Marriage of same-sex couples in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:46 pm on 9th July 2019.

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“(1) The Secretary of State must make regulations to change the law relating to marriage in Northern Ireland to provide that marriage between same-sex couples is lawful.

(2) Regulations under this section must be in force no later than 21 October 2019, subject to subsections (3) and (4).

(3) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (1)—

(a) must be laid before both Houses of Parliament;

(b) is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

(4) If a Northern Ireland Executive is formed before the regulations under this section come into force, any regulations made under this section and any extant obligations arising under subsection (1) shall cease to have effect.”—(Conor McGinn.)

This new clause would require UK secondary legislation to extend same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland unless a Northern Ireland Executive is formed by 21 October 2019.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Conor McGinn Conor McGinn Labour, St Helens North 12:58 pm, 9th July 2019

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 2—Pension for victims and survivors of Troubles-related incidents: debate—

“(1) A Minister of the Crown must, within the period of two sitting days beginning with the first sitting day on or after the day on which the report on progress made towards preparing legislation to implement a pension for seriously injured victims and survivors of Troubles-related incidents mentioned in section 3 is published, make arrangements for—

(a) a motion to the effect that the House of Commons has approved that report to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Commons sitting days beginning with the day on which the relevant report mentioned in section 3 is published, and

(b) a motion for the House of Lords to take note of the report mentioned in paragraph (a) to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Lords sitting days beginning with the day on which the relevant report mentioned in section 3 is published.

(2) In this section—

“Commons sitting day” means a day on which the House of Commons is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Commons is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day);

“Lords sitting day” means a day on which the House of Lords is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Lords is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day).”

This new clause is linked to amendment 1 on a report on progress made towards preparing legislation to implementing a pension for seriously injured victims and survivors of Troubles-related incidents, and provides for the report to be debated in Parliament.

New clause 4—Reproductive rights of women in Northern Ireland: debate—

“(1) A Minister of the Crown must, within the period of two sitting days beginning with the first sitting day on or after the day on which the report on progress made towards meeting international human rights obligations applicable to the United Kingdom in relation to the reproductive rights of women mentioned in section 3 is published, make arrangements for—

(a) a motion to the effect that the House of Commons has approved that report to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Commons sitting days beginning with the day on which the relevant report mentioned in section 3 is published, and

(b) a motion for the House of Lords to take note of the report mentioned in paragraph (a) to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Lords sitting days beginning with the day on which the relevant report mentioned in section 3 is published.

(2) In this section—

“Commons sitting day” means a day on which the House of Commons is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Commons is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day);

“Lords sitting day” means a day on which the House of Lords is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Lords is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day).”

This new clause is linked to amendment 2 on a report on progress made towards meeting international human rights obligations applicable to the United Kingdom in relation to the reproductive rights of women, and provides for the report to be debated in Parliament.

New clause 6—Historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland: debate—

“(1) A Minister of the Crown must, within the period of two sitting days beginning with the first sitting day on or after the day on which the report on progress made towards implementing the recommendations made by the Report of the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995 is published, make arrangements for—

(a) a motion to the effect that the House of Commons has approved that report to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Commons sitting days beginning with the day on which the relevant report mentioned in section 3 is published, and

(b) a motion for the House of Lords to take note of the report mentioned in paragraph (a) to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Lords sitting days beginning with the day on which the relevant report mentioned in section 3 is published.

(2) In this section—

“Commons sitting day” means a day on which the House of Commons is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Commons is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day);

“Lords sitting day” means a day on which the House of Lords is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Lords is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day).”

This new clause is linked to amendment 3 on a report on progress towards implementing the recommendations made by the Hart Report of the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995, and provides for the report to be debated in Parliament.

New clause 8—Same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland: debate—

“(1) A Minister of the Crown must, within the period of two sitting days beginning with the first sitting day on or after the day on which the report on progress made towards implementing marriage for same-sex couples in Northern Ireland is published, make arrangements for—

(a) a motion to the effect that the House of Commons has approved that report to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Commons sitting days beginning with the day on which the relevant report mentioned in section 3 is published, and

(b) a motion for the House of Lords to take note of the report mentioned in paragraph (a) to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Lords sitting days beginning with the day on which the relevant report mentioned in section 3 is published.

(2) In this section—

“Commons sitting day” means a day on which the House of Commons is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Commons is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day);

“Lords sitting day” means a day on which the House of Lords is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Lords is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day).”

This new clause is linked to amendment 3 on a report on progress towards implementing the recommendations made by the Hart Report of the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995, and provides for the report to be debated in Parliament.

New clause 10—International obligations—

“(1) In accordance with the requirements of section 26 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 regarding international obligations, the Secretary of State must make regulations by statutory instrument to give effect to the recommendations of the Report of the Inquiry concerning the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland under article 8 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

(2) Regulations under this section must come into force by 21 October 2019, subject to subsections (3) and (4).

(3) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (1)—

(a) must be laid before both Houses of Parliament;

(b) is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

(4) If a Northern Ireland Executive is formed before 21 October 2019, any extant obligations arising under subsection (1) shall cease to have effect.”

Amendment 9, in clause 3, page 2, line 15, at end insert—

“(1A) The report under subsection (1) must include a review of the current legal framework on abortion in Northern Ireland with an analysis of how that framework could be amended by Parliament during the period when there is no Executive, subject to a sunset clause to respect devolution, in order to comply with the human rights obligations of the United Kingdom.”

The subsection would include placing a duty on the Secretary to State to report on the legal framework on abortion in Northern Ireland with an analysis of how that framework could be amended by Parliament during the period when there is no Executive, subject to a sunset clause to respect devolution, in order to comply with the human rights obligations of the United Kingdom.

Amendment 10, page 2, line 15, at end insert—

“(1A) Before making a report under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must publish a report on or before 4 September 2019 on progress made towards preparing legislation implementing a pension for seriously injured victims and survivors of Troubles-related incidents.”

The subsection would include placing a duty on the Secretary of State to report on the implementation of a pension for seriously injured victims and survivors of Troubles-related incidents.

Amendment 11, page 2, line 15, at end insert—

‘(1A) Before making a report under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must publish a report on or before 4 September 2019 on progress made towards meeting international human rights obligations applicable to the United Kingdom in respect of Northern Ireland in relation to the reproductive rights of women.”

The subsection would include placing a duty on the Secretary of State to report on the implications of any relevant judicial decision in relation to abortion.

Amendment 12, page 2, line 15, at end insert—

“(1A) Before making a report under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must publish a report on or before 4 September 2019 on progress made towards implementing the recommendations made by the Report of the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995, including the establishment of a publicly funded compensation scheme under an HIA Redress Board, distinct from the Northern Ireland Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2009.”

The subsection calls for a report on implementing the Report of the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995, published in January 2017, which was chaired by Sir Anthony Hart.

Amendment 13, page 2, line 15, at end insert—

“(1A) Before making a report under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must publish a report on or before 4 September 2019 on progress made in preparing legislation to make provision for the marriage of same sex couples in Northern Ireland.”

The subsection calls for a report on preparations for same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Conor McGinn Conor McGinn Labour, St Helens North

I rise to speak to new clause 1 in my name and the names of many right hon. and hon. Friends and Members across the Chamber. I want to speak briefly about the purpose of the new clause, the rationale for my tabling it and for wording it in the way I have and my motivation for bringing this before the Committee today.

The purpose of the new clause is straightforward. It stipulates that, if devolution is not restored to Northern Ireland in the form of a functioning Assembly and Executive, the Secretary of State would bring forward regulations in this House to introduce the legalisation for same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

My rationale for phrasing the new clause as I have, with the stipulations that it contains, is simple. There is an ongoing talks process at Stormont. Two and a half years since the Assembly and Executive collapsed, we are still waiting on that to come to a successful fruition. As I said last night at Second Reading, these issues are difficult and complicated, and politicians in Northern Ireland have my respect and full support in trying to resolve those; but if, in three months’ time, they—along with the two Governments—have not been able to ensure that a fully functioning Executive and Assembly are back up and running, we should legislate here for equal marriage. In the event that they are up and running before then, this provision would not be enacted. In the event that the Stormont Executive and Assembly are up and running after we enact this measure here, of course the power to legislate on marriage remains with the Stormont Executive and Assembly, and they could seek to change or overrule the regulation that we have made here.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

Is the hon. Member at all concerned that the implication of this could impact on the negotiation process and de-incentivise one of the parties from negotiating at this particular time—that it would just sit it out until 21 October?

Photo of Conor McGinn Conor McGinn Labour, St Helens North

I think the hon. Gentleman is posing a question for his own party and other participants in the talks, because to my mind the idea that this measure would lead to a failure of those parties to restore the Stormont institutions and get on with doing the business of Government on everything, including health and education, is quite far-fetched. It should act as an incentive for the parties to come to an agreement and have the institutions restored.

When the hon. Gentleman talks about one particular party, I think he refers to Sinn Féin. It has been very clear with me that it wants to see this decision made at Stormont, not Westminster. I have had discussions through the Love Equality campaign—the broad-based campaign for equal marriage—but also directly with all the political parties in Northern Ireland, including members of the hon. Gentleman’s own party, about the new clause. I understand the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues’ strongly, firmly and sincerely held views, both on the substantive issue that we are discussing and on the interpretation of its impact on the devolved settlement. I hope, however, he will accept that I, in crafting the new clause in this way, have tried as far as possible, in absolutely and unapologetically trying to make this happen and have same-sex marriage extended to Northern Ireland, to give the time and space for the political parties and the two Governments to restore the institutions. I have also respected the devolved settlement by emphatically saying that the power remains with Stormont. But at the minute—

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

We are very proud of the introduction of equal marriage in Scotland under an SNP Government, led by the former First Minister, Alex Salmond. I am happy to hear the hon. Gentleman making it clear that he respects the devolved settlement. It is much easier for many of us in the SNP to support this excellent measure in the knowledge that he is proposing it given the fact that there is no Assembly at the moment, but it still respects the devolved settlement.

Photo of Conor McGinn Conor McGinn Labour, St Helens North

I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her intervention and pay tribute to her and her colleague Hannah Bardell for the work that they have done to ensure that their party is in a position to support the new clause tonight. That is very important to me, because Lady Hermon raised a point last night about her validly and genuinely held concern about the impact this would have on devolution; and when the hon. Lady speaks, I listen, as I think do most Members across this House. I hope that, given the answer that I gave last night and my explanation today, she is comfortable with the knowledge that this power does remain a devolved one, but that in the absence of an Assembly and Executive we can make what might be described as an interim provision here, which can then be overturned by the Assembly if it is back up and running.

Photo of Conor McGinn Conor McGinn Labour, St Helens North

I will give way to the hon. Lady and then to the right hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Independent, North Down

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. May I just remind him of the fact that a large number of constituents, and those who are not constituents, have emailed me, and have contacted other Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies and who have taken their seats here, greatly concerned about the possibility that his new clause might undermine the devolved settlement in Northern Ireland? What can I say to those constituents, in an email reply to them, that confirms to them that the hon. Gentleman’s new clause in no way undermines the devolved settlement that was crafted so carefully by a Labour party led by Tony Blair?

Photo of Conor McGinn Conor McGinn Labour, St Helens North

I thank the hon. Lady again for the direct way in which she puts the question. I was not old enough to vote for the Good Friday agreement, but everything I have done in my personal life and political career has been about supporting that—supporting the principle of consent, supporting power sharing, supporting peace on the island of Ireland, and supporting reconciliation between people who live in Northern Ireland and between Ireland and Britain. I am a passionate defender of the devolved settlement and a devolutionist. I think that, despite the ups and downs we have had, it has been a force for good in Northern Ireland, and my priority, and what I want to see, is the Assembly back up and functioning in Stormont.

As I have said, it is my strong view that, given the way the new clause is crafted—it has been selected by the Chair—it does not impinge upon the devolved settlement; it explicitly recognises that this is a devolved power. At the minute, however, the Assembly and the Executive exist in the ether, or as a concept, not in reality, so if they cannot make this law, we will make it here, because, as I have said often, rights delayed are rights denied. We will make the law here, and then when the Assembly is back up and running, the power remains its to change it.

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Reform and Constitutional Issues), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit), DUP Westminster Leader

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for giving way so frequently so early. This is an important issue because his proposal does drive a coach and horses through the principle of devolution and, if the SNP is prepared to accept it, this House can legislate and then ask a devolved legislature to overturn it. That is an interesting and novel concept. But would the hon. Gentleman confirm that, in seeking to drive a coach and horses through the principle of devolution, overriding the concerns—[Interruption.]—overriding the concerns of people in Northern Ireland that Lady Hermon has referred to, his proposal actually would be not for a vote in this House, but that the procedure would be a process of annulment, so that regulations would come forward without any further vote in this House? Perhaps he would explain whether that is the case; I am just asking a question of information

Photo of Conor McGinn Conor McGinn Labour, St Helens North

Regulations would come forward in the usual form, on the basis of a vote tonight approving the mechanism to do that. The Bill in fact makes specific provision for the Secretary of State to introduce regulations, through statutory instruments, for governance in Northern Ireland. That is not specified—what I am actually doing is specifying one area where I would wish them to do that.

I understand that an issue like this is binary, and that the right hon. Gentleman and I are on opposite sides on this, but I hope he understands that it certainly is not my intention to drive a coach and horses through anything. I gently say to him, I have always supported the devolved institutions from 1998 and the power-sharing arrangements that were made then.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

No one challenges the hon. Gentleman’s sincerity, both on the point of his desire to see relations fixed in Northern Ireland and his opinion on this matter. We are just at different ends of the scale in terms of opinion on this matter. Surely he must accept, under the work that he did when he was in the shadow office, that this completely and totally usurps the role of the Northern Ireland Assembly. It does drive a coach and horses through the issues. There is not sufficient time between now and 21 October to establish a new Executive that would be able to function on these matters by that date. Surely he recognises that.

Photo of Conor McGinn Conor McGinn Labour, St Helens North

I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has said and I will answer him very directly. Far from usurping the role of the Assembly, I am acting on a mandate given by the Assembly when it voted in favour of equal marriage. That was vetoed by his party, using a petition of concern to block it. The majority of the Assembly, the majority of political parties in Northern Ireland, members of his own party, and the overwhelming majority of the public support legislating to legalise equal marriage in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Labour, Ilford North

The constitutional debate we are hearing this afternoon is very important—no one would deny that. My hon. Friend has already made the point that the distinction between Northern Ireland and Scotland is that there is a functioning Scottish Government and a functioning Scottish Parliament. But this is not just about constitutions; it is about people and the fact that Northern Ireland is, at present, the only place in the whole of the United Kingdom, or indeed the island of Ireland, where LGBT people cannot exercise their right to marry. Given that there is already, as he says, a majority in favour in the Assembly and a majority in favour among the public, is this issue not now about democracy and human rights?

Photo of Conor McGinn Conor McGinn Labour, St Helens North

I think it is. That has always been my contention and I hope to speak on that in my closing remarks. Did Ian Paisley want to intervene? I will give way one last time and then I will have to make progress.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

The hon. Gentleman is being very generous. He makes a point about rights. There is the protection of rights in the Assembly: the petition of concern allows for all rights to be protected. That is why, I assume, he supported Tony Blair when he introduced the petition of concern mechanism.

Photo of Conor McGinn Conor McGinn Labour, St Helens North

It is very important that we have a mechanism where sensitive, cultural or constitutional issues get support on a cross-party basis. I do not believe same-sex marriage was one of those issues and I do not think it was appropriate to use the petition of concern in that respect.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

I pay tribute to the very pragmatic and careful way the hon. Gentleman has drafted his new clause and gone about this. What can I say, other than that I give my full support to him, the people of Northern Ireland and, in particular, the LGBTIQ people in Northern Ireland? Wes Streeting made the important point that it is a very different situation when the Northern Ireland Assembly has not sat for 900 days. The Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government are fully functioning, and Scotland has had a coach and horses driven through its devolved settlement. Ian Paisley should remember that. We absolutely support Conor McGinn. I hope that Democratic Unionist party and Government Members will listen to him very carefully. We have an opportunity to do something very positive here. I hope Members from across the Chamber will support him.

Photo of Conor McGinn Conor McGinn Labour, St Helens North

I appreciate the hon. Lady’s remarks and the work she has done in Scotland. I also appreciate her acknowledgment that this can and should be done, and that it does not impinge on the devolved settlement.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Labour/Co-operative, Cardiff South and Penarth

My hon. Friend knows his new clause has my full support. As I made clear on Second Reading last night, I am a proud devolutionist. I support the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh Government, as I do the other devolved Administrations. This matter is about a fundamental issue of rights. He has constructed this in a very careful way. Does he agree that there is a fundamental anomaly here? Individuals in the rest of the UK who want to marry Northern Irish citizens, or get in a marriage in Northern Ireland are unable to do that at present. That is a huge anomaly that affects relationships and people across the United Kingdom.

