7th September, 2011, House of Commons
Nadine Dorries (Mid Bedfordshire)(Con): Four weeks ago I was not sure whether I would get to the point where I could speak in the Chamber today. This has been a long and hot-under-the-collar summer. Following my announcement of my intention to table the amendment, I have been threatened with being throttled, car-bombed, burned alive and a host of other distasteful and unpleasant ways in which I would meet my end.
I shall not go into detail about any of these responses to my amendment. Needless to say, some of them involved bodily functions to a graphic degree, and some of the scatological messages were unbelievable. I will not repeat the bile that has poured into my inbox every day. I do not think there is anything that I or my staff could be threatened with, or that we could read or be told now, that would elicit any shock from us. There is nothing worse that we could hear.
Before I go into the detail of the amendment, I shall talk about a significant and substantial shift as a result of the amendment. It has always been the tradition of the House that abortion issues have been discussed and debated in the Chamber and the media have commented on what happened, usually in a reasonable way. But the amendment has changed the game for ever. All Members in all parts of the House know, particularly from the 2008 debate, that we debate with passion. I would say that the 2008 debate was one of the best debates of the previous Parliament. However, we all remain courteous and friendly with each other following the debates. The usual parliamentary knock-about and the usual games take place—I shall say more about that in relation to the amendment in a moment—but the debate usually takes place here and the media comment on what happens here as it happens.
I have no greater opponent in the House on this issue than the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman). In 2008 she was the whipper-in and the mover behind what happened in that debate, but I have no greater respect for almost any other woman in the House than I do for her. I hugely respect what she has achieved for women and humanity, and I know that she approaches the issue honourably, as I hope I do. It is incredibly sad, therefore, that my summer has been made so difficult not by Opposition Members, who have all been incredibly quiet, but by the nastiness and the response of the left-wing media and union-funded organisations.
The past four weeks have been incredibly difficult. The campaign against the amendment has been co-ordinated by an organisation known as Abortion Rights, which is funded by Unison and a number of other small unions. It also received membership contributions, but, as I was told in a meeting with the organisation, it is largely funded by the unions and Unison is the biggest contributor. [ Interruption. ] I am not saying that every penny is not accountable; I am just informing the House that the campaign has been funded by the unions. I do not think that there is a problem with that.
Nadine Dorries (Mid Bedfordshire) (Con): I will tell the hon. Lady exactly who funds my campaign—nobody. Neither I, nor my office has received a single penny. Here, to me, is the disadvantage of the amendment. The unions can contact Members’ constituents and ask them to e-mail individual MPs, but I cannot afford to promote the amendment in that way. The press barons, whom the unions have fed with their response to the amendment, can pour what they want into the newspapers, but I cannot. What we have seen is an absolute divide.
Nadine Dorries: I will answer that question, and after I do I hope the hon. Lady will tell me who funds Labour Friends of Israel. I have no idea who funds Right to Know, as I am sure Labour Members have no idea who funds a number of campaigns that support them.
Nadine Dorries: I absolutely will—that is why I am here—but it is important to explain the context and the background to some of misinformation that Members have received in their inboxes. This is my opportunity to correct the misinformation MPs have been fed about the amendment.
The amendment has created a divide that was not present before, including in 2008. The Guardian and The Times and the union-funded Abortion Rights have mounted a campaign against the amendment. I must say that the core Conservative vote newspapers, The Daily Telegraph , the Daily Mail and so on, have been supportive, so this chasm and the politicisation of abortion has begun as a result of the amendment and as a result of the unions and the left-wing media.
Nadine Dorries: There are lots of comments being made from a sedentary position, Mr Speaker, but The Times has actually fed that divide directly and repeated much of the information it has been given. I want to answer some of the accusations made about me in response to the amendment. I do not have the press barons’ money to mount and fund a campaign. I have not received a penny. In fact, I am broke. My office has not received a penny in funding.
