Offences Against the Person Act 1861

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:27 pm on 5th June 2018.

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Photo of Tonia Antoniazzi Tonia Antoniazzi Labour, Gower 4:27 pm, 5th June 2018

Unfortunately I am unable to.

In the absence of a Northern Ireland Assembly, Westminster has a duty to stand up for the women of Northern Ireland. Is waiting for the Assembly to uphold the rights of women in Northern Ireland not just a way of avoiding taking action altogether?

The roll-out of universal credit, as we have all heard, penalises women who decide to have a third child, even if that is as a result of rape or within an abusive relationship. Imagine not being able to afford to have a third child, and imagine having to make the agonising decision to continue a pregnancy when foetal abnormalities have been detected. How can any of us begin to imagine what it is like to have to make such a decision? It is ironic that the DUP gives the Government moral support on the two-child rule.

My hon. Friend Owen Smith, in his former role, wrote about this very issue to the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland, who made it very clear that it is

“a potential offence to withhold information regarding an act of rape. The legislation does not distinguish between a victim and third parties to whom a disclosure is made;
each is potentially liable to prosecution.”

Is it not therefore evident that women in Northern Ireland are getting the rough end of the stick? There is also the fact that the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 is archaic and Victorian.

It is my responsibility as a woman and as a Member of Parliament to defend the rights of women in Northern Ireland. While abortion law may be devolved to Stormont, human rights are not, and the UN has told the Government on more than one occasion that the rights of women in Northern Ireland are being violated. Moreover, the defence of those rights is the responsibility of every UK MP.

This is about the rights of women to do what they want with their bodies, and we have spoken about choice in the Chamber today. This is about giving women in Northern Ireland parity with their sisters in the United Kingdom and, now, those over the border in Ireland. This is about leading the way on women’s rights around the world. This is about fairness and justice. More than anything else, this is a crazy situation to be in in 2018, and I will be doing everything I can to stand up for women in Northern Ireland.