvements are planned for London? Will she tell us something about the future of the west cross route?

First, let me make it clear for the umpteenth time that there are no proposals for motorway building in London. Secondly, the assessment studies currently being carried out, which include the possibility of a west cross route along the line of the railway, are not complete. Thorough consultations have been carried out and comments are still being received by the consultants. When I can make a statement about that, I shall do so. For the present, the hon. Gentleman knows, as well as I do, that there is a finite date by which the ownership of a limited 65 miles of road will be transferred. It means no more "trunking" than the transfer of ownership to my Department.

Is my hon. Friend aware that, before its completion, the M25 has become a dangerous race track, in particular during the rush hour? What consultations has she had with the Home Secretary about the necessity for adequate policing of that motorway? Are the present resources being used less than those advocated by the chief constables involved?

My right hon. Friend is right about the standard of driving on some sections not just of the M25 but of other roads. Unfortunately, because people tend to use the M25 for short runs only, they do not adjust to motorway driving as quickly as they should. I have already had meetings with the chief constables of the home counties and with my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office about adequate policing. I am in correspondence with them to ensure that there is adequate enforcement on the motorway.

Heathrow (Fifth Terminal)

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the extent of his responsibilities in relation to the decision on the application for the construction of a fifth terminal at Heathrow.

My right hon. Friend has responsibility for overall policy on the future of Heathrow, but it is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment who will take the decision on the existing application from Uttlesford district council.

Will the Government attach great weight to the strong feelings of large numbers of people around Heathrow, not just about aircraft noise, but about the huge traffic jams, to which the inquiry inspector had no satisfactory answer?

The feelings of the local people and the travelling public will be given proper weight in our considerations. The inspector made a number of recommendations for improvements to the roads in the vicinity of Heathrow. He also recommended that a working party be set up to study the improvements required to provide a satisfactory highway network to serve the airport, regardless of whether a fifth terminal is constructed. I assure my hon. Friend that those recommendations will be carefully considered.

Does my hon. Friend accept that for many years the people of Ealing and west London have suffered unbearable aircraft noise and pollution as well as the traffic congestion to which my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) referred, and that a fifth terminal would make life intolerable and must be resisted at all costs?

I cannot comment, as I think my hon. Friend knows. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction will make their decision as soon as they can.

Will the Minister accept that the development of a fifth terminal will act as a positive incentive for regional airline operators such as Ecosse Air, which now flies from Carlisle to London? Because of the success of the airline on that route, will the Minister put it to Ecosse Air that the people of Cumbria need a jet link from Carlisle to London? Will the Minister support that principle?

I have noted very carefully what the hon. Gentleman said, but, as I said earlier, I am afraid that in the light of the decision to be taken on the Eyre inquiry I cannot comment further.

What representations have been received by the Department of Transport from those living in the area around Heathrow? Is my hon. Friend aware of the deep concern about the environmental impact of a fifth terminal on an area of the green belt which is already under severe pressure?

Just as the inspector at the inquiry was well aware, so also are we well aware of those representations. However, I cannot comment further. All the representations will be borne in mind.

Bus Services

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what further representations he has received regarding the Transport Bill.

Since the publication of the Transport Bill at the end of January we have received around 800 letters and a number of petitions about various aspects of the policy.

If the Minister will not consider the widespread opposition to the Bill and drop it, will he at least give an assurance that no person who enjoys concessionary fares at present will be detrimentally affected by the passage of the Bill? Will he also assure the House that those employed in the industry will not find that their pay and conditions are worsened when the Bill becomes law?

Concessionary fares are a matter for local decision by locally elected people. The hon. Gentleman is already aware that it is not for the Government to dictate what pattern they choose to follow.

Is my hon. Friend aware that those who enjoy the meanest and most unsatisfactory of bus services are easy fodder for the distortions of the Oppostion, in particular since Labour councils have promised that when the Bill becomes an Act no financial support will be given by county councils to existing bus services? Is it not time for a more determined effort to be made to present the virtues of the bus policy nationwide so that people may be satisfied that their services, particularly in rural areas, are likely to be improved, not destroyed?

Ministers are undertaking a series of visits to explain the Government's policy and proposals in order to combat the widespread distrotion to which my hon. and learned Friend has referred. So widespread and so extensive is it in some parts of the country that local authorities have been spending not hundreds, not thousands, but in some cases over £100,000 of ratepayers' money on campaigns to distort and discredit the Government's proposals.

Is the Minister not aware that Conservative Members of Parliament have been telling those who are very concerned about losing their concessionary fares that they have nothing to worry about? The Minister seems to be peddling a new line from the Dispatch Box. Will he give a clear assurance that if the Transport Bill is enacted all bus operators will be required to preserve concessionary schemes in those areas which now operate them and that they will be no worse that existing schemes?

Two separate matters arise from this question: first, the scale of the concession; and, secondly, the operators through whom it is available. The Bill provides that concessions through operators will have to be available to all operators and not, as at present, be reserved to the municipal operator or to the other favoured son of the rating authority. As for the level of concessionary fares, I repeat the point that I made earlier: it is for the local authority to decide what it believes to be right in the light of its own local circumstances.

My hon. Friend has already said a little about the pension rights of the various bus operators' employees, but is he aware that there is great concern about pensions and that it must be a matter of principle for pension rights to be fully protected after the Bill is passed? Will he therefore say a little more about this matter?

It may be helpful if I say that I understand that the matter will be debated fully in the Committee examining the Bill. I am sure that all the more detailed points in which my hon. Friend is interested will be brought out then. It is for the National Bus Company to make the proposals which it believes to be appropriate in relation to its staff and their pensions. We fully accept that the position of the staff has to be protected.

As the Adam Smith Institute would appear to be the only organisation supporting the Transport Bill, will the Minister have another look at the 800 representations that he has had and heed the voices of more moderate groups such as the Women's Institute?

A number of groups, particularly those representing the consumer, have expressed support in principle for the Government's proposals. Moreover, the hon. Gentleman should be aware that there has been widespread misunderstanding and distortion as to what the Government's proposals actually envisage.

Will the Minister explain to the general public that, far from writing in safeguards either for those who work in the industry or for consumers who at present have concessionary fares, he is removing the few safeguards that exist? Why did he agree to remove from the Bill, more than two thirds of the way through the Committee stage, a safeguard which would have enabled the public to make representations to the traffic commissioners about the quality of the operators? Is that what the hon. Gentleman calls offering safeguards? Is he not just, as always in the Bill, seeking to perpetrate an enormous confidence trick on the public?

The hon. Lady knows perfectly well that what she is suggesting is not true. The position is that we removed, under pressure from my hon. Friends, a clause in the Bill which was otiose, unnecessary and repetitive, and the right of being heard by the traffic commissioners that remains.

Channel Link

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he expects to be in a position to invite applications to build a fixed Channel link.

Guidance was issued to promoters on 2 April following a statement in the House.

Many colleagues on both sides of the House will welcome the statement that at long last, after nearly 200 years of discussion, something concrete will happen with regard to the Channel link. Will my hon. Friend give the House an indication as to how many people will be employed, not just pouring concrete, but in the steelworks?

I thank my hon. Friend for what he has said. However, it will depend on the project—if there is a project—as to how much employment the building and operation of the link, if it is to go ahead, will provide. The structure will also affect where the employment will be. However, steel, shipbuilding yards, traffic control, signal makers, for both road and rail routes. the construction industry, the heavy goods equipment industry —all such industries—could benefit if the decision is made to go ahead.

What special efforts will the Department make to ensure that we get our fair share of the contracts involved?

I presume that the hon. Gentleman is referring not to the United Kingdom generally but to Wales in particular. Obviously, we are bound, if the project is going ahead, by the rules within Europe, but we shall do all that we can to make sure that the British tenders, if they are called for, are—

If the project is to go ahead. Such a decision has not been taken, as the House is well aware. We shall do our best to ensure that all the British tenders are among the best tenders. That will ensure that the jobs will come to Britain if the project is to go ahead.

Is my hon. Friend aware that between the French and British systems there is an entirely different trend in planning procedures, and that on the British side there will be no planning inquiry? Does my hon. Friend not regard that as a defect in the arrangements, and how will the ordinary people in the street be able to express their view if it is to be only by private Bill procedure?

The Bill procedure in the House, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said when he made his statement on 2 April, would be by a Government Bill, which would be a hybrid Bill. That would cover the planning procedures necessary. However, we are giving full consideration to the most appropriate form of consultation if and when proposals satisfying all the requirements in the guidelines have been received from the promoters.

St Pancras To Sheffield Line

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he has recently held discussions with the chairman of the British Railways Board regarding the further electrification of the St. Pancras to Sheffield line.

Is the Minister aware that the deep, abiding, and growing concern about the future of this vital line has resulted in the past year alone in three conferences of all the councils along the line? Rather than accentuating people's fears by stating that the line is not in danger, when everyone knows that it is, will the Minister now allay those fears by stating that it is intended to carry out the planned electrification of the line beyond Bedford and gradually further up over the years?

If there is deep concern, it is because the hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends have been peddling it. There is no cause whatever for such concern. British Rail has shown its faith in the line by introducing high speed trains on it only two years ago, resulting in a 20 minutes faster run to London and an increase in the number of passengers of between 15 and 20 per cent. Against that background, the hon. Gentleman should know that it is inconceivable that the ideas that he has been peddling should ever come to fruition.

Is my hon. Friend aware that Derbyshire county council, no doubt with local elections in mind, is planning yet another conference on electrification of the railway? Will he let the council know that there are cheaper ways of communicating with British Rail and with the Department?

My hon. Friend is right to point out that the future of the line, the way in which it is managed and operated and any investment proposed for it are entirely matters for British Rail. He is thus also right to suggest that if people are worried or concerned about the line they should address themselves to British Rail, which will provide the same reassurance as I have given today.

Air Traffic (Holland-United Kingdom)

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what has been the effect of the more liberal air services agreement with the Dutch Government on traffic between Holland and the United Kingdom.

Excellent. In the first eight months, London-Amsterdam traffic was 16 per cent.)higher than it was a year before, compared with an average growth in air traffic of 9 per cent. between London and Europe as a whole. Six more services have begun between the United Kingdom and the Netherlands and a further 10 are proposed.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer, which fully illustrates the beneficial effects of deregulation and competition. Having already achieved the same deal with Luxembourg, will he now try to negotiate similar arrangements with other countries, such as France and Italy? May we look forward to further progress in that respect?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning the Luxembourg agreement, which we hope will be a model for future agreements with other countries. We are especially pleased with the arrangements whereby the airlines can set their own tariffs, subject only to the very rare cases in which both Governments disagree with them. In the case of Luxembourg, the lowest return fare has already fallen from £98 to £73.

If the Minister is really such a great believer in free enterprise, why has British Airways been offered a subsidy of £7 million to run a doubly expensive air service to the Falkland Islands? I should have thought that if the Royal Air Force could run services more cheaply than British Airways—

Order. That is a little wide of the question—unless the Dutch aircraft go there, too.

Bus Services

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport what representations he has received from Newport borough council and Gwent county council on the deregulation of bus services.

We have received representations from Gwent county council and Newport borough council opposing various aspects of the proposals in the White Paper.

Is the Minister aware that the inadequate protection of pension benefits is a serious bone of contention? Does he agree that the Bill fails to provide the "no-worsening of protection" which employees and pensioners of local authority undertakings and the National Bus Company are entitled to expect?

I have already answered two similar questions. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's difficulty, but I can give him the assurance that we have fully in mind the pension needs to which he refers.

Bedford Midland To Leicester (Electrification)

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he has received any proposals from British Rail for the electrification of the route from Bedford Midland to Leicester or for works to facilitate such electrification; and if he will make a statement.

Nevertheless, is my hon. Friend aware that a conference was held on 15 March at Leicestershire county hall to consider the future of electrification? Bearing in mind that there is already electrification as far as Bedford, will my hon. Friend talk to British Rail about the matter? The minutes of the conference show support for further electrification. The line is already electrified between London and Bedford, and there has been a doubling of the service.

British Rail is involved in the electrification of the east coast main line, the Cambridgeshire service, the Tonbridge-Hastings service and the East Anglia service. I understand that BR is considering a proposal for the electrification of the Bedford-Kettering section, with a possible link with Corby, but I have not yet received a formal proposal on the matter.

Will not the Minister accept that it was only pressure from Sheffield city council, Members of Parliament and others that persuaded BR to run high-speed trains in the first place? British Rail opposed the proposal for a considerable time. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House believe that the Midland main line is treated as the poor relation among BR's main line services and that if it is left to the BR management to make such proposals the citizens of Sheffield and other stations on the line will wait for a long time for an electrified service.

The hon. Gentleman says that the Midland line is a poor relation, but in view of the substantial investment, the introduction of modern rolling stock and HSTs and all the other ways in which BR has improved the service, I believe that many other parts of the country would be glad to be treated in a similar way.

Attorney-General

Coal Industry Dispute

20.

asked the Attorney-General if he will update the figures given to the hon. Member for Leicester, East on 18 March, Official Report, column 629, regarding cases heard by the courts and cases outstanding in connection with the recent coal mining dispute to the latest available date.

My reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) on 18 March was based upon statistics compiled by the national reporting centre, which has now closed down. I am therefore unable to say exactly how many cases outstanding at the conclusion of the dispute have yet to be heard. The available figures, although not covering all courts, show that a very substantial number of cases have been dealt with, and I would like to congratulate the magistrates and the court officials on the magnificent way in which they have dealt with this extra burden.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that answer and join him in congratulating the magistrates who have handled that shocking catalogue of outstanding cases. May I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to find out how many cases are still awaiting charge and trial? Victimisation is now occurring again at pits between working miners who never went on strike and miners who returned to work, and there is a need for a deterrent in future.