I have also been accused of being a religious fundamentalist. Like 73% of the country, I am a member of the Church of England and have Christian beliefs, but I am not sure when that became a crime and prevented me from having an opinion. On Saturday, The Guardian printed a flow chart showing the conservative Christians who are supposed to be mounting a sphere of influence with the amendment. I did not know who 95% of the people mentioned were or the organisation they represent. If I followed Islam or Judaism, I wonder what the response would have been to such a flow chart in The Guardian. I found the chart absolutely reprehensible and disgusting.
I want to mention some of the other lies that have been printed about me. I have been accused of wanting to reduce the number of abortions by introducing the amendment. That is absolutely not the objective. However, if any individual in the street was asked about the amendment and told that it might bring down the number of abortions, would they say, “Well, that’s a good thing,” or would they say, “We’re proud of the fact that 200,000 abortions a year are performed in the UK”? That is the highest number in western Europe. Would the individual in the street say that that is a good thing? No, they would say that it probably would be a good idea if something could help to bring that number down. I do not want to restrict access to abortion. The amendment is not about restricting access. I do not want to return to the days of Vera Drake-style back-street abortionists. That is not what the amendment is about. I am pro-choice, although I am presented as pro-life in every newspaper. The pro-life organisations are in fact e-mailing pro-life MPs to tell them not to vote for the amendment. I am pro-choice. Abortion is here to stay.
It is absolutely ridiculous that the amendment has been portrayed as something that would restrict access to abortion. The amendment is about medical practitioners making to a woman who presents at their surgery or organisation an offer of independent counselling, not compulsory counselling. Every single day I have read a headline stating that the amendment is intended to drive women into the arms of religious fundamentalists via compulsory counselling. That is absolutely not true. Any Member who rose and claimed that the amendment would make counselling compulsory would be being untruthful. It is nothing more than an offer. It is an offer made to some women who, when presenting at a GP’s practice, may have doubts, may be confused and may feel that they would like to accept. That is all it is—an offer. I find it very difficult to understand how anyone can object to a vulnerable woman being made an offer of counselling when she is suffering from a crisis pregnancy.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the hon. Lady for giving way, and I commend her courage and perseverance. Does she share the concern of many in this House and outside about the businesslike and commercial decisions that are taken in relation to abortion and feel that, because one hour of counselling a week for everyone is not enough, it is wrong that a commercial industry has been made out of abortion? Does she agree that when abortion becomes a business, the feelings of people have been lost?
Nadine Dorries: The hon. Gentleman makes a pertinent point about the relationship between financial incentive and abortion counselling, which I will talk about in a moment to make it quite clear how the amendment relates to the issue.
Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): Does the hon. Lady accept the comments of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, which essentially says that there is not a problem? It has commented:
“The system, as it stands, works well.”
Nadine Dorries: Well, that comment is probably the most fatuous we will hear in the debate, and probably the most disrespectful to women. I would like to know what the hon. Gentleman thinks about the report published last week in the British Journal of Psychiatry that women who have an abortion are twice as likely to suffer from mental health problems. Of course, I realise that the report he quotes from was probably written by men. I realise that the women who go through abortion and suffer as a result do not go back to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to give feedback.
Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): My hon. Friend was right to introduce her remarks to the House and highlight the unacceptable personal attacks that have been made against her, which denigrate an issue of vital importance and interest to the whole House. The House needs to rise above that in today’s debate. With regard to evidence of change, could she indicate what research she has done on how much face-to-face counselling takes place in organisations such as the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, for example?
Another piece of misinformation that has been put about is the idea that the amendment would prevent or delay the abortion process. Again, that is incredibly untrue. Counselling would be delivered within 24 to 48 hours, and the abortion process would take seven to 14 days to arrange. This amendment, this offer of counselling, is not for women who have made up their mind and—fantastic for them—want to go straight to the abortion clinic; it is for women who may be in distress. The counselling would be delivered within 24 to 48 hours, so there would be no delay whatever to the abortion process. In fact, many women who accepted the offer of counselling and proceeded to an abortion would proceed empowered, because they would have had the opportunity to talk through their situation with someone totally impartial—
The counsellor would be completely impartial, give no advice or direction and be entirely independent, so if the woman had been through the process and then continued to abortion, she would do so knowing that she had talked through her options with somebody.
