TONY Blair opposed the Scottish Parliament having control over abortion after being told it was “the number one issue on the doorstep”.

In a memo from 9 May 1997 about the powers of a Scottish parliament, his Scottish political adviser Pat McFadden suggested abortion should remain reserved to Westminster.

In the note to the Labour PM, released today by the National Archives, McFadden warned him: “I am worried about this. 

"Several new Scottish MPs have told me this was the number one issue on the doorstep during the election.

“The Catholic Church will see devolution of these issues as an opportunity to open up the possibility of changes in the law. The Church of Scotland has also been adopting a more anti-abortion stance recently.

“Won’t devolution of these issues give rise to the potential of a big difference in the law... in Scotland and England with women possibly travelling from Scotland to England for abortions?”


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In his own handwriting, Blair said of devolving the issue: “I think no.”

However the debate rumbled on inside cabinet - Scottish Secretary Donald Dewar, Welsh Secretary Ron Davies and Commons leader Ann Taylor wanted it devolved, while Home Secretary Jack Straw and Health Secretary Frank Dobson wanted it reserved.

Dewar argued it was logical to devolved abortion, human embryology and genetic research alongside health and Scots civil law.

However on June 18, 1997, Dewar wrote to Blair conceding the issue.

“I have reflected carefully... and I have concluded that a credible case can be sustained for reserving the subject”, provided the Scottish Executive is “fully consulted" on changes in abortion policy. 

Abortion law was not devolved to Holyrood until 2016.