Where cases of harassment have occurred since the end of the strike, police inquiries are under way. In the case of Mrs. Watson, the Director of Public Prosecutions has advised that certain charges be preferred. If there is any continuing harassment, I do not want those who perpetrate it to feel that they will escape justice.

The latest available figures—those made available before the closure of the national reporting centre — show that out of 9,808 persons arrested only 7,917 have been charged to date, and that of those 1,335 have so far been acquitted. At least 1,000 cases remain to be heard. The overwhelming majority of the cases involve trivial charges against previously law-abiding persons. That being so, I urge the Attorney-General to think again about the answer that he gave me on the last occasion when the matter was raised at Question Time, and to make a general statement, which could provide guidance for those pursuing such prosecutions, at considerable expense to the taxpayer, and to the detriment of respect for the law in mining constituencies. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman issue a general statement telling those people to ease off?

The grant of an amnesty is not within my powers, as in most cases the chief constable is responsible. Even if it were within my powers, it would be highly inappropriate, and not conducive to the preservation of the peace during industrial disputes, for me to give such guidance. It would also be unfair to those already convicted. There must be a number of borderline cases. One saw that recently in Nottingham, when a number of cases were dropped.

Might I ask my right hon. and learned Friend—did you say "Jester", Mr. Speaker.

I should like to ask my right hon. and learned Friend, without jesting, whether he agrees that incidents during the miners' strike rather tarnished the good name of the country? That being so, is it not important that justice is seen to be done and to be dispatched quickly? Was that not the very reason why our Prime Minister thought it necessary to assure our friends in the middle east that we had come to grips with this problem?

I also misheard you, Mr. Speaker, when you called my hon. Friend. I shall not discuss anything that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said abroad. There is no doubt that what happened during the picketing and the harassment during the strike did nothing for the good name of Britain. However, many people have been prosecuted — the conviction rate overall is about 75 per cent.

Order. May I simply say to the hon. Member that if I did say that, it was a term of endearment.

Administration Of Justice

22.

asked the Attorney-General if he is satisfied with the speed of the administration of justice in relation to civil cases; and if he will make a statement.

Although I am satisfied that cases are heard as quickly as possible given the resources at present available and the existing procedural rules, the Lord Chancellor, with the full co-operation of the judges, is always seeking ways in which to improve procedure and administration and has recently set up the major inquiry known as the civil justice review. The speed with which a case comes to trial depends to a very substantial extent on the efforts made by the parties.

I thank the Attorney-General for that answer and information. Is he aware that the legal procedures relating to the original collapse of Ronan Point in 1968 are still moving through the courts and have some way to run? Might the review that he has mentioned be of assistance in this matter, and does its ambit extend to the Official Referee, with whom I understand the case now stands?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for telling me what he would follow his original question with, as I have been able to do a careful inquiry to give the detailed reply which I think he should have. In this case, as in all civil proceedings, the responsibility for carrying the action forward rests with the parties. Although the writ was issued in 1970, the case was not ready for trial for many years and, as late as November 1978, the defendants obtained leave to amend their defence. The trial took place on 25 February 1980–10 years after the writ. The judgment was appealed against, unsuccessfully, on 9 July 1981. The question of quantum was referred to an official referee. A preliminary issue raised by the defendant was dealt with by the official referee, but, here again, the decision was appealed against. Bundles of documents for the appeal were not approved until March this year. It is plain that the complexity and importance of the issues and the amount of documentation have made preparation a lengthy task. One explanation might be that an affidavit lodged by the defendants refers to the disclosure of more than 100,000 documents.

All of those matters are within the control of the parties, but procedure generally will be part of the civil justice review, and I hope that such matters will be looked into. There is a remedy for the plaintiff. No plaintiff needed to let this take 10 years to get to trial. He has certain remedies which could force the case on much earlier.

Following the original question, might I put it to my right hon. and learned Friend that there is a delay of about two years in settling a date for trial for commercial cases in the commercial court? Bearing in mind the significance to our international trade of the availability of British justice, will my right hon. and learned Friend consider devoting more resources to this area of activity so that the trial process can be speeded up?

In a sense, the problem is rather ironic as it is a testament to the court's popularity that many contracts, parties to which—[Interruption.]It will be seen that that is right. Many entirely overseas contracts, neither party to which has any connection with Britain, have written into them a provision that any dispute is to be settled in accordance with English law. That is a great tribute to our commercial court, but it has led to an enormous increase in the court's work. The Lord Chancellor is well aware of this, and he and the commercial court committee are considering the question of delay with a view to reducing it.

Uninsured Defendants

23.

asked the Attorney-General why it is intended by the proposed amendments to the Supreme Court rules submitted to the Supreme Court rule committee by the Lord Chancellor's Department to exclude from the operation of section 6 of the Administration of Justice Act 1982 plaintiffs taking action against uninsured defendants other than public authorities.

This restriction follows the recommendation in paragraph 240 of the report of the Law Commission, No. 56, which led to the enactment of section 6. A similar restriction applies in Scotland. The matter is now one for the Supreme Court rule committee, which is now considering it.

Surely the issue is that some defendants may be able to pay compensation even though they are not insured. There does not seem to be any good reason for securing the position of such people, because if it is secured they are better off than they would have been had they followed the law and got themselves insured.

The rule committee is looking at that and all the other attendant problems which follow —for example, who is to be exempted, should it be just those recommended by the Law Commission, or should we widen the scope? The probable thinking behind the Law Commission's recommendation is that there must be some finality, particularly for the uninsured defendant who has the possibility of an enormous claim hanging over him for perhaps the rest of his life. That is one of the matters which obviously caused the Law Commission to make that recommendation.

Overseas Development

Food Aid

24.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he is satisfied with the amount of food and aid currently being distributed in Eritrea and Tigre; and if he will make a statement.

Although food and other relief supplies are arriving in Ethiopia in large quantities, I believe that there is a serious shortfall in Eritrea and Tigre. The United Nations co-ordinator is discussing this with the Ethiopian authorities. At the United Nations conference in Geneva last month the Ethiopian Foreign Minister gave a solemn pledge that relief supplies would be distributed to all those in need, without diversion, delay or discrimination. Together with other donors, we are working to ensure that that pledge is honoured.

I thank the Minister for that reply, and I am glad to hear that the Government intend to maintain pressure on the Ethiopian Government. Is the Royal Air Force still dropping supplies in Eritrea and Tigre?

The RAF is still carrying out its food aid operation, and we shall carefully consider its continuation.

May I ask about the impact of this programme on the rest of the aid programme? While we appreciate that my right hon. Friend has a contingency fund for emergencies, does not the size and scale of this year's disaster in east Africa and the length of time it is likely to last make a case for an upward revision of the entire programme? Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will be much support from some Conservative Members if that could be arranged?

I understand my right hon. Friend's point, but I have already announced at the Geneva conference a provisional figure for the quantity of emergency relief which we expect to provide as a minimum, and we can contain that figure within our aid budget.

Does not the present crisis and what the right hon. Gentleman said about the United Nations demonstrate the need for an overall strategic policy for the distribution of food? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is now a need to turn loans into grants in respect of the 30 poorest countries, and does he further agree that there is a need to diversify in the nine African countries which rely on just one crop for 70 per cent. of their income?

The hon. Gentleman has asked a diversity of questions. This country and quite a number of other major donors already turn loans into grants, and quite right too. As to overall strategy, we are thinking very carefully about the totality of our policy in Africa, where many of the greatest problems clearly lie.

Ethiopia

25.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the famine in Ethiopia.

30.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about the famine in Ethiopia and future United Kingdom Government plans for aid and assistance.

Several million Ethiopians remain at risk. Relief supplies are reaching many of those in need but distribution and other problems persist. Pledges of food aid to Ethiopia for 1985 total more than 1 million tonnes. We shall continue to provide emergency and food relief. both directly and through the European Community.

What part in total has Britain played in bringing about any improvement, how great is the remaining need, and what more can we do?

In recent months we have made a significant contribution to Ethiopia amounting to some £34 million. We have provided food aid, the RAF Hercules detachments, trucks, other transport and other supplies. We have also met our share of the substantial European Community contribution. The needs remain considerable, and we intend to play our part for the remainder of this year.

Is it not obvious that the problem in Ethiopia is not one of insufficient food—because there are ample supplies, at least until the end of this year—but of distribution? In commending both public and private contributions from the United Kingdom to that unfortunate country, is it not a matter for condemnation of the Ethiopian authorities that they cannot distribute the food? In many cases they have inhibited other countries which have offered to distribute that food to the people who need it.

My hon. Friend is broadly right. The overall quantities pledged to Ethiopia look as though they should be enough for this year, but there are serious problems about internal distribution. In our view the Ethiopian Government need to fulfil their promise of nearly 4,000 vehicles for relief and rescue operations on food movements. We also believe that too great a share of their resources are at present going on resettlement.

Is the Minister aware that there are many lessons to be learnt from the handling of the famine in Ethiopia? Will he assure the House that those lessons will be appreciated by all the aid donors, the multinational organisations and volunteer agencies, in order to be ready for the next famine in another African country?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we have thought hard about what has been happening in Ethiopia and Sudan. Tragic though the experience is, I am sure that we shall learn from it.

The Minister will be aware that the problem in Ethiopia also relates to refugees in Sudan, whom the House debated earlier. The problem relates to debt. Recently we have seen a fall of the Government in Sudan largely because of the debt crisis. What advice has the Minister given the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who will attend a joint meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank about this issue later this month, to ensure that meeting Africa's needs is a priority issue and that there is a debt write-off or, at least, a grant funding of some of the debts so that those countries can tackle the appalling drought problem?

The debt problem in Sudan is a different matter from the famine in Ethiopia, to which the question relates. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be thinking hard about how to handle debts in the meetings which take place in Washington this month. No one doubts the importance of that, although, as I have already said, one of the positive features of our aid programme in Africa is that for poor countries aid takes the form of a grant and, therefore, does not generate debts.

European Development Fund (Contracts)

27.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what is the share of contracts from the European development fund won by British companies.

Twenty-five per cent. of EDF contracts are placed in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. Of those placed in Europe, our cumulative share at the end of 1984 was 192 per cent. For the first time that exceeded our contribution of 17·76 per cent.

I thank my right hon. Friend for what is essentially good news. How do the 1984 figures compare with those of previous years? Does he agree that Third world countries depend for their growth as much on vibrant trade with nations such as Britain as on development aid?

The 1984 figure of 19·2 per cent. was nearly 2 per cent. more than the 1983 figure. As my hon. Friend said, that is an encouraging tendency He is absolutely right to stress the importance of trade

Does the Minister not regard it as a great tragedy that in places such as Bradford there are large numbers of skilled engineers who could be put to work manufacturing tractors, irrigation and agricultural equipment, trucks and other items which would help to combat the food crisis in Ethiopia and elsewhere? What are the Government doing to invest in manufacturing projects in the United Kingdom, which would put British engineers back to work and help to alleviate starvation in the world?

Almost 80 per cent. of the money that we spend through our bilateral aid programme finds its way back to Britain in the form of either goods or services. It is also a fact that the European development fund, the World Bank and other multilateral organisations offer many opportunities, which are often taken up, for British manufacturers to make goods to be sent to the Third world.

Leeward Islands Air Transport

28.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether Leeward Islands Air Transport has yet reached an agreement with British Aerospace for the purchase of Super 748s with an aid grant from Her Majesty's Government.

Leeward Islands Air Transport has entered into a contract with British Aerospace, subject to finalisation of ECGD support and the conclusion of a formal agreement between LIAT and Her Majesty's Government on the terms of the proposed aid grant for two Super 748s. LIAT has already accepted the broad terms of the Government's offer.

While thanking my right hon. Friend for that useful and welcome reply, may I ask him, first, what is the sum of money involved and, secondly, whether there are any other sources of finance for this welcome order?

We have offered an aid grant from our aid-trade provision up to a maximum of £3·83 million. I understand that the Caribbean Development Bank is providing resources for two other 748 aircraft.

African Governments (Debt Burden)

29.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what discussions he has had with African Governments concerning the impact of their debt burden on the effectiveness of aid programmes.

My discussions wih African Governments about aid policy from time to time take into account, as appropriate, their debt burdens. Debt problems normally feature within the analysis of aid needs and economic policies considered at each World Bank-led consultative group.

The Minister will be aware that at least £42 billion worth of debt affects African countries as a whole. Since we have this useful chance to further the issue, would he now care to say whether and on what scale in the IMF and World Bank meetings there will be pressure from the Chancellor to write off a proportion of that debt, without which there will be no way in which countries such as Ethiopia or Sudan can overcome their debt problem?

I do not believe, and nor does my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the wholesale writing-off of debts is the right answer. However, we have made it clear that, to help countries with balance of payments difficulties, we are willing to consider providing programme aid if they can come to an agreement with the IMF.

Prime Minister's Questions (Printing)

3.30 pm

I have a short statement to make about the printing of Prime Minister's Questions. The House will wish to know that I have approved the recommendation in the first report from the Select Committee on Procedure regarding a shortened form of printing Oral Questions tabled for answer by the Prime Minister. I have also approved a resolution of the Services Committee which endorses the scheme that has been proposed. Arrangements are being made for the new format to apply to all notices of Questions given from tomorrow onwards. This means that the first Order Paper in the new form will appear on Tuesday 30 April. I am obliged to both Committees for their advice.

Gas (Northern Ireland)

3.31 pm

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 10 for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the rejection by the Government of the proposals of the gas industry joint working group and the consequences of that for the future of the gas industry in Northern Ireland."
The matter is specific. Last autumn, the Government announced that the project for the purchase of natural gas from the Kinsale field was not to proceed. The then Minister of State added that the Government were not prepared to continue to provide a subsidy for the industry and that since, as he said, the Kinsale project had appeared to offer the only prospect for a viable gas industry, they would have to take stock of the position. He meant that they were preparing legislation to wind up the industry, but he invited representations from the interests involved.