Nadine Dorries: I have spoken to organisations that provide counselling and have 80,000 registered counsellors throughout the UK. [Hon. Members: “Who?”] The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. I asked, “If somebody required counselling, was at a GP’s practice and a telephone call was made, how long would it take to get a counsellor to a particular woman?” The answer was that counselling could be delivered in the GP’s practice, at another venue or in the woman’s home, and that it could be anything from immediate to within 48 hours.
Registered counsellors, who have e-mailed me regularly since the amendment was tabled, say that they would love to work—counselling is a growing industry—and to have the opportunity to work with women in that situation. Unfortunately, however, counselling is available on the NHS only via the abortion provider or via the hospital.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): I am grateful to my courageous and honourable Friend for giving way. As 147 babies were terminated after 24 weeks in the past year—a 29% increase on the previous year—does she agree that such counselling should also include the fact that many of those terminated babies, who had minor disabilities such as cleft lips, cleft palates, half an ear or having only one ear, could have been dealt with through modern cosmetic reconstructive surgery?
Nadine Dorries: I thank my hon. Friend for that comment. That is a different debate, but he highlights an important issue, and it is abhorrent that 147 babies were aborted for cleft palate, hare lip and minor cosmetic issues. I have a godson who had a club foot, and he was a wonderful young boy and is a wonderful young man. I find it quite amazing that anybody would choose to abort a baby because they had a club foot, but that is an issue for another day. The amendment does not cover it, but it is an important point.
Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): Does my hon. Friend share my incredulity at those Opposition Members who maintain that an organisation such as BPAS—the British Pregnancy Advisory Service—can be independent in its counselling, when in its March 2011 report and financial statement it notes that
“an increase in procedures of 13 per cent against the background of falling national trends in 2010-11”
“a significant achievement”?
I now turn to the counselling provision available to women today. Many women do not want or need counselling. They find out that they are pregnant and know exactly what they want to do, but those are frequently the women who are supported—who have partners, family and friends who will support them through that awful situation. No woman wants to have an abortion, but many know that they have to, for various reasons, and this amendment is not about them. A mystery shopper, however, recently approached several abortion clinics posing as a young woman who was pregnant and unsure of what to do. Every time I mention BPAS there is a howl from Opposition Members, but I am going to mention it in this instance, because this is irrefutable evidence.
The individual posed at a central London clinic as a 26-year-old pregnant woman who did not know what to do, and she asked for counselling. I shall come on to the difference between counselling and consultation, but she said that she did not know what to do, because she had been given the immediate consultation, was not sure whether to go through with the pregnancy, and therefore wanted an abortion. She was told that, at that very busy clinic in central London, one hour of counselling was available at one set time per week. I believe that when she revealed her identity she was offered another hour.
Chris Bryant: I am very grateful—[ Interruption. ] The hon. Lady says something from a sedentary position. I wholly deprecate the fact that she has had threats made, but it is inappropriate to bring forward this amendment to this Bill, because if we are going to consider abortion we should be considering the whole issue in the round, not just appending something to this kind of Bill. As she knows, I disagree with her, but she will also know also that the whole point of counselling, in any circumstance, is to allow a person to come to the right decision for themselves. That is precisely what BPAS, Marie Stopes and others provide, because any counsellor who does not do that is not worth their salt.
Nadine Dorries: I would love to hear how the hon. Gentleman knows that that is what happens in Marie Stopes and BPAS. He always speaks on such issues as someone with huge experience, but I am highlighting at this moment what happens. If he thinks that one hour per week, at a set time at a busy London clinic, for the entire throughput of women having abortions, is enough counselling, so be it; that is his opinion.
