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Tuesday, November 3, 1998 Published at 21:12 GMT

UK Politics

Government wins abortion vote

Many Irish women travel to the mainland for abortions

The government has seen off the prospect of a defeat by the Lords over abortion powers in Scotland.

Tories had tabled an amendment to the devolution Bill in a bid to give the Scottish parliament powers over abortion law.

Under the Bill, the right to legislate on abortion will remain with Westminster.

Tories and Lib Dems argued that because the rest of health policy will be devolved to Holyrood, it makes no sense to exclude abortion.

But the amendment was rejected by the Lords by 127 to 70, a government majority of 57.

Peers also rejected, by 131 to 70, a government majority of 61, a Tory move to prevent the Holyrood assembly from deciding its own policy on euthanasia. Power on that issue will now come under the Edinburgh parliament.

The votes came on the last day of the detailed report stage of the Scotland Bill, which devolves powers from Westminster to the new assembly.

In July, during the Bill's committee stage, peers rejected a similar move led by Lib Dem peers' deputy leader Lord Steel of Aikwood, architect of the 1967 Abortion Act.

Cross-border trade fears

Lord MacKay of Ardbrecknish, for the Opposition, highlighted what he saw as inconsistencies in the government's attitude to abortion and euthanasia.

He cited a recent pledge by junior Northern Ireland minister Lord Dubs to devolve abortion policy in the province if law and order were devolved.

Scottish minister Lord Sewel replied: "If there were to be a situation in the future where there was a considerable difference in the abortion law north and south of the border and that in itself produced a significant cross-border trade in women seeking abortion, I believe that would be regarded as being offensive by public opinion."

There is a large Catholic population in Scotland and demand for devolution in this field won support from the Roman Catholic church, which detected an opportunity to press for moves to restrict abortion in Scotland.

But the government argued that a potential restriction might lead to Scottish women seeking abortions in England, as they do in Ireland.

Had the amendment been passed, it would have been a fourth defeat for the government on the Scotland Bill.

On Monday, the Lords defeated the government for a third time over the independence of the judiciary.

It means the government has now suffered 35 defeats by peers since coming to power.

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18 Jun 98 | UK Politics
Lords bid to give Scots power over abortion

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