At once, the Northern Ireland Gas Employers Board and the gas trade union group established a joint working group, which produced a plan to rescue the industry. That plan was examined by two independent firms of consultants, which confirmed, first, that it would offer gas to the people of Belfast at a price 25 per cent. below the current price and, secondly, that no subsidy was involved, since over eight years it would be self-financing, with a positive overall profit of £261 million.

That plan was submitted to the Government. On Good Friday, the Minister of State gave his Easter offering to the people of Northern Ireland. He announced that he had rejected the plan and he confirmed that that would mean the end of the gas industry in Northern Ireland.

There is no doubt about the importance of the matter. The closure of the gas industry will cost more than 1,000 jobs in the industry itself, in addition to those which will be placed at risk in industries that depend on gas. The effect on consumers may be demonstrated briefly by the fact that the cost of electricity in Northern Ireland is, admittedly and unashamedly, held by the Government at the price level in the highest-priced region of Great Britain.

In considering whether the matter should have urgent consideration, Mr. Speaker, you may wish to have in mind the timing of the announcement. On Thursday 4 April, the House rose for the recess. On that day, Ministers were answering Northern Ireland questions and hon. Members from Northern Ireland were in the Chamber. If it was not considered appropriate to give the information ir_ answer to a question, there would have been no difficulty in making a statement. No mention was made of the matter. The announcement was made the next day, after the House had risen. It would be difficult to recollect a more calculated or deliberate slap in the face for this House.

I believe that it is not yet too late to save the industry. Clearly, the Government intend those in that and other industries to make any future decisions on the basis that gas as a form of energy will no longer be an option. With every day that passes, the prospect of saving the industry recedes.

I invite you, Mr. Speaker, to permit the House an opportunity to make its voice known before the knife is finally driven home.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House to discuss a specific and important matter which he believes should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the rejection by the Government of the proposals of the gas industry joint working group and the consequences of that for the future of the gas industry in Northern Ireland."
I listened with great care to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said. As he knows, my sole duty in considering an application under Standing Order No. 10 is to decide whether it should have priority over the business already set down for this evening or for tomorrow.

I regret that I cannot find that the matter that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has raised meets all the criteria laid down in the Standing Order. Therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.

Statutory Instruments, &C

By leave of the House, I shall put together the Questions on the three motions relating to statutory instruments.

Ordered,

That the Town and Country Planning (Compensation for Restrictions on Mineral Working) Regulations 1985 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft Specialized Agencies of the United Nations (Immunities and Privileges) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 1985 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft Eumetsat (Legal Capacities) Order 1985 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. —[Mr. Lennox-Boyd.]

Orders Of The Day

Surrogacy Arrangements Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

3.37 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The first point that I should make about the Bill is that, although I believe that its aims are important and have been widely welcomed on both sides of the House, it is a measure that is strictly limited in its extent. Basically, it seeks to prohibit the operation in this country of commercial surrogacy agencies and the advertising of surrogacy services.

What it does not do is attempt to deal with all the issues raised in the Warnock report which I published last year. As the House knows, those issues range from the legal status of surrogate children to the proposals concerning a statutory licensing authority to oversee research. Many of the issues are complex, and there is deep division about some of the issues, which has been expressed in many of the responses that we have received to the Warnock report.

The Government accept that the proper way to handle these issues is by a comprehensive piece of legislation. Work on that is now taking place, with the intention of introducing such comprehensive legislation as soon as practicable and as soon as the parliamentary timetable permits.

On commercial surrogacy, the question that the Government had to consider was whether it would be better to leave that issue also to the main Bill or whether action could be taken ahead of it. We decided that legislation could and should be introduced. The main reason for that was the considerable concern following the Baby Cotton case in January. The House will recall that Mrs. Cotton received payment from a commercial agency acting on behalf of the commissioning couple. The baby was subsequently made a ward of court and, indeed, remains so. However, Mr. Justice Latey gave care and control of the child to the commissioning parents with permission to take the child out of the jurisdiction of the court.

The case illustrated the kind of difficulties and dangers that the Warnock committee had already drawn to the attention of the public. The Warnock committee was in no doubt about commercial surrogacy, and stated:
"We have considered whether the criminal law should have any part to play in the control of surrogacy and have concluded that it should. We recognise that there is a serious risk of commercial exploitation of surrogacy and that this would be difficult to prevent without the assistance of the criminal law."
Similar views have been expressed by many other bodies.

In the consultation which followed the publication of the Warnock report, the overwhelming response was to the effect that commercial arrangements should be prohibited. Over 90 per cent. of all comments received opposed surrogacy undertaken on a commercial basis. That included the churches, women's organisations and professional bodies such as the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of General Practitioners and the Royal College of Nursing.

The arguments against commercial surrogacy are overwhelming. When it comes to adoption, we do not allow commercial arrangements, for the good reason that the paramount concern must be the interests of the child. The same argument applies here. However sympathetic we may be to the commissioning parents, the interests of the child must come first.

Many would argue against all surrogacy arrangements, but it is clear that the presence of commercial agencies risks the exploitation of women by agencies with a financial incentive. Frankly, I believe that it is simply unacceptable to sell children, whether before or after birth.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the individual woman appears not to be covered by the Bill, because she would not, as an individual acting privately, be an agency? Could she not exploit herself by offering herself for gain as a surrogate mother? Does he agree that that would be wrong and that a provision to cover that possibility should be included in the Bill?

The House will have to make a judgment on that. Our judgment is that it would be wrong to involve the woman in that way, first because of the possibility of the taint of criminality on the child and, secondly, because it is just as likely that the woman would herself be exploited. That is why we have not extended the concept of criminality to the mother. However, it is a point that the House can consider.

The case for acting now is overwhelming. If the Government were to wait to make regulations under a comprehensive Warnock Bill, the result would be a delay in which more births would be likely to take place into what everyone agrees is a lebal limbo. That could lead to one of the tragic cases which have occurred in the United States, for example, of a handicapped baby born and disowned by both his mother and the commissioning parents. A Bill now can do something to prevent such problems from arising.

The legislation therefore has the limited but vital objective of prohibiting the further development of commercial surrogacy in Britain. It will also ban the advertising of surrogacy services by agencies, surrogate mothers or commissioning parents.

Clause 1 defines a number of terms for the purposes of the Bill, in particular "surrogate mother" and "surrogacy arrangement". Clause 2 provides for the prohibition of commercial surrogacy agencies, and subsection (1) lists the activities in relation to surrogacy which the Bill prohibits if done on a commercial basis. These involve initiating, or taking part in, negotiations with a view to making a surrogacy arrangement or compiling information with such a view. An important provision of clause 2 is subsection (2), which excludes surrogate mothers—to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) just referred — and commissioning parents from an offence under subsection (1).

Our prime aim in this measure is to outlaw commercial agencies. It is not part of the purpose of the Bill to penalise the infertile couple who may be driven by their plight into making a surrogacy arrangement. Nor do we want to penalise the surrogate mother, who may genuinely consider that she is helping another woman who is unable to carry a child by making parenthood possible for her. We must guard against the possibility that such women might be exploited by commercial agencies. We have therefore concluded that it would be best not to penalise the surrogate mother.

Has my right hon. Friend considered that charities might be established for the express purpose of operating a surrogacy agency, which would not be covered by the Bill? Such organisations might even be funded by the GLC, for example.

I shall leave aside the last part of my hon. Friend's intervention, as I do not particularly want to enter into that issue. The House has a choice, because we could leave the provisions that are set out in the Bill until a more major Bill is introduced that encompasses the recommendations of the Warnock committee. I think that it is right to take limited action now, as a matter of urgency. We have tried to frame a Bill that will find agreement on both sides of the House and I think that we have achieved that.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is concern about any kind of surrogacy, irrespective of whether money is passed? I have read the Bill carefully and I cannot find any provisions in it that cover non-commercial surrogacy. A woman might lend out her body, as it were, for a friend. Are there any plans to introduce provisions that will cover that circumstance?

Many of the individuals and representatives of organisations which have given evidence to us believe that surrogacy generally should be prohibited. There are many issues, including the practical steps that can be taken to prevent it happening. That is part of the consideration that we are giving to the report of the Warnock committee.

Am I not right in saying that the Warnock committee recommended making all surrogacy arrangements illegal? The House would be more persuaded by my right hon. Friend if he could say when his comprehensive Bill is likely to come before us. It cannot be introduced until the next Session at the very earliest, which means that it cannot become law until the summer of 1986 at the very earliest. The present arrangements will continue until then unless my right hon. Friend is seized of the fact that many hon. Members and the country generally are deeply concerned about the distasteful practice of surrogacy.

I hope that my right hon. Friend is seized of the fact that the Government are concerned about these matters and, as an exceptional measure, have introduced the Bill. It would be wrong for my right hon. Friend and me to fall out over this issue, as we both want to achieve the same result. The more major Bill that is to be introduced will be designed to implement many of the recommendations of the Warnock committee. I say to my right hon Friend, in the spirit of friendship, that it would be wrong to attack the Bill on the ground that it does not go far enough. As I said in my first sentence in introducing the Bill, it is a limited measure that has been introduced to deal with a specific abuse. The Government hope that it will receive the consent of both sides of the House.

Is my right hon. Friend suggesting that there are boundaries to the law within personal arrangements in society and that to go beyond certain boundaries could be construed as officious?

I am suggesting that in the area covered by the Bill there is almost total unanimity. That is the impression that I was given by the evidence that I heard. The views on commercial surrogacy which have been expressed by the Warnock committee and by virtually all the organisations which have given evidence to us accord with the provisions set out in the Bill. We are trying to take action urgently following the Baby Cotton case. I do not think that any of us wants to see a repetition of that sort of case. That is why the Government are acting urgently. We are not pre-empting any further action that might be taken. I am entirely seized of the point expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), about the need for an urgent response.

I shall continue with my exposition of the Bill. The provisions in clause 2 to which I have not yet referred deal with offences. If a body of persons receives payment for a surrogacy arrangement or a person knowingly takes part in the management and control of a body which acts commercially in these matters, they or he will have committed an offence.

Clause 3 deals with advertising. It makes it an offence to advertise surrogacy services where the advertisement is made by an agency, by commissioning parents or by a surrogate mother. This provision is cast more widely than clause 2 and so applies to the commissioning parent and the surrogate mother. This is because advertising may well be a first step towards commercial activities of the kind that the Bill is designed to prohibit. We have framed this provision to catch all the main forms of advertising, whether in newspapers or periodicals published here or on radio or television intended to be received here.

Clause 4 deals with penalties and provides that an offence relating to agency activities carried out on a comercial basis—an offence under clause 2—carries a penalty of three months imprisonment or a fine not exceeding £2,000, or both. Offences under clause 3, relating to advertising, carry a penalty of a fine only not exceeding £2,000. Clause 4(2) provides that prosecutions need the consent, as appropriate, of the Director of Public Prosecutions in England and Wales or the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland for cases in Northern Ireland.

Clause 5 provides that the Bill shall extend to the whole of the United Kingdom. As there is no specific commencement provision, the legislation will come into force after receiving the Royal Assent.

We believe that the publicity that there has already been about our intentions in this measure will have been sufficient to forewarn many people who are already involved in the activities that the Bill will prohibit or any who might have been contemplating setting up commercial surrogacy agencies. I have been encouraged by reports that the major commercial surrogacy agency operating in Britain has already decided to stop functioning in the expectation of the enactment of the Bill.

We know that there are several surrogate pregnancies already arranged by commercial agencies which clearly cannot be affected by the Bill. To take account of these and other surrogate births, we recognise that there may be a need for guidance for local authorities on the action that they should consider if they become aware of a surrogate birth.

When I made my initial statement, my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mrs. McCurley) asked what could be done for those NA, who are involved in a similar tangle to that of Baby Cotton's parents. A similar point has also been put by Mr. Justice Latey who dealt so expeditiously and sensitively with the case of Baby Cotton. The judgment in that case made it clear that the High Court has powers to protect the interests of children born as a result of surrogacy arrangements and that it will use the powers where necessary. In addition, local authorities have powers and duties to protect children who may be at risk.

My Department will therefore shortly issue a circular of guidance to local authorities. The guidance will set out the general principles on which local authorities should operate—not just in cases that this Bill seeks to prevent but in other cases where there is no commercial element. An authority that knows that a baby has been or is about to be born in its area as a result of a surrogacy arrangement will wish to make inquiries to satisfy itself that the baby is not or will not be at risk. Obviously, the circumstances can vary widely in individual cases. An authority's overriding concern in deciding what, if any, action is needed will be the child's welfare. In that sense, surrogacy does not differ from any other situation in which a local authority becomes aware that there is a possibility that a child needs protection.

The guidance will deal with the legal issues involved and the steps that a local authority should take where it believes that the child may be at risk. It will draw the attention of authorities to the court judgment in the Baby Cotton case. The judgment commended the advantages in similar unusual and complex cases of making a child a ward of court. We shall be sending this advice to authorities as soon as possible.

We hope that, because of this Bill, surrogacy cases where a local authority has to intervene—as it did in the case of Baby Cotton—will in future be rare, but there are difficult matters, and I hope that authorities will find it helpful to have that advice available.

So that we can be clear about the nature of the measure, is the Secretary of State saying that he will not return to the House later with a measure to forbid surrogacy arrangements in which there are no financial gains for the parties involved?

That matter is part of the consideration that the Government are giving to the wider issues raised in the Warnock report. As I have already made clear, the Government intend to bring forward a major Bill, which this does not pretend to be, to deal with all those issues. I believe that that would be in the interests of the public and is what the House would require to be done.

The Bill and its preparation are extremely complex and subject to the demands of the parliamentary timetable. No decision on that has been made. I cannot guarantee when it will take place, but I should like to see such legislation brought forward as soon as possible. I cannot give a guarantee, because there has not yet been full consideration of the legislation.