Photo of Conor McGinn Conor McGinn Labour, St Helens North

Absolutely. I see that my hon. Friend Ged Killen is in his place. He is married to a Tyrone man. As an Armagh man, I make no further comment on his choice of husband and his county affiliations. [Laughter.] He makes the point frequently that, when he is in Scotland they are married and recognised by the law, but when they get off the plane in Belfast they quite simply are not. That cannot continue and, from a Unionist point of view, is anathema to anyone who values equal rights within the Union as a whole.

Photo of Owen Smith Owen Smith Labour, Pontypridd

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech and I wholeheartedly support his new clause. Does he agree that we in this House need to remember that it is not unique for us to propose to legislate from Westminster in respect of Northern Ireland? It is not particularly anomalous. There have been myriad occasions in recent history, during the difficult periods of the political process in Northern Ireland and over the past two years, when we have legislated effectively in this place to either put in place important provisions for the people Northern Ireland or to keep the peace process on track. This is an important instance when we should do likewise and step in in the absence of the Assembly.

Photo of Conor McGinn Conor McGinn Labour, St Helens North

I thank my hon. Friend for what he said and for the work he did as shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. This and other issues we will discuss today, on which I am sure he intends to speak, were critical to getting us to the point where we are now.

I want to close my speech because there are myriad other important issues—

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham 1:15 pm, 9th July 2019

The hon. Gentleman is being generous in taking interventions. I am very pleased to have added my name to his new clause, and I speak as somebody who did not vote for the same-sex marriage Bill originally, but the world has not fallen in since. I would not vote to change the law and this is a matter of equal opportunities for people across the United Kingdom. I believe in the Union and therefore I believe that the opportunity should be open to every citizen of every part of the United Kingdom. Can I ask him—I am sure the answer will be yes because he supported my Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill to have equal civil partnerships in England and, I hope, the rest of the United Kingdom—would he support extending that equality to Northern Ireland? If we brought those two together, what a double whammy that would be.

Photo of Conor McGinn Conor McGinn Labour, St Helens North

I very much appreciate the sentiment, but let us get through today first and then we can have a conversation about that.

Photo of Conor McGinn Conor McGinn Labour, St Helens North

I will, but I am afraid I will then have to close.

Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence)

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I appreciate him taking this intervention. I hope he recognises that the comments I made last night about the unsatisfactory way in which individual issues have been adopted are not attributable to him. He is right, and has every entitlement, to advance the issues he so chooses. There are a huge number of issues that affect society in Northern Ireland and impinge on rights in Northern Ireland, yet there is no progress on legislation for them. I do not expect him to champion all those causes individually but, if he believes now is the time for Westminster to start acting and legislating on those matters, will he be responsive and proactive, and support a huge range of issues that we believe need to be addressed in Northern Ireland and cannot wait any longer?

Photo of Conor McGinn Conor McGinn Labour, St Helens North

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I have always been clear that I am an MP from Northern Ireland, not for Northern Ireland. It is his job and the job of his colleagues and other MPs to lead on issues that are affecting their constituents. I do not claim a mandate from Northern Ireland but, as I said in last night’s debate, I hope people will accept that it is the place that I will always call home. Family and friends still live there. I try to visit when I can and I care deeply about the place.

On the hon. Gentleman’s point about Westminster engaging in other issues that have been raised over the course of the debate on the Bill, I acknowledge that there is a deep frustration among people in Northern Ireland on a whole range of issues that progress is not being made. I think we are fast approaching the time when they will want politicians somewhere to do something. If that has to be this place, then, reluctantly, I would agree with him that after this current extension we have to think seriously about making some progress on all the matters that have been discussed. It would have to be, in my view, strongly based on a three-stranded approach, north-south co-operation with the Irish Government, and co-operation between the two Governments through the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference.

I have focused a lot on process in last night’s debate and in my speech today, because I want to provide reassurance about the devolved settlement. When I made my speech to move my private Member’s Bill in February 2018, I quoted some of the wit and wisdom of people in south Armagh and Northern Ireland, and some of the Ulsterisms that were used. I have to say that it is not funny anymore. This is really serious and it needs to be addressed. This House has failed LGBT people in Northern Ireland before. It failed a generation of people in Northern Ireland by not decriminalising homosexuality, and condemned them to discrimination, to abuse and to living in fear many years after that stopped being the case in the rest of the UK. It failed people in Northern Ireland by not extending same-sex marriage when it became the law here, making people in Northern Ireland less valued than the rest of us. Tonight, we have the chance to do the right thing. People in Northern Ireland, and indeed across Britain and Ireland, are watching. I, for one, am not going to let them down. I hope colleagues do not let them down either.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Draft Domestic Abuse Bill (Joint) Committee

It is a pleasure to follow Conor McGinn, who made a powerful argument for extending same-sex marriage across Northern Ireland. I was the Minister who did not extend same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland at the time, because of the devolution settlement, so I viscerally understand his arguments. I regret that that was not done when the legislation was put in place for England and Wales.

I spent many hours at the Dispatch Box making arguments similar to those that the hon. Gentleman made about the importance of equal marriage. The state has no right to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexuality, and we have laws that prohibit that. As marriage is a fundamental part of our society, we should encourage more people to be married, including those in same-sex relationships. He is right that we need to make this change, but today’s debate will be about whether this is the place to do so. Does this debating Chamber and body of people have the right to do that? If we had that right, we would have exercised it when the initial legislation came through. I will listen closely to the Minister’s response before I make a decision on whether to support new clause 1. My heart tells me that it is the right thing to do, but my head is yet to be convinced that this is the right place to do it.

At the heart of my comments are new clauses 10 to 12, in the name of Stella Creasy, and amendment 9, in the name of Diana Johnson. The Women and Equalities Committee did a detailed and forensic analysis of the current situation on abortion in Northern Ireland. That was because of the report by the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, which was published last year, and our concerns about the evidence that was put before us by individuals and organisations representing a range of beliefs and positions in Northern Ireland.

I will not go through all the recommendations in that report; I will focus on the key recommendation, which the Committee almost unanimously believed to be the change that should be made. It was about mums and dads facing the appalling prospect of their unborn baby dying before it is born or shortly after, because it has been diagnosed with what is called a fatal foetal abnormality. Our Committee felt strongly that the law needed to change in this respect forthwith—quickly, immediately—because of the impact that that was having on people’s lives and wellbeing, as well as the threat to their mental and physical health.

Hon. Members will be aware that cases are before the courts and will be going before the Supreme Court for consideration. There has already been partial consideration of the issue, following which the Supreme Court said that there was a very real prospect that the law in Northern Ireland contravened human rights. As a Parliament we should be concerned that not every woman in our constituencies, wherever they might be, enjoys the same access to care and support. If the women in my constituency were facing the prospect of having to carry a baby that was going to die, I would man the barricades to change that law.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Conservative, Bexhill and Battle

My right hon. Friend, who chairs the Select Committee, is making an excellent speech. The judgment of the Supreme Court—the case was lost on a technicality—made it quite clear that Parliament is out of step with its UN treaty obligations. Does she agree that it is regrettable that despite that, Sarah Ewart has been forced to go through the High Court in Belfast, when we could have changed the law and avoided that outcome?

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Draft Domestic Abuse Bill (Joint) Committee

My hon. Friend gets to the nub of the matter. The human rights organisation in Northern Ireland did not have standing to take a case, because of a strange error in the way that the law was drafted. Presumably, that could be put right quickly—possibly through this Bill—so that individuals such as Sarah Ewart would not have to go through this process, which is heartbreaking and impossibly difficult for anyone, let alone someone who has lost a child in this way.

New clauses 10 to 12 go much further than the Select Committee’s recommendations, and they talk about implementing the CEDAW report in full. I have no problems with the CEDAW report. I think it is comprehensive and compelling, and the Government should address it in full, because we are signatories to this agreement—as a well-respected international country, we adhere to the rules and regulations that we sign up to. However, hon. Members should be careful before finalising their thoughts on whether to support new clauses 10 to 12.

The CEDAW report calls on the Government to repeal sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. Doing so would go much further than simply making it lawful for an individual to undertake an abortion if they have had a diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality, and it would have significant repercussions not only in Northern Ireland but in England. I ask hon. Members to consider whether this Bill is the most appropriate avenue to make such a fundamental change.

I do not disagree with the sentiment of the hon. Member for Walthamstow. She has consistently made a powerful argument in many similar debates, and one day we will get the opportunity to debate the matter in full. However, it does not feel right to me to make these changes through a Bill that has absolutely nothing to do with England and Wales, on a matter that is fundamental to many hon. Members who are probably not here today because they might not have realised the implications of her new clause.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

My right hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. As a member of the Women and Equalities Committee, I, too, was involved in its detailed inquiry into this very challenging issue, and I completely agree with the cross-party recommendations in that report. I agree that the fundamental issue with new clause 10 is that it affects abortion law across the whole UK, not just in Northern Ireland. I remind her that we made a number of other recommendations in that report to assist women. Does she agree that the Government should consider all the recommendations in the Committee’s report with urgency?

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Draft Domestic Abuse Bill (Joint) Committee

I thank my hon. Friend for all her work on the Select Committee, of which she is a valuable and valued member. She is right that we cannot look at these things in isolation. There has to be a package of measures. Hon. Members from all parties know that if we were to repeal the law in the way that is recommended in new clauses 10 to 12, we would also have to look fundamentally at the provision of services in Northern Ireland.

The first step is to address the issue of fatal foetal abnormality. I fear dreadfully treading on the toes of my colleagues from Northern Ireland, who represent the men and women who live there. However, in the absence of a functioning Executive, it would be an absolute abrogation of my responsibility as a Member of Parliament not to raise these issues in the House today. I have had conversations with my Northern Ireland colleagues and with members of other parties who choose not to take their seats here, because I believe it is important for the voices of the people who represent those in Northern Ireland to be heard strongly in this debate, but I do not think it is easy to argue against the factual findings of the Select Committee report.

New clause 10, to put it bluntly, asks the Government to cut and paste the CEDAW report into legislation. I do not think that that would really work, not least because it has profound effects for England and Wales as well, but I do think that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North is absolutely right, in amendment 9, to ask the Government to go further. It is a difficult issue, and sensitivities are acute, but

“placing a duty on the Secretary to State to report on the legal framework on abortion in Northern Ireland with an analysis of how that framework could be amended by Parliament during the period when there is no Executive, subject to a sunset clause” could be a constructive procedure, including, perhaps, cross-party involvement. I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Lady’s approach, which is perhaps a little more tailored to the situation in hand than new clause 10.

These issues are never easy to discuss, but I am not sure that a time when Parliament is already engaged in one of its most difficult discussions about Brexit is the right time for it to be tackling issues relating to the whole United Kingdom through a Bill that focuses on Northern Ireland. That, to me, is not an obvious way of solving the problems. I have enormous sympathy with the new clauses tabled by the hon. Member for Walthamstow, but at this point I do not think I can find it within me to support them, because of the profound implications for my constituents in England and their ability to communicate with me about their thoughts and views, and for our ability to discuss more broadly how we would accommodate those changes in the United Kingdom as a whole.

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Reform and Constitutional Issues), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit), DUP Westminster Leader 1:30 pm, 9th July 2019

Thank you, Dame Eleanor, for giving me an opportunity to speak briefly about the new clauses and amendments.

I entirely respect the sincerity of Conor McGinn and the way in which he spoke about new clause 1, but I fundamentally disagree with his view that because the Assembly is not sitting at present, it is right for this place to legislate on certain issues but not on others, although I recognise that his approach was that we should legislate across the board.

There are many issues about which people in Northern Ireland feel strongly, including the health service, education, infrastructure investment, jobs, the suicide strategy, mental health and the implementation of the Bengoa report on health and social care. The lack of progress on those issues through legislation and Executive decisions is having massively detrimental effects, but no one has addressed that point today. Instead, Members have picked out certain issues, which I think is the wrong approach, especially when talks are under way and there is a prospect of devolution in the short term.

I entirely accept that if we do not reach that point and there is direct rule, it should be for the House to legislate across the board. It has the right to do so, and we can still have a debate and discuss and argue about those issues. As the Secretary of State explained yesterday, the purpose of the Bill is simply to maintain the status quo by moving two dates to allow talks to continue, with no election in the meantime. However, that has now been effectively hijacked by a number of Members who want to introduce measures to override the Assembly, which I think is wrong and which is certainly not in keeping with the vast number of representations that have been made to me and to other Members from across Northern Ireland by constituents who have said that it is not an appropriate way in which to proceed.

I am particularly concerned about the wording of new clause 1. It appears to propose that, if the Assembly is not already up and running, there will be no further vote in the House before the regulations are implemented and the law is changed. When I intervened on the hon. Gentleman, he did not dispute that. Here we have a major issue: a change that will not be subject to any further vote in the House before its implementation, but will be subject to the procedure of annulment. I think that that is a highly questionable approach.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

Does my right hon. Friend not find it amazing that when we spent literally hours in the House debating the Henry VIII clauses during the Brexit debate, those clauses were railed against by Labour Members and members of other parties, whereas Labour is now proposing that Henry VIII powers be granted to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland so that regulations can be introduced with no scrutiny and, in fact, never even presented to the House?

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Reform and Constitutional Issues), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit), DUP Westminster Leader

My right hon. Friend has made an important point. We are to have four hours of debate on this and a number of other devolved issues, but that is not the way in which such laws should be made. Members who have railed against emergency procedures, a lack of proper scrutiny and all the rest of it would be the first to protest if we were dealing with a different issue.

Photo of Owen Smith Owen Smith Labour, Pontypridd

Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that there have been instances in the recent past when we have legislated in this place on what has ostensibly been a devolved competence? I am thinking of, for example, the provision to extend access to medicinal cannabis to Northern Ireland.

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Reform and Constitutional Issues), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit), DUP Westminster Leader

I think that the hon. Gentleman is mistaken in relation to that issue, but there have been instances in which legislation has been passed for the whole UK, which was entirely appropriate because there was no dispute about it.

Photo of Conor McGinn Conor McGinn Labour, St Helens North

May I draw the right hon. Gentleman’s attention to his own new clauses 15 and 17, which propose the introduction of legislation relating to the armed forces covenant and the definition of a victim through exactly the same process through which I am proposing legislation relating to same-sex marriage?

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Reform and Constitutional Issues), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit), DUP Westminster Leader

I shall deal with new clauses 15 and 17 when we discuss the second batch of new clauses and amendments, but the issues that they concern are UK-wide. The definition of a victim should be a UK-wide definition, and the military covenant should apply across the UK. That is the difference between the hon. Gentleman and me: I am taking a UK-wide approach, while he wants to override the devolution settlement at a time when there is a prospect of devolution being restored.

I referred earlier to issues on which there has been a consensus, a cross-party view that something should happen. The Government have always been willing to take such issues on board, as, indeed, have the Opposition. One example is the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry. All the party leaders have written to say that that is one area in which they would be content for something to be done, but that had been agreed by everyone across the community.

In this context, it is clearly appropriate to mention the sad passing this morning of Sir Anthony Hart, the chair of the inquiry which did such fantastic work in relation to victims of historical institutional abuse. It is a shock to us all, and I am sure that I speak for the whole House in extending sympathies and condolences to his family. That inquiry, and the sterling work done by Sir Anthony and all involved with it, has resulted in recommendations that have not been able to be taken forward, and indeed the Assembly was collapsed just a few weeks before proposals could be tabled. We urged that the Assembly not be collapsed to allow these proposals to be taken forward, but that was ignored by the Sinn Féin Minister of Finance. The fact of the matter is that there is one area where we do have total cross-party consensus, and we would certainly be supportive of taking that forward.

There is not cross-party support on the other areas, but on abortion there would certainly be a degree of concern among all parties in Northern Ireland about legislating; although the Northern Ireland Assembly parties across the board may take a different view on what needs to be reformed, they might not agree with Members here about the extent to which reform should happen in terms of time limits and the other aspects.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

The point my right hon. Friend makes about the late Sir Anthony Hart’s inquiry is all the more poignant and pointed when we consider that the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee unanimously agreed that we should ask the Government to deal with this issue, and the point was ignored by the Government.

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Reform and Constitutional Issues), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit), DUP Westminster Leader

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out that and the role the Select Committee has played in relation to it. That was a very useful and important report that again demonstrated that there was cross-party support for those recommendations to be taken forward.

