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Thursday, June 18, 1998 Published at 13:53 GMT 14:53 UK

UK Politics

Lords bid to give Scots power over abortion

Lord Steel: "a matter of principle"

The Scottish Parliament may be given the power to ban abortion if an amendment tabled in the House of Lords is accepted.

The Liberal Democrat peer, Lord Steel of Aikwood, said he was tabling an amendment to the Scotland Bill to remove abortion from the list of reserved powers retained by Westminster.

Lord Steel, former leader of the Liberal Party, said he was confident the amendment would be accepted by the Lords where Conservative peers are expected to join Liberal Democrats in voting for it.

Lord Steel, who has strong pro-choice beliefs, said he tabled the amendment as a "matter of principle".

If the amendment becomes law it opens up the prospect of different laws on abortion north and south of the border. If, for example, abortion became illegal in Scotland it could lead to women crossing the border to have terminations in England.

But Lord Steel said: "One must hope that the Scottish Parliament would be sufficiently sensible that the legislation did not get too out of kilter with what is happening in England."

Abortion is a particularly sensitive issue in Scotland where there is a strong body of Catholic opinion firmly opposed to it.

If the Lords back the amendment it would then be up to the government to decide whether to reverse the change when the Bill comes back to the Commons.

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