This submission to Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee opposing the Westminster Parliament legislating on abortion for Northern Ireland was made on 8 December 2018 but was not published at that time due to the rules of the Committee. The Committee’s Report has now issued and is on Parliament’s website (www.parliament.uk). The Report contains within it a “minority report” proposed by Eddie Hughes MP which reflects some of the views in our submission.
This Catholic Union submission was made in December and has just been published on the website of the Women and Equalities Committee. It can therefore now be made public.
The Catholic Union submitted evidence to the new House of Lords Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement focusing on freedom of religion as a fundamental British value.
The Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill has been defeated in a free vote by 82 votes to 36 in the Scottish Parliament.
The Bill proposed a system loosely based on that which operates in Oregon (USA) with trained licensed facilitators but with scope for mentally competent adults with a ‘terminal or life-shortening illness’ or a ‘progressive and terminal or life-shortening condition’ who have concluded that their ‘quality’ of their life is not worth living..
The Bill has been heavily criticised for its definitions, poor reporting provisions, minimal penalties, a ‘saving’ clause protecting doctors acting in ‘good faith’, no specification of ‘means’ of suicide and the absence of a conscience clause.
Oral evidence was taken earlier this year and Scottish First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon that she would not support the bill. In addition over 15,000 Scots signed a petition against it.
The Health and Sport Committee which scrutinised the Bill had previously written a damning view of its shortcomings.
The votes of faith communities could be decisive
The Catholic Union of Great Britain has said that the run-up to the Election provides “a time for reflection and careful consideration of how public policy issues… impact upon our common welfare and good.”
In a leaflet called “Restoring Faith in Public Life”, which was sent out to nearly 1,500 parishes in time for Low Sunday (11th/12th April), the Catholic Union highlights several issues that should affect the way Catholics vote. The four-page document also seeks to help voters consider how they should cast their ballot on 7 May, by raising important issues, asking faith-led questions and suggesting points of reflection.
Extract from the Parliamentary record;
EDUCATION REGULATIONS AND FAITH SCHOOLS
SIR EDWARD LEIGH (GAINSBOROUGH) (CON): I beg to move,
That this House believes that Ofsted should respect the ability of faith
schools to teach their core beliefs in the context of respect and
toleration for others.
Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing the time of these debates, and
a number of colleagues, including the hon. Members for Southport (John
Pugh) and for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt), would have liked
to have taken part in this important debate, but they have unmissable
commitments in their constituencies. I am grateful to those of my
colleagues who are here to support me.
Faith schools do a marvellous job. That is why parents love them, and I
am one of those parents. Of course, when we say faith schools, we are
overwhelmingly talking about Church schools. In the state sector there
are almost 7,000 faith schools, of which 4,500 are Church of England,
almost 2,000 are Catholic, 48 are Jewish, 18 Muslim, eight Sikh and four
Hindu. Last year, of the 693 best-performing state primary schools, 62%
were faith schools—a staggering percentage—even though they account
for only a third of primaries nationally.
Church schools are great motors of social mobility. They perform well
whatever the background of the pupils. Faith schools are ethnically
diverse. About a quarter of pupils of faith schools have an ethnic
background other than white British. In my son’s school it is over
60%. Far from preaching intolerance, these schools, because of their
strong, unifying, religious ethos, do more for social cohesion than a
thousand Home Office initiatives.
Many people’s experience of the Church of England or Roman Catholic
school at the end of their road is that it is a delightful haven of
well-behaved pupils from all backgrounds and highly motivated teachers
putting their heart and soul into the school and its community. But it
is faith schools that are under attack from the forces of intolerance,
so we must recognise their great contribution and encourage them to
carry on doing what they are doing so well.
Groups such as the British Humanist Association would like to ban faith
schools. They do no seem to care how much parents and pupils love them
or how well they perform—the very definition of intolerance. They try
to smear faith schools with what happened in Birmingham with the Trojan
horse scandal, but we all know that none of the Trojan horse schools was
a faith school. Faith schools should hold their heads up high and not
engage in the pre-emptive cringe and kowtow to the latest fashion. They
should stand by the principles that have made them such a success: love
of God and neighbour, pursuit of truth, high aspiration and discipline.
We do not want any dumbing down. Jewish schools should teach the Jewish
religion, and Christian schools should teach the Christian religion.
That is likely to give their pupils a better idea of their place in the
world, of their potential and of their obligations to others. Yes, they
should learn about other religions, which is necessary not only for
being a good citizen, but for being culturally aware, but that can take
place in the context of the school’s faith ethos. Of course pupils can
accept or reject the school’s world view, whether religious or
> secular. There are plenty of Christians in secular schools and plenty of
atheists in Christian schools. The law guarantees freedom of conscience.