Nadine Dorries: I should like to make this point before I take any more interventions, because I also want to defend BPAS. I do not want it to look as if I am attacking the organisation, because it, and probably more so, Marie Stopes, do what they do—the clinical procedure of carrying out abortion—incredibly well. The service that they provide for the NHS is absolutely vital, and I do not want to see Marie Stopes or BPAS disappear or to diminish their roles. They have a job to do, and they do it well. Their job is the provision of clinical abortions, and I want that to continue.
Louise Mensch (Corby) (Con): Will my hon. Friend confirm that it is still safe for those of us who do not have concerns about the counselling that BPAS and Marie Stopes offer to support her amendment, because it does not prevent BPAS and Marie Stopes from offering counselling? I, for one, have no such concerns, yet I am prepared to vote for her amendment, because it does not prevent those organisations from offering advice. Will she confirm that?
Nadine Dorries: My hon. Friend is not totally correct, because the whole purpose of the amendment is to separate out the financial situation. I shall come on to that in a moment. I disagree with my hon. Friend, and if she listens to the rest of the debate she will understand why. I do not believe that the place where an abortion was carried out is the right place for someone suffering from post-abortion distress to receive their counselling—a situation that many women suffering from post-abortion distress have told me about.
Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend and parliamentary neighbour. May I for a second take the debate from the general to the particular? I think that she is on to something. I mentioned a 23-year-old constituent of mine who, having been to an abortion clinic, then went to a clinic such as my hon. Friend advocates. It was then her decision: she decided to change her mind, and today has a beautiful three-month-old daughter. She is pleased that she had the opportunity for that counselling, which no one forced her to take. That is why I think my hon. Friend is on to something.
Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley) (Con): Marie Stopes International said in the briefing that it sent to all MPs that only 2% to 2.5% of women who go through the abortion counselling process opt to keep the child. Does my hon. Friend agree that that may indicate an incredibly poor success rate among counselling services?
There is a huge disparity between the figures that show both where a woman received her counselling and her decision. In 2008, BPAS announced that the proportion of women who came to it and decided not to proceed with an abortion was as high as 20%. Unfortunately, freedom of information requests asking for the figures and the contracts with PCTs show that that is not true: the real figure is 8%, and sometimes even lower in some PCTs. I am not sure why an abortion organisation would say that its figures for women who do not proceed to an abortion are higher than they actually are.
Nadine Dorries: I want to finish this point, and then I will give way. I know that the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) wants to intervene, and I will take an intervention from the hon. Member for Luton South (Gavin Shuker) first, in a moment.
There is a huge disparity in the figures, and the freedom of information request shows an even bigger disparity. Marie Stopes had told me—I hope I get this right—that the proportion of women who go to the organisation and do not proceed to termination is about 15%, although I do not know what freedom of information requests would show about those figures. The fact is that abortion providers are saying that 20% or 15% of women do not proceed to abortion, although freedom of information requests show that the figure is 8%, as was shown in the press this week. I have no idea why there is that disparity, or why they would say that the figure is 20% when it is not.
Gavin Shuker: The hon. Lady has rightly probed the relationship between counselling and abortion on behalf of those of us who feel uncomfortable about that relationship. However, does she agree that 90 minutes does not seem like a long time for us to debate the implications of what is going on? The Bill is substantively about the nature of the NHS, and not about abortion provision. In that light, I urge her to consider whether it is appropriate to divide the House on this issue.
Nadine Dorries: I am not going to take any interventions for a few minutes. I would like to go back to the fact that only one hour of counselling is available in a busy London clinic. I ask Members, just for a moment, to put themselves in the shoes of a 16-year-old girl who turns up at that clinic and does not know what to do. She is pregnant and panicking. Some of her friends tell her to have an abortion and some tell her not to. She does not want to tell her parents because she is scared of doing so. Her boyfriend is saying to her, “You’ve got to have an abortion and get rid of it.” That is a mish-mash of the four or five stories a day that we hear in my office.