The purpose of the Bill is to tackle the issue of commercial agencies and the advertising of surrogacy services. The Bill does not tackle all the major issues raised in the Warnock report. The Government recognise that a major Bill will be necessary to achieve that. I emphasise that point. Nevertheless, action on commercial surrogacy is important and urgent. It has been supported by a range of outside bodies. It will go a long way towards preventing abuse and, above all, to placing the interests of the child first. It is upon that basis that I ask for the support of the House.

3.55 pm

As the Secretary of State has been at pains to point out, this is a limited Bill targeted exclusively at outlawing the commercial dimension of surrogacy about which, as he said, there seems to be widespread abhorrence. Let me say immediately, speaking as an individual on a moral issue which will be the subject of a free vote, that I accept and support the principle underlying the Bill.

I believe that the measure is, however, unfortunately motivated by some over-reaction to the Baby Cotton case. It is a pity that for that reason the commercial aspect of surrogacy is being divorced—if that is the word—from a wider consideration of the general framework within which surrogacy should be handled.

The case for criminalising commercial agencies that procure surrogate motherhood is clear. It is based upon the genuine risk of the exploitation of desperate couples and the risk that poor women would be induced into pregnancy, at least in some cases, for the money. To put it another way, the commercial inducement to offer one's womb for rent exposes low-income women to exploitation as rich peoples' baby farms. Not only is that utterly unacceptable in itself: it raises the likelihood that the natural mother may, in due course, argue that she was pressurised into parting with the baby.

I should be the first to agree that such distressing "tugof-love" conflicts already occur in some adoptions and cannot be excluded in cases of non-commercial surrogacy. I am sure that the House will agree, however, that the cash pressure makes that far more likely in commercial cases.

There is another fundamental reason why I believe that commercial surrogate motherhood should be made illegal. It is that matters can easily go badly wrong. The commissioning father may come to believe that the child is not his—at least he cannot disprove that the surrogate mother was already pregnant at the time of impregnation; or the surrogate mother may refuse to hand over the baby after birth, as happened, as the Secretary of State mentioned, in the celebrated case in Pasadena, California, in 1981; or the baby may be severely handicapped at birth, with neither party willing to take it; or the surrogate mother may become ill during pregnancy and take certain drugs which damage the foetus.

For all these reasons, where the situation is exacerbated by impersonal surrogacy, undertaken for payment, it is wholly wrong to believe that commercial contracts, however carefully they may be drawn up by Miss Blankfield, who is the person we normally speak of in that regard, can be proof against highly damaging consequences not only for the parties to the contract but, more seriously, for the resulting child. For that reason, too, I should be glad if commercial surrogacy were ruled out.

Given my support for the Bill on those principles, I recognise that its drafting reflects some ingenious microsurgery on the part of the Department of Health and Social Security in separating out the commercial considerations from the wider moral issues. It performs well the technical function of closing loopholes which some had thought would make a ban unworkable. The case of Kirsty Stevens which The Observer, in a celebrated article of 13 January 1985, thought would be untouched by any likely legislation, will, if I am right, be prevented in future by the ban on advertising, even by private individuals. At the same time, family arrangements will not be affected by the Bill, which I am sure is right, but it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for strangers to become known to each other, given the constraints of the Bill, as willing participants.

I have one technical criticism about the drafting of the Bill. The imposition of strict criminal liability on newspaper proprietors and editors who unwittingly publish advertisements—I quote clause 3(1)—
"containing an indication (however expressed)"
that surrogate arrangements may be sought or may be available seems to me to be unduly harsh and oppressive.

However, I confess to some unease about a legislative strategy which is geared to focusing upon a practice which may well be on the decline, anyway, while at the same time it defers, perhaps for longer than is now being suggested—I did not take too much heart from the reply of the Secretary of State to my question—the real issues which go to the heart of the matter.

It is perhaps significant that surrogate agencies in the United States recently have experienced a marked falling away in their trade. It was reported on 7 January 1985 in The Daily Telegraph that one non-profit-making group in the United States, which claimed at the end of 1982 that it had signed on 400 young women willing to serve as surrogate mothers, is no longer active. It was stated in the same report that in state legislatures right across the United States there is no longer any noticeable pressure to draw up laws to regulate this matter, partly because experience had shown how many things can go wrong, partly because there had been several disputes about paternity which wound up in the courts and partly because costs—amounting not just to £6,500, as in the Baby Cotton case, but to about £20,000, taking account of everything—were proving for many infertile couples to be a prohibitively expensive way to start a family. Britain is not, of course, the United States. However, all this suggests to me that over-reaction to the Baby Cotton case may have been a trifle premature and that there may be an element in the Bill of trying to bar the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Be that as it may—I am no more aware of the full statistics than are the Government—the real weakness of the Bill is that it still leaves unresolved the surrogacy issue. The questions asked by the Secretary of State's hon. Friends demonstrate that fact, and I agree with them. Even if surrogacy is not outlawed, it still leaves open the question whether professional involvement in surrogacy arrangements should be outlawed. If it were to be outlawed, parents would be left in a counselling and advice vacuum. The child could still be placed in a vulnerable position. I suspect that back-street networks would almost inevitably emerge. On the other hand, a doctor in private practice who offered to supply a surrogate and then took a consultation fee could be said to have acted in a way that was very little different from that of a commercial agency.

Having listened to the speech of the Secretary of State, it is disappointing that the Government have given no hint about their own views regarding the involvement of money in the surrogacy relationship. My view is that the involvement of money, other than for reimbursing the carrying mother for the necessary costs of nine months of pregnancy, is in principle undesirable and wrong. That view commands almost universal acceptance. However, the use of surrogacy where money is not involved as an option for the treatment of infertility should not, in my view, be wholly ruled out, although it should be considered only as a final resort.

When I have finished this part of my speech.

For example, a woman with functioning ovaries but a damaged womb can achieve children who are genetically hers as well as those of her husband after laparoscopies for ovum recovery, in vitro fertilisation and then embryo transfer to a surrogate. Hon. Members may say that such examples are rare, and I am sure they are, but they seem to offer a significant warning against any law that is designed to suppress surrogate services altogether. I shall now give way.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I hope that in qualifying his approval of the Bill he is not assuming that all of us necessarily want legislation to be introduced for all forms of surrogacy. I believe that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) agrees with me. There are certain issues about which we should legislate only after long consideration and after having listened to all the relevant arguments. Because most of us are prepared to listen to those arguments it is important that this piece of holding legislation should be speedily put on to the statute book. That will give us time to listen to the other arguments to which the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) so rightly referred.

I have already said that I am perfectly happy in principle to support the Bill, but the point I am trying to make is that it is not possible logically to disentangle some of these other wider issues. I am worried that this fairly modest measure may result in an unfortunately long period during which these other important issues are digested. That is why I should have preferred there to be one measure only.

I suspect that many people would choose a surrogate child who had a genetic relationship with them or with their partner rather than an adopted child with whom neither they nor their partner had a genetic relationship. Indeed, a minority on the Warnock committee recommended that a charitable body like an adoption society should be permitted to provide well-screened and suitable surrogates for infertile couples, that it should receive no money and that it should pass on only the minimum necessary payments for costs duly incurred by the surrogate.

Unless one adopts — some hon. Members might, judging by their questions — the prior attitude that surrogacy in principle is not to be condoned in any circumstances, even if, in the case of surrogacy for love, it cannot be wholly prevented, in the last analysis I believe that the Warnock minority view is reasonable, deserving further serious consideration. I am only sorry that on this matter, which is so close to the heart of the Bill, Ministers have been content simply to defer decisions without, in the meantime, giving any sign of their thinking. To say the least, it is regrettable that the Bill, without imposing an outright ban, conduces to amateurish or exploitative do-it-yourself arrangements in a procedure which, if it is to be used at all, should surely be attended by the advantage of full medical, legal and counselling services. But on that, regrettably, Ministers remain silent.

One thing worries me about the minority view in the Warnock report. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, if we were to establish surrogacy, even through clinics in the National Health Service without any money being exchanged, we would still have the problems to which he referred, such as psychological and social problems? As a consequence, there would be additional bureaucracy and social workers, and all the other problems—I am not just getting at social workers, but I am saying that we are building up attendant problems which, frankly, this society can do without.

The hon. Lady may not have been getting at social workers, but she made a good fist at it. I do not see the NHS particularly as a bureaucratic organisation or social workers as a hindrance, although no doubt their performance and services could always be improved. However, I personally take the view that what makes surrogacy so distasteful is the pressures that commercialism introduces. In the absence of them, I can see that in a few highly exceptional cases, perhaps as a last resort, and certainly not as a frequent procedure, there may be some correct provision for a surrogate motherhood.

The other yawning gap in the Bill that cries out for attention concerns the vexed issue of legitimacy, which has not been mentioned. Answering questions on his statement on 7 March, the Secretary of State referred to the status of the child—and I agree—as
"completely unsatisfactory at the moment."—[Official Report, 7 March 1985; Vol. 74, c. 1189.]
However, it does not seem unsatisfactory enough to prevent the Secretary of State passing by on the other side and postponing the issue indefinitely into the future. I hope that that the Bill will come forward soon, but I wonder.

This issue can and should be grasped sooner rather than later as virtually everyone accepts that, in vitro fertilisation and surrogate children need to have their legal status regularised and recognised. Some movement in the right direction was taken in the Law Commission report in 1982, which recommended that discrimination between legitimate and illegitimate children should be removed, and that children produced by means of artificial insemination by donor should be legitimate when born to a married couple. That is an advance, but it is unsatisfactory because it still leaves in limbo the child born to an unmarried woman or the child rejected by the husband.

Therefore, this might be a better solution. I offer it as a model for consideration. It lies in querying the whole concept of legitimacy in its traditional form and adopting the Warnock suggestion as to social parenthood, coupled with disallowing rights to donors. Parenthood, and parental rights, would then rest with the carrying mother, to be passed on, if appropriate, as at adoption. That woman would then register the child's birth on her own or with her partner, all parental rights and duties would be vested in those who registered in that way, and any handing over of parental rights subsequent to that could be arranged, as happens now in adoption. All inheritance and other legal rights would then accrue from those parents to the child in the normal way. That is only one model, but I believe that something along those lines is needed and would be a great improvement on the present highly unsatisfactory situation.

For all the reasons that I have given, I do not demur from the single issue underlying the Bill, but I am concerned that the Government have embarked on this brief measure without, as yet — I am sure that the Secretary of State will correct me if I am wrong—having thought through at all the implications of several other related issues which, logically, simply cannot be disentangled from the rationale of the Bill. Frankly, the history of short emergency Bills preceding a major and necessary piece of regularising legislation has never been happy in the House. We in the Opposition will do our best in Committee to make changes that improve the Bill. We believe that that needs to be done. However, I fear that in the peculiarly sensitive area of human infertility, the single-issue and disconnected Bill now being introduced may turn out to be no exception to that general rule.

4.15 pm

In introducing the Bill my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was at pains to say that it has only a limited object—to deal with commercial surrogacy only. The greater detail is to be left to a more comprehensive measure which, as I think I said in my intervention, is hardly likely to become law before the end of next year.

Speaking solely for myself, but probably for many others too, I would say that such a long delay in dealing with a subject that has caused considerable concern in the nation as a whole as well as in the House is not satisfactory and is leaving it for far too long. If the Government can carry the House with them and improve the Bill, well and good. I certainly go along with that. However, I do not approve of their approach. Either the practice of surrogacy is undesirable and antisocial, and carries considerable risks for the children concerned, or it does not—or does not in any substantial measure. If it is undesirable, I feel that it is not possible to accept the argument put before us so far.

The plain fact is that surrogacy is not outlawed in the Bill. I want to know why not. I should have liked to hear my right hon. Friend make the broad case against surrogacy. He did not do so. He left that in the air. He assumes that we understand it already. Perhaps that is correct in the House itself, but I should have thought that the country should be told why surrogacy as such is not being outlawed in this Bill, but will be in some subsequent Bill. Yet money may change hands between surrogate mothers and prospective parents. Surely we should serve notice now that that is not acceptable.

There are other difficulties. For example, my right hon. Friend did not refer to the legal problems surrounding the child of a surrogacy arrangement. Who, in law, is the mother? What safeguards are there for the child? I remember remarking in an earlier debate that clever, intelligent, far-reaching and searching as the Warnock report was, little consideration was given by its authors to the implications of what was recommended for the child. Therefore, I believe that before the debate is ended something should be said about those matters.

In paragraph 8·18 Warnock proposed that professionals knowingly assisting in surrogacy should be criminally liable. The Bill makes no mention of professional liability. Why not? If there are difficulties we should be told. We should be told that the matter cannot be dealt with now, but we shall most certainly deal with it in future legislation when ever that is brought before the House. Again, in paragraph 8·19, the Warnock report proposes that all surrogacy arrangements should be made illegal and any such contracts would thus be unenforceable in the courts, but the Bill completely ignores that firm proposal. I appreciate my right hon. Friend's argument that serious problems and difficulties arise that could not be dealt with in this Bill but which will certainly be dealt with in a later Bill. This should be spelled out now.

I shall be brief because many of my hon. Friends wish to contribute. Nevertheless, I give notice now that I do not like this method of proceeding and I hope that before we vote on the Bill my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Health will answer some of the questions that I have raised. In my view, the matter is so important socially that not only Parliament but the public must be told why, if we cannot have the whole loaf, we must accept a crust at this juncture, knowing full well that a year or 18 months will elapse before the promised comprehensive legislation is introduced. Frankly, that is not good enough.