But by the same token, governors, teachers, parents and pupils who want
a religious education also have freedom of conscience, and we must guard
their freedoms carefully.
MRS MARY GLINDON (NORTH TYNESIDE) (LAB): I congratulate the hon.
Gentleman on securing the debate. Does he agree that what is important
is the teaching of religious education in all schools so that all
children can understand religions and non-religions as they progress
through school? We should have proper RE teachers to give young people
the wide breadth of knowledge they need to understand everyone else in
the country and all those who live in their communities.
SIR EDWARD LEIGH: Yes, of course I agree. It is very important that RE
is a rigid academic discipline. Children must be aware of other faiths
and of comparative religion, but they must also have a firm grounding in
their own faith’s teachings, because that gives them a sense of
belonging and place.
KEVIN BRENNAN (CARDIFF WEST) (LAB): The hon. Gentleman rightly talks
about the need for a firm grounding. Is not the line that must be drawn
that no taxpayer-funded school should ever be involved in proselytising
SIR EDWARD LEIGH: I absolutely agree. I mentioned the thousands of
Church of England and Roman Catholic schools. I do not think that there
is any evidence that any of those schools are creating Christian
jihadists. I have six children, and they have attended faith schools in
the state and private sectors. The thought that any of those primary
schools in the maintained sector, whether Catholic or Anglican, is
teaching intolerance is completely absurd.
MPs VOTE FOR ACTION ON SEX-SELECTIVE ABORTION
On Tuesday 4th November 2014 MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of a Bill seeking to clarify the law on sex-selective abortion.
The Abortion (Sex-Selection) Ten Minute Rule Bill, was approved by 181 votes to 1.
The Bill, promoted by MPs Fiona Bruce, Fiona MacTaggart, Kate Hoey, Caroline Noakes, Mary Glindon, Angela Watkinson, Tessa Munt, Sarah Teather, Sheryll Murray, Naomi Long, Pauline Latham and Rosie Cooper, was motivated by a desire to clear up an ambiguity in the law.
While the sex of the unborn child is not a ground for an abortion under the 1967 Act the British Medical Association and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service have argued that the law permits sex-selective termination in certain circumstances.
The Government has always disagreed, making clear that “abortion on the grounds of gender alone is illegal”.
The Abortion (Sex-Selection) Bill was designed to clear up the confusion, confirming the Government’s line and requiring the Secretary of State for Health to consider ways in which help can be offered to women who are under pressure to have sex-selective abortions.
Deciding that they wanted a vote on this issue, MPs ensured that a division was called.
The Bill’s Second Reading is set for 23rd January, though it is unlikely to be given time for debate in this Parliamentary session.
A growing body of case studies have put beyond doubt that women have obtained sex-selective abortions in the UK. However, some still argue that there is no evidence for the practice.
In response to these critics, Rani Bilkhu, director of Jeena International and spokeswoman of www.stopgendercide.org said:
“Saying that there is no evidence is tantamount to saying that the women we work with are lying and that my organisation is making things up”
In the House of Commons, Fiona Bruce outlined the need for clarification and cited some case studies that have recently come to light.
Responding to the vote, Mrs Bruce said
“That we are having this discussion is testament to how liberally the Abortion Act has been interpreted. Today Parliament agreed that more legislation is needed to silence those claiming that sex-selective abortion can be legal. Never would Parliamentarians in 1967 have imagined that 47 years on, there would be dispute about whether their Act permitted abortion where the baby was the a boy or a girl. If the social clause of the Act permits sex-selective abortion, the time to revisit it is long overdue. Until then, today’s vote has given a clear signal that MPs are united in working towards a time when the words “it’s a girl” are met with celebration rather than despair.”
The Vice Chairman (standing in for the Chairman who was absent), asked whether the Committee’s discussions were effective outside its immediate environs. There has been an increase in coverage of the Catholic Union in the Catholic press, but none in the secular press. It was suggested that there should be a group of doctors and lawyers who could write pertinent briefing papers on specific issues, which will both inform and persuade.
Three Catholic MPs had spoken out against this. The “One of Us” campaign had attracted 1.9 million signatures, well above the one million threshold from seven countries required to propose legislation in the European Parliament. Nevertheless, it had been ignored. The Chairman would write to his MEP on this subject.
