Offences Against the Person Act 1861

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:33 pm on 5th June 2018.

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Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland 3:33 pm, 5th June 2018

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: this is not a matter of convenience. This is a heart-rending decision; many women whom I have spoken to over the years—I have represented many of them, but many others I have known in different ways—have had to go through the agonising decision as to whether abortion is the right choice for them. The decision should nevertheless lie with them, and laws should certainly not restrict that.

I want to emphasise what the Opposition and my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow are saying. The Labour party’s position—we are the Good Friday agreement party, we believe—is that we want to see devolved government work, but politicians in Northern Ireland have got to make it work on this issue. They cannot shy away from it; if this issue matters to the people they represent, they must be in the Assembly making laws on it for the people of Northern Ireland.

Many Members want to speak, so I do not intend to continue for much longer, but I want to conclude as I began. This is not, in the end, an issue about lawyers or even about the philosophy of abortion; it is about real people. It is about real women, very often in situations of distress, who are looking for the law to allow them to pursue something that is prevented in Northern Ireland at the moment. It ought to be unconscionable that a woman is made to continue bearing a child doomed to die. It ought to be unconscionable that a woman who provided her 15-year-old daughter with the capacity to terminate a pregnancy should still be facing criminal prosecution, as we have seen in a recent case. On that basis, humanity now cries out for a change in the law.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow again on securing this important debate. It is not the concluding debate—no change in the law can be passed today—but even if we pass legislation to put the wording of the motion into law, other legal changes will still be needed both UK-wide and most definitely in Northern Ireland. This is devolution-compatible, and the politicians in Northern Ireland must now make that devolution work.