4.21 pm

I do not share the confident predictions of the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) as to how long we shall have to wait for the coming of the great Bill which will roll all the moral issues into one and deal comprehensively with all the problems raised by Warnock and everyone else. I believe that the difficulties have been seriously underestimated. Indeed, Ministers have already hinted that the Bill may take a good deal longer than the right hon. Gentleman suggests. Therefore, those of us who feel strongly about these matters cannot assume that that legislation will be introduced even in this Parliament. Important and urgent matters such as surrogacy and experimentation on human embryos cannot wait for that legislation.

Many of the other issues dealt with in the Warnock report were cases in which advances in medical technology had brought new moral dilemmas which we have not previously had to face. It can scarcely be said, however, that the issue of surrogacy has suddenly landed upon us. In this context, I was amused to read the comments of Nature magazine on the Government's initial reaction and their statement that the Bill was to be introduced. It said:
"The British government's guiding principle, well illustrated by last weekend's fuss and what may yet flow from it, is that the general opinion jumps most readily to prohibition when it is taken by surprise."
The country may have been taken a little by surprise at the sheer effrontery of the Baby Cotton case, but surrogacy has certainly not landed upon us as a result of modern technical advances. The issue has been with us for generations. Indeed, it is well developed in the book of Genesis, chapter 16. When Abraham's wife proved unable to have children she said to her husband:
"I pray thee, go unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her."
And that is exactly what happened.

The book of Genesis, however, goes on to illustrate the problems that arise from surrogacy. Sarah was soon complaining that her bondservant was getting too proud and looking down on her because she was bearing a child and Sarah was not. Later, when Sarah produced a child of her own, she protested strongly that her son Isaac should not have to share his inheritance with Ishmael, the "bondswoman's son" who had come on to the scene as a result of the earlier surrogacy arrangement. So let us not pretend that the issue is new.

I am impressed by the hon. Gentleman's biblical knowledge, but was not Sarah 99 years old at the time?

She was indeed, and it was thus quite reasonable for her to conclude that she was unlikely to produce a natural child thereafter. In fact, of course, she did. People are so often wrong about these things and subsequent events may then give rise to problems. My point is simply that the problems are not new. All that modern technology has done is in certain instances to remove the direct adulterous relationship between the commissioning father and the mother commissioned to carry the child, and even that intervention requires a fairly minimal level of medical technology.

It is true that more openly commercial transactions have recently come to the attention of the public, but such transactions are also not new. One does not have to look very deeply into the recesses of the 19th century to find extensive examples of commercial activity in procuring the birth of children for childless couples.

There is, however, good reason for concern about the possible development of commercial surrogacy agencies and it is right that a measure of this kind should be introduced. I believe that it is widely agreed that there is something morally wrong about the purchase of babies, especially the form that it takes in surrogacy arrangements. Nevertheless, surrogacy is not the only instance in which babies are purchased and legal safeguards are required. For instance, our adoption laws were altered fairly recently in an attempt further to limit the possibility of the purchase of babies. There is also the danger of exploitation of the mothers due to financial pressures. A further danger is that agencies will grow and surrogacy will become more common as a result of the commercial activities of agencies determined to make a living out of the practice.

I shall argue that we should not encourage surrogacy, but I first make this qualification. Whatever we do to try to restrict the practice, even if we were to follow the advice of the right hon. Member for Castle Point and seek to outlaw surrogacy altogether, we shall not be able to prohibit adultery or the arrangement entered into by Abraham to obtain a surrogate child. Artificial insemination by donor will also not be prohibited, although it involves a commercial element in that the donors are paid for their sperm. Despite the many problems that arise from those two forms of activity, it seems unlikely that Parliament will attempt to prohibit them. That situation should serve as a warning to us in deciding what it is reasonable or feasible to do in seeking to prevent surrogacy.

This is very much a personal issue and I do not personally believe that one can reasonably expect to achieve an effective ban on all kinds of surrogacy. Nevertheless, we should take steps to discourage the spread of such practices, for a number of good reasons. Those reasons, however, relate to the very issues that the Government felt unable to tackle and thus left out of the Bill. I realise why it was necessary to introduce a limited measure, but I believe that some of the problems left unresolved may continue to cause great difficulties and that not all of them need have been excluded from the Bill.

I shall not add to what has been said about the problems of legitimacy and I recognise that that subject is too wide for the scope of the Bill. There is, however, the somewhat narrower question of who is the legal mother of a child produced under a surrogacy arrangement and the application of general adoption law in this context. The law rightly makes certain provisions to protect the mother of a child which might be adopted from being subjected to great pressure at the time of adoption, providing for a breathing space or cooling-off period before a final decision can be made. The application of that law to surrogacy cases must be considered. We need more guidance from the Government on that subject.

Other aspects of adoption law are also relevant. There is the right of an adopted child, at the age of 18, to discover the identity of its natural mother. Parliament gave adopted children that right a few years ago. What would be the position of a surrogate child? I assume that it, too, would enjoy the right to learn the identity of its natural mother when it had reached the age of maturity. Surrogate mothers may not have realised that that would be so when they agreed to undertake surrogacy.

Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that there would be an emotional problem? For a child to learn at the age of 18 that it had been given away under a surrogacy arrangement would be far more traumatic than discovering that it had been adopted. There may be good and heartrending reasons for giving over a child for adoption, but to have been handed over for money will surely have a profound effect even on an 18-year-old.


I am sure that there can be just such an effect. I am not sure that one can make an absolute qualitative distinction between the circumstances, but there are important factors to be borne in mind when we compare what happens to an adopted child under present arrangements and what would happen to a surrogate child. Children are normally adopted through an adoption agency which will counsel the parents to advise the child, from the earliest possible age, of the nature of its adoption. The adoption society would encourage the parents to make sure that the child understood from an early age that it had been adopted, and why. What advice would be given, and by whom, to people taking into their family a child borne by surrogacy? Would they be advised to tell the child, at the earliest possible age, of the circumstances? It is difficult to predict what the emotional outcome of that would be. That is an area of real difficulty.

When the Secretary of State made his initial statement to the House, I questioned him about another point. The Warnock committee recommended that surrogacy contracts should not be enforceable by law. The Secretary of State seemed to take the view that the law as it stood was quite clear and that no such contract—a contract to hand over the baby, or the money — would be enforceable in the courts. If the right hon. Gentleman has any doubts on that point, some provision should be included in the Bill. If he is wholly satisfied that the law provides no opportunity for enforcing contracts between the mother, the agency and the prospective parents, he should say so.

What is to be the fate of the children involved? That is the test that we must apply. I fear for the position of children born in this way, and that is why I believe that Parliament must make it clear that there are many dangers attached to the practice of surrogacy, and that many problems will be stored up for the children. We must make that clear even to people who are looking for a reasonable way of dealing with the problem of childlessness—to people who want to offer a home to a child and who may well have the emotional and material resources to give a child a good home and so to contribute to society. Like the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) I feel that there might be circumstances in which someone could persuade me that it was reasonable for such a couple to resort to surrogacy. I therefore do not agree with those who want a complete ban on surrogacy. However, I believe that such a couple should be left in no doubt about the dangers and the problems that they may face, just as those of us who adopt children know that serious problems and potential difficulties are involved.

The hon. Gentleman refers to the effect upon the children. That is an extremely important point. The House needs to know what medical and psychiatric evidence has been given by people eminent in their field — some individual hon. Members have received such evidence—about the likely effects on a child who in later years demands the right to hear how it was born and who its real mother was. The effect upon a child must be incalculable, and the cost to the community is likely to be considerable.

Experts have already expressed views on the subject. Is not the House entitled to know what advice has been given to the Government on that point, following the Warnock report, and why there is no provision on that score in the Bill?

I hope that Ministers will be as frank as they can with all the information at their disposal. However, many circumstances of birth cause problems in later life, and surrogacy is only one of them. It would be dangerous to single out surrogate birth and to claim that anyone who finds out that he was born in this way will be uniquely liable to great emotional trauma in later life. Many circumstances of birth can cause psychological difficulties in later life.

As surrogacy is voluntarily and deliberately entered upon, those who resort to it should be given the clearest possible warning about future problems. They should be warned through the general attitude of the law. The attitude of Parliament and of the law towards a form of conduct considerably affects the attitude of citizens. There is no doubt that since the law on abortion was changed, public attitudes to abortion have been influenced in some measure. The law prevents certain categories of people from marrying each other because Parliament, over the years, has taken the view that some forms of marriage —for example, marriage between stepchild and stepparent—could, if they became at all widespread, pose a real danger for similar families. In many areas, the law on a matter seeks to exercise an influence wider than its basic provisions. This Bill should do so.

If Parliament did nothing at this stage, it might be assumed that surrogacy carried the blessing of the House and of informed opinion, when in fact it carries so many dangers that it should not be given that degree of encouragement. That is another reason for taking legislative steps, which are in any case justified, to prevent commercial surrogacy. We must examine the Bill in Committee to see whether it achieves that objective, and whether it does so without paying too high a price in some other directions. There are, for example, the legal aspects to which the hon. Member for Oldham, West referred and about which there has been some press comment. There are the questions of the burden of proof and of jury trial. However, the House should certainly make it clear that surrogacy brings with it serious problems and that the dangers attached to commercial operations in this field are so great that we should not permit them.

4.37 pm

It is right and proper for me to offer my warmest congratulations to the Secretary of State for bringing the Bill before the House, about 15 months since I introduced precisely such a measure. I was then careful to be very circumspect in my approach to the problem. I welcome the Government's sympathetic response not just in producing a Bill but in acknowledging the fact that grave difficulties surround the whole issue of surrogacy, not just its commercial aspects.

It is heart-warming to welcome a Bill that has had so much public response and support. The Government are to be congratulated on acting swiftly, especially following the Baby Cotton case. I am glad that the sale of children is to be banned, for that is what the Bill is about. I am also glad that the Government are considering the primary individual involved—the child. However, it is important to remember the surrogate mother. In the past few months I have had the opportunity to examine the conditions under which women become surrogates. I am ever more convinced that the attraction of the financial element is paramount—well and away above any of the altruism that might be talked about in press revelations.

As the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) said, we were expecting poor women to be exploited for the obvious desires of rich women. I am pleased that the activities of the Redhill clinic have now ceased. I have investigated the hard commercialism of that enterprise and its links with the United States and the fact that its activities have been abandoned shows the strength of the Bill.

Commercial surrogacy has been successful in the United States. We all admire many parts of the United States ethos, but we do not always try to emulate them. Although it is said that the morality of the United States reaches us in 10 or 20 years' time, I am glad that we have not waited that long this time and that we have taken a firm and British stand.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) identified an important problem concerning the identity of children and problems that are left with the surrogate's family—a matter that has not been discussed much here. Women who have taken on the job of bearing children for others go home without a baby and discover that their children feel a strange sense of bereavement because no child has been taken home. Occasionally, even a husband who has consented to the arrangement feels revulsion in his relationship with his wife. That causes deep problems in the existing family.

We are sympathetic to infertile couples but do not finance consultations for them properly. However, we must not pile more problems in society on to ourselves. We have enough family problems. The hon. Member for Oldham, West rather resented my reference to social workers, but their existence shows that there are problems enough. We shall only add to those problems if we accept surrogacy. I do not think that it will go underground if we ban commercial surrogacy. Between 6 per cent. and 10 per cent. of women of childbearing age are infertile—the figures vary from consultant to consultant and scientist to scientist — and less than 1 per cent. of them would benefit from surrogacy. The scale is small.

I should like all aspects of surrogacy to be banned, but I accept what the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed said. In the highlands of Scotland, sisters have frequently made surrogacy arrangements. We must ask ourselves whether we want to interfere with and criminalise informal family arrangements. Such interference worries me. Although I do not want surrogacy to exist as a trade, it would be invidious to interfere too far with family life. The medical profession would be grateful for clarification. I should like my right hon. Friend to consider other legislation as quickly as possible to deal with other aspects of surrogacy.

Many biblical quotations have been thrown about in connection with the question, "Who is the mother?" The judgment of Solomon in the dispute between the two women springs immediately to mind. Solomon the wise suggested that the child be split in two, half being given to each woman. The real mother gave up the child for the love of it. The story tells us much about motherhood. The mother who gives birth to the child must be the legal mother, irrespective of what the law might say.

I hope that the Bill goes through Committee speedily and that there will be consensus on the banning of commercial surrogacy. I hope that there will also be consensus on matters that cannot be seen in such hard and fast terms.

4.48 pm

The Bill is welcome to the extent that it attempts to deal with commercial agencies that profiteer from surrogacy. Unfortunately, it has been constructed in haste, primarily in response to the furore created in the recent and much publicised case of Baby Cotton. The sensationalism generated by the media and some hon. Members has influenced the Bill to its detriment.

There is a fundamental flaw in banning commercial surrogacy while allowing men to continue to buy private surrogacy arrangements without any legal safeguards. This can only result in more highly publicised baby wrangles, which could lead to Parliament banning surrogacy altogether. In these circumstances we should consider at length the full medical, legal and counselling services that Parliament needs to approve so that surrogacy can be properly regulated.

Despite Fleet Street's unhealthy obsession with what the newspaper headlines proclaimed as "Britain's first surrogate baby", the media were, as is often the case, quite wrong. Surrogacy did not begin with Baby Cotton—only a media interest and hysteria in the wake of the Warnock report.

Infertility has been an unhappily common problem for many families throughout the ages. Some of those families chose to deal with the problem by making private arrangements which actually amounted to what is now called surrogacy, without the matter being known outside the family circle. The drawbacks to these informal measures are myriad and have in their time brought strain and divisions within family relations. That is what the Warnock report was referring to when it said that public opinion was against surrogacy because
"it could drive a wedge between a previously loving partnership".
This view fails to take account of the way in which modern medical technology and carefully considered legislation could overcome some of the drawbacks previously associated with surrogacy.

