Frank Field MP
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Delivering Sense

There are a number of firsts with this morning’s post. It arrived early. It also bought a card announcing what will be in some weeks’ time a couple’s second child. The card is a reproduction of the mother’s last scan showing a very healthy child in her womb. The scans, which have been instigated to alert parents to handicapped children, thereby opening the door for an abortion, might, in the longer run, paradoxically have a totally different effect on the pro-life/pro-choice debate in this country. While this is the first time that I have had an expected birth announced in this way, I am struck by the number of young people in schools whose own lifebook begins with pictures of them in their mother’s womb. While only some of the young people link up their womb-life with the abortion debate, these scans will, I believe, over the longer term change people’s attitude to what is an acceptable time limit beyond which abortion should not take place.

Abortion was touched on in a public discussion I was involved in last evening. I gave an example of how irrational many of the contributors to the abortion debate are when parliament discusses the issue. We did so last year and I couldn’t but compare the attitudes of my colleagues to GM foods and GM embryos. I would guess that, on a free vote, a significant majority of Labour MPs would register against GM foods. And yet I could not but contrast the horror that is expressed in our GM debates in the commons from the Labour benches on the prospect of having, say, genetically-modified potatoes compared with the non-debate and the voting last year for genetically-modified embryos, which was carried easily. This extraordinary example of where that part of the political brain deciding issues of GM crops is totally divorced from presumably another part of the political brain deciding GM embryos will soon be a thing of the past as those scanning photographs spread a new sediment across our political debate.

The Government very bravely announces today a third runway for Heathrow while making it plain that they are not so brave to allow the Commons to vote on the issue. The Tories might well mess up this aspect of the Government’s intent by offering us a vote at the end of a day’s proceeding when they decide the issue to be discussed. I hope when that opportunity arises we will have a radical alternative on offer. It is surely madness to expand a country’s major airport, with even more planes, and thereby terrorist targets, flying over the capital city. Surely the next radical Prime Minister will announce when the last flight will leave Heathrow and link this with building up an airport in the Thames Estuary or the Bristol Channel. The Government is confident it can build up a Japanese-type bullet train network to get us from London to Manchester in 40 minutes, surely the first such line could be built bringing passengers for either the West or the East and delivering them in London in less than half an hour. I wonder what the odds bookmakers are offering against that third runway ever being built?
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