I start by welcoming the opportunity to take part in a debate on this incredibly important issue. I pay tribute to all hon. Members who secured the debate, and particularly Stella Creasy. She has campaigned on this issue for many years and I know that she will continue to do so. I always welcome the opportunity to hear her incredibly passionate and moving contributions.
I also apologise, Mr Speaker, because, as you know, I will need to leave the Chamber before the end of the debate. The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend Mr Vara, will be here throughout the whole debate, as will be Ministers from Departments that cover a whole spectrum of the issues that we are debating today. If specific points need a response, I will ensure that I respond personally to those Members who make them.
I—and you, Mr Speaker—have listened very carefully to all the different views on this matter that have been expressed today and previously. It is clear that there is a range of views across the House. I am also aware of the personal stories that lie behind this issue. Abortion is a very sensitive issue, regardless of where people’s views lie. It is therefore important for us to debate this issue with due care and sensitivity, and that was why I stood yesterday to support the hon. Member for Walthamstow in securing the debate.
It has long been the case that abortion has been a matter of conscience in this House. It has been, and will continue to be, subject to a free vote. While I appreciate that the recent referendum in Ireland has undoubtedly reinvigorated the debate in Northern Ireland and throughout the rest of the United Kingdom, we have to be careful not to react without careful consideration.