The girl starts vomiting in the morning and carries on all day. She feels sick and ill and cannot think straight. She is not sleeping because she is scared stiff. She has not gone to school for more than a week because she thinks that people there will be able to tell that she is pregnant. She is out of her mind with worry. She turns up at a clinic and is told, “Sorry, that one appointment’s been taken. You’ll have to go to Richmond.” The girl does not even know where Richmond is, and she has never even been to hospital without having her mum with her.
I would like hon. Members to think about what it is like for that 16-year-old girl, and what they have against a GP or somebody else offering that girl an hour’s counselling so that she can talk through the issues and reach the right conclusion for her, non-advised.
Nadine Dorries: I know that others want to speak. I have been speaking for a while and I want to get to the end, so I will keep going for a bit longer. I will take interventions in a minute. [Interruption.]
Nadine Dorries: As I said, I do not want to look as if I am knocking abortion providers. As a nurse, I assisted with many terminations. I do not want to look as if I feel that there is no place for abortion provision. I am pro-choice and do not want to return to those other days.
Mr Umunna: The central point of disagreement for many people is the implication in the amendment that the abortion providers—BPAS has presence in my constituency—are incapable of providing impartial independent counselling to those who come to them.
The manager and staff at the centre in my constituency have said that they find insulting the idea that when they are giving counselling they are somehow seeking to persuade those who come to them to have an abortion, when that is not the case. In fact, when I visited BPAS recently a couple of young ladies had come to the centre intending to go through with an abortion but subsequently decided not to because of the counselling that they received.
Nadine Dorries: All I can say is that we will look at the freedom of information figures that have come from the clinic in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. If what he says is the case, that must have been the year’s allocation for that clinic, because the FOI request information that we have received does not show that.
I want to talk about the difference between consultation and counselling. I doubt very much whether the constituents of the hon. Member for Streatham had counselling; I think they probably had consultation. There is a big difference. Every woman who turns up at an abortion clinic has a consultation, but that is about the medical process—the side effects and what is going to happen. Every e-mail that we receive from women on this subject involves a consultation. This is how the law stands today; my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) might want to listen to this, as most of the way through she has been nodding in agreement with the adverse comments.
When a woman turns up at an abortion clinic, the clinic does not offer counselling. It does offer consultation, but the woman has to ask for counselling; it is not offered. She has to ask—or the doctor in the clinic has to see that a woman is in a particular position, or be alarmed enough by her state to offer counselling. I want to make the point very clear: counselling is not offered, but has to be asked for. [Interruption.] Someonesays from a sedentary position that it is, but if it is, the centre is operating outside the guidelines, because counselling is not offered.
Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): I am sure that many abortion providers do their level best to give advice, but that is not the point being made. Surely in any field of endeavour it is not appropriate for the provider of a service to give the so-called independent advice. That is the key point—and, frankly, the only point.
I do not want to ban abortion—I want it to continue—but should we not be taking better care of our young girls and women? Should we not be offering them something better? How do women get to the position of suffering mental health problems as a result of abortion?
Jim Shannon: The hon. Lady will be aware of facts and figures that indicate that a number of people who have had abortions regret it afterwards. Does she feel that if the consultation process is done correctly and the information is shown to the person who wishes to have the abortion, they would perhaps then decide that the child they are carrying could develop into a young lady and have life? Does she feel that the consultation process is clearly where the issue has to be addressed and that the emphasis has to be on the counselling, not on the abortion?
Nadine Dorries: The hon. Gentleman makes a point that is pertinent to his own beliefs. What I believe about counselling is that no advice should be given, that there should be no direction, and that it should be completely impartial. It should be an influence-free zone—a bubble—where a woman can sit and talk through the issues with somebody who is not guiding her. That is what counselling should be.
Every single day I receive e-mails from women who do not want other women to experience what they have experienced—who do not want their daughters to go through what they have gone through. I receive e-mails from staff who are working in, or have worked in, abortion clinics. I am in dialogue with some very senior members of staff of a number of organisations and abortion clinics across the UK—
Those members of staff are themselves not necessarily happy with the guidelines and the way in which they are forced to operate. I speak to people at abortion clinics across the UK who would like the guidelines to change because they do not necessarily feel that women receive the counselling that they should receive because it is not offered but has to be asked for.