Fertilisation in surrogacy arrangements is no longer reliant on an intimate relationship, and the surrogate mother now conceives as a result of medical technique. The outcome of the pregnancy is a wanted baby for an unknown couple in circumstances similar to adoption. Therefore, the issues for me are not "if' we should use this new technology to fulfil the desires of men and women to have children, but how we avoid replacing the old drawbacks with ones that are new and even more dangerous and damaging. This the Bill has failed to do, by limiting itself only to one of the unfavourable aspects to be dealt with.

It is the duty of Parliament to legislate against the exploitative nature of commercial agencies which see women primarily as objects of profit. Hence, women's rights to control their bodies and fertility are cast aside and trampled on. Unhappily, while we live in a society that falls over itself to make a quick profit at the expense of the general good, medical knowledge will inevitably be misused by capitalist gangsterism. The director of the commercial surrogacy agency in Surrey has been quoted as saying that the company would like to become the Coca-Cola of the surrogate industry—in other words, a big profit industry like any other multinational, with no loyalties or commitment to prevent the expansion of its worldwide exploitative practices. I support provisions in the Bill to prevent Britain becoming a shareholder in this unsavoury global enterprise.

As a Socialist, it appears to me that any form of surrogacy cemented with large amounts of money perpetuates unequal capitalist relations between different social classes and men and women in new, insidious ways. In my view, the Bill fails to deal with this.

The media focus which has highlighted the financial gain made by the surrogate mother fails to mention that only a very small proportion of the money pocketed by the agency is paid to her. She is not paid to undergo twice-monthly artificial insemination, nor if she fails to conceive after six months of these medical ordeals. She is not paid to abstain from sexual relations with her partner, even though she must agree to this provision while conception and pregnancy are under way. She is not paid during pregnancy to ensure that she and the foetus enjoy optimum care, nor if she has a miscarriage. She is most definitely not paid should the baby be born with any handicap. Her only modest payment in this highly lucrative enterprise is on handing over a perfect specimen of a newborn baby. In my view, she is grossly underpaid, and the Bill must be criticised for neglecting to protect surrogate mothers' interests in any future private deals.

The ability of the donor father to pay large amounts of money confers immense power on him. As a result, a grossly unequal bond exists between him, the surrogate mother and his partner. As he has paid for the services of the surrogate mother, he is given personal details about her appearance, the colour of her hair and eyes, height, social class and the town where she lives. If he finds any of these details disagreeable, he can choose another woman. On the other hand, she knows nothing about him except his obvious financial clout. Such voyeuristic relations are not uncommon in Soho, but are usually condemned as deeply exploitative and insulting to women. There is an urgent need to legislate against these unequal arrangements based on immoral notions of men and women.

The power that the donor father's money carries is nowhere more cruelly emphasised than in the role allowed his partner. While making the preparations for the changes in her life when she will become the legal mother of her husband's baby, she is totally excluded from the rights he enjoys. He is kept in touch with the pregnancy by telephone, written progress reports and tapes of the foetal heartbeat, but whether he decides to share these with his partner is up to him alone. That is strange in a society such as ours, which stresses the importance of the role of parent for women. In the family, and in education, work and law, the primacy of the woman's role as chief caretaker of children is reinforced.

Equal rights legislation has hardly dented the unequal relations that working women experience when trying to combine successfully the roles of wage earner and mother, yet when the donor father reaches for his cheque book, his partner's rights as the prospective mother of a baby which she is most likely to nurture to adulthood are erased. The Bill fails to ensure her equal status with her partner during the entire surrogacy processes until the baby becomes legally hers.

For me the crucial issues do not centre on banning new medical technology which can help women and men to have wanted children. Rather, I seek to ensure the equal rights of those concerned when a woman agrees to carry a child for other parents so that surrogacy is free from commercial exploitation as well as from control by men with money. That is not to say that no payment should be involved. Consideration should have been given to the ways in which a surrogate mother could be paid by the state, just as maternity allowances and child benefit are paid. A small weekly allowance could be paid at the time of artificial insemination, increasing substantially as the pregnancy is confirmed and progresses. Setting these amounts would be complex, but for Socialists used to complicated pay negotiations, that should not prove too difficult. I believe that this issue must be tackled in a Socialist way so that people seeking these measures are not barred through lack of money or driven into becoming permanent surrogate mothers through financial desperation, just as in America financial considerations have caused people to become blood donors. As we have seen, there is very little evidence of personal care and concern in commercial or private arrangements, and these must be high priorities in the future.

I advocate a limited role for the state in surrogacy. Sadly, many of the welfare aspects of the state have in the past been experienced in a most repressive way by the very people whom we are seeking to help. The practical arrangements could be set up via a national network which is distinct from conventional hospital consultancies. That would save money on high salaries which would be better spent on financing local advice and technology through a network of well woman clinics, counselling services and general practice. Carefully considered, decentralised local provisions would then protect the personal needs of people closely, and transform innovative medical technology into caring national health services.

5 pm

First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the speed and decisiveness with which he has introduced this measure. Unlike the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), I do not criticise him for reacting to public opinion, because it is most important that the Government should react speedily to it. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would be the first to criticise the Government if they did not react to public opinion.

I am not entirely happy with the measure. I welcome what the Government have done, but they have not gone far enough. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mrs. McCurley) that we should not bring into the scope of the law arrangements which are made within families and which have historically been made within families. However, when matters go outside the family, we have a duty to be interested and to ensure that what is done is for the good of those involved, especially of the child.

We legislate, rightly, for adoption and require that restrictive and stringent procedures are followed. In this case, we seem to take the view that that will not be necessary. That is wrong. The hon. Member for Oldham, West suggested that we might be protecting the surrogate mother from exploitation, but I do not think that the Bill does that. The Bill does not seek to outlaw any payment made to a surrogate mother, so she is equally susceptible to exploitation whether from a commercial or other form of agency.

The Bill's weakness is that it will permit surrogacy to be arranged by local authorities, local health authorities and charities set up for that purpose. Some of those organisations may not be what hon. Members would regard as charities. They may be covers for organisations which make substantial payments to employees and which are funded by all sorts of curious methods. Donations to such charities may not count as payments for the purpose of this legislation. Therefore, there is a grave danger in proceeding in this way. Unscrupulous people could drive a coach and horses through the legislation as it stands.

The only way to overcome the problem is to outlaw the procurement of surrogacy by a third person. That would still permit direct surrogacy arrangements between individuals. If we outlaw all procurement, we shall minimise the risk of exploitation as far as possible within the scope of legislation that could be reasonably enforced by the police. The Bill should be amended to achieve that. We would then protect mothers, and ensure the best possible family arrangements for the child.

5.3 pm

On 7 March, when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services announced to the House that the Bill would be prepared, I was attending the christening of the younger child of my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Hickmet). I thought that I was doing my bit to encourage childbirth by celebrating the birth of a child. It is a great asset to have children. It is not a right, but a bonus.

I welcome the Bill because it will cut out one of the most immoral practices that has ever occurred —commercial surrogacy. I remember when news of Baby Cotton was leaked, the furore that any mother would rent out her womb to make some money, and allow her child to shoot off to America. I congratulate my right hon. Friend sincerely on introducing the Bill. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mrs. McCurley) who has been campaigning and championing this cause, even before Baby Cotton appeared on the scene.

For many months, medical journals have expressed great anxiety about surrogate motherhood. When we debated the Warnock report, I was fortunate enough to be called and to put on record how I considered the position of a surrogate child. I considered it an oddity, although it was a scientific marvel.

The Bill w ill stop money changing hands. However, like nin hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth., West (Mr. Buttertill), I am anxious about the charitable aspect, in that a charity could be set up and a surrogate mother paid many years after the birth. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will consider that point when he replies. Payment, no matter how much or when it is made, should not be tolerated.

I am particularly worried about the other three surrogate children who are due shortly. Unlike the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen), I believe that the Government acted quickly because they had to. The legislation has not been rushed, but it is both sensible and sound. It has been introduced speedily because we knew of those three children and of the potential for further children being born in that way in America and elsewhere. We need to eradicate commercial surrogacy.

The practice is sick, as is any sort of womb leasing. I can understand that some women may be terribly hard up. For the first time in my life I agree with the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) that women in poor income brackets may be easily tempted, not merely because they wish to buy a car but because they need money to survive. The financial gain was a serious temptation. Although I sympathise with those who were tempted down that indelicate route, I hope that the Bill will deter people from so doing in future.

Clause 2 adequately covers the full role of commercial surrogacy and particular practices. I understand the past system in Scotland, and the fact that many arrangements have been carried out within a family where one sister has had difficulty in bearing a child. When I criticised surrogate motherhood, I received a letter from a constituent who said that the first surrogate mother was the Virgin Mary. I do not know about that, but the practice continues.

I admire much that is done in America. It is a great innovator, but surrogate motherhood is one type of experiment that need never have arrived on our shores. I hope that one day we shall do away with surrogacy altogether. I hope that an opportunity to achieve that may arise with the follow-up to the Warnock report. I fully appreciate, however, that that will be some time in the future and that that would be a tremendous commitment for my right hon. and learned Friend to give the House today. But at least the Government have given some commitment and have encouraged motherhood within the family and within normal practices.

I ask the Secretary of State to consider the implications of deferred payments by charities. There is a definite risk that, perhaps six years later, a payment could be made to the surrogate mother. I welcome the offences created by the Bill, and the imprisonment terms and fines that it provides, which are realistic and which will act as a suitable deterrent. I should be interested to know when the legislation will be enacted, although I appreciate that it must go through further stages in the House and in another place.

Like the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), I believe that we should make provisions so that a child can find out the identity of his mother. Certainly all children at the age of 18 should be allowed to discover the identity of their natural mothers. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Health will set out out the Government's thinking on that.

I am also a little worried about the woman who agrees, whether there is a contract or not, to carry a child and who, for nine months, is clearly pregnant. She may have other children at home, and I am worried about their reaction when she goes into hospital but then returns without a child. We must think carefully about how that will affect the other children. Will they be told exactly what happened? They may think that the child has died. They may have been extremely excited, looking forward to having a baby brother or sister. I am worried about the psychological problems that could be caused.

Today the Government have shown how much they care about children and childbirth. They have put the interests of the child above everything else. As I said earlier, it is a great privilege for anyone to have children. In my family, we are still waiting, but we shall be patient and carry on in the normal way. I welcome the Bill because it acts as a warning to prospective surrogate mothers that they must not succumb to the temptation of material and financial gain. I also welcome it because it will prohibit surrogacy agencies. I hope that American magazines will no longer advertise those agencies in Britain, which will prevent people from going to America and making such financial arrangements there.

This is a good Bill that will preserve family life, stabilise society and do away with this unnatural and unfortunate practice which has sickened so many decent-living and family-loving people. For that reason alone, I welcome the Bill.

5.12 pm

Although I cannot follow the line of my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels), I hope that he and his wife will have the joy of parenthood before very long. We are all delighted to hear that they intend to pursue normality. As the father of three wonderful children, I can testify to the joys of parenthood.

I, too, welcome the Bill, but I regard it as only a small first step in a most important area. Hon. Members have mentioned the position of childless couples, and rightly so. Athough the welfare of the child must come above all things—I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and most hon. Members who have spoken agree with that — the position of childless couples is also central to the issue. We must think carefully about childless couples who are anxious to have children by adoption or by other means, and I believe that the country has a sympathetic view of their problems.

Everyone who has had the privilege and honour of having a child must sympathise deeply with couples who are happy in their marriage and devoted to each other but who have not been blessed with the joy of children. Their position is central in the area to which the Bill relates. Will their needs be met more by individual surrogacy than hitherto? The answer is probably yes, but we must consider the morality of that.

I know from my long experience of and interest in children for adoption that there is an enormous shortage of such children, largely because of the consequences of the Abortion Act 1967. The present abortion rate—there have been more than 2 million since 1967—combined with more efficient birth control methods has meant that far fewer children are available for adoption. Therefore, not a council in the land, nor an agency dealing with the adoption of children, does not have an enormous waiting list of impressive couples who wish to adopt children but who are, for the most part, frustrated in that wish. The reduction in the number of children available, because of abortion and improved pregnancy prevention, may mean that couples will be tempted to seek surrogate mothers. However, I am glad to know that they will not be able to do so through agencies which wish to exploit them for gain.

The other day I read about an American agency which published somewhat grotesque advertising material for the services of surrogate mothers that it was offering at considerable expense to childless couples. It said, for example, that its women were better looking than many others, that they were tested for the quality of their health and tested for the quality of their brains. That is a terribly crude way of approaching the matter and is a great indignity to women. Few hon. Members would support such approaches, and I would certainly not be one of them.

The Bill will mean that we shall not have such advertising in Britain, and for that I am grateful. However, as I said in the first intervention in the debate, I am worried that some women will be tempted to exploit themselves as individuals. They will be tempted to offer themselves as surrogate mothers because they may need the money, or believe that they need money, for many things. The lady who acted as a surrogate mother for Baby Cotton said that she needed the £8,000 for a new three-piece suite, or something like that—

My hon. Friend is right. Everyone could find a use for some extra money that might come his or her way. I fear—I believe that the House will share my fear—that some women will be tempted to exploit themselves because they feel the need for new furniture, an extension to their homes, clothes or things for their existing children. Sadly, the Bill does not protect individual women against such self-exploitation, although it prevents their exploitation by an agency and, therefore, by society. It is a very doubtful moral proposition for a woman to be asked to carry a baby for financial gain. I am sorry that we have not heard the churches speaking out on that issue and giving a moral lead throughout the nation—

I cannot accept what my hon. Friend says. They have not given the moral lead that would hit the headlines.

We must consider the delicate position of children born through individual surrogacy, which will be permitted by the Bill. Should they be told that they were born to surrogate mothers? What will be the effects of that knowledge? What will happen if they are not told about their background and the fact that their surrogate mothers may or may not have been paid for the job, to put it crudely?