Photo of Emma Little Pengelly Emma Little Pengelly Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Equality), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Trade)

I had the opportunity to work very closely with the late Sir Anthony Hart. He conducted the inquiry in an incredibly professional way; it was very victim-centred. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be a poignant and appropriate legacy to Sir Anthony Hart if this Government acted swiftly to implement those recommendations in terms of redress that he has just recently concluded?

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Reform and Constitutional Issues), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit), DUP Westminster Leader

Yes, I agree; that is entirely right. This points to where we should be taking things forward in the interim. There are certain issues that have total cross-party support in Northern Ireland and where the demand has come from the Northern Ireland parties to the Government to do something. That is entirely different from Members here seeking to impose changes that are not agreed by the parties in Northern Ireland and when other pressing concerns—mental health and suicide strategy, health, education, jobs—are not being put forward for consideration at this stage. Moreover, this is not the appropriate vehicle through which to do this.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Draft Domestic Abuse Bill (Joint) Committee

As has been said, it is important for us to be taking forward things that have got agreement. The recommendations of the working group on fatal foetal abnormality, which was commissioned by two Northern Ireland Ministers in 2016, have now been published; does the right hon. Gentleman agree that they present another example of how we could, in this period where we do not have a functioning Executive, move forward even on an issue as sensitive as that?

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Reform and Constitutional Issues), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit), DUP Westminster Leader

The right hon. Lady will be aware that there are court proceedings in relation to that issue that are due to be concluded in September. Certainly, I agree with the principle that issues where there is a cross-party view that is supported across the board by the parties in Northern Ireland, and where the request comes from the parties, should be looked at with favour and support and approval by the Government and, indeed, this House as a whole, but that should not be the case where there is no such consensus and agreement.

Finally, I wish to mention pensions for victims. Victims have suffered grievously in Northern Ireland over many years, and many of them are dying without seeing proper justice on the one hand and without getting some of the recompense that has been recommended that they should receive from many years back. Therefore, I am entirely sympathetic to and supportive of the idea of having a report and certainly debates in relation to this matter. We address in our amendment the UK-wide definition of a victim, because there is a problem in Northern Ireland.

People do not like the idea of an amnesty for past crimes, obviously, but they also do not support the idea that those who injure themselves in the commission of a terrorist act—for instance the Shankill bomber who went out with the purpose of murdering people and who did murder people—should be regarded as victims as a result of the injuries suffered in the same way as the people they maimed and caused terrible injuries to through their criminal acts. That is an unconscionable situation and this issue is holding up the payment of pensions to victims in Northern Ireland. That needs to be addressed. Therefore, again, I support amendments that call for that to be looked at and to be reported upon and to be taken forward.

It is very important that we have a sense of perspective in this debate. These are very sensitive issues. It is not right that we should drive a coach and horses through the devolution settlement in relation to certain issues that people feel passionately and deeply about here but that are the subject of devolved powers in Northern Ireland, and at a time when there are real prospects of discussions taking place among the political parties leading to an agreement for the restoration of devolution. The effect of taking decisions before agreements are reached is to skew those negotiations. As has been said, some people will say, “If we’re going to achieve certain outcomes, we don’t need to negotiate; we don’t need to reach agreements.” That is entirely counterproductive.

I ask Members to think very carefully, whatever their views are on these issues, which I respect deeply; they, too, should respect the views of people in Northern Ireland. They should also respect the devolved settlement and the fact that talks are going on in Northern Ireland and that these are very sensitive matters, and these talks could be impacted greatly by what we do here today.

Photo of Nick Herbert Nick Herbert Conservative, Arundel and South Downs 1:45 pm, 9th July 2019

I rise to support new clause 1 and to agree with everything that Conor McGinn said in moving it. I take very seriously the points Nigel Dodds has just made, as I am sure do many on both sides of the Committee. It is not a small matter for this House to decide that it will legislate in this area; we should consider it carefully, and I have done so and want to explain why I have reached the decision that it is right for the UK Parliament to step in at the moment.

First, we need to reflect on the fact that 28 countries worldwide have now legislated for, or enabled through a court or referendum decision, same-sex marriage: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and most recently Ecuador through the courts and Taiwan through its legislature. Costa Rica will make it 29, as of course England and Wales and Scotland have legislated too.

Too often, people find themselves saying that the UK has provided for same-sex marriage, but that is not true. It is anomalous, as has been said already in this debate, that citizens in one part of the United Kingdom cannot avail themselves of something that many people regard to be a fundamental right: to be able to enter into a marriage with the person they love.

Two arguments therefore have to be addressed. The first is that, in spite of it being the right thing to do, the UK Parliament should refrain from making such provision because it should be a devolved matter. The problem is that we do not have a functioning Executive in Northern Ireland. We have not had devolved government for some time, and notwithstanding the optimism of the right hon. Member for Belfast North—I hope he is right—we might not have it for some time going forward. Meanwhile, there are couples in Northern Ireland who do not enjoy the same rights as those in the rest of the United Kingdom. They wish to get married but are legally prevented from doing so. How much longer will they have to wait?

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that this House has been quite patient on this issue, given that it involves a fundamental matter of human rights? Is it not clear that the House’s patience is now running out and that we have to act?

Photo of Nick Herbert Nick Herbert Conservative, Arundel and South Downs

I agree entirely with the hon. Lady. It was six years ago that this House legislated for equal marriage in England and Wales. There is a precedent for the proposal in new clause 1: when the Assembly was suspended in 2004, this House passed the Civil Partnerships Act 2004 to extend civil partnerships to Northern Ireland.

There is consent for this proposal in Northern Ireland itself. The Assembly has voted five times for this measure, and it is only because of the petition of concern that it has not already become law there. That petition could not be exercised now, because there would not be a majority for it in Northern Ireland. So if an Assembly were to be constituted under the current arrangements, it would almost certainly vote for equal marriage, because it is has said repeatedly that it would do so. We are not trespassing on what we know the Assembly wants to do; it is just that it does not exist, so it cannot act. The only body that is competent to act on this matter at the moment is the UK Parliament.

Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence)

The right hon. Gentleman has outlined a history of events that is not correct. The Northern Ireland Assembly voted against the introduction of same-sex marriage on a straight majority until the last vote, in which a petition was used. He also recognises that we as a party do not have the numbers to table a petition. Had he been here yesterday for our Second Reading debate, he would have heard that the one party that is frustrating the ability of the Northern Ireland Assembly to legislate on this issue is Sinn Féin, the very party that says it wants to introduce it. If the Assembly were restored tomorrow—we have no red lines on whether it is restored or not; we want to see it—we could not prevent the Assembly from legislating on this issue.

Photo of Nick Herbert Nick Herbert Conservative, Arundel and South Downs

The hon. Gentleman has made his points, and I read yesterday’s debate very carefully this morning. Nevertheless, there is a majority for this proposal in the Assembly at the moment. That majority has been demonstrated. Crucially, there is also a majority among the public in Northern Ireland, but who is speaking for them at the moment? A Sky Data poll last year showed 76% support for equal marriage in Northern Ireland, with fewer than one in five opposing it. On any issue like this, that is a very large majority indeed. I believe that the case is made. We have waited for some time, and we have been patient. It is now right and proper that the UK Parliament should act.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Independent, North Down

The right hon. Gentleman outlined the problem in Northern Ireland as one in which those in same-sex relationships are unable to be married, whereas they can be in the rest of the United Kingdom. The situation is actually more complicated than that, as was touched upon by Mrs Miller, who was the responsible Minister when the legislation was taken through this House. A problem exists for those who are in a same-sex marriage in Scotland, Wales or England and who come to Northern Ireland, in that as soon as they arrive in Northern Ireland, their marriage becomes a civil partnership. That cannot be right within the United Kingdom, can it?

Photo of Nick Herbert Nick Herbert Conservative, Arundel and South Downs

I strongly agree with the hon. Lady. This shows that people in Northern Ireland simply do not have the same rights as those in the United Kingdom, and that is something we should act upon.

There is a case, on its own merits, for introducing same-sex marriage, and I just want to say to the Committee that, frankly, this argument has been won. It has been won in the country and it has been won in this House. One by one, the arguments against this reform fell away. First, there is no compulsion involved. The legislation that we introduced in England and Wales protects religious freedom. Churches are not compelled to introduce same-sex marriages in their own institutions. That is a matter for them. No individual is compelled to enter a same-sex marriage. There is a very simple remedy if someone does not like the idea of same-sex marriage: they should not enter into one; it is not compulsory.

Secondly, why should we not allow people to enter into an institution by which they will demonstrate a lifelong commitment to each other and make that commitment in front of their friends and family? What harm is done by this legislation? We as hon. Members know very well that we pass laws and vote for things every day that make people profoundly unhappy or that irritate them. We put on taxes, we restrict freedoms, we do things that irritate sections of our communities, and we do these things because we think they are right. It is not often that we pass legislation that has a single effect. The single effect of the legislation for England and Wales that was passed six years ago in this House was to make people happy. It was to allow people to enter into lifelong commitments that brought moments of enormous happiness to them and their families.

That is why public opposition to same-sex marriage has continued to fall away. I have enormous respect for those of my hon. Friends who voted against that legislation but who have now admitted that they were wrong. One by one, Members on the Conservative Benches have stood up and said that they were wrong to oppose the measure, just as some Members have said that they were wrong to oppose civil partnerships. They have seen that the legislation has been an unalloyed force for good.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

I was one of those who stood up and said that they had got it wrong. I got it wrong, and I now support the legislation. I agree with this proposal, and I agree with the one on abortion, but the problem is that this is like a crack in the dam. If we crack the dam, more and more things will come through. I do not mind that, because I am beginning to think that we will have to have direct rule. I would like very much for us to consider all the problems in Northern Ireland and to deal with them. If we do not have an effective Executive in Northern Ireland, we are going to have to do that anyway. What we have to realise today is that if we pass these new clauses, it will be the thin end of the wedge and other things will, and should, follow, because they are very important to people in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Nick Herbert Nick Herbert Conservative, Arundel and South Downs

I commend my hon. Friend for saying once again that he was wrong in opposing the same-sex marriage legislation. I am grateful for that, and I admire him for having the courage to say it. The reason I do not think that this is the thin end of the wedge, however, is that at the end of the day this is about something quite fundamental—namely, equality. I do not think that introducing a measure to ensure and promote equality can ever be described as the thin end of the wedge. I think it is the right thing to do.

Four years ago, the Supreme Court of the United States took a landmark decision that I hope will not be reversed, in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, to allow same-sex marriage throughout the United States. In the concluding remarks of the lead judgment—which have been much quoted since—Justice Kennedy set out brilliantly why this is the right thing to do:

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfilment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilisation’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law.”

That is all we are asking for the people of Northern Ireland today.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow 2:00 pm, 9th July 2019

It is a genuine pleasure to follow Nick Herbert, and I agree with every word he said.

I will be proud to vote today for new clause 1 in the name of my hon. Friend Conor McGinn, who is now leaving the Chamber. He made an incredibly powerful speech. I also support amendment 9.

I rise to address new clause 10 with great reluctance, because none of us wanted the governance of Northern Ireland to be in this position today. We all want to speak up for the importance of devolution but, as my hon. Friend said, human rights delayed are human rights denied. New clause 1, new clause 10 and amendment 9 all speak to the human rights challenges. I understand the concerns of Bob Stewart about it being the thin end of the wedge, but I see this as a temporary way of dealing with something that this place is centrally about: protecting the human rights of every UK citizen.

Those of us who are strong defenders of devolution and human rights tread carefully. Section 26 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 charges this place with upholding our international obligations for the whole United Kingdom, even when the Assembly is sitting. As we have now not had an Assembly for two years, and as it is unlikely the Assembly will have sat for three years at this rate, it is even more important that we ask what our obligations are so that we do not see human rights denied.

The Women and Equalities Committee has been very powerful in stating that on those two specific issues, especially in the past couple of years, our country has been censured for what is happening in Northern Ireland. Members will know that I am a passionate defender of women’s rights, and I believe powerfully that we will never have true freedom if women do not have the same control over their bodies as men. If we say to women that we will force them to continue an unwanted pregnancy, they will always be second-class citizens compared with their male counterparts. That is exactly what we are saying to our fellow UK citizens in Northern Ireland. As the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs said, these amendments are about equality. They are about treating every UK citizen equally; in Northern Ireland there are no such rights.

Mrs Miller talked powerfully of fatal foetal abnormalities. I cannot imagine what it is like for somebody who so desperately wants a baby to discover that their baby will not live. All our hearts have gone out to Sarah Ewart, but those court cases were not just about fatal foetal abnormalities; they were about sexual violence, too.

We are not living up to our obligations to protect the rights of the women of Northern Ireland—those 1 million women are UK citizens. If we do not act on these issues and find a way, in the absence of an Assembly, however temporary, to deal with this issue, it will not only be Sarah Ewart who has to go to court. We will be in the invidious position of rape victims having to go to court to have their rights upheld. That is torture, which is why the UN Committee against Torture censured our country and said that how we treat the women of Northern Ireland is torturous.

That is why it is right that we find a way through. I am very conscious of the words of the Women and Equalities Committee, which said that the Government need to set out a clear framework and timeline for addressing the breaches of women’s rights in Northern Ireland, which have been identified by CEDAW, if there is no Government in Northern Ireland to take action.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

The hon. Lady knows where I stand on this issue, and my position is very different from hers. She rightly indicates that there needs to be a framework, but if new clause 10 were to become law, abortion would take place in Northern Ireland without any framework whatsoever. It would be completely and totally unregulated. We have no idea of the scope. Would we have terminations at 12 weeks, 28 weeks or right up to birth?

We would have no regulations on where abortions could take place. There would be no regulatory framework on who could carry out those abortions, and there would be no regulatory framework on sex selection or, indeed, disability denial. All those matters require careful and considered regulation and legislation. Unfortunately, new clause 10 is not careful and does not give the time or scope for any of these matters to be properly considered.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising those issues, which are myths that need to be dispelled, although I understand his concerns. The CEDAW report talks about the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which is why a woman who is raped in Northern Ireland and seeks a termination after becoming pregnant will face a longer prison sentence than her attacker. It is why, in November, a mother who bought abortion pills online for her child—she was a child, because she was a 15-year-old girl in an abusive relationship—faces a jail sentence.

We must deal with the effects of this anachronistic, ancient law in Northern Ireland. My constituents, and constituents across England and Wales, are exempted from that Act, but it does not mean a free-for-all. In fact, new clause 10 is crafted in terms of statutory instruments under the Northern Ireland Act.

I am mindful that the British Medical Association, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Midwives, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have all set out proposals for medical guidance. Absolutely, abortion should be regulated. Absolutely, there should be clear guidelines. Nobody is seeking to change the term limit we have in England and Wales. The question is whether the law should be underpinned by criminal legislation or medical regulation, which is what new clause 10 would allow us to consider. It would therefore allow us to answer the question about the inequality of experience between my constituents in Walthamstow and the constituents of Ian Paisley in Northern Ireland.

A thousand women from Northern Ireland have had to travel to England and Wales to have an abortion in the last year, and those are just the women who can travel. What a horrible, lonely journey to ask somebody to make at the most vulnerable moment in their life. That option is not available to women in an abusive relationship, who cannot get childcare or who cannot afford to travel.

New clause 10 is carefully crafted to respect the fact that, at the moment, we do not have an Assembly. If there were an Assembly, it could step in and deal with the criticisms that have been levelled at us by the UN. It could deal with the decisions made by the Supreme Court, which have not been enacted only because of a technicality. New clause 10 would mean these situations can be dealt with. Medical regulations could be introduced, but it would be done through a statutory instrument. It does not prescribe what the regulations would be, so it does not remove any of the protections the hon. Gentleman talks about.

Photo of Emma Little Pengelly Emma Little Pengelly Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Equality), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Trade)

You have said many times, and it has caused distress, that a woman in Northern Ireland who is raped and seeks an abortion could face a longer jail sentence than her attacker. I have corresponded with the Police Service of Northern Ireland on this matter because of the concern you have caused out there. PSNI has confirmed that no woman has been sent to prison for an abortion-related offence, and I am meeting PSNI to talk it through.

Secondly, the issue about regulations is important. Regardless of whether you perceive abortion to be a right, the regulations are not prescriptive about some of the details highlighted by my hon. Friend Ian Paisley, but your proposal would mean there is no scrutiny of the regulations.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. You do not directly address another Member but address your comments through the Chair. This is obviously a sensitive debate, so it is important that we stick to the rules.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

Thank you, Dame Rosie.