Nadine Dorries: I hope that the quality of counselling is determined by the professional bodies by which the counsellor is accredited—they determine the standard of counselling. It does not matter whether counselling is for an abortion, for cosmetic surgery, or for anything else—it has a defined manner in which it is delivered, which is that advice is not given, that influence is not asserted, and that it is totally impartial. Any counsellor who is trained as such and accredited by a professional body delivers counselling in that manner.
Dr Wollaston: My hon. Friend has twice quoted the Royal College of Psychiatrists and asserted that there is a much higher rate of mental illness after termination of pregnancy, but the RCP has made it clear—any Member can look online at the draft of its very comprehensive evidence review—that we have to compare like with like. In other words, we have to make a comparison with rates of mental illness after unwanted pregnancy. Looking at the rates after unwanted pregnancy, we see that there is no difference between the rate of mental illness after termination of pregnancy and live birth. Indeed, the biggest predictor of mental ill health after a termination of pregnancy is whether somebody was suffering with problems beforehand.
Nadine Dorries: The hon. Lady makes the assumption that I want women to continue with unwanted pregnancies. That is not the case. I have made the point that abortion is here to stay for any woman who wants an abortion. The amendment simply proposes that any woman who feels that she wants or needs counselling can be offered it—that is all. I find it very difficult to understand why the hon. Lady would feel that anybody in a crisis pregnancy should not be offered counselling. Why should they not?
Mr Stewart Jackson: The hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), who is currently fulfilling his role as Dr Evan Harris’s vicar on earth, expressed the view that everything is fine at the moment. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that it is routine for primary care trusts absolutely to refuse to reveal the financial relationship they have—for instance, with Marie Stopes or BPAS—on the basis of commercial confidence, and that it takes freedom of information requests to get that information? The system is clearly not working, and if we want transparency and openness, things have to change.
Nadine Dorries: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Not only that, but the accounts of BPAS and Marie Stopes, which are revealed via the Charity Commission, can sometimes be three years out of date—we do not get to see them until three years later. That is amazing when one considers that the Charity Commission is paid £60 million of taxpayers’ money each year.
This, for me, is about the women who have contacted me and asked me to propose this amendment on their behalf, and I have to dedicate some of this speech to them. Every day I receive e-mails and speak to people—
I constantly speak to people at a high level across the abortion industry, and they always tell me that no woman goes through those doors wanting to be there. All women’s stories are the same; there is a theme that runs through every single one. The individual circumstances may be different, but the stories all start in the same way and with the same questions: “Will I lose my job or won’t I lose my job?”; “Will he leave me or won’t he leave me?”; “Will my parents kick me out or won’t they kick me out?” The questions are all the same; there are no surprises. Many women say that once they are referred—
Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): Perhaps this is not about this particular debate on the amendment, but I have to say that some of us in this House have the conviction that the emphasis seems to be on the right of the woman and that it is about time we spoke about the right of the unborn child. They have rights too.
Nadine Dorries: The hon. Gentleman is a man of great conviction and, I think, a lay preacher, and we all respect and honour his views. However, the amendment is not about the unborn child; it is about the woman accessing counselling.
The diagnosis of pregnancy happens very quickly. One can buy a pregnancy testing kit for £1. It is possible that the reason some women suffer distress following an abortion is that they can be tested before they have even missed their first period. For some women, that is fantastic and they go straight for an abortion when they find out. For others, however, it all happens so quickly that they can be aborted by the time they are seven or eight weeks pregnant, and then afterwards, when the pressure has gone and the coercion has disappeared, they realise—
Nadine Dorries: May I just finish this point? When those women would have been 10 weeks pregnant, two or three weeks after the abortion, they realise that they could have worked it out and that they could have got there somehow. That is when the problems are beginning to kick in. That is why an increasing number of women are becoming very anxious about the fact that they do not receive pre-abortion counselling. That is why I receive so many e-mails and why other organisations receive them.
