Offences Against the Person Act 1861

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:04 pm on 5th June 2018.

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Photo of Owen Smith Owen Smith Labour, Pontypridd 5:04 pm, 5th June 2018

I congratulate my hon. Friend Stella Creasy on bringing this debate to the House today. She has made an eloquent and compelling case for the decriminalisation of abortion across the whole United Kingdom, but she should not have had to make that case, because it had already been made brilliantly by my hon. Friend Diana Johnson last year. We should have enacted this change already. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow also made an excellent case about the compatibility of her proposals with the devolution laws. That is an important point to make.

I speak as a former shadow Secretary of State for Wales and for Northern Ireland—I occupied those positions for fully half the time I have been in this place—and I believe that choice and compassion for women should trump all the constitutional concerns. That is what we should be deciding as a legislature, either here in this House or in Northern Ireland. I am a devolutionist, and I believe that we should respect the devolution settlement in all parts of the UK, but I am also someone who believes fundamentally in the universality of human rights, including the rights of women in all parts of the UK—indeed, in all parts of the world—to choose what happens to their bodies and to have legal and healthcare systems that respect their choices and look after their health and wellbeing.

The abortion laws in Northern Ireland—however they have been derived, however long-standing the conventions might be, and whatever the views of the politicians in Northern Ireland might be—do not respect or protect the human rights or the health and wellbeing of the women of Northern Ireland. That is why they should be changed. Ideally, that should happen in Stormont, but if Stormont is unable to rise to that challenge, it should be done in this place.