It is simply not the case that people have not been prosecuted. A mother is facing a jail sentence in November. We know that, in 2017, a man and woman accepted formal cautions under OPA for the same offence, and the charges were withdrawn only after the judge imposed a ban on identifying the woman due to the heightened risk of her suicide because of her distress at the situation. We know that, in 2016, a 21-year-old pleaded guilty to procuring her own abortion by poison after she bought pills online and her flatmate reported her to the police. Prosecution is a very real prospect in Northern Ireland, but it is not a real prospect for my constituents in another part of the United Kingdom who are in exactly the same situation.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

Forgive me, but I have given way. I am conscious that other people want to speak in this debate. I understand the concerns of the right hon. Member for Basingstoke, who is no longer here, but I genuinely believe that if we do not address the international obligations that we have—and that this legislation leaves us unable to address at the moment—we will continue to see these cases. We will continue to see the distress of women in Northern Ireland, and that will be a human rights issue.

There is a more fundamental point here, which the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs talked about: if we are prepared to jettison some human rights and say that they are not as important as others, that is the thin end of the wedge. Are we going to say that in Northern Ireland people will not have the same rights of freedom of expression, of protection from slavery and of protection from torture, and the same rights to life? Specific human rights, and specific international reports and obligations that we have been part of, are at the heart of this amendment. We will not be able to stand up and champion human rights in other parts of the world, because other countries will rightly turn to us and say, “Hang about, what about your own backyard? What are you doing there?”

I understand that, if it was not for the fact that we do not have an Assembly, this would absolutely not be the right way forward, but we do not have an Assembly and we will not have one any time soon. This is about a power of a statutory instrument; it is not about specifying what should be in that statutory instrument, and so there is plenty of scope to address these issues. Medical guidelines have been prepared by campaigners in Northern Ireland, be they Alliance for Choice, the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, Together for Yes or those medical agencies.

There is a simple point here: each of us should want, in the work that we do at a national and international level, the same rights that we want for our own constituents. I would like every woman in Walthamstow to be able to have the choice—to have a safe, legal and local abortion if she wants it. We all know that stopping people accessing abortion legally does not stop abortion. The cases where there have been prosecutions, where people have been killed and where we see online the stories of these women tell us that abortion is still happening for Northern Irish women, but right now that issue is being exported, rather than dealt with as an equalities issue. So I ask the Committee: how much longer are the women of Northern Ireland expected to wait? How much more are they expected to suffer before we speak up—the best of what this place does—as human rights defenders, not human rights deniers?

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton

I find myself in agreement with the concerns expressed by the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee about the far-reaching implications of new clause 10, which relates to abortion law changes in Northern Ireland but has implications for England and Wales, too. So I am against that proposal, and new clauses 11 and 12. This is not the time, nor the place, to be making such changes, which are of course completely unconstitutional, bearing in mind that devolution has ensured that abortion is an issue that Northern Ireland and its own Assembly have had authority to make decisions on for almost 100 years.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Conservative, Bexhill and Battle

Does my hon. Friend recognise that treaty obligations are a matter for Parliament, so this is not actually an issue about devolution? The Supreme Court has made that point, too.

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton

I will come on to that point in considerable detail in my speech, if Members will bear with me.

Photo of Emma Little Pengelly Emma Little Pengelly Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Equality), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Trade)

I wish to touch on a point that was raised earlier. Does the hon. Lady agree that things are being said about this, particularly in relation to threatened imprisonment, that are not true and causing additional distress? In relation to the recommendations, they are simply recommendations on the way this could be done. It is right and proper that this is scrutinised to see exactly what the detail should be, and it should not be done by way of simple regulation or statutory instrument.

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton

I absolutely agree. If Members will permit me, I will go into detail on those concerns.

Last year, this House debated a similar Bill and many similar arguments were aired when we debated the amendment tabled by Stella Creasy, which was passed and became section 4 of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018. That section required the Secretary of State to

“issue guidance to senior officers of all Northern Ireland departments which will specify how to exercise their functions in relation to—

(a) the incompatibility of the human rights of the people of Northern Ireland with the continued enforcement of sections 58 and 59 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 with the Human Rights Act 1998” within three months of the Act passing. That guidance was issued by the Secretary of State in December. She clarified that:

“No declaration of incompatibility under section 4 of the Human Rights Act 1998 has been made by the Courts in respect of sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.”

She added that the guidance notes that it does not, and cannot be used to change the current law on abortion. Section 4 did not require any further reporting on the law or its operation in Northern Ireland. So here we are again with Members seeking to put forward a considerable number of amendments relating to substantial changes to the law on abortion in Northern Ireland, despite this issue being within the devolved competence of the Assembly.

I am disappointed that new clause 10, which seeks to change the law substantially, has been selected, along with new clauses 11 and 12, and I wish to make three initial points on that proposal. First, it clearly overreaches the devolution settlement and sets a precedent that should concern all the devolved jurisdictions. Secondly, the people of Northern Ireland would have no opportunity to have a say in the decision, which does not respect democracy, if we were to pass these new clauses today. Thirdly, they require the Secretary of State to bring forward regulations, but I understand that those will be unamendable. This is no way to legislate for sensitive matters such as abortion.

The amendments tabled by the hon Member for Walthamstow rely on the authority of CEDAW and its committee, which is a minor sub-committee of the UN that looks at that convention. It is important for this House to note that the convention does not provide a right to abortion. That is not my opinion; hon. Members will want to hear the views of Lord Wilson, a Supreme Court Justice in the 2017 case of R (A and B) v. Secretary of State for Health, who said:

“The conventions and the covenant to which the UK is a party carefully stop short of calling upon national authorities to make abortion services generally available. Some of the committees go further down that path.”— as the CEDAW committee has—

“But, as a matter of international law, the authority of their recommendations is slight.”

The hon. Lady also suggests that, since the CEDAW committee made various recommendations on the law on abortion in Northern Ireland, the Secretary of State must act. But the Northern Ireland Act 1998 devolved human rights to the Northern Ireland Executive. In the case where the Supreme Court makes a declaration of incompatibility under section 4 of the Human Rights Act 1998, which it has not, it is for the Northern Ireland Assembly to act. However, the hon. Lady is suggesting the Secretary of State must act under section 26 of the Northern Ireland Act—she relies heavily on that. It requires action from the Secretary of State if proposed actions by the Assembly are considered incompatible with international obligations or she considers actions should be taken to give effect to international obligations. However, the guidance issued in December 2018, which I have just cited, made it clear that the Secretary of State does not believe that we are in either of those situations. Her guidance did not even mention the CEDAW committee, upon which the hon Member for Walthamstow relies for authority. That is not surprising, as it is a committee with no judicial authority.

Professor Mark Hill, QC has written extensively about the authority of the CEDAW committee and its report. He says in paragraph 4 of his opinion:

The Committee does not have the capacity or standing to give a binding adjudication on the United Kingdom’s obligations under CEDAW or on the proper interpretation of CEDAW. The interpretative function under the CEDAW is reserved, not to the Committee, but to the International Court of Justice.”

He goes on to say in paragraph 5:

“The Committee’s views are not binding interpretation of the law, nor do they contribute to customary international law when approaching the interpretation of these rights.”

I make no apology for quoting at length from the opinion: it is really important because of the reliance of the hon. Member for Walthamstow on the CEDAW committee. Professor Hill says:

“The text of international treaties such as CEDAW are carefully crafted expressions of intent and belief. There is no reference to abortion in the text of CEDAW. There is nothing in the text of CEDAW which requires a state party to allow abortion on specified grounds and/or decriminalise abortion generally. The absence of such a provision in the formal text gives a clear indication that no such obligation exists. The International Court of Justice has not interpreted CEDAW in a manner which departs from the plain wording of the text so as to require a right to abortion or the decriminalisation of abortion to be “read in”.

Finally, Professor Hill says:

“Nevertheless, the Committee, ‘based on its expertise in interpreting [the Convention]’, recommends that abortion be decriminalised in all cases and asserts that ‘States parties are obligated not to penalise women resorting to, or those providing such services [abortion]’. The Committee is not a judicial body, no source is given for its claimed ‘expertise in interpreting’
CEDAW”.

It simply does not have the power it has abrogated to itself to interpret the CEDAW regulations in the way that the hon. Member for Walthamstow proposes.

The Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee referred to its report on abortion in Northern Ireland. The decision on the report was not unanimous. In the minority report, my hon. Friend Eddie Hughes said that

“to suggest that the Government establish a framework to address the recommendations of the CEDAW report places a disproportionate and misguided degree of authority on its substantive findings and the limited jurisdiction of this unelected UN Committee.”

Indeed, the non-binding nature of the CEDAW committee’s report was acknowledged by the chief executive of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission himself in evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee during that inquiry.

Let me turn briefly to the Supreme Court judgment that has been referred to. That judgment is non-binding. It is being used to justify the proposals for change, but there is nothing in it that could be said to give rise to a requirement for such a change. The Supreme Court and Lady Hale made it clear that, although important, CEDAW and other treaties are not binding on our domestic law. There is simply no basis for the Secretary of State to act on the basis of the CEDAW report. New clauses 10, 11 and 12 should be rejected. The law on abortion is a matter for the people of Northern Ireland. I hope we will see the Assembly restored soon so that this matter can be resolved in its right and proper place.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Before I call the shadow Minister, colleagues will be aware that a large number of people wish to contribute. I cannot set a time limit, but let me put it this way: we could certainly get everybody in if everyone spoke for around eight minutes each.

Photo of Karin Smyth Karin Smyth Labour, Bristol South

I shall endeavour to make sure that everyone has time to speak, Dame Rosie.

The Opposition Front-Bench new clauses each cover three issues in three stages. On each issue, the relevant new clause would: first, compel the Government to bring forward a report on progress to implement change in the relevant area on or before 4 September 2019; secondly, require the Government to bring forward, within two sitting days of that report, a motion to take note of the report; and thirdly, require the Government then to introduce legislation, following the passing of a motion. Let me be clear that any incoming Labour Government would seek to legislate on these issues.

Let me address new clause 1, which was tabled by my hon. Friend Conor McGinn. I can add little to the speeches made by my hon. Friend and Nick Herbert on the subject of gay marriage. I will say, though, that I had the very sad honour to attend the funeral of Lyra McKee in Belfast earlier this year. Much attention has been paid to some of the sentiments expressed at that time. We heard that day that Lyra was making arrangements for her own marriage to her partner. Sitting in the cathedral, I was struck by the huge sadness and irony: we rightly praised this remarkable young woman for being a child of the peace process, for being so openly happy with her own sexuality, and for having touched every part of Northern Ireland society with her optimism, but while she was making plans for her marriage to the woman she loved, her own society was in essence saying to her, “Away you go to Donegal. You can’t do that here.” What a great testament it would be to her memory, and for the thousands of people throughout Northern Ireland who simply want to express their love, if we could make progress on this issue.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Independent, North Down

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for allowing me to intervene at this early stage of her contribution. I have looked closely at the new clauses tabled in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, and I have also looked carefully at the wording of new clause 1, which was tabled by Conor McGinn. Will the hon. Lady explain how the devolution settlement would be protected in the new clauses for which she is encouraging us to vote? The hon. Member for St Helens North was very careful to draft his new clause to respect the devolution settlement, but that does not appear to be true of the Leader of the Opposition.

Photo of Karin Smyth Karin Smyth Labour, Bristol South

As the hon. Lady knows, Labour was the architect of much of the devolution throughout the United Kingdom, so we are proud of the devolution settlement. We are asking the House to give a voice to people who currently do not have one. Our proposals would require the Government to bring forward reports to make some progress on issues on which, some two and a half years on—by the time we get through this legislation, it will be some three years on—no progress is being made.

Let me turn my attention to the proposals on abortion. It is some 50 years since this place recognised the cruelty, danger and hypocrisy of the law in respect of women’s rights, but in the late 1960s the Northern Ireland Parliament did not adopt the change. From 1972, when that Parliament was suspended and direct rule was introduced, until 2010, when the criminal justice and policing powers were introduced in Northern Ireland, abortion law was the responsibility of the UK Government. Successive Administrations, both here and in Belfast, have turned a blind eye to this issue over the past 50-plus years and hoped that it would go away. Continually, each year, 1,000 women travel for abortions.

Last night and today, we have yet again heard exemplified the arguments on whether this is a human rights or a devolution issue. We are citing laws—both here and in the European Court and the Supreme Court—regarding whose responsibility this is, which particular legislation or Act we want to be mindful of, whether we have suddenly become cloaked in the glory of devolution or whether this is a human rights issue. But I ask all hon. Members to hear the testimony of the women who are involved and their voices because this is not going to go away. Whether these women are fleeing abuse, domestic violence or rape, know that their baby cannot live, have concerns for their own health, have family reasons, or do not wish to be pregnant, we have to trust women.

The Supreme Court’s opinion was crystal clear that the UK is in breach, yet we are still making women take their cases and relive the trauma of their travelling. The women in Northern Ireland are being caught in this absurd political ping-pong across the Irish sea and it is simply time for it to come to an end.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 2:30 pm, 9th July 2019

When we first started to debate these issues, I said to Stella Creasy that I would listen and meet women from Northern Ireland. I did that: I met with Denise Phelan and Sarah Ewart. Nothing could have prepared me for hearing about their experiences. I cannot even imagine what they have been through. Is it not time to stop making women tell their stories and being re-traumatised just so that they can get basic human rights? Is it not time that that changed?

Photo of Karin Smyth Karin Smyth Labour, Bristol South

I wholeheartedly agree. I commend the hon. Lady and others. Women have travelled here to tell us about those experiences. I commend hon. Members, whatever their views, to take time to listen to those experiences. Like her, I heard Denise’s testimony. I learned more when I heard evidence at the hearings of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. The way in which services here are not established to cope with what then happens to people, particularly if they are travelling, and particularly with regard to foetal remains, is just the most shocking thing that I have heard in this place. It really is time that that stops happening and that we stop making these women relive this experience. Let us be very clear: they are determined to do that and they will keep coming forward and supporting each other.

Let me just move on to historical institutional abuse, which is another issue covered by these amendments. May I also join Nigel Dodds and pay tribute to Justice Anthony Hart, who has sadly passed away suddenly today? His diligence and work on the inquiry have helped to shine a light on the suffering of many in Northern Ireland.

Thousands of people were let down when they were placed in the state’s care. That pain has been compounded by the delay in establishing the compensation and redress mechanisms laid down under the recommendations of the Hart inquiry. I understand that representatives of victims and survivors will be in Westminster tomorrow to give evidence on the delay in legislating to provide compensation. That is really helpful to them. They are travelling again to talk to us so we hear what they have to say. Labour has consistently called on the Government to legislate on this issue as it is an urgent matter. It has been said many times in this place that, since the publication of the Hart report, some 30 survivors have passed away. Again, we need to see action now as these people are passing on.

Let me turn to the issue of pensions. We have again called for the implementation of pensions for those seriously injured as a result of the troubles. More than 500 people have been unable to live the lives that many of us have been able to, and to plan for their future with their family and to build up their pensions. I have met many of those people through the Wave project and the South East Fermanagh Foundation. Again, they are travelling here to talk to us. I urge hon. Members, when they have the opportunity, to listen to them and to hear how their lives have been devastated.

Photo of James Heappey James Heappey Conservative, Wells

I am sure that the hon. Lady is aware that some of the people who have been identified as possible beneficiaries of this pension are former IRA terrorists who injured themselves in the pursuit of their terrorist activities. Can she confirm that the Opposition are clear that no IRA terrorist should benefit from these pensions?

Photo of Karin Smyth Karin Smyth Labour, Bristol South

The hon. Gentleman raises what is a hugely controversial subject, as he knows. I have met some of those people, who have challenged me directly on the matter. We know that it is a controversial and difficult subject, but we have the definition from 2006 and it is absolutely our view that that remains and, if it is to be changed, it has to be with the agreement and work-through of the political parties in Northern Ireland.

The pension is a recognition of the suffering of those people as a result of the troubles. Again, we need to make sure that this matter is progressed. There are real victims who are struggling in Northern Ireland and who do not have a voice. It is absolutely incumbent on people here to listen to them and to make progress.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

It is a pleasure to follow Karin Smyth. Having given a fairly lengthy speech on Second Reading last night, the House will be relieved to know that I intend to speak only once in Committee.

The devolution settlement is perfectly clear, as is, I believe, our duty to respect it. Less clear, I suggest, is how we as politicians address the issues raised in the amendments today when devolution is not present, but where there is a clear and pressing call for action. I understand entirely that human rights were devolved under the Northern Ireland Act 1998, but I cannot understand why that was the case. It seems to me that there is an incredibly strong and compelling argument about the universality of human rights for citizens of the United Kingdom and to try to move away from that in some way starts to pick away at some of the fabric of Unionism.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

I will not. Having given way many times yesterday, I just want to make my remarks today. The hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, forgive me.