Dr Lee: I want to place it on the record that as somebody who wants a reduction in the time limit on abortions provided in this country; who wants independent counselling to be provided; who has seen many patients who have had mental health problems post-abortion, such as self-harming and depression over 10 years; and who has been present at a termination and watched an eye go past in a tube, with a cursory reference made to it by the consultant, unfortunately I am frustrated by the way in which the amendment has been tabled. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) made the point that abortion as an issue should be talked about in the round. As a consequence, I cannot support the amendment, but that does not mean that I do not support the principles and the desire to make abortion as infrequent in our society as possible.
Nadine Dorries: I thank my hon. Friend for his candour. However, I inform him that opportunities to debate abortion in this House do not come very often. In fact, the last time it happened was in 2008 when I had to table an amendment to another Bill, which was controversial. The same criticism was made that the amendment should not have been tabled to that Bill. The fact is that the Government do not make provision for abortion to be discussed in this House. Therefore, it either has to be attached to a Bill like this or it does not happen at all, unless one is drawn first in the ballot for private Members’ Bills.
Dr Lee: Yes, but my point is that this is such an emotive subject—we can tell from the responses on both sides of the House that people feel passionately about this—that the debate needs to be calm and considered and the language both here and in the media must not be inflammatory or incendiary, because if it is, it polarises the debate and those of us who want to see progress towards abortion not being so prevalent in society get terribly frustrated.
Andrew Selous: I wonder whether my hon. Friend will clarify something. It is my understanding that if she chooses to press any of her amendments to the vote, it will be amendment 1221. I wonder if that might be more acceptable to my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) than amendment 1, which he may have been speaking about.
Nadine Dorries: The amendments are grouped, but when I spoke to the Table Office last night, I was told that I would speak to amendment 1 and that amendment 1 would be pressed to the vote. I hope that the Clerks will clarify that. [ Interruption. ]I will take advice from the Clerks, but when I spoke to the Clerk last night, I was told that it was amendment 1. [ Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) is going to find out for me now.
I now come to the financial arrangements between abortion clinics and counselling providers. If anybody in this House were to take out a mortgage today, the person who sold them the mortgage would have to refer them elsewhere for independent advice. If it was a husband and a wife, I believe that they would have to go to separate advisers, because they cannot both take advice about taking out the mortgage from the same person. I wonder why we feel it is appropriate that organisations that take £60 million a year of taxpayers’ money and are paid to carry out abortions give advice on the procedure.
Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): I am a former director of the largest patient organisation in Europe, which provides services on the commissioning side and the provider side through advice and support. It is a charity that deals with long-term conditions. We had to follow extremely strict rules to ensure that there was no conflict of interests and we could not provide commissioning services to an area of the country if we were also on the provider side. Why does she think that that situation has not existed for this particular area of health care?
Nadine Dorries: Because, unfortunately, abortion provision and counselling is never scrutinised thoroughly or legislated on. No legislation happens in this place to deal with abortion. It is an issue that can never be debated. People shy away from debating abortion because of the uproar that results so things do not happen that perhaps should happen. If one is to have cosmetic surgery and it is deemed that it might have a psychological effect, one would be offered independent counselling. That does not happen with abortion.
BPAS and other organisations would say that they do not have to meet targets and that they have no financial concerns. However, BPAS has advertised for business development managers, whose primary function is to increase its market share—those are its own words in the advert. If an organisation advertises that it wants to increase the number of abortions, can we trust it to provide vulnerable women who walk through the door with the counselling that they need? On pensions mis-selling, this place has separated by law the people who provide and sell pensions from the people who advise on pensions.
Nadine Dorries: No, I am going to close. I thought long and hard about tabling this amendment. Like so many issues concerning abortion, it is a highly emotive area. There are those who believe that the right to an abortion is so sacred that, no matter what, it should never be touched, debated or reformed. There is not a single MP in this House who has not been asked by a constituent about their beliefs on this issue. I am sure that many prefer, understandably, to fudge a response, particularly when the reaction to discussing abortion can be so aggressive, as I have found to my cost.
