Ministers clash over plan to devolve abortion law to Scots

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A move to give the proposed Scottish parliament powers over abortion law have been blocked after a row in the Cabinet committee which has been thrashing out the details for the policy on devolution.

Donald Dewar, the Scottish Secretary, was beaten off in a series of clashes with English ministers, including Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, Frank Dobson, the Health Secretary, and Jack Cunningham, Minister of Agriculture.

Senior government sources confirmed last night that the question of giving the Scottish parliament the right to tighten abortion law had been raised, but had been firmly rejected. "Abortion being devolved to the Scottish parliament is not on the cards," said a source.

It could remain a divisive issue for Scotland, with its strong Catholic population, to have abortion law determined in London and it could reopen during the passage of the main legislation, if a referendum sup- porting the Scottish parliament produced a "yes" vote in September.

Government sources said the White Paper setting out the plans for the Scottish parliament had been agreed and it was expected to be published shortly. But agreement had been reached only after the intervention of the Prime Minister. The main wrangle was over the budget for Scotland, with Mr Straw leading the argument for it to be cut because Scotland received a disproportionately large sum compared with the regions of England.

Michael Ancram, the Tory spokesman on constitutional affairs, said last night: "This is yet another sign after years of planning that they have not got their act together. It makes it even more important that the voters should be fully aware of the details before the referendum."

The rows are now settled, but Mr Straw has reserved the right to reopen the question of the Scottish budget being too large later in the parliament.