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Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I agree with that and I disagree with my noble friend on the Front Bench. I believe that both these issues should be reserved. One concerns the beginning of life and the other the ending of life. They are in some ways linked. They are great spiritual and moral issues. To say that either should be devolved because it relates to the criminal law is not a justifiable argument. I think the disadvantages for Scotland of devolving the issue of abortion would enormously outweigh the advantages. I do not believe there is any need to go into what I mean by that. I think many noble Lords will understand what I mean. I believe there would be huge disadvantages for Scotland in having to decide this issue from time to time because of the nature of Scotland, its social groupings
Baroness Lockwood: My Lords, I did not join in this debate in Committee for the simple reason that I was in the Chair. However, I heard the entire one-and-a-half hour debate, just as I have heard many debates on this Bill when I have been in the Chair. I enter the debate now for two reasons. First, I express my surprise that we are debating now on Report exactly the same worded amendment as we debated in Committee and which was defeated in the Division Lobby by 43 votes. This second debate today--excellent though it has been--is a most unusual departure from our normal practice. I welcomed the comments of the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, when he said that noble Lords on his Benches would accept the decision of the Chamber in Committee.
My second reason for entering the debate is in many ways a more substantive one, although I must confess that I find the way in which we appear to have disregarded our normal practices in some of these debates a fairly substantive matter. I believe the issue of abortion to be a UK issue and one that should be kept that way. In that sense I also believe that the issue should not be devolved in the Northern Ireland Bill either. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, in moving the amendment, said--among his three arguments--that this was a moral issue. It is a moral issue and an ethical issue, but it is also a powerful emotional issue. I believe that matters of this kind should be dealt with on as wide a scale as possible and that is why I think abortion should be dealt with in the way I have described.
There is the whole question of whether abortion is a matter of health or of legality. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, with whom I usually agree on these matters, argued that Scotland has its own special judiciary. I would simply say to him that for the past 30 years since the 1967 abortion law the Scottish judiciary appears to have dealt with this issue--covering both the English system and the Scottish system--effectively.
Lord Renton: My Lords, that was because we have a United Kingdom Parliament which made that law and the Scottish courts had to observe the provisions of it. But now that we have devolution, it seemed to me to be right, on a matter on which there may be slightly different feelings north of the Border, that a new Scottish parliament could, if necessary, for example, strengthen the Act.
Baroness Lockwood: My Lords, I am at one with my noble friend Lord Sewel who said in Committee that, although criminal law as such was to be devolved in Scotland, because there was a clear law on abortion it had been decided that that could be a reserved matter. That is a powerful argument, but I also think that the argument that my noble friend Lady Gould proposed is a powerful one. There is a great deal of concern about cross-Border traffic in abortion. There is already too much distressing movement of people from one area to another in order to obtain an abortion. I would not like to see us add further to that problem.
Of course it is quite true--as has just been said by the noble Lord, Lord Renton--that a Scottish parliament may attempt to improve the abortion law. It may keep it as it is; it may detract from it; or it may improve it. But if there were a difference between England and Wales on the one hand and Scotland on the other, there would be an increase in the movement I have mentioned. I believe we should attempt to decrease the traffic in abortion rather than to increase it. For all those reasons I hope that the House will reject the amendment.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, we had an extensive debate in Committee and it would be quite wrong to repeat the arguments that we heard on that occasion. However, I wish to make one or two observations. They do not concern the substantive question of abortion which is not the issue before the House today. There is the question of consistency in the legislation which we pass.
In the case of the Northern Ireland Bill the Government have indicated that the issue of abortion will ultimately be decided by the Northern Ireland Assembly if that is its wish. Yet the same right is not being given to the Scottish parliament. As the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, pointed out in relation to this amendment, linking it with the euthanasia issue gives rise to another inconsistency; namely, that abortion is treated in one way and euthanasia in another.
The issue before the House is devolution. Is this, or is it not, a matter on which properly elected parliamentarians in Scotland should be able to decide? They are mature people. We do not know best. They should be able to make up their minds on these questions. These social, moral and ethical issues are matters upon which people reflect and which they consider in great detail.
As the noble Baroness rightly said, it leads to some inconsistencies in different legislatures. That is already true throughout Europe today. Unless we wish to move to a pan-European approach to these matters--for which I do not believe anyone would seriously argue--surely the argument for subsidiarity is better. We should move to a situation such as is outlined in this admirable amendment. It trusts Scottish people to decide on these matters for themselves. In other words, if we are serious about devolution, we should support the amendment that is before the House.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, I shall not detain the House long. We on these Benches are consistent in our attitudes. I wish to say to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, that in the past 20 years matters have moved in a sinister way. We have seen the extraordinary events in America; doctors who legally practise abortion have been shot and killed by the so-called "pro-life" lobby. That movement is growing in this country. For that reason this needs to be a United Kingdom matter, quite apart from the cross-Border traffic that might evolve.
Lord Sewel: My Lords, we return to the issue of abortion and the linked issue of euthanasia after an extensive discussion in Committee. The Committee decisively rejected the very proposition that is before the House now.
Perhaps I may correct the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, on a point he advanced. In Committee on 27th July we discussed the linkage between abortion and euthanasia. That is not a new matter. It was discussed extensively on 27th July (Hansard, col. 1305).
I can be relatively brief. I have listened carefully to the views of all noble Lords. However, I fail to detect any new argument from those that were deployed at an earlier stage. I fully appreciate that abortion is an issue of great sensitivity and significance in Scotland and one which rouses deep emotions on both sides of the argument. But it is important to recognise at the outset of our debate today that we are not discussing the rights or wrongs of the current law on abortion. What we are considering is where legislative responsibility should lie for an issue which, while of great significance to the people of Scotland, is of similar importance to people south of the Border.
The desirability of this wider (Great Britain) perspective was recognised in the Abortion Act 1967 which, as noble Lords know, extends to Scotland. We believe that this common approach to abortion, which has endured for over 30 years now in Scotland, England and Wales, is right. In practical terms, we recognise that we have argued the case for devolution in terms of the type of argument explained by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. We have argued on the basis of which matters should be reserved and devolved--on the basis of what the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, terms "the big issue". I describe it as a more principled approach. Matters of health are devolved, as is much of the criminal law. However, we have recognised that there are areas of the criminal law which should be reserved, and that has been accepted by the whole House without Division. I refer to the misuse of drugs, firearms and treason. We have already decided, for good reasons, that those three areas of the criminal law should not be
Having set out a principled approach, particularly in relation to devolving health issues in general, the burden of the argument rests with those of us who wish to maintain the reservation of abortion; it is for us to make the case. That case can be made briefly, but powerfully and persuasively. It is simply this. If in the future there were to be a considerable difference in the abortion law north and south of the Border and that in itself produced a significant cross-Border trade of women seeking abortion, that would be regarded as offensive by public opinion. That is the case that I make. It is the case upon which I rely. I recognise that it is not drawn from some high principle. It is drawn merely from a feeling that our fellow citizens would find it basically unacceptable that there was a cross-Border trade in women seeking abortion within Great Britain. On that basis, I hope that on this occasion the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
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