Today is the 45th anniversary of the passage by the House of Commons of David Steel’s (pictured) Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill (later to become the Abortion Act 1967). Two days of government time had been provided, one on 29 June and the other on 13 July - for the Bill's Third Reading.
The first day of the additional Parliamentary time provided by the then (Labour) Government proved to be insufficient and the sponsors of the Bill went cap in hand again to the Leader of the House, Richard Crossman seeking further time. The Labour Cabinet met again to discuss this matter on Thursday, 6th July, 1967: i.e. to discuss whether further Parliamentary time should be provided. Once again, the pro-abortion lobby were not to be disappointed.
See below the note of this Cabinet discussion. There seemed to be a concern in Cabinet that for the Government to allow yet further time for this Bill would be taken by the public as implying a degree of governmental support for it. However, after a full discussion, the Cabinet “agreed that further Parliamentary time should be provided by the Government for the Termination of Pregnancy Bill, on the basis that this time was allowed solely in order to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on a Bill which had attracted considerable Parliamentary support.”
As a result, on Thursday 13th July 1967, John Silkin, the Government Chief Whip (and son of Lord Silkin, who would subsequently sponsor the Bill during its passage through the House of Lords) moved that the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill may be proceeded with though opposed until any hour ie another open ended debate. This motion was agreed to by 303 votes to 202.
Pro-life MPs fought against all the odds to prevent the passage of this Bill. Norman St John-Stevas had circulated a letter asking pro-life MPs to filibuster. Sadly, the sponsors – using a whole host of untruths and exaggerations – persuaded the House of Commons to support the Bill. However, it still took a further all night sitting for the Bill to complete its Report stage. At 11.45 am on Friday 14th July, MPs voted by 167 votes to 83 to give the Bill a Third Reading.
The full debate, beginning with the Business of the House motion can be seen here.
Under the tragic legislation over 7,500,000 babies have now been killed - and the legislation has been a model for countries worldwide.
Note of Cabinet discussion on whether further Parliamentary time should be given to Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill (later, the Abortion Act 1967)
The Lord President (Richard Crossman) said that, despite the provision of additional time by the Government for the debate of Mr. Steel's Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill, the House of Commons had failed to reach a conclusion on it. It was for consideration whether further Parliamentary time should be provided by the Government to enable the House to reach a decision on the Bill before the Summer Recess. It was clear from the amount of support which the Bill received that if it failed in this Session it would be revived in subsequent Sessions until the House reached a decision and from the point of view of Parliamentary business there was therefore a strong argument in favour of allowing finality to be reached this time. Furthermore, it was arguable that, in the case of a Bill which attracted this degree of support, time should as a matter of principle be provided to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion. In these circumstances the balance of advantage appeared to lie in providing further limited time for debate on the Bill.
In discussion it was urged that for the Government to allow yet further time for this Bill would be taken by the public as implying a degree of governmental support for it. The Cabinet had not debated the Bill on merits and in view of its highly controversial nature it would be unfortunate if without such discussion the Government were publicly assumed to have taken a decision to support it. It was, however, the general view that the question of governmental support was neither at issue nor would be seen to be implied. The basic principle was that of enabling Parliament to reach a conclusion on a measure which attracted such a wide measure of support. The Governments neutrality on the merits of the Bill could be demonstrated, more particularly if in the event some Ministers were to vote in favour of the Bill and some against it. In these circumstances, further Parliamentary time should
be allowed and it was indeed questionable whether it should not be made clear, in order to forestall further filibustering, that the additional time wouk not be limited, but would be sufficient to enable Parliament to reach a decision one way or another. This could be achieved by making it clear that the debate could continue over the night of Thursday, 13th July and throughout the following Friday (or indeed Saturday) if necessary. This course was, however,
open to the objection that it would involve the sacrifice of Government business on the Friday and though on this occasion the business in question was only of minor importance, its sacrifice might be taken as prejudicing the Governments neutrality on the substance of the Bill.
In further discussion it was urged that consideration should be given to the possibility of changes in Parliamentary procedure which would provide better opportunity for Parliament to reach conclusions on Bills of this nature. This might involve the appointment of a Standing Committee for the preparation of legislation. This and other suggestions could well be considered by the Ministerial Committee on Parliamentary Procedure.
(1) Agreed that further Parliamentary time should be provided by the Government for the Termination of Pregnancy Bill, on the basis that this time was allowed solely in order to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on a Bill which had attracted considerable Parliamentary support.
(2) Invited the Lord President of the Council to consider in the light of the discussion the extent to which the statement of the Governments intention to provide further
Parliamentary time for this purpose should indicate that the time would be limited.
(3) Invited the Lord President of the Council to arrange for the Ministerial Committee on Parliamentary Procedure to consider, in the light of their discussion, Parliamentary arrangements for facilitating Private Members' Bills.
Comments on this blog? Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org
Sign up for alerts to new blog-posts and/or for SPUC's other email services
Follow SPUC on Twitter
Like SPUC's Facebook Page
Please support SPUC. Please donate, join, and/or leave a legacy