Will those children be in the same position as adopted children who are rightly told about their adoption? There was a time when adopted children were not told about their background. There are many people in this country who were adopted from the cradle but who do not know that. Indeed, their adoptive parent may have forgotten that fact. What moral lesson should we learn from that which we can apply to a child born to a surrogate mother?

Who should be responsible for counselling couples seeking a child by surrogacy? Will it be the local council, the National Health Service local board, the local churches, a charity or the neighbours? Who will counsel the surrogate mothers? When the Bill is in Committee, it will need to be considered in some depth and the very important personal and moral points will need to be borne in mind.

I welcome the Government's leadership on this matter. However, if we do not bear in mind the personal and moral points the House may be guilty of producing a Bill that will rightly outlaw the hell and wickedness that exists in America—where women are exploited and handled in an undignified manner for gain—but at the same time forget that individual women are not covered, whether or not they are acting on their own behalf, in response to social or financial pressures or even in response to pressure from husbands who may see surrogacy as a way to make money. That whole area needs to be carefully considered. I hope that when my right hon. and learned Friend replies he will comment on the points that I have raised.

5.24 pm

I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) for not having been present during their speeches. I was visiting a sewage works in my constituency in an attempt to ensure that the smells coming from the works will be more pleasant throughout the summer.

I join other hon. Members in wishing my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) and his wife every success in being blessed with a child. I wish gently to take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), who made one or two comments about the churches. I understand that my church —the Catholic church—the Council of Churches and the Church of Scotland have spoken out strongly against the whole concept of commercial surrogacy. The problem is that they have not received publicity. It is unfortunate that one or two members of the churches receive a great deal of publicity for the rather silly things they say—

I accept what my hon. Friend says. I said that some churches have not spoken out strongly, but I accept that some have done so. They have not received the publicity that they should have received, so my hon. Friend has made a fair comment.

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments.

Those of us who are parents speak from a privileged position. We have been blessed and entrusted with the responsibility of parenthood, and with that the agony and ecstasy of bringing up children. We are unable completely to appreciate the anguish felt by many couples who cannot bear children. My support last year for the ten-minute rule Bill to outlaw surrogacy, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mrs. McCurley), resulted in my learning at first hand of a number of distressing cases of couples unable to bear children. Their despair cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be over-estimated. Quite naturally, they are sometimes prepared to go to any length to have a child.

Although the House recognises that, it still has a responsibility and an obligation to uphold the sanctity of life and to outlaw the practice of surrogacy. My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), a former Prime Minister, once referred to the unacceptable face of capitalism. That phrase achieves its ultimate meaning in the buying and selling of a human being, which is a most degrading concept.

I am delighted that the Government, inspired and prompted by my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde, have introduced the Bill. It is crucial for the protection of family life. My concern for the family, and especially for children, begins from the moment a child is conceived. At that very moment of conception, a new individual is created. Hon. Members know that I strongly oppose all procedures that harm unborn children from the time of their creation. The welfare of the child at every stage of his or her development must be the first consideration. Therefore, it would be quite inconsistent not to oppose surrogate motherhood, which is a further erosion of family life with unknown emotional and psychological consequences for the child.

If commercial surrogacy were allowed, it is inevitable that we should create a class of woman who would he seen simply as breeding machines. It is doubtful that such women, attracted by the lure of money, would be aware of and able to cope with the inherent difficulties that stem from surrogacy. The results would be pitiful. The words of an Australian mother, who found herself unable to hand over the baby she bore for another woman, sum up the whole issue and that unnatural situation:
"It goes against every physical and emotional feeling. The only thing the stand-in mother can get out of it is money but no amount can compensate for what you have done."
It is impossible to consider childbearing in a detached and clinical fashion. While throughout the nine months of pregnancy the unborn child is linked to the mother in the most intimate way, he or she is a completely separate individual growing within the womb. The mother acts as a source of protection, providing nutrition for the child she is bearing. The mother's body adapts through hormonal changes to accommodate the new being that lies within her. It is entirely unnatural for a woman to suppress the maternal instincts that she no doubt feels.

When a child is born, he or she is not an anonymous being. The baby has been alive for nine months and has had those months of experience in the womb. The mother will have felt the baby moving and responding in various ways. The baby cannot be treated as a commodity, to be ordered and delivered. Nor should women be treated like manufacturers whose sole purpose is to come up with the goods.

The unpredictable human factor is at its highest in surrogacy, and no woman can know how she will react on being requested to hand over the child whom she has carried for nine months. Commercial surrogacy is repugnant in its view of human beings as objects that can be bought and sold.

I found totally unacceptable the Warnock recommendation that human embryos might be bought and sold under licence. I cannot differentiate between a human embryo and a newborn baby; they are both human beings at different stages of development. It would therefore be inconsistent if I did not condemn surrogacy, which reduces human beings to saleable commodities.

A distinction, however, must be made between surrogate motherhood and adoption. In the latter, a woman takes over the care of an existing child, a child born to his or her genetic mother. That is different from deliberately creating a child in a planned way which introduces unnecessary social confusion for the child. An adopted child is in no doubt of his genetic and social origins. He can clearly define his place in society.

A child produced to order by another woman is caught between the woman who carried him for nine months and who is his genetic mother, the father who is not married to, or is in no way involved with, the genetic mother, and the woman who will bring him up and whom he will address as "mother", a title which she has bought.

The present law leaves the father who provided the sperm without parental rights because the child is illegitimate. He could adopt the child and claim parental rights, but that would be illegal because of the fees paid to the agency and to the surrogate mother. For a child to enter the world amid a scene of emotional, social and legal chaos is completely wrong, and commercial surrogacy must be stopped to prevent that happening.

I am delighted to say that, by introducing the Bill, the Government are at long last following the flow of public opinion on this issue. There can be no doubt that the gut reaction of the public is against commercial surrogacy and the whole concept of surrogate motherhood.

Among the harshest critics of surrogacy is the National Association for the Childless. Brenda Halliday of that organisation has described surrogacy as "exploitation at its worst". If this idea of commercial surrogacy has travelled across the Atlantic, it can return whence it came.

While I and many others were surprised and disappointed at the Government's neutral stance on the Unborn Children (Protection) Bill, this legislation will serve to uphold the dignity of women and children. It goes to the heart of my overall belief that the interests and wellbeing of the child at every stage of development should come first and that women should not be degraded in any way.

5.35 pm

This has been an interesting wide-ranging debate, made all the more interesting by the intimate atmosphere, as it were, in which it has been conducted. Because few hon. Members have been in the Chamber, we have been able to listen closely to what has been said, and even, in some instances, to what hon. Members have been thinking, as exemplified by some of the spontaneous interruptions.

The contributions to the debate have covered the full spectrum of the subject. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) welcomed the Bill, as I do, because of the nastiness—that is not too severe a word to use for the profit-making element of surrogacy —of the whole problem. However, we take the view that surrogacy should not necessarily be outlawed. We want time to consider, sensitively and slowly, all the implications.

At the other end of the scale, we had the speech of the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess), who is antiabortion in every respect and is anxious that the protection of the law should be given to the embryo from day one, with surrogacy being completely outlawed. I hope that the Government will adopt a steady-as-she-goes attitude and will retain the central point of the Bill, which is to keep the legislation narrowly to the framework of outlawing commercial surrogacy, so giving us time to consider all the other problems that are involved.

Surrogacy is after all, only one part of the whole problem of infertility, and most hon. Members acknowledge that infertility is a real problem. If we say that surrogacy must be legislated against because it is wholly wrong, we shall inevitably cast some parents into a form of limbo from which they will not be able to benefit in any way, for example from any other form of infertility treatment.

We should pay attention, and give more funding, to the whole question of infertility. Simply to say that surrogacy is wrong and must be legislated against will not do. First, such legislation would not work and, secondly, even if it could be made to work, it would be undesirable. A better way to deal with the problem is to reduce the necessity, in the view of some people, to resort to surrogacy. I am glad, therefore, that the Bill is confined to the profit-making and commercial aspects of the problem.

As the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) pointed out descriptively, surrogacy has existed throughout history. For us now solemnly to think that we can stop it would be like trying unrealistically to turn the tide. Indeed, for us to attempt to do that might have some adverse effects. For example, it might send the practice underground, and that might result in more surrogate mothers and commissioning parents going elsewhere, perhaps across the Atlantic, to achieve their heart's wish. We would not want to do that.

I hope to be a member of the Standing Committee which will examine the Bill. That will be the occasion to discuss certain matters in detail. However, it is important for us now to cast a critical eye over some points which have occurred to hon. Members.

I firmly reject the notion of allowing profiteers to prosper. However, there is a necessity for some legal arrangement between a commissioning couple and a host mother. I cannot see any moral or legal problem about employing the services of a solicitor. I understand that there are agencies in the United States of a sort that we do not like which claim that they are merely tying up the legal ends. I do not believe that. I believe that they are involved for the money. If they are handling the legal part of the arrangement, that is the least that they can do for the money that they are making out of the arrangement.

When families are faced with problems the individuals concerned will consult a solicitor. When surrogacy is proposed, why cannot the commissioning couple and the host mother say to a solicitor, "We want to come to an arrangement between the three of us that will protect the rights of the couple, the rights of the host mother and the rights of the child?" Why cannot a legal agreement be drawn up that will have that effect? We use solicitors when a divorce is sought. When a woman is beaten up at home, she will go to a solicitor to obtain an injunction against her battering husband. She is not shunned by society and treated with disdain because she has put money into the hands of a solicitor by instructing him to obtain an injunction. Surely a legal contract could be drawn up to protect the rights of the commissioning couple and the host mother without causing the solicitor to commit a criminal offence under the Bill?

It is crucial that both the commissioning couple and the prospective host mother receive some counselling. If we were to outlaw surrogacy, we would make it impossible for any counselling to take place. The couple will have discussed the matter between themselves, and possibly with relatives, and they should have the opportunity to discuss the matter with expert counsellors so that they are sure that they are doing the right thing and that they know how to go about it.

More importantly, it is crucial that the host mother should have the opportunity to receive counselling. She, too, will have problems. It should not be said that she is merely in it for the money or that she is an exploited person. Many reasons lead a woman to take this course, some of which we may never know or understand. The host mother should have the opportunity through the local authority, a non-profit making body or a social work agency to receive proper counselling.

As I read the Bill, a solicitor who drew up a legal document to protect the commissioning couple and the host mother, or a person who counselled them, would be caught by its provisions. A doctor, for example, might be asked to give some medical advice to the host mother and he may receive a fee from a non-profit-making agency for doing so. Will he be caught by the Bill?

There are many loopholes which could be dangerous and I ask the Minister to let us know where we stand when he replies. If he agrees that there are some loopholes, we can try to close them and ensure that there is proper surrogacy prior to the Government introducing the wider Bill which they have promised, which will appear much later. I remain concerned about doctors and counsellors, for example, who will receive fees for their services.

It seems that in this instance we are moving away from the principle of trial by jury. This issue was raised on the "Agenda" page of The Guardian this morning. As I am not a lawyer, the point had not struck me, but I believe now that it is one worthy of consideration. The Bill provides a maximum of three months imprisonment or a fine of £2,000, which are penalties which do not enable the person accused to opt for trial by jury. I understand that there has to be the possibility of a sentence of imprisonment of six months before one can seek trial by jury.

Those who are accused of having committed an offence within the terms of the Bill might very well want trial by jury so that ordinary men and women can listen to their story, whether they are the individuals involved or those concerned indirectly. I am not suggesting that the maximum penalty of three months imprisonment should be increased, but we must consider the option of trial by jury if the accused wishes to have that sort of hearing

I have expressed some reservations about the wording and intent of some parts of the Bill, but I reiterate that I am in favour of it. Bearing in mind the agreement that there appears to be on both sides of the House, I shall be surprised if there is a Division.

I am left wondering whether the Bill would have been produced if it had not been for the distasteful publicity which surrounded the Cotton case and the natural public reaction to it. Surrogacy has been taking place for a long time but it is only since 1982 or 1983 that it has become a known word to the ordinary public. Suddenly, and perhaps because of one unpleasant and distasteful case, at least in the United Kingdom, people have gone beserk, as it were, about it. If that case had not arisen, would the Government have introduced the Bill?

I look forward to reading the wider Bill that the Government intend to produce in due course that will incorporate many of the recommendations of the Warnock committee.

Surrogacy appears to be a necessity, or an option, for some infertile couples. It is crucial that commissioning couples and host mothers should be afforded some form of legality and should not be made to feel that they are outcasts of society. I was appalled when the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) said that surrogacy was a sick practice. If I had heard him say that as one of an infertile couple or as a host mother, I would have felt cast down. Surrogacy may not be a practice in which we all want to indulge, but it should be afforded some respect. If three people have thought about the matter deeply and have decided that that is the way in which they want to proceed because there is no option, they should not be rejected by society.

The hon. Lady should have put my comment in the right context. I said that I considered surrogacy to be a sick practice when money was involved. When that happens, I find it repulsive. Surely the hon. Lady will agree that a financial transaction to secure the lease of a woman's womb is repugnant.

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will look at his speech tomorrow to ascertain whether it reads in that way. I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman's speech. He rightly referred to the profit-making angle. My impression was, however, that he thought that surrogacy was a distasteful practice. I want to ensure that, after the passage of this Bill, we treat surrogacy with sensitivity and give time not only to the Government, without pressurising them to draft the legislation properly, but to hon. Members so that all the implications are considered and so that we do not deal piecemeal with a subject of great concern to a large number of people.

5.50 pm

At various times the Government have been praised for the speed with which they have brought forward the Bill—my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) praised us—and at other times criticised. A considerable number of points have been raised about the circumstances in which the Bill has been brought forward and about whether it has been wise to select this one narrow aspect of the huge combination of difficult ethical and moral issues that were addressed in the Warnock report. I am glad that, despite all the reservations about the legislation, every hon. Member who has spoken in the debate has revealed that he or she comes down on the side of the Bill and is likely to support it.