The amendments clearly deal with sensitive issues covering moral, legal and rights considerations. They are being argued with clarity and passion. However, it is my view that this is a process Bill. It has two days of debate. It is not a policy Bill, but rather a housekeeping Bill to ensure that civil servants can keep some sort of show on the road to serve the citizens and residents of Northern Ireland. I want the devolution talks to succeed and I share the hope that the Bill, as suggested by the Secretary of State, will not actually need to become an Act. If it does, I want it to be a clean Act—in other words, an unamended Act.

I say to the Secretary of State and to the Minister on the Front Bench that I am certainly prepared to see the extension of the Bill’s provisions to the short date, but ideally not to the long date—to 21 October, but not to 13 January next year. I believe that I am not alone in thinking that direct rule is not desirable, but the clear message for fresh elections is becoming almost irresistible. We need to be clear that if a drop-dead deadline is useful to concentrate minds in the Brexit debate then so too must it be for the restoration of devolution.

If this Bill is amended, I shall be very frightened—seriously frightened—that that might prove to be a reason, an excuse or a smokescreen to collapse the talks coming from either end of the spectrum, and that would be lamentable. I do not believe that this House should do anything to jeopardise those fragile talks. I understand entirely the passion that underpins the amendments, but effectively, for the reason given, I intend to abstain on all amendments this afternoon. I will also abstain on Third Reading if the Bill is amended. I do not think that that is an inappropriate stance for the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee to take.

In the words of Bob Dylan, someone whom I have not knowingly quoted before, the times they are a-changin’. Politics in this place and in Northern Ireland will injure itself—possibly irreparably—if it seeks to set its face against the arguments of change that we are hearing today. It is my view that it is not a question of whether change is delivered, but how and in which forum. It appears that profound social change is coming to Northern Ireland. That change is going to be authored either here in Westminster or in Belfast, but the issues articulated by the hon. Members for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) can no longer be dodged or fudged.

The choice of where, how and by which mechanism that change is delivered will be in the hands of those involved with the talks. I impress upon them—not that I believe that the impression needs to be made—the urgency of the need for speedy success. I hope that the parties involved in those talks are seized of their responsibility, because the next few weeks, as far as the future political arrangements of Northern Ireland are concerned, really are the last chance saloon.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

There is great dismay in Northern Ireland at the way a Bill described by the Chair of the Select Committee as a process Bill that is narrowly focused on a particular issue—how to keep Northern Ireland government going during a period when we do not have devolution, and how to get devolution up and running again—has been hijacked by those who have their own particular interests in specific issues, and who are now using the Bill as an attempt to drive through that agenda.

I do not intend to enter into arguments about whether we should have same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland or whether there should be a change in the law relating to abortion. I have totally different views from those expressed in the Chamber today, but that is not what the debate on the Bill ought to have been about in the first place. This debate is about the narrow issues in the Bill. The other issues that have been introduced have been introduced in a way that does not do justice to this House; that creates great dangers in Northern Ireland, especially when there is a sensitive talks process going on; and indeed, that angers many people in Northern Ireland whose views will be ignored if the amendments are passed today.

I want to say three things about the amendments and the reaction of some Members of this House. First, there is a very clear inconsistency. These matters are devolved. It really does not matter whether there is a devolved Assembly in operation at the moment or not; they are still devolved issues.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

The hon. Lady says from a sedentary position, “It kind of does.” If it kind of does, why are those who are saying that we should interfere on the issue of same-sex marriage and abortion not being consistent and arguing that we should be using the powers of this House and bringing back to this House all the other issues, many of which are also human rights issues, such as the human rights of people who need special education to get special education, and the human rights of people who need life-saving operations to have life-saving operations? I do not hear any siren calls from the people who are saying, “Yes, it kind of does matter that there is no devolution in Northern Ireland.” If it does, let us bring other matters back to this House.

Photo of Emma Little Pengelly Emma Little Pengelly Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Equality), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Trade)

Looking around the Chamber, it strikes me that there are a number of people present who were not here for yesterday’s debate, when we talked about a range of these issues. Whenever we talk about human rights, it is important to say that there are people sitting on waiting lists, when one of the fundamental human rights is the right to life. People on waiting lists are dying while waiting for cancer treatment and other treatments because there is no Assembly in Northern Ireland and there is a refusal of this place to intervene and try to do something about that. We do care about the rights of people right across the board, but that means that we must have the Northern Ireland Assembly back up and running to deal with these issues.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit) 2:45 pm, 9th July 2019

And indeed, it is significant that some of those who are saying that they do not wish to see steps being taken to deal with those issues are not even prepared to accept that what has stopped those issues being discussed in Northern Ireland is the attitude of Sinn Féin and the refusal of Sinn Féin to get back into government. There is an inconsistency there.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

Well, the hon. Lady has just wandered into the Chamber, so I am not going to give way.

The second inconsistency is that many of those who are saying that these limited and very specific powers should be taken by this House are the same people who, during the debate on Brexit legislation, complain time and again that we should not interfere with the powers of devolved Administrations. Indeed, when the Government were suggesting that some of the powers that currently reside with Brussels might be brought back and held at the centre—or at least, that they would wait to discuss whether those powers should be devolved—there was an outcry in this House: “You’re interfering with the devolution settlement and the powers of devolved Assemblies.” Yet the very same people who made those arguments are now saying, “But it’s okay to take away the powers of the Northern Ireland Assembly on these sensitive issues.”

Look at the inconsistency of SNP Members; they cannot even be consistent for 24 hours. Yesterday evening, the SNP spokesman, Gavin Newlands, said that

“the SNP Benches do not vote on matters devolved to other parts of the UK…We are not blind to the circumstances in Northern Ireland, but we intend to stick to that principle.”—[Official Report, 8 July 2019;
Vol. 663, c. 75.]

Well, the Gorilla Glue they used did not work very well because they are not sticking to that principle at all. They have changed their minds on this issue within 24 hours.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

No. I have told the hon. Lady that I am not giving way. Despite the fact that SNP Members have railed against this House when it comes to devolved issues for Scotland, they seem to believe that it does not matter when it comes to Northern Ireland.

There is also an inconsistency regarding the way these issues would be dealt with—that is, through regulations introduced by the Secretary of State, which we will never debate in this House and which will not be scrutinised. I can remember many hours of debate in this House about how the power-grabbing and power-snatching desire of the Government must be opposed by those of us who are democrats and who want to stop these Henry VIII powers being taken by a dictatorial Government. But the Members who tabled these amendments today are quite happy to say to the Minister, “Go ahead. Take the powers. Make the regulations. We don’t care whether they are scrutinised. Make sure they are in place for 31 October.” When people look at the way these issues are being dealt with, they will ask, “Where is the consistency?” That is an issue that people in Northern Ireland will be asking questions about, but it is one that this House ought to be asking questions about.

Either we respect devolution and we do not want to see powers granted to Ministers that are unscrutinised, or we do, and if we do in these particular instances, we have to ask ourselves the question, “In what other circumstances will that happen?” If this House decides that government is not going to function in Northern Ireland, as might well be the case, and decides to take these powers back, I, as a democrat, even if this House votes for things that I do not want, will fiercely argue for that.

If this House is a decision-making body, I will have to live with that, as will many of my constituents who might take a different view from people in this House, but at the minute we cannot have it both ways, such that these issues are devolved and the Assembly should decide them, but that the House will take part when individuals in this House decide, “Here is an issue that I’m not keen on.”

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

In dealing with the overarching issue of the devolution settlement, does my right hon. Friend agree that part of the problem—he seems to be alluding to this—is that some Members of the House seem determined to say, on the one hand, that they want to get all the parties together to agree in Northern Ireland, yet, on the other, that they are going to try to force through issues here that drive a coach and horses through the devolution settlement? Those are the very issues, among others, that divide parties and people in Northern Ireland, rather than uniting them.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

Yes, and the danger is that that has an impact on the talks that we are trying to progress to a satisfactory conclusion.

Furthermore, the proposed measures are undemocratic. The views of the Assembly on abortion have been clearly expressed. Back in 2015, the Assembly—not by a vote using a petition of concern, but by a majority, and a big majority at that—decided that it did not want to change abortion legislation in Northern Ireland. Indeed, in October last year, a ComRes survey in Northern Ireland showed that 64% of people in Northern Ireland did not believe that this issue should be decided here, but should be decided in Northern Ireland. Significantly, 66% of women took the view that that should be the case, and, among young people, 72% of those aged between 18 and 32 believed that the issue should be decided locally. That being the case, trying to impose change through this place on the people of Northern Ireland, ignoring the devolution settlement, is obviously undemocratic.

If we are going to take extra powers to this House, why take them on some of the most sensitive issues? They could be taken on other issues where people would accept that, but these are some of the most sensitive. The fact that I have had hundreds of emails on this issue within the past week indicates how sensitive it is. Regardless of whether people agree with my views on the two issues before us, they should ask themselves, “Is this the way this should be dealt with?” I do not believe it is. It is not consistent with previous decisions of the House and it is not democratic.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

I believe that decisions regarding the law on abortion in Northern Ireland should be a matter for the people who live there and their elected representatives. The whole concept of devolution is based on the idea that different jurisdictions in the United Kingdom are entitled to adopt different approaches to areas within their competence. It was a decision of this House to transfer policing and justice powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly, and Westminster has not sought to impose legislation in this area at any stage during the history of Northern Ireland since 1921.

In 1967, the elected representatives of Northern Ireland determined not to embrace the Abortion Act 1967. As recently as 2016, the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland voted not to change the law on abortion in any way. In that sense, Northern Ireland’s law enjoys a more recent democratic sanction than that of any other part of the United Kingdom. This is a matter of great debate in Northern Ireland, but there is robust statistical analysis to show that about 100,000 people who are alive in Northern Ireland today would not be if we had embraced the 1967 Act. I point to what Sammy Wilson just said: polling shows that a large majority of people in Northern Ireland—64%—say that this is not a matter that should be addressed by Westminster, rising to 66% of women and 72% of 18 to 32-year-olds.

Inevitably and understandably, it will be pointed out that the Executive has not been functioning since January 2017. However, for reasons the Secretary of State has articulated on numerous occasions, there has been a concerted effort to avoid direct rule, which is no way to run a complex society such as Northern Ireland’s; only in extremis should it be considered. If direct rule came in, this House would of course be entitled to legislate on matters that are currently devolved. Ministers would be accountable for legislation and for the operation of Executive Departments in Northern Ireland. But direct rule has not been introduced, and while this remains the case, this House cannot selectively intervene in relation to some issues as if direct rule were in place without unravelling the wider devolution settlement.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Conservative, Bexhill and Battle

If that is so, why did Lady Hale say in the Supreme Court, when looking at whether this is incompatible legally, that Parliament, not the Northern Ireland Assembly, has three choices to correct it?

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

I am going to deal precisely with that point if my hon. Friend will be patient.

The process we are undertaking this afternoon does not assist the talks process—quite the opposite. Some of those who support these amendments and new clauses will claim to generally accept this argument but suggest that abortion is different because there is a human rights imperative to override the devolution settlement. However, significant misinformation has been spread with regard to the status of the law on abortion in Northern Ireland in relation to human rights. Specifically, as we have heard, a number of claims have been made with regard to the CEDAW and a recent report by the CEDAW sub-committee on Northern Ireland.

First, let us consider the position of the legislation on abortion in Northern Ireland in terms of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European convention on human rights. It is important to stress that at this point there has been no declaration of incompatibility with regard to the law on abortion in Northern Ireland. Yes, in the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission judgment released in June 2018, a majority of judges indicated that if the plaintiff had standing in the case, they would have made a declaration of incompatibility with regard to cases involving fatal foetal abnormalities and in cases of sexual crime. However, these non-binding comments do not constitute a declaration of incompatibility.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

I had better keep going to obey your ruling, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I want to reply to this point, which has been made in an intervention.

In addition, the Supreme Court, again in non-binding comments, unanimously found that the law on abortion in Northern Ireland was compliant with the European convention on human rights in restricting access to abortion on the grounds of non-fatal disabilities. This part of the judgment is conveniently often forgotten in the rhetoric of proponents of change in the law on abortion in Northern Ireland. One might instead think, listening to the arguments made by some, that the Court found that the decriminalisation of abortion is required on the basis of human rights. That is simply false and needs to be understood as such. Individuals are of course entitled to argue for the decriminalisation of abortion, but they are not entitled to make this claim on the basis of human rights conventions or jurisprudence.

A future panel of the Supreme Court might well make a similar finding to that made in the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission case. Indeed, a properly constituted case is currently before the courts in Northern Ireland with regard to fatal foetal abnormality. However, even if that were the case, the incompatibility to be resolved would be on the narrow grounds of some of the most tragic and difficult cases imaginable—that of fatal foetal abnormality, not on the grounds of decriminalisation of abortion. Furthermore, section 4(6) of the Human Rights Act makes it clear that even had the Supreme Court determined that a piece of primary legislation was incompatible—which it did not in this case—and made such a declaration, a declaration of incompatibility

“does not affect the validity, continuing operation or enforcement of the provision in respect of which it is given” and

“is not binding on the parties to the proceedings in which it is made.”

Indeed, Baroness Hale pointed out that, even in cases where there is a ruling of incompatibility, that does not compel the legislature to change the law. It still has what she describes as a “do nothing” option.

That leads me on to CEDAW and the report of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. I remind the House of the legal opinion of Professor Mark Hill QC, which points to the reality of CEDAW and the status of the committee. On a point of fact, which needs to be reiterated due to the number of times this has been claimed, the CEDAW committee and the United Nations are not coterminous. The CEDAW committee does not represent the entirety of the United Nations. Professor Hill argues cogently that there is no requirement for the UK or Northern Ireland to act in response to the CEDAW committee’s Northern Ireland report, first because there is no right to abortion under the convention, and secondly because the committee does not have the power to make binding resolutions on the UK. My hon. Friend Fiona Bruce quoted Professor Hill’s report in some detail, so I do not need to repeat it.

Far too much weight has been put on the recommendations of the CEDAW committee. To imply that the Secretary of State should consider taking action in law as a result is entirely inappropriate. We need to be very careful with regard to the precedent we would set if we passed these amendments and new clauses. Do we want to give reports of UN treaty monitoring bodies this kind of status, irrespective of the topic?

The United Kingdom Supreme Court certainly does not treat reports of the CEDAW committee with the kind of authority that these amendments do. As Lord Wilson, with whom Lord Reed and Lord Hughes agreed, put it in R (A and B) v. Secretary of State for Health—this is an important point:

“The conventions and the covenant to which the UK is a party carefully stop short of calling upon national authorities to make abortion services generally available. Some of the committees go further down that path. But, as a matter of international law, the authority of their recommendations is slight”.

These amendments and new clauses are not required under human rights jurisprudence and could lead to an unhelpful precedent. They tear up the devolution settlement and are a naked power grab that must be rejected.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North 3:00 pm, 9th July 2019

I rise to speak to amendment 9, which has cross-party support. I was very pleased that the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Mrs Miller, spoke in support of my amendment. The amendment would add to clause 3 a new subsection to place a duty on the Secretary of State to report on the legal framework on abortion in Northern Ireland, with an analysis of how the framework can be amended by this Parliament during the period when there is no Executive, subject to a sunset clause, to respect the devolution settlement. That would be done to comply with the human rights obligations of the United Kingdom.

We have had plenty of debate about our human rights responsibilities, and I know that many Members of this House are very concerned about the breaches of women’s human rights in Northern Ireland in relation to abortion. As we have heard, the law is still based on the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which punishes a woman who terminates her pregnancy or anyone who assists her with up to life imprisonment. Members will also be aware that the Abortion Act 1967 has never applied in Northern Ireland.

The law on abortion in Northern Ireland is one of the most restrictive and harshest in the world—abortion in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality is not allowed in Northern Ireland. We know that prosecutions take place. We have heard about the mother who bought tablets off the internet for her daughter, who was in an abusive relationship.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North

I am going to carry on.

We have heard about the woman who had a self-induced abortion because she could not afford to travel to England or Scotland. We have also heard of the 1,000 women who travel to access abortion services in England and Wales.

