Door open on devolving abortion rights to Holyrood

Alex Salmond said Donald Dewar backed move
Alex Salmond said Donald Dewar backed move
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SCOTTISH Secretary David Mundell has left open the door to handing control of abortion law to Holyrood.

He told the Commons that talks on the issue had begun between the UK and Scottish governments.

He said the cross-party Smith commission on ­further devolution had not taken a view on the matter but had recommended it should be considered through a separate process.

Mr Mundell told MPs: “In keeping with this recommendation a process was established between the UK government and the Scottish Government to consider this issue.”

Former SNP leader Alex Salmond claimed abortion was an issue which Donald Dewar had wanted to see devolved when the Scottish Parliament was first set up, but the idea had been blocked by a “Star Chamber”.

Mr Salmond said given that early plan to devolve responsibility for abortion, it was “more than passing strange” it is still not being handed to Holyrood.

Labour opposed the move to devolve abortion law arguing instead for a “consistent, UK-wide approach”.

Rejecting a bid by pro-life MPs to add abortion to the list of powers being transferred from Westminster under the Scotland Bill, Mr Mundell said accepting their amendment would pre-empt the discussions, which were at an early stage.

But he said: “As has been said in this debate, there is no reason why the Scottish Parliament should not be able to decide an issue of this significance because it has demonstrated its ability to do so on numerous other significant issues.”

During the fourth and final day of detailed debate on the Scotland Bill, senior right-wing Conservative backbencher Sir Edward Leigh argued for responsibility over abortion to be devolved. He acknowledged his views were “pro-life” but insisted that was irrelevant.

He said: “I have no idea whether, if the Scottish Parliament was allowed to decide the law on abortion, it would take a more pro-life view or it would not. It’s none of my business.

“But a self-respecting parliament can and should be trusted to deal with abortion, especially when it already deals with assisted dying.

“I cannot see the logic in allowing the Scottish Parliament to decide assisted dying but not abortion.”

Shadow Scottish Secretary and Edinburgh South MP Ian Murray said a woman’s right to choose should be determined by “robust clinical advice” rather than a “line on a map”.

He said: “There is no reason why a woman in Edinburgh should face a different experience from a woman in Exeter.”

Ahead of the Commons debate, a group of 13 organisations, including Zero Tolerance, Scottish Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis Scotland, Amnesty International and the STUC, wrote to MPs, urging them to vote to retain UK-wide regulation of abortion law.

They said: “Women across the UK have fought for women’s bodies to be their own, and to this day, fight opposition to a women’s right to choose. We do not wish this amendment to open the doors to those who seek to undermine this right.”