The amendment is about one thing and one thing only: providing women with more choice. It would allow women who are at their most vulnerable greater access to support. It must be wrong that the abortion provider that is paid £60 million to carry out terminations also provides the counselling when a woman feels strong or brave enough to ask for it. If an organisation is paid that much for abortions, where is the incentive to reduce them?
I will move on to the tactics that have been used in this House to thwart the amendment. I wish to be very clear and will take no more interventions. I went to see the Prime Minister regarding this amendment and he was very encouraging. In fact, it was at the Prime Minister’s insistence that I inserted the word “independent”. I have attended a meeting at the Department of Health at which it was decided what process would be implemented to make this a reality.
Last weekend, the former MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, Evan Harris, who has spent most of the day in the office of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert)—he is still here, tabling his amendments—turned up on the airwaves expounding the theory that there is no evidence of a problem, that the amendment is unnecessary as nothing needs to be fixed, that the status quo should remain and that the abortion industry should be allowed to continue under the veil of secrecy that it has.
I received a message informing me that the former Member for Oxford West and Abingdon had approached the Deputy Prime Minister’s office and exerted pressure. In fact, he tweeted exactly that, saying that he had applied pressure on the Deputy Prime Minister, who had now forced the Prime Minister to make a climbdown. Basically, a Liberal Democrat—in fact, a former MP who lost his seat in this place—is blackmailing our Prime Minister and our Government. Our Prime Minister is being put in an impossible position regarding this amendment. Our health Bill has been held to ransom by a former Liberal Democrat MP, who has focused on this amendment.
Mr Speaker: Order. I apologise for interrupting the hon. Lady, but there is so much noise in the House that it is sometimes difficult to know whether somebody is seeking to intervene or standing for another purpose. Point of order, Mr Martin Horwood.
Martin Horwood: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Member to accuse a former hon. Member of blackmail in the course of their speech? That is an accusation of a criminal offence.
Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. My understanding at present is that there has been no breach of order. However, I would say to the hon. Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Nadine Dorries) and to the House that temperate language, moderation and good humour are the essential features referred to in “Erskine May”, and it is best if they inform our debates.
I think our Prime Minister has been put in an impossible position. I want every Liberal Democrat Member to know that in the polling that was done, support for the amendment was 78% among the public, but it was highest among those who voted Liberal Democrat in the 2010 election, at 84%.
Nadine Dorries: It is time to make a decision not informed by the Liberal Democrats, and without being blackmailed by a Liberal Democrat or held to ransom by the Liberal Democrats. It is time to make a decision based on our conscience. I say to hon. Members: be prepared to stand by your view today for a long time, as it will be on everyone’s parliamentary record. In weighing up whether to support the amendment, Members should bear in mind the fact that 78% of the public support it. This is why we are here as Members of Parliament—to make difficult decisions such as this, not to be blackmailed or held to ransom. This is why we are MPs—because our constituents expect us to be brave. They expect us to stand up in the face of blackmail and be accountable.
Nadine Dorries: It does not happen very often in the House, but we have a conscience vote. It hardly ever happens, but we are all personally answerable for the decisions that we take. This decision is about nothing more than supporting an offer of counselling to vulnerable women who may need it and who may use it as a lifeline.
This is about being accountable for our views, which is what Parliament is all about. I do not see why we should shy away from putting our positions on the record. If Members want to stand in the way of a woman’s basic right to independent counselling, then they should vote against this proposal. However, if they want to ensure that a woman can have access to very basic support, they should vote for the amendment. It is up to them—support these reasonable measures to provide all women with independent counselling, or stand in the way of that basic support.
This vote is about women. I want every woman in this country to be able to look every MP in the eye and ask, “How did you vote for me and my daughters? What was the decision that you took?” Every MP will be accountable for that vote and that decision today.