Following the referendum in the Republic of Ireland, a very stark light is now shining on this archaic law in Northern Ireland. With no Assembly sitting for over two years, we have seen no progress in dealing with this situation, but we have seen the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women finding grave and systematic breaches of women’s human rights in its inquiry into abortion in Northern Ireland in February 2018. The Women and Equalities Committee said:

“The UK Government needs to set out a clear framework and timeline to address the breaches of women’s rights in Northern Ireland under the CEDAW Convention that have been identified by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women if there is no government in Northern Ireland to take this action.”

In July 2019, the UN Committee Against Torture said:

The Committee recommends that the State party ensure that all women and girls in the State party, including in Northern Ireland, have effective access to the means of terminating a pregnancy when not doing so is likely to result in severe pain and suffering, such as when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, when the life or health of the pregnant person is at risk and in cases of fatal foetal impairment.”

Some Members have tried to disparage the committees of the United Nations, but the United Kingdom Supreme Court identified a breach of human rights in relation to cases of fatal foetal abnormality, rape and incest—it simply did not make a declaration of incompatibility because the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission did not have locus, due to a drafting problem with the legislation that needs to be rectified. The Women and Equalities Committee has made it clear that it believes a very strong case is made by the highest court in the land.

There is a case currently making its way through the courts, and it is very likely that there will be a finding of incompatibility in the next few months. I want to pay tribute to that exceptional, strong, brave woman from Northern Ireland, Sarah Ewart, who, supported by Amnesty, is bringing this case through the courts because of her own experience of having to travel to England when she was told that her pregnancy had a fatal foetal abnormality. The reasonable approach to take, recognising that that finding of incompatibility is coming at us in the next few months—

Photo of Jeffrey M. Donaldson Jeffrey M. Donaldson DUP Chief Whip, Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Business in the House of Commons)

I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. On the point about fatal foetal abnormality and the case involving Sarah Ewart, I have met Sarah on a number of occasions—most recently, last week—and she is very clear that, in respect of a change to the law on abortion in Northern Ireland, she does not want any change beyond dealing with the very narrow issue of fatal foetal abnormality. She is very clear about that, and I think she would want me to put that on the record on her behalf.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North

Today, we are looking at the opportunity we have with this Bill, and I think that most Members of this House would agree that legislation that is over 150 years old governing what is essentially a healthcare matter is no longer fit for purpose. That is why we should have the opportunity, as set out in my amendment, to look at the options available to the House when that finding of incompatibility comes down the road.

I want to respect the devolution settlement. That is why I have drafted the amendment with a sunset clause, so that once the Assembly is, we hope, back up and running, whatever we need to do in this House will revert back to the Assembly to carry forward.

I want to reiterate what I said last night. This idea came out of discussions we had on the Joint Committee conducting prelegislative scrutiny of the Domestic Abuse Bill. We found that if the Government wanted to ratify the Istanbul convention on combating violence against women and girls—which I am sure everybody in this House feels is an important thing to do—they could not because that Bill does not cover Northern Ireland, and Northern Ireland does not have legislation on issues such as stalking and coercive control. The idea that came out of that Committee was that we would again legislate for Northern Ireland, but with a sunset clause ready for when the Assembly is up and running again—it could then take the matter in whatever direction it wanted to—so that the bare minimum is in place.

I hope that the Committee will look at amendment 9 carefully, because it would give us an opportunity to consider how to take the matter forward. I think that all Members are really very concerned and moved by the stories of women who have been affected by the current abortion laws in Northern Ireland, and I am sure that we all want to ensure that we do not carry on, year after year, with the issue of women’s reproductive rights and healthcare in Northern Ireland not being addressed and with their human rights not being upheld. I hope that the Committee will support amendment 9.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Conservative, Bexhill and Battle

I rise to speak in favour of amendment 9, the details of which have just been explained by Diana Johnson; of new clause 10, tabled by Stella Creasy; and of new clause 1, which stands in the name of Conor McGinn. I will focus on abortion in Northern Ireland.

I have some sympathy with the point that this is a very narrowly defined Bill that is supposed to deliver certain eventualities, and that the amendments are widening in scope. Of course, the Clerk of Legislation, who is an absolute legend in this place, has decided that they are within scope. It is greatly frustrating that we have been having this conversation in this place for some time, because the Supreme Court has decreed that the law is incompatible with our obligations under treaty rights. When it comes to treaty rights, that is a matter for Parliament to correct; it is not a matter for Northern Ireland.

That opens up the point about why the Bill is being used in this regard. It is with regret, but with great frustration too, that we cannot seem to get Parliament to deliver by updating our laws to make them compliant with the Supreme Court’s judgment, because the Government have not moved.

I have great sympathy with the views held by hon. Members from Northern Ireland. I met representatives who were put in touch with me by Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson, and they made their case, with great dignity and respect, for why they do not want to see abortion rights changed. I think it is important for us to meet all sides of the divide. Equally, I spent time with Amnesty International in Belfast, meeting those who felt that their lives had been ruined by the current situation.

It feels wrong to me that one part of the United Kingdom can be left behind with a near total ban on abortion. The situation is even more perverse now that the Republic has changed its legal position on the matter. In 2018, as we have heard, 1,053 women had to travel outside Northern Ireland in order to exercise the rights that would be available to them elsewhere in the UK. That shows the absurdity of the situation, because the abortions still took place, but the extra inconvenience has to be suffered. I think that we need to change that.

I want to return to the words of Lady Hale in her Supreme Court judgment. She said:

“I agree, for the reasons given by Lord Kerr and Lord Mance, that in denying a lawful termination of her pregnancy in Northern Ireland to those women and girls in these situations who wish for it, the law is incompatible with their Convention rights.”

She then explained that Parliament—she was very clear that this was for Parliament—could do three things:

“First, it may share the court’s view and approve a ‘fast track’
remedial order under section 10 of the HRA”— the Human Rights Act 1998;

“Second, it may share our view and pass an Act of Parliament to put things right…
Third, it may do nothing” and see the matter taken further, through to Strasbourg. More tellingly, for me—this is why I think we have it within our gift and should enact the provision—she said the following:

“It is at this point that the democratic will, as expressed through the elected representatives of the people, rules the day.”

The Bill is perhaps not the best vehicle, but the law requires updating. We have an opportunity now to give people their dignity and their human rights.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Conservative, Bexhill and Battle

I will take one intervention, given that I have made so many myself.

Photo of Emma Little Pengelly Emma Little Pengelly Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Equality), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Trade)

It is also the case, as we have articulated—we have received thousands of emails from across Northern Ireland—that the democratic will of the people of Northern Ireland does not support what is outlined in the amendment. The hon. Gentleman has highlighted an issue with the court case, but this amendment goes well beyond that.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Conservative, Bexhill and Battle 3:15 pm, 9th July 2019

I understand the hon. Lady’s point, because when I visited Northern Ireland I received a few choice emails from residents suggesting that I go back to where I came from. The reality is that this is the UK Parliament, and I believe that it is for this Parliament to take action. Even if I was wrong about that, for two years now the people of Northern Ireland have been unable to make those changes. We have conflicting polls—I could offer her one from Amnesty International. For two years there has not been the ability to legislate, so for how many more years are we to carry on, with people in Northern Ireland being without a vehicle for having their rights enforced?

I believe that is the fundamental point, because given that hon. Members argue, in relation to certain matters, that there should be no split down the Irish sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, I find it slightly perverse that they think that is okay when it comes to fundamental human rights. That is why I believe very strongly that we must make a change.

I will end with this, because I know that there is always a tendency—

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Conservative, Bexhill and Battle

I said that I would take only one intervention, if the right hon. Gentleman does not mind.

I say this, particularly to Members on these Conservative Benches: there might be technical reasons why they could be persuaded by the argument that this is a devolved matter—although I think legally that is wrong—but if we want to change, then we cannot change by abstaining, and if we want to make the point that we believe in equality and in human rights for all UK citizens, then it takes bravery. Do not just wear a badge or a T-shirt; walk through the Division Lobby and stand up for people whose rights have been abused for far too long.

Photo of Stewart McDonald Stewart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence)

It was Lord Palmerston who said that the Schleswig-Holstein question had only ever been understood by three people: one had gone mad, one had died and one had forgotten what it was all about. Here, however, we are considering a set of political, constitutional, legal and moral issues that are hopefully of far less complexity than that diplomatic incident all those years ago. They are unquestionably complex issues. To many people outside this Chamber—and probably to some inside it—it is a straight yes or no, for example on new clause 1 and same-sex marriage. But we are legislators and must take into consideration all the complex constitutional, political and possibly economic—whatever it might be—pieces of the kaleidoscope before reaching an informed decision.

Of course, the West Lothian question, which presents itself in some guise for the Scottish National party in this debate, needs to be answered and explained. It is entirely correct that Members, particularly those who represent Northern Ireland constituencies, would expect an explanation for that from us. There has been an historic self-denying ordinance on the Scottish National party not to participate in matters, such as this, that are outwith the scope of the devolved settlement in Scotland. However, we made it clear four years ago, not long after the larger arrival of my colleagues here, that there may be times when we decide to do so. We said in the election campaigns of 2015 and 2017 that we would do so where we deemed it to be appropriate, and I believe that this is one such occasion.

We talk a lot in this place at the moment about hard borders. There is currently a hard border on civil rights and equal rights for LGBT people, and it runs down the Irish sea. It is notable that Scotland is the only part of the United Kingdom where a same-sex union in Northern Ireland can be converted into a full marriage. I beseech the Government to amend their legislation to allow for that to happen in England and Wales.

I say to members of the Democratic Unionist party—I single out Sammy Wilson, who is taking his seat and was frothing at the mouth when we heard from Members who have genuinely held positions in relation to this problem; doubtless he does as well—that we have a unique set of circumstances. I do not like this place interfering in devolved Administrations and institutions perhaps any more than he does, but there is no point in the Scottish National party trying to out-Sinn Féin Sinn Féin on these matters, as they have said it would be entirely appropriate. I take no pleasure or joy in having to do this—I wish it could be settled in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Sinn Féin are right that the Assembly is the proper place to take that decision, but we are where we are. I could not go back to my constituency, and I could not look someone from Northern Ireland who wants this change in the eye ever again if I abstained or did not seek to advance the cause of equality, which I can enjoy, and which every Member of this House can enjoy, but which they cannot.

I will not accept any accusations of not being consistent. When the Democratic Unionist party blocked equal marriage, I argued for it consistently. In the gruesome history of the DUP’s—[Interruption.] They might laugh, but during the party’s gruesome history of anti-LGBT campaigning—and no, I will not calm down—I was consistent in standing up for equal rights, as were many other Members who have spoken in this debate. This is not simple—it is not black and white—but we face a set of unprecedented political circumstances in Northern Ireland. I do not enjoy them any more than anyone else, but voting for the Scottish National party to take part is entirely right and consistent, and I look forward to voting for new clause 1 when the Division is called.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

As Members of Parliament, we often meet people who have suffered deep trauma and have been through challenging times, but the evidence that I heard when I served on the Women and Equalities Committee, which was looking at the issue of abortion in Northern Ireland, was one of the most harrowing experiences that I have had in over a decade of being an elected politician. I speak as someone who firmly believes in a woman’s right to choose, but I also believe strongly, in sensitive matters such as abortion, that local people should be able to make their own decisions, and not have views imposed on them by people in another area.

I was born and raised in County Tyrone, and I know how sensitive issues on abortion and devolution are in Northern Ireland. During the Select Committee inquiry we heard from over 700 people, who had their own individual stories to tell about how the law and medical care in Northern Ireland affected them. I travelled to Northern Ireland three times. We held a number of public sessions, and also many sessions in private. The Select Committee report was agreed unanimously by all the Members who had taken part in those evidence sessions in Northern Ireland. The two Members who signed the minority report had not been to Northern Ireland to hear evidence.

Some cases were deeply traumatic. Sarah Ewart, who has been mentioned, was a young mum, newly wed, who was firmly opposed to abortion. At her 20-week scan, she was told that her baby had anencephaly, which means that the baby’s head is not developing—there is no skull or brain—and the baby will not be born alive. Sarah spoke to her grandmother, who told her how having to give birth to a child with a similar condition meant she had nearly lost her own life. Sarah told us how, when she received the diagnosis, backs were turned. The doctors, midwives and nurses felt that they could not give advice, because they had been told that if they gave advice to a woman in those circumstances they risked being sent to jail for life. Sarah went to England to have her abortion.

We heard from another woman who was carrying a baby that she knew would not survive birth, and who was too sick as a mother to travel. She ended up having to carry her baby in her womb until the baby died, and then deliver a dead baby. We also heard from a woman who had been diagnosed when living in London as carrying a child who was going to die, and was wrapped around with love and support, and enabled to deliver the baby early on and terminate the pregnancy. When she moved back to Northern Ireland in similar circumstances, she did not receive that care.

To be balanced, we also heard from a mother who was told that her baby was almost certainly due to die. She decided not to have an abortion, and the baby is now a healthy teenager. Most worrying for me was the evidence I heard from the chief medical officer, who believed that under the current regime, doctors, nurses and midwives in Northern Ireland could not carry out their duty of care obligations to women, especially women whose babies are going to die, so those mums’ lives were being put at risk.

The UK Supreme Court has identified a breach of human rights in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, rape and incest. The UN committee has found grave and systemic breaches of women’s rights in the same areas. Britain is a country that upholds human rights across the world. We cannot turn a blind eye to what is happening in our own country. There is no question but that the situation must be changed—the question is how. The Select Committee report contains a number of recommendations. The law on fatal foetal abnormalities needs to be changed. Women’s lives should not be endangered—women should be loved and cared for at that time. The situation for healthcare professionals needs to be changed, so that that chilling effect no longer occurs. We need to provide more support for those who find themselves pregnant as a result of rape and incest, and we must address those human rights concerns.

The new clause tabled by Stella Creasy goes much further. It suggests that we remove sections 58 and 59 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861, which would fundamentally change abortion law in England as well as in Northern Ireland. In England, we have the 1967 Act, which tells us how abortion can be done lawfully, but what happens if there is an unlawful abortion? We know that the vast majority of abortions today are not surgical procedures; they are medical procedures, such as taking a pill. What happens if I was pregnant and my partner gave me that pill? How do we make sure that we can still prosecute an unlawful abortion if we have decriminalised it? I want to ensure that, before we change the rules or the law in England, we have gone through these circumstances and made sure our regime is robust. Before we decide to remove those sections, we need to make sure that our law throughout the whole UK is robust. I think that needs detailed consideration and does not just get done on a Tuesday afternoon in Westminster on the back of one Back Bencher’s amendments.

Finally, the lack of a devolved Assembly in Northern Ireland is having many really serious consequences. We have heard Members talk about people having to wait for their cancer care. I have heard about delays to education spending and about delays to infrastructure projects. I have heard about the uncertainty that that gives to people’s lives and people’s businesses, and the impact it is having on the economy. We need the devolved Assembly and we need these laws to go through, but we do not need the Back-Bench amendments attached to them. For that reason, I will vote in the same manner as the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee this afternoon.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport) 3:30 pm, 9th July 2019

Thank you, Dame Rosie, for giving me the opportunity to speak during the Committee stage of this important Bill.

This Bill is called the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, yet the debate has been pretty thin on how an Executive could be formed again in Northern Ireland. In fact, we have had a debate about every other issue under the sun except what we are supposed to be debating. That is no reflection, of course, on the Chair; it is because of the amendments that have been tabled to try to frustrate the very important issue of how we form an Executive in Northern Ireland.

People give us lip service. They tell us, “We want to have an Executive in Northern Ireland. We want the Executive brought back.” Here is a Bill that would let us do that, give impetus to those negotiators and give a fair wind to what is going on in Belfast and in Stormont at this particular time but, instead of being an encourager or facilitator of those talks, this House—during the debate today and yesterday—has actually become a frustrator of those talks. It wishes to frustrate them for the obvious reason that it wants to debate other issues that could interfere and affect the strange but important counterbalance required between the parties to encourage them to get in to the talks, to make progress and to ensure they are not put off by what is happening outside the Assembly.

Photo of Emma Little Pengelly Emma Little Pengelly Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Equality), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Trade)

It is fair to say that we have entered into the substance of some of these issues here today, and everybody is clear that the DUP and others in the House have strong views on the substance of a number of those issues. However, it is also clear that what we are asking people to do is to vote on the process—an inadequate process. Fundamental change by way of Back-Bench amendments is not the way to do this. It does not facilitate scrutiny and it will impact on the talks process. We can revisit this appropriately in October, if need be.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

My hon. Friend makes an appropriate point. Either we decide to direct-rule all powers in relation to Northern Ireland and deal with the issues honestly, openly and transparently here, or else we give a fair wind to the Assembly, allow it to get up and running, and allow it to be responsible for the affairs it is supposed to be responsible for. Having a foot in both camps, and saying we might legislate on these issues and we may have an impact on those issues, sometimes gives an advantage to one party in Northern Ireland over the other. That is where the process today, being driven by Back Benchers, on some of the amendments is totally disgraceful and wrong. I know—I have said this as clearly as I possibly can—that that is not the intention of many Members and that they all want to see stability back in Northern Ireland, but that is the effect of what they are doing. The impact of what they are doing will have that counterbalance on the situation in Northern Ireland.