This is not a new issue, and the Government have not approached it with unnecessary or reckless speed. We have acted decisively and in a way that commands the support of the majority of the public, without prejudicing what the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) has rightly said needs to be a thorough and well-digested debate on many important and complex matters before an even larger Bill comes forward.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) took all prizes for biblical scholarship by reminding hon. Members in greater detail than most of us recall—although we are all familiar with the outline of the story—of the problems of Abraham and his family. This is not such a new issue as some hon. Members imply in suggesting that the Government brought this measure forward only in response to the newspaper publicity that had surrounded one, albeit important, case — that of Baby Cotton. In fact, some time ago, the Government expected that that issue, along with many other related issues, would cause Parliament and the public much trouble. For that reason, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State invited Lady Warnock and her colleagues to consider all those related issues.

We initiated the giving of evidence, the consideration of that evidence by the committee and the presentation of the report's conclusions for wider public debate. Those conclusions included conclusions on surrogacy. The members of the Warnock committee were drawn from a wide background and had a wide range of professional expertise, personal and religious beliefs and outlooks on life. They were unanimously against the practice of commercial surrogacy but were, by a majority, against surrogacy of all kinds. That has been the tenor of the debate this afternoon, and I believe it is likely to be the tenor of general public opinion. We were addressing ourselves to the issue when we set up the Warnock committee.

During the last Session of Parliament my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mrs. McCurley) produced a private Member's Bill seeking to make surrogacy illegal. My hon. Friend would have pressed that legislation on to the statute book but for a lack of parliamentary time. That is what happens to many private Members' Bills. I remember having conversations at that time with my hon. Friend, urging her to wait until we had the views of the Warnock committee and arguing against a Bill dealing with surrogacy alone in advance of other issues. We were talking before Lady Warnock's committee had even reported.

The Warnock committee reported and all its members favoured making commercial surrogacy illegal. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde would have introduced her Bill yet again and placed further pressures on the House this year if it had not been made clear that the Government were converted to her point of view and were, in the light of the Warnock report, about to take action.

About 90 per cent. of those who have given us their opinions so far are against commercial surrogacy—as this Bill is. As my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) pointed out, all the churches gave their opinions against commercial surrogacy. The Church of England, the Church of Scotland, the Free Church, the Methodists, the Roman Catholics, the Salvation Army and the Chief Rabbi have indicated that they agree with the Warnock conclusions against commercial surrogacy.

The Baby Cotton case was not a sudden, isolated incident which gave rise to rushed legislation. That case served to underline to the general public what was already becoming apparent to Ministers and to hon. Members—that something had to be done urgently about commercial surrogacy problems. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) reminded us, we are fairly certain that three other pregnancies have taken place as a result of commercial agency arrangements. In the next few months those children will be born. Obviously, the Bill will not affect those arrangements or taint them with criminality retrospectively.

It became even more important to act to ensure that a small, albeit thriving, industry did not develop, whereby agencies began to operate here, largely for Americans who wanted children, offering fees to mothers in this country to lease their wombs and by surrogacy provide a couple with a child.

The background to the legislation is not one of rush or of over-reaction to public issues, as the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) implied. A clear and consistent course of action by the Government has enabled us to identify at least this one narrow issue among all the important issues examined by Warnock. The time has come to invite the House to pass speedy legislation.

The debate has underlined the Government's judgment that this was the right action. There is rarely unanimity between both sides of the House about a Bill's basic aims. Every hon. Member has made it clear that he or she will support the Bill on Second Reading. The unanimity does not require any underlining by me. Whatever the angle at which one looks at the arrangements that commercial agencies might undertake in relation to surrogate motherhood, there are substantial dangers for all the parties involved and for society as a whole.

Hon. Members showed a slightly different emphasis in the particular party that they were seeking to protect. In some circumstances one can envisage any one of the parties being potentially a victim of the unwise decision to participate in a commercial arrangement of this kind. The surrogate mother may be exploited because of her financial needs or vulnerability and may be tempted to participate in an arrangement that she bitterly regrets. She may undoubtedly be a victim of the arrangement set up by the agency.

Some of the would-be parents may be victims. Some couples are desperate to have children. We all know of the heart-searching and the agony of some people who are unable to have children. As my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde said, sums of up to £20,000 are sought from people for surrogacy arrangements so that they can ensure that at least one of them has his own child by fathering the child by a surrogate mother.

Most importantly, we are all concerned about the children who could be the tragic victims of arrangements entered into and organised by agencies for purely commercial reasons. The children could be the victims of a battle between the two sets of parents about who will exercise parental rights, or the three parents could reject the child and say that they no longer wish to have it because something has gone wrong.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde said, the remainder of the family, including other children of the surrogate mother or the would-be parents if they had adopted other children, could be adversely affected by the possible consequences if a commercial arrangement goes wrong. For all those reasons, it became apparent during the debate that we had succeeded in defining at least one narrow part of the subject—whether we wish to see commercial agencies establish themselves and negotiate agreements offering fees to those who take part—and establishing unanimity that the criminal law was required to ensure that that did not happen.

Unanimity extends only to the general points. The Government were asked a number of detailed points about the Bill, and they will plainly be dealt with in Committee. I shall not deal with them all in depth now. I hope hon. Members will forgive me if I do not do justice to the points which have been raised. We will return to them in Committee.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West queried the provision contained in clause 3(2) which attaches absolute liability to the proprietor, editor or publisher of a newspaper or periodical which carries an advertisement offering surrogacy. He implied that it was somewhat harsh that it should be a criminal offence for the proprietor, editor and so on to produce a newspaper containing such an advertisement. We shall return to this point later if it is necessary, but that provision is essential to make the ban on newspaper advertising effective.

Newspapers and periodicals are used to the practice of hiring people to read their copy to ensure that they do not render themselves liable to legal action for what has appeared in the newspaper. If it were necessary to establish that the proprietor knowingly published the advertisement, it would be far too easy for him to say that no one had thought of the point, that it had been overlooked and that no one had read the advertisement with that point in mind.

Absolute liability will ensure that the newspapers take the precautions they usually do to protect themselves against libel and all the other risks they run. We knew what we were doing when we made publication an absolute offence. If the hon. Gentleman presses that amendment in Committee, he runs the risk of making that part of the Bill ineffective.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West asked whether the Bill prevented donations to charitable surrogacy agencies which would collect money but claim that they were doing so for non-commercial reasons—for some greater cause or to plough back into the agency's work. Subject to any further thoughts that I may have before we reach Committee, my answer is that the Bill would prohibit such payments. The terms of clause 2(5) are so wide that such payments are caught if they are made by the surrogate mother, the commissioning parent or someone connected with either of them. That is one of the purposes of clause 2(5).

My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East asked what would happen if payments were deferred until some considerable period after the birth and after the rights over the child had been handed over. Subject to any further examination in Committee, we believe that the Bill deals with that point and prohibits such payments, because under clause 2(3) payments are prohibited "at any time". That would include deferred payments of the sort that my hon. Friend feared.

The hon. Member for Barking asked what would happen if there were a voluntary surrogacy arrangement among three parties who were not contemplating any commercial' arrangement, and they had the services of a solicitor to give them legal advice about drawing up a contract, or the services of a professional person to give general counselling, and contemplated paying a fee for such advice. Any solicitor, professional person or anyone contemplating doing anything for a fee for the parties involved would have to study the Bill carefully before giving any such advice. The answer is to be found ir. clause 2(1)(a), (b) and (c). That part of the Bill defines what the illegal acts will be if surrogacy is negotiated commercially by anyone.

It is arguable that if someone is giving general advice and counselling for a modest fee, they would not be committing a criminal offence. The Bill prohibits negotiating a surrogacy arrangement or taking part in negotiations which have a surrogacy arrangement in view. It also prohibits bringing together information to enable someone to put couples in touch with one another.

If advice fell short of negotiating an agreement, it is possible that arrangements could be entered into between a couple who wished to commission a surrogate child and a professional person without falling foul of the Bill. The moment that the solicitor began to negotiate a surrogacy arrangement, he would be caught by the Bill.

I am sure that the subject of jury trial will be raised in Committee. It was raised by—

Does the Minister accept the view of the Warnock committee, that it should be put beyond doubt that surrogacy arrangements cannot be enforced in the courts, or does he believe that there is no doubt that they cannot be enforced in the courts? What is the Government's view about that?

I was about to deal with the hon. Member's point. I agree that it is relevant. It is our view, on advice, that such contracts are not enforceable now. If anyone went to the courts in this country seeking to enforce a surrogacy contract— if someone brought an action to try to compel an unwilling surrogate mother to hand over the child or if the surrogate mother went to court to try to compel the would-be parents to pay the fee promised under the contract—it is confidently felt by most people, as the Warnock committee felt, that such a contract would be regarded as unenforceable by the courts and contrary to public policy. It might be helpful fcr that point to be put beyond doubt in statute at some stage, because, although that is believed to be the position, there is no point in sitting around waiting for a test case, with all the problems that would surround such a case for the parties involved.

My right hon. Friend explained the policy behind the Bill. When producing the Bill, the Government set out to make it as narrow as possible to carry unanimity and to guarantee the speedy passage through the House which we think is essential. I do not, therefore, want to encourage amendments in Committee. I cannot be forthcoming about amendments at the moment. If, however, it turns out in Committee that there are narrow points that fall within the scope of the Bill, which command universal support, as the main policy has, and which are easily dealt with in drafting and other terms, the Government will consider them sympathetically to see whether we might have made the Bill too narrow and misjudged the mood of the House. If there is unanimity we might consider whether the Bill might be extended, but there will not be many such points.

The remainder of the debate related mostly to the wider issues of Warnock. A number of my hon. Friends asked why the Bill is so narrow and aimed only at commercial agencies and advertising. They asked why we had not taken the opportunity to go ahead, as they would wish, with making all surrogacy arrangements of any kind unenforceable. My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) felt most strongly about that matter. Indeed, the hon. Member for Oldham, West criticised the Government for acting so narrowly, for not having taken the opportunity to grapple with some of the wider issues in Warnock and for not having looked at surrogacy generally.

I agree entirely with the points made by all hon. Members, that there are very important questions for the House to resolve — for example, the legal status of children, how to sort out the problem of legitimacy and illegitimacy and the position of the child who wishes to know the exact circumstances of his birth. This issue has not been legally resolved. For example, what would happen if a child who had been adopted following a surrogacy arrangement sought to take advantage of the recently enacted legislation and tried to find out the full circumstances of his or her birth and the identity of the surrogate mother? These, and many other issues, were raised, but the hon. Members who raised them almost answered themselves because of the way in which they disagreed with one another.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West, my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point and a number of my hon. Friends gave different opinions about the legislation they thought necessary in the case of unpaid surrogacy. The hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) postulated the state making payments to surrogate mothers. This was the furthest we went in one direction. My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West put forward a very interesting proposition dealing with a point made by another of my hon. Friends: that one cannot stop purely private arrangements of the kind first started by Abraham, so far as history recalls, but that at least it should be possible to prohibit all procurement by agencies and prevent the negotiating and advertising of these arrangements by anybody. However, the debate showed how difficult it would be to resolve these issues.

It will not be possible to obtain unanimity. The House genuinely reflects the very wide range of opinion which is found to exist among all interested sections of the general public. Not only is it difficult to obtain unanimity, whatever decision the Government first suggest and the House eventually makes will require great care and precision in its drafting and formulation. Before a Bill can be produced for the House to contemplate, a great deal of work will be required. The drafting of so complex a Bill will be a substantial undertaking. However, I can assure the House and my right hon. Friend that the work is in hand and that our desire is for such a Bill to be brought before the House as soon as possible.

It would be folly to try to say when, because of the complexity of the subject and the pressures on the parliamentary timetable for a Bill which will be a fairly lengthy undertaking, given all the hon. Members who have spoken today, should they wish to take part. However, the Government hope to bring such a Bill before the House during the lifetime of this Parliament and to give all hon. Members the chance to deal with those issues.

I hope that the House will take the decision which my right hon. Friend invited it to do when he introduced the Bill, and to leave on one side, without minimising them, the strongly held views about other aspects of surrogacy and the position of children and to say that this narrow point is so important that there should be a speedy end to commercial agencies and a quick suppression of any more Baby Cotton cases. I hope that opinions can be left on one side when it comes to giving this Bill a reasonably speedy passage through the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East asked when this Bill will come into force. It will come into force immediately after royal assent. However, when it receives royal assent is in the hands of all hon. Members, in particular in the hands of those who are selected to be members of the Standing Committee. I hope that the Bill will receive an unopposed Second Reading and that it will be an omen for a reasonably quick passage of the Bill. I believe that the general public will welcome the fact that on this very important moral issue, which has given rise to serious public concern, the House of Commons and the Government are totally in step with them and that we have shown that we can act in order to stop something which, if left untouched, will run the risk of becoming a grave moral problem.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 42 (Committal of Bills).

Education (Corporal Punishment) Bill

Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

New Clause 6

Exemption From Corporal Punishment Not Ground For Suspension, Etc

'A person shall not be debarred from receiving education in any circumstances (whether by refusing him admission to a school, suspending his attendance or otherwise) on the grounds that, if he were not so debarred in those circumstances, he would not be adequately amenable to discipline by reason of his being a pupil exempt from corporal punishment by members of the staff for the purposes of section 1 of this Act.'.—[Mr. Dunn.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science
(Mr. Bob Dunn)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: Government amendments Nos. 7 and 13.

No. 22, in page 4, line 17, at end insert—
'(1A) No headteacher of a school or responsible body as set out in subsection (1) above shall exercise any power he, or as the case may he it, may have to refuse a pupil admission to a school or suspend or expel a pupil from a school or from education provided in a school solely because the pupil is or may be exempt from corporal punishment.',
Government amendments Nos. 26, 29, 33, 39, 47 to 49, and 51.

6.15 pm