Abortion by Midwives
There had been a missive from the Department of Health which stated that midwives should be able to use abortifacients if authorised by a doctor. This was an update of the RSOP (Required Standard Operating Procedures for licensing premises for abortions), loosening the protections in the original abortion act. The approval by two doctors was being replaced by “multi-disciplinary teams”. This could foster mistrust of midwives by mothers. “The Times” commented that this was abortion on demand and reflected a shift in the nation’s culture. Some now say abortion should be a human right. It was becoming more and more difficult for a Catholic to be a midwife or gynaecologist. The Duggan case (administration of abortions) would be going to the Supreme Court. The CU Chairman had written to the Prime Minister about abortion by midwives.
Assisted Suicide and the Falconer Bill
The revised Falconer Bill is due on the 18th July and is identical to its predecessor. The makeup of the House of Lords has altered, so defeat is no longer certain. There is never a vote on the first reading. Speeches on this subject had often urged “let sleeping dogs lie”. It currently works well with prosecutorial discretion. Some think a bill on this controversial subject needs to start in the Commons, although Parliamentary debate seems to be thinning.
Applying Equality Law in Practice
It was announced that the responsible office in the Bishops’ Conference (E&W) had received the replies to this consultation. In consequence, the words on gender reassignment had been changed. It was still a forbiddingly long document to read. Possibly it could be advertised by posters in the back of churches. It was announced that three précis documents were being prepared; one for employers, one for employees and one for service providers. It was hoped to distribute these widely – including through parishes. The CTS might be persuaded to publish these in due course.
The Queen’s Speech
The vice Chairman introduced a general discussion on this, in particular the proposal to recognise marriage in the tax system, by means of the married couple’s allowance.
The Chairman had prepared a short summary of points from the last meeting for Archbishop Peter Smith, copied to his own Archbishop Bernard Longley, and also to the Cardinal via his sectary. There had been no acknowledgement, but he hoped to meet with Archbishop Longley and with the Cardinal’s secretary and find out if this was of any interest.
Catholic Medical Alliance Submission on Mitochondrial Donation
Both the PPAC and the CMA had made a submission to the consultation. This was basically about how it should be done, not whether it should be done. There were two possible methods of ‘mitochondrial engineering’:
- Pronuclear transfer: a fertilised embryo is taken from an egg with faulty mitochondria and inserted into an egg with healthy mitochondria from which the fertilised embryo has been removed and discarded.
- Maternal spindle transfer: The nucleus is removed from an egg with faulty mitochondria and inserted into an egg with healthy mitochondria from which the nucleus has been removed. This egg is then fertilised.
- The first method kills an embryo while the second does not. However both involve alteration of the germ line and we did not know if it was safe. The Government’s committee said there was no evidence it was unsafe. The principal non-ethical objection was safety. The legislation is likely to be whipped and will open a Pandora’s Box on the subject.
There had been a much recent debate on this and a number of Catholic MPs had spoken. There was a drive for legal action against 67 doctors using pre-signed forms. The DPP had pushed this across to the GMC which had told them it was illegal and they must not do it again. The GMC thought the practice was so common they couldn’t do anything except in the case of gendercide. This was in hand with the all-party life group led by Jim Dobbin MP, which is working with the Metropolitan Police and the DPP. Fiona Bruce MP was asking the attorney general what action he had taken. The Chairman had received letters from Baroness Knight who wishes to call a meeting in the Lords about the false nature of the form all pre-signed for category “C”, risk to themental health of the mother. There is probably no risk, but it is unclear whether this has been looked into.
The document “Living and Dying Well” said the law deters but is flexible. Prosecutions are almost nil. Concern is not just for the terminally ill but for the suffering. The Nicklinson case would not be covered by the bill which is therefore not honest. The Court of Appeal has passed it to the Supreme Court but it won’t change the law; that is for Parliament to do. The DPP’s guidance falls into two classes. Class 1: where the assistor is a family member and the deceased is mentally capable. Class 2: Doctors and ‘strangers’, where the guidance is not sufficiently clear. This is now in the Supreme Court. The Royal Society of GPs stated this bill would spoil the relationship with patients and palliative care would lose funding; a neutral stance would be seen as acceptance. Sir Edward Leigh MP said that altough he always voted against, pressure was relentlessly growing and the state was increasingly concerned with the cost of rising numbers of elderly dementia patients.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference’s brief document “Sense and nonsense on assisted dying” (circulated) was a valuable contribution and would be distributed to the entire CU membership.
Same sex marriage Northern Ireland
This was defeated again 53 to 48. The subject of the consultation draft on “Applying Equality Law in practice for Catholics” was raised. Reactions and comments were to be submitted by the end of May.