A year or so ago, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee published a report, “Devolution and democracy in Northern Ireland”, on dealing with the democratic deficit, which listed 67 issues that were in deficit and required to be addressed. Not one of those issues has been the subject of a Back-Bench amendment today—not one of them—yet that is the list; that is the authorised version list of what needs to be put in place to address the democratic deficit. But oh, no: we have other subject matters, which parties here know are part and parcel of the ongoing debate in Northern Ireland and of the ongoing negotiation in Northern Ireland, and they could hold other parties to ransom if they are dealt with here in advance of the outcome of the talks process in Northern Ireland. I think parties should waken up and recognise that they should be facilitating that process, not frustrating it.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

I really do not have time. The hon. Member is a cousin of mine. She knows that I always want to give way, but now I do not have time. Other Members wish to speak.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Independent, North Down

I think the hon. Gentleman needs to—

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

Please.

Unfortunately, Stella Creasy is not here at the moment but the issue of abortion has been made the centrepiece of this debate. It is very important that we ask Members who support this to think about the framework that would be put in place, or would not be in place, as a result of that amendment if it is supported. There would be no framework for abortion in Northern Ireland. Think of the consequences of that.

No matter what people’s position is—I have a very clear position on abortion; other Members have taken the opposite view and they are entitled to that point of view, as I am entitled to my point of view—the fact and the impact of the matter would be that we would have unregulated abortions taking place in Northern Ireland. They would be so unregulated that we would have no idea of the scope of those abortions. Would the limit start at 12 weeks, as is proposed in the Republic of Ireland? Will it go up to 28 weeks? Will it go to full-term abortion? There is no framework. No one here proposing this could give us an answer on that point because they do not have an answer. The measure would just open the door to unregulated abortion.

Where would abortions take place in Northern Ireland? People might say, “Oh, we can do it the way we do it in—.” Well, I am sorry; there is no regulatory framework to allow it to happen. Who would carry out those abortions? Who would take part in them? These matters need to be properly scrutinised, regulated and legislated for, if that is the way Parliament would choose to go. That is why there has been a convention to leave those matters to the devolved Assemblies—since 1921. This has not just been the case since the 1990s; it has been the case since 1921, because it is at the local level that these matters can be properly regulated.

There would be no regulatory framework for sex selection. There would be no regulatory framework for deciding on the abortion of a living soul that would have a disability—none whatever. Those matters need to be properly regulated for.

Hon. Members have made the point that it is unlawful in Northern Ireland to do certain things that are legal here. I must say, Dame Rosie, we have got to nail that. If it is a criminal offence to facilitate and to encourage an abortion illegally—outside of the law—in Northern Ireland, that same law applies in the rest of GB. One cannot facilitate or encourage illegal abortion anywhere in the UK, whether one is in Walthamstow or in any other part of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland. It should not be put about that there are different liberties on this issue; there are not. There are regulations that would apply in England, but none of them would apply in Northern Ireland under this measure. Even if Members take a different view from me on the principle point, they should think long and hard before they support this, because of the impact that it would have.

Let me read into the record of the House what the Supreme Court judgment in R (A and B) v. Secretary of State for Health said, as recently as 2017. It was confirmed that there is no right to abortion in any international treaties:

“The conventions and the covenant to which the UK is a party carefully stop short of calling upon national authorities to make abortion services generally available. Some of the committees go further down that path. But, as a matter of international law, the authority of their recommendations is slight”,

yet we are being told today that no, that is not the case. That is the law; that is what the international treaties say. How can Members tell us that they are campaigning on a great rights issue? There is no right under the international treaties to terminate an unborn life. That is the fact of the matter, and we must make sure that that right—the right to life—is upheld.

Other Members have indicated that they wish to speak for the rights of women. The biggest survey done on this matter in the past year, under ComRes, has shown that 66% of women in Northern Ireland, if they want to see changes to abortion laws, want those changes to be done exclusively in the Northern Ireland Assembly, which will take cognisance of the specific and peculiar needs that the Province has. That is what the surveys show. They do not indicate that they want this House to legislate for it in a day, or in a hop, skip, jump and a prayer manner that would lead to unregulated abortions.

It is important that we address one matter that was brought before the House last night. The Scottish National party made a principled case here to support what it has always done—their words, “a principled case”. It said that it would ensure that it would stand away from interfering in a devolved matter. It is important that we look at what was said on the record, at column 75. The SNP said that it does not vote on matters of devolution and that it sticks to that principle. If that was the principle, it is very disappointing that, today, tactically, the SNP has decided to change it. It is entitled, of course, to make that change, but it is not right to try to suggest that it is all the DUP’s fault, when we know that the leaks, which are worse than those coming out of Washington, indicate splits in the ranks of the SNP and that it has more problems internally on this matter and it is trying to use the cover of this matter to take away from its own splits.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

I have been an MP for 27 years and I was here for all the devolution legislation. I sat on the Opposition Benches and I was opposed to devolution, but I lost. I lost the referendum and I lost the argument. Therefore, I cannot see how anybody who believes in devolution, simply because they do not like the decisions that the devolved Administrations are taking, could be against it.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

Thank you, Dame Rosie, for allowing us to make these points. I hope that we will be able to continue this debate and that we see the formation of an Executive in Northern Ireland. That is what we should really be about. I am happy at any point to debate any of those other 67 subjects, but I fear that this Chamber will echo to the one or two normal voices who come for Northern Ireland affairs. Unfortunately, the Bill has today become a Trojan horse for other matters that really should not have been allowed to come on to the agenda.

Photo of Paul Masterton Paul Masterton Conservative, East Renfrewshire

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak, Dame Rosie. I had intended to speak last night on Second Reading, but my flight was delayed so I was not able to do so. I did, however, watch a large chunk of it on the television—until “Love Island” started anyway—and I was particularly struck by two excellent speeches from the hon. Members for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) and for Belfast South (Emma Little Pengelly), who represent my old stomping grounds. I would like to touch on a couple of points that they made last night.

I often find these debates very telling in terms of the number of people, who for years have shown no interest in Northern Ireland and absolutely no interest in devolution, suddenly appearing as if they were the new-found single most important thing to their being. It is a bit frustrating and why I thought, as a Scottish Conservative who believes in and grew up under devolution and is a representative of one of the devolved nations, I would throw in my two cents.

I think we need to start with the pretty fundamental point that devolution in Northern Ireland does not exist at the moment. It has not existed for two years. There is no Executive and there is no Assembly. Arlene Foster is the former First Minister, and she is the First Minister in waiting of an institution that right now does not exist.

Photo of Jeffrey M. Donaldson Jeffrey M. Donaldson DUP Chief Whip, Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Business in the House of Commons)

It is not true to say that devolution does not exist in Northern Ireland. There are 11 district councils in Northern Ireland, with extensive powers given to them by this Parliament, which exercise power in my constituency and take very important decisions that affect the people I represent. So please let us not suggest that there is no form of devolution in Northern Ireland. Of course we would love to have our Executive and Assembly in addition to that, but local government is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland and continues to function very effectively as a devolved government.

Photo of Paul Masterton Paul Masterton Conservative, East Renfrewshire

I take the right hon. Gentleman’s point. I think he knows what I mean about that layer of government, but having benefited from the excellent services of Belfast City Council in my time in Northern Ireland I will uphold his comments about the quality of local governance.

We also have Members of the Legislative Assembly, who are the Members of no such Assembly. Some of them continue to do very good work in their communities but a large number do very little for the salary they are paid. We have to have this debate in the context in which it is held. That is why, as sorry as I feel for Gavin Newlands being slightly undermined by his party’s switch in position overnight, I am pleased that the SNP has at least accepted the principle of the sovereignty of the Westminster Parliament. That is important, because this is the UK Parliament and, as Members of Parliament, it is our responsibility to represent and act in the best interests of all of the United Kingdom’s citizens.

I agree with Ian Paisley that it is a shame that this Bill has been hijacked. That was always going to happen. We must accept that the reason it has been hijacked is that, in this place, we have allowed this process to stumble on from six months to six months. I like the Secretary of State; she has been given a complete hospital pass in this role and she is doing the best she can. But every once in a while she has to say that the talks are going well and there could be progress. We reach a deadline, set another one and limp on, but eventually we will have to make a difficult call about how much longer we are prepared to accept and put up with that.

I come at the matter as a Scottish Member of Parliament. The system is different and the likelihood of Holyrood collapsing in this way is next to nil but, if it did, I would be so angry at every person in this place—whether I was an MP or not—for allowing that to happen. Remarks have been made about special needs education and the lack of legislation for free childcare. As the father of a five-year-old daughter who will start school in August and a three-year-old son who is going to start nursery, I would be absolutely furious if devolution in Scotland failed and led to the collapse of those services, and time and again MPs in my Parliament have washed their hands of the matter, saying, “This is too difficult. We don’t want to touch this for political reasons.”

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 3:45 pm, 9th July 2019

I share the hon. Gentleman’s frustration. Does he agree that, if people in Scotland were then told, “There is a hiatus at the moment, but we, the Westminster Parliament, are going to single out one or two issues, which we know are divisive, and deal with them, but we will not deal with the other issues,” there would be extreme frustration and anger?

Photo of Paul Masterton Paul Masterton Conservative, East Renfrewshire

I would be incredibly frustrated by that. I will come on to the point about cherry-picking, which the hon. Member for Belfast East made last night. I do not pretend to be an expert on Northern Ireland just because I lived there for a bit and I still have friends there, but my strong instinct is that the people of Northern Ireland are not convinced that devolution is coming back any time soon, and that they do not particularly care who makes the decisions, as long as the decisions are made.

We heard the list of 67 issues from the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee report. I am frustrated with myself because, had I properly thought about this, there might have been good reason to table 67 discrete amendments—keyhole surgery amendments—to give Ministers incredibly limited powers, strictly for the purposes of doing certain things, such as implementing some of the strategies that have been gathering dust and making some changes to legislation. People in Northern Ireland want and need those changes now, but they do not particularly care who enacts them.

The point about cherry-picking is right. These are the wrong issues to use as test cases. What we are doing is messy, divisive and emotive but, by the same token, I do not think it is wrong to do it. Therefore, I will support new clause 1 and amendment 9. I think that they have been neatly and carefully drafted, to continue, as far as possible, the optimism that there will be a restored Executive and Assembly. If there is, those provisions will fall away. I will not support new clause 10 because—as my hon. Friend Vicky Ford and others set out—it goes too far in making underlying changes to legislation.

I will sit down and shut up now. I will just add that I find the whole situation in Northern Ireland completely unconscionable, but not because I am a dyed-in-the-wool unionist, who bizarrely wants to roll back devolution—I am not. We have to accept that this is the United Kingdom’s sovereign Parliament. Allowing Northern Ireland to effectively wither on the vine only serves the interests of Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin is the blockage to getting the Assembly up and running. I can see no evidence that that situation will change, certainly not in the next few months. Unless we change the underlying structure of how the Executive and Assembly are formed, it will be open to Sinn Féin to collapse them at any point in the future. At one point or another, we in this place must say that we will stand up in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland, whichever side of the community they are from, and, in certain discrete measures, neatly and tightly drafted, introduce the effective change that they need and are crying out for.

We shall be back here in six months’ time, and I hope that a large number of those 67 issues will be up for consideration. I also hope—this is directed at the Government Front Bench—that we will deal with the legislation properly and will not try to rush it through in two days, which has led to all the issues of scrutiny that have been raised by Opposition Members.

I think that this is a bit of a dog’s breakfast, but we are where we are, and I shall be supporting a couple of the amendments today. Let us hope that my negativity and pessimism are misplaced and that by the end of October we will have a brand-new shiny Executive, but I suspect that I will not be holding my breath.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities & Local Government) (Planning)

I rise to support new clause 1, along with amendment 9, tabled by my hon. Friend Diana Johnson, and new clauses 10, 11 and 12, tabled by my hon. Friend Stella Creasy.

The reality facing women in Northern Ireland is that, under current legislation, they can be sent to prison for life for ending a pregnancy. Abortion is not available to women in Northern Ireland in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, rape or incest. That is not a situation that we would tolerate for any of our own constituents, and we should not be tolerating it for UK citizens in Northern Ireland. The UK Supreme Court takes the same view, and has stated that the lack of access to abortion for women in Northern Ireland is a breach of their human rights.

I think it very unfortunate that Sir Edward Leigh and Fiona Bruce sought to undermine Committees of the United Nations and CEDAW to try to make points that should not be made in the context of this very important issue. I think that that was unacceptable, and that all of us in the Chamber should be upholding the UN’s findings and supporting all the reports and recommendations from CEDAW.

It is not even as if the legislation in Northern Ireland actually prevents women from having abortions. It prevents some women from having abortions—those who, for a variety of reasons, such as poverty or a set of family circumstances, are not able to travel to England. That is an appalling situation for women in Northern Ireland, and we must do something about it.

I thank all those who have campaigned for many decades in Northern Ireland to change the law relating to abortion. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull North and for Walthamstow, who have done so much in continuing to raise the issue in Parliament and with the Women and Equalities Committee. I suspect, however, that I am the only Member in the Chamber to have campaigned against the abortion laws in Northern Ireland for decades. I began campaigning with a group of women for the Abortion Act 1967 to be applied to Northern Ireland. We thought, even back then, that it was important for women throughout the UK to have the same access to abortion, wherever they lived, and for their human rights—although I doubt that was the language we used at the time—to be upheld uniformly.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North

I commend my hon. Friend on her perseverance over all these years of campaigning for this. Hopefully, we will see some change shortly, but it is important to recognise that there have been decades of campaigning by so many strong, brave women and men.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities & Local Government) (Planning)

I thank my hon. Friend for those comments.

I want to address some of the comments made by Members in the Chamber, particularly those representing Northern Ireland constituencies. They will know that I do not often speak on Northern Ireland matters because I respect the fact that they are the elected representatives for the area. Nevertheless, as we have seen demonstrated today, the issues we are discussing are about upholding human rights right across the UK.

I, too, honestly wish that the issue of abortion rights and extending them to Northern Ireland was being addressed by an enlightened Assembly in Northern Ireland, but unfortunately, as we all know, the Assembly is not sitting and is not likely to sit for some time, so we have a decision to make this afternoon: do we sit on these Benches, twiddle our thumbs and think that maybe sometime in the next three, five or 10 years we will get around to making a decision about abortion and what is happening to women in Northern Ireland? I hope we do not make that decision.

We all assume that women in Northern Ireland are able to travel to England to secure an abortion, but of course, all woman cannot, so we still have women in Northern Ireland accessing backstreet abortions. It is hard to believe that this is happening in our country in this day and age.

I did not know decades ago that I was going to be in a situation one day where I could do something to secure better access to safe abortion services for women in Northern Ireland, but I am in that position, and all of us in this Chamber are in that position today. I hope that we will set aside the arguments about devolution, important though they are, because at the moment we cannot get a solution to this problem through the devolved Assembly. What we have to do instead is wake up to the opportunity that we all have to stop women in Northern Ireland having to travel to England for an abortion and to enable them to access safe abortion services the way any other woman can in the UK. It is also wrong to say that this will open the floodgates to unregulated abortion; we heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull North and for Walthamstow about the frameworks that have been set out to deliver regulated abortion services in Northern Ireland.

This is not an issue that has been delayed for two-plus years while the Assembly has not been sitting; it has been an issue for four decades, if not longer, and we must act now to protect the women in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Ged Killen Ged Killen Labour/Co-operative, Rutherglen and Hamilton West 4:00 pm, 9th July 2019

I rise to support new clauses 9, 10, 11 and 12 and to speak in favour of new clause 1 on the issue of same sex-marriage. I begin by placing on record my thanks to my hon. Friend Conor McGinn, who really is the very best example of an LGBT ally; I will come on to talk more about that in a moment. He is no longer in his place, but I am sure he will be back shortly.

Quite frankly, this issue has gone on long enough. We know the arguments. The Northern Ireland Assembly has already voted in favour of same-sex marriage, and that enjoys overwhelming public support. The historical anti-LGBT legislation in Northern Ireland came from this place, and the major advances on LGBT rights in Northern Ireland have happened when this place has legislated. We are not trampling over devolution, because there is no devolved government, and new clause 1 would allow until October for Stormont to get up and running again before these changes took effect. It would be so much more preferable for LGBT people in Northern Ireland to be able to look upon their Government in Belfast with pride as the Assembly finally righted this wrong and delivered equality, but if it is not able to do that, people in Northern Ireland should rightly be looking at their other Government here in London to do what is necessary.

As my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North mentioned, this is personal for me. I am married to an Irishman and our marriage is not recognised where he is from. We can get on a plane in Glasgow as married men and arrive in Belfast as civil partners, despite never having left the UK, so it has been a great source of frustration and, at times, bemusement to me that, for the last two years, I have had to contend with the DUP talking about how much it does not want any regulatory divergence between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. But even if I was not married to a man from Northern Ireland, I would see it as my duty to stand side by side with LGBT people, no matter where they lived, and it just so happens that they live in the same country as me. Gavin Newlands could not take my intervention last night, but I am genuinely pleased that the SNP has decided to allow a free vote on this issue, because being an LGBT ally means action.

On that point, I want to mention the Government, because I do not think it is good enough for Ministers to stand at the Dispatch Box and offer warm words about equality and call themselves allies. No one is in any doubt that this Government are perfectly legally entitled to introduce same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland; they are just refusing to do so. On the issue of LGBT rights, I am afraid that the Government and the Northern Ireland Office are badly letting people down in Northern Ireland. Recently, I asked the Secretary of State what her Department was doing and, in particular, why it had spent only £318 in recent years on advancing LGBT rights. She responded by telling me that it was

“not the role of the Northern Ireland Office, nor the Government, to develop a framework or strategy to advance the rights of LGBT people in Northern Ireland.”

Page 3 of the Government’s LGBT action plan says:

“This ‘LGBT Action Plan’
explains how we will advance the rights of LGBT people both at home and abroad, and improve the way that public services work for them.”

It actually says “at home and abroad”. There is an entire section on the UK’s international obligations on this issue. We know that £5.6 million has been made available for programmes to be delivered through civil society organisations to advance the legal equality and rights of all Commonwealth citizens, regardless of gender, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, yet just £318 has been spent on Northern Ireland and we have a Secretary of State who thinks that LGBT equality in that part of the world is nothing to do with her.

Over the weekend, we had a fantastic celebration of Pride in London. We had the Government’s GREAT Britain campaign tweeting out a reminder that in more than 20 countries where gay marriage is not legal, British embassies and consulates perform marriages for same-sex couples where one partner, or both partners, is a British national. What about Northern Ireland? What a kick in the teeth that is for people in Northern Ireland: just a friendly reminder on Pride weekend in London that people in other countries can get married in British consulates, but they cannot. These are not the actions of an ally.

This Government have within their gift the power to act. When they refuse to do so, they cease to be an ally and become an obstacle. Obstacles are something that we are all well used to in the LGBT community. They have included, “We can’t decriminalise sex between two men because it is perverse and sinful,” as well as, “We have to ban the promotion of homosexuality in schools; otherwise, people will think they have an inalienable right to be gay,” and, “We can’t have civil partnerships because that might lead to marriage, and we can’t have marriage because everybody knows that marriage is between a man and a woman.” In that context, “We can’t have marriage because of devolution,” is a pathetic excuse. People in Northern Ireland are not asking this Government for action; they are demanding it. This is their Government too. It is 50 years since LGBT people stopped waiting patiently for things to change and started fighting back. We are not going to start waiting patiently now.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

It will come as no surprise that I cannot support these amendments. I say that with respect to all those who have spoken or will speak afterwards. I ask hon. and right hon. Members to respect my point of view, which might be very different from the views of others in this Committee. The reason is twofold. First, I say unequivocally that, in every word I utter, I do not judge how anyone chooses to live their life. I am a man of faith, as others will know. I believe God almighty will judge every one of us in this Committee, and I will have enough trouble explaining what I have done, never mind anybody else.

I believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, and I do not believe it can or should be altered. I believe what it says is true, and many of my constituents feel and think the same. They have spoken to me about it, and I have been contacted by many decent people who question the need to change the definition of marriage when civil partnerships provide more protection than is available for common law marriages. These people—my constituents, myself and others—are not homophobic and do not hate others. They treasure the word of God and have a right to their opinion that there is no legal reason or moral obligation to change the definition.

We have heard from Nick Herbert, and I sat on the Public Bill Committee that considered the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. Four members of that Committee—three Conservatives and me—opposed the Bill, and we secured a Government amendment that ensured the Northern Ireland Assembly would make a decision on this matter. The amendment was unanimously supported by all parties—Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, everyone supported it. That is the way it happened.

My right hon. Friend Sammy Wilson, as a Finance Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly, made sure the proposal went through, so why is a change needed? This is a devolved matter and there is little doubt that, if Sinn Féin ever decide to act democratically and allow the Assembly to reconvene to discuss this redefinition, it would be one of the first items on the agenda. The devolved Assembly is the place for this decision.

It is simply inappropriate for this place to step in and help out with human rights when the rights to life and to education are threatened and in desperate straits. Members either believe in devolution or they do not. They either interfere in all things or they do not. It is not right to do this in this way.

It is right for the Secretary of State to introduce legislation to compel Assembly Members to take their seats and to break the Stormont Sinn Féin stalemate. It is right to force the institution to take its place and do its job, part of which is to discuss this matter. It is not right to take isolated decisions. I respect and work hard for every constituent, regardless of their age, race, gender, sexual orientation or faith, but I will not support new clause 1.

I cannot and will not support new clauses 10 to 12 on abortion. Like everyone else in this place, I am entitled to my firm opinion and, on behalf of my constituents, I make that very clear. I have listened to others with respect, and I believe that both lives matter. I have heard much about a woman’s right over her body, but I have not heard very much about the right of the little life within. The right of the unborn human offspring, from approximately the second week to the eighth week after fertilisation, and the sanctity of life are very important to me and my constituents. I want to put exactly how I feel on the record today.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I assure my hon. Friend that many people in Northern Ireland will be glad to hear him refer to that, because very deep, profound and empathetic views have been expressed. That should be the case in such debates, but, all too often, we do not hear the case, to which he alludes, of the many millions of unborn children.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank my hon. Friend for what he says, which is exactly how I and many others feel. I am not afraid to use the term “baby”. I believe it is a life that has rights. Many Members have referenced the rights of the woman, and I believe in those rights, but not at the expense of another life.

As a father and a grandfather, my heart aches at the thought that anything would happen to any of my granddaughters that would foster thoughts of their having to consider this as an option. However, I would point out that there were abortions carried out in Northern Ireland last year; 12 pregnancies were terminated in NHS hospitals in Northern Ireland in 2017-18, which was one fewer than in the previous year. These take place when the woman’s life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health. There are laws in place in Northern Ireland that allow for necessary abortions currently—they work and they are used—but what we do not have is abortion on demand, which is what is being called for today in this place. I cannot and will not accept that.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Conservative, Walsall North

I seem to recall a campaign in Northern Ireland suggesting that 100,000 people were alive because the law on abortion in Northern Ireland had not been changed. Will the hon. Gentleman reflect on that?

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and what he says is true—it is a fact. Those figures have not been refuted. Indeed, they have been endorsed. I thank him for reminding the House clearly of the 100,000 lives saved because of not having abortion on demand in Northern Ireland.

Last year, an abortion was carried out every two and a half minutes in England and Wales—that is of every hour, of every day of the week, with no holiday and no break. Was that the intention of the Abortion Act 1967? No, it was not, but it was the result. I heard Stella Creasy say that she is speaking for women from Northern Ireland as no one is speaking for them. I seek gently to remind her that I am here, speaking on behalf of my constituents.

As of Monday evening, my office had received 443 emails on this issue, the majority of which were from women in my constituency, and 412 of the emails opposed any attempt by this place to change abortion laws in Northern Ireland through external interference, with some even labelling this as an attack on devolution and democracy. Just 31 asked me to support these amendments. That means that 92.5% of my constituents—the people I am paid to represent in this House—have asked me not to accede to this amendment. Their reasons replicate mine: some are opposed to what brings about abortion on demand, and some are incensed that Members of this House will not “interfere” to bring about a resolution on urgent health and education matters, but will step in over our heads on a matter that was one of the last to be discussed at Stormont and to be voted against.

Members of this House cannot have it both ways to boost their own profile. Clearly, I speak for the majority of my constituents—I am happy to say that—and indeed for the 60% of those in national polls who would not be in favour of abortion on demand. I hope that I have spoken with gentleness and concern but am yet clear. The people of Strangford have been clear to me and we must also be clear: what is being asked here is not the desire of the people.

I end where I started, ever conscious of the time that you have allowed me, Dame Rosie, by saying that both lives matter and both rights must be upheld. This proposal protects neither, so I will not support new clauses 1, 10, 11 or 12. They do not represent the viewpoints of the majority of people in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Owen Smith Owen Smith Labour, Pontypridd

It is a pleasure to follow Jim Shannon, who spoke, as he always does, with sincerity, conviction and gentleness. I will respect his request that we are respectful of the views of others in this place, even when we do not agree with them. I also respect the views of right hon. and hon. Members from Northern Ireland who today have expressed their frustration that we are not debating what I suppose many in Northern Ireland would feel is the primary political issue of the day: the restoration of the Executive and the political process that is ongoing there. I feel, as he doubtless does, that we spend too little time in this place debating issues that affect people in Northern Ireland. Arguably, we are becoming strangers in this place to many of the issues that affect people in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, as this place becomes a rather more English-centred Parliament, often by accident.

I do not believe, however, that the clauses that have been brought forward today are an attempt to hijack this debate. They are in some respects—new clause 1 and amendments 9 and 5, and the issues they pertain to—a reflection of the fact that, as Ron Davies, a former denizen of this place observed, devolution is “a process” and “not an event”. As someone who served the most recent Labour Government as an adviser in both Wales and Northern Ireland and who as a parliamentarian has served as shadow Secretary of State for Wales and for Northern Ireland, I think our attitudes to devolution are changing. In some respects, although we cannot have a hierarchy of rights, this debate is about the sense that some rights must be seen as universal and must, indeed, supersede the right to devolution. Those rights are, in particular, the rights we are talking about today: reproductive rights for women and the right for the LGBT people of Northern Ireland to be treated equally to their brothers and sisters throughout the rest of the UK.

Photo of Paul Girvan Paul Girvan Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Education), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport) 4:15 pm, 9th July 2019

On what trumps what and what is more important, issues with cross-party support that the Northern Ireland Assembly should bring forward to the Northern Ireland Executive have already been identified, and they include the institutional abuse scandal. What gives Members the right to trump those sorts of issues? Let us be honest: the passing of certain legislation here puts people’s lives at risk. I believe that the life of the unborn is a life. It is not a foetus; it is a life. There is the potential that legislation will pass and create a problem for the future.

Photo of Owen Smith Owen Smith Labour, Pontypridd

Let me agree with the hon. Gentleman partly. As I shall talk about in a moment, I do believe that this place should legislate on the late Sir Anthony Hart’s recommendations on historic abuse. I am loth to suggest that there is a hierarchy of rights, but there are certain inalienable universal human rights that should be observed and afforded to people in every part of the world, including Northern Ireland. We are increasingly mindful of the fact that we in this place cannot allow ourselves to be hamstrung by the fact of devolution when it comes to the failure to see those rights observed for and afforded to women and the LGBT community in Northern Ireland. That is why this place, with lots of reluctance on the part of some Members, such as me, who are Unionists but who also believe fundamentally in devolution, is coming to the view that there should now be not just reports but legislation in this place to put in place those rights for Northern Ireland.

I support new clause 1, which was spoken to excellently and eloquently by my hon. Friend Conor McGinn, who has been a brilliant campaigner on the issue in recent years, and I also support the excellent work undertaken by my hon. Friend Diana Johnson and, indeed, my hon. Friend Stella Creasy in respect of women’s reproductive rights in Northern Ireland. However, I wish to concentrate on two other issues that have not been spoken about much today but that are addressed in the series of new clauses and amendments: first, the pension for victims of the troubles in Northern Ireland; and secondly, the victims of the historical sexual abuse in care homes in Northern Ireland, which Paul Girvan mentioned a moment ago. When I was the shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I spoke from the Front Bench on these issues and devoted a lot of my time to them, and I shall simply repeat what I said from the Front Bench about what I think we ought to do.

Let me illustrate and humanise the issue of a pension for severely physically disabled victims of the troubles—those people in Northern Ireland who were injured through no fault of their own, of whom there are around 500—by talking a little about the case of a man I have met on many occasions and whom I greatly admire: Peter Heathwood. In 1979, Peter was in his flat in Belfast when loyalist gunmen broke in, dragged his wife down the hall by her hair, and shot Peter twice, paralysing him for life. The configuration of the building in which they lived meant that when the ambulance men arrived, they could not put Peter’s damaged, broken body on to a stretcher, so he was put into a body bag. He was carried down the steps of his flat in the body bag. His father, Herbert, arrived at the scene thinking that his son, Peter, had died, and collapsed of a heart attack and died. Peter has been paralysed and in a wheelchair since 1979, unable to work, and surviving on benefits. He is a perfect, awful and tragic illustration of the reality of the lives of some 500 members of our community, our country, in Northern Ireland who were injured during the troubles. He is a perfect illustration of why this Government—any Government in Northern Ireland or in this place—need to act with compassion and speed to help those people and to offer them a victim’s pension, as has been talked about for so long, to give them the extra support that they need.

Many right hon. and hon. Members, particularly from the DUP, quite rightly point to the difficulty that is at the heart of the reason why this has not been done. It is that, among that 500, there are perhaps 10 people who were injured by their own hand, who, in the course of commissioning acts of terrorism, blew themselves up or shot themselves. The consideration, as always, has quite rightly been that it would be invidious if those people, having tried to perpetrate violence against the state and against innocent victims, were then supported by the state. I completely understand that, but I simply say that people like Peter are getting older. They will die at some point; many people have died in the intervening period. It was back in 2014, at the signing of the Stormont House agreement, that the state in our country effectively decreed that we should be offering this support to those people.

Photo of Owen Smith Owen Smith Labour, Pontypridd

Let me finish this point then I will gladly give way.

My simple plea is that we must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good in this place. We should legislate to provide for these people. I think that that will happen, and I am pleased about that, but I urge the Secretary of State to get on with it.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

It should not be beyond the wit of man to devise a system where someone who has actually caused damage to himself is not part of this scheme. Peter requires to be compensated as much as possible and as quickly as possible. It may well be that we will be bringing further measures back to the House, because, frankly, it does not look to me like we will get the Northern Ireland Executive up and running within the time period, and it is time for us to take some action to support people in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Owen Smith Owen Smith Labour, Pontypridd

I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Gentleman. It should not be beyond the wit of man to create some sort of process and a mechanism to do this, but, to date, it has been beyond the wit of the men and women in this place and in Northern Ireland to do so. That is because of the thorny issue of how we define a victim in Northern Ireland. I understand that that is a complex area from which there would be many ramifications, but we really must legislate on this.

Finally, on the victim’s pension, I want to pay tribute to the work of the Wave group in Northern Ireland, which has been quite brilliant in supporting the victims of the troubles and in pressing the case for a pension. It is doing great work, and I know that the Secretary of State is a great fan of all that it has done. I also wish to pay tribute to Sir Anthony Hart, who, I was shocked to learn in the Chamber today, died just this morning. Sir Anthony was a very distinguished judge who took on a very difficult task in 2012 on behalf of the Assembly to undertake a review into the historical abuse in 22 homes run by the Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland and Barnardo’s in Northern Ireland between 1922 and the 1990s. It was the biggest such inquiry ever undertaken in the UK, and it found that there had been grievous abuse of boys and girls in these homes over a very long period, and he found—he undertook harrowing work—that there should be compensation to the tune of £7,000 to £100,000 paid out to those victims. Sir Anthony died this morning with his work unfinished, with the legislation not passed either by the Assembly or by this place, and that is a badge of shame for politicians in Northern Ireland and in this place. We desperately need to act on this, too, because those victims deserve it; they deserve Northern Ireland’s politicians to do it, but if those politicians cannot, they deserve us in this place to take our responsibility and to legislate here.

Photo of Layla Moran Layla Moran Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

It is a pleasure to follow Owen Smith. I rise to speak in support of new clauses 1 and 10, and the string of amendments, especially amendment 9, which is a very important compromise amendment when it comes to what we are trying to do today. I will start with the issue of equal marriage.

It will not have escaped us all that it was London Pride just this weekend, and we