“Safe at School” campaign
The latest bulletin for (not just Catholic) parents describes what is being taught in schools. The materials used in Catholic schools are usually less damaging than those in state schools,
but can still cause problems. Sex education must remain non-compulsory. There is a move to update the 2000 Guidelines; the consultation was for teachers and students but parents had been omitted and there was nothing about love and marriage. The Government is resisting this move. A good Catholic resource, “This is my Body” is available.
A Christian Country?
The prime minister claimed over the Easter that this country remains essentially Christian, but the Cardinal had countered by saying that with SSM, the country had lost the last vestige of the Judeo-Christian ethos. The chief Rabbi however had said “of course we are a Christian country”. The prevailing ethos seemed to be “I have the right to have what I want and to ignore your opinion”. Most people now think religion is not in the public interest.
Any Other Business
There was a debate on Catholic “Free” schools: would the Government give way on capping Catholic admissions at 50% as demanded by the Liberal Democrats? There were a large number of Catholic Academies – now more in thrall than ever to the DofE. Parents, school and parish working together gives stability.
The chairman welcomed a new member of the committee, Patricia Stoat as per last month’s announcement.
The chairman referred to a letter to the Daily Telegraph from Jim Dobbin, Sir Edward Leigh and others on the benefits of marriage to society. He noted the government was, belatedly, introducing a modest transferable tax allowance which seemed an acknowledgement of marriage as a public force for good.
Euthanasia of children in Belgium
The cardinal archbishop of Malines and a rabbi had issued a strong statement condemning this.
40 paediatricians had written that in their experience no child had ever requested death. However, it was now suggested the law should be extended to allow the euthanasia of children at the decision of the parents alone. The law had been signed by Philippe I, nominally a Catholic monarch.
This is still a live issue in parliament. Baroness Knight asked if the law on abortion was beingupheld but did not receive a straight answer. Baroness Hollins, (past president of the BMA), Lord Alton, Lord Patten and Lord Mackay of Clashfern asked about gender based abortion. The Government said it was illegal and would examine the ratio of male to female births. Fiona Bruce MP asked about abortion on “Ground E” – disability- and gave examples of trivial cases. The Chief Medical Officer had sent a letter to doctors reminding them of their duties without publishing the Contents. The Government seems very casual about enforcement of the Act and was still considering relaxation of the law to allow nurse-only abortions. It said new guidelines were in draft but again not published. Gary Streeter MP was asking for a full debate on these guidelines. There will also be debate on the RSOP (Required Standard Operating Procedures for licencing premises for abortions).
A legal case in the north of England claimed that injury to a foetus was an assault; it was considered likely to fail since legally a person did not exist until born. However, the right of the unborn have never been defined. The chairman had written to Baroness Hollins, thanking her for her intervention and had included two papers showing that mental health problems as grounds for abortion were spurious.
Lord Alton had made a strong statement about MD in so far as it alters the genetic composition of future generations, would be against international law and he claimed would make the UK a rogue state.
There had been a campaign entitled “One of Us” aimed at limiting the misuse of embryos. It had sought a million signatures to trigger a debate in the European parliament. It had obtained 1.7 million and the debate would be on 9th April.
Falconer Bill on Assisted Dying
This is likely to be brought back to the Lords after the Queen’s speech. Opposing such measures would best done as part of a coalition, ie with the“Care not Killing” group. There are now 193 new peers and their views on this issue were unknown. “Care not Killing” would approach these and try to elucidate their views without making any effort to persuade. In general, public opinion appeared to be moving towards assisted dying. An assisted dying bill was likely to be brought forward in Scotland at year end, after the referendum. Baroness Butler-Sloss, formerly president of the family division of the high court, has warned that assisted dying would put many vulnerable people at risk. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference’s brief document “Sense and nonsense on assisted dying” (circulated) was a valuable contribution.
Modern Slavery Bill and Global Freedom Network
The Bill was intended to consolidate and simplify existing legislation and to support victims. There had recently been a meeting in the Vatican of the Global Freedom Network, supported by Catholics, and other faiths. The meeting made the following declaration: “Modern slavery and human trafficking are crimes against humanity. The physical, economic and sexual exploitation of men, women and children condemn 30 million people to dehumanisation and degradation”. There will be a high level meeting in Rome between police chiefs, church leaders and others to establish more ties between the Church and the police. The emphasis would move from punishing the offenders to helping the victims.
Any Other Business
Same Sex Marriage guidelines: the Equality and Human Rights web site stated that holding to the traditional view of marriage is not in itself an offence if expressed in moderation; teachers will be allowed to teach what they feel is right with regard to their faith.
It was decided that in future selected items should be highlighted from each month’s minutes and sent to the appropriate member of the Bishops’ Conference, under the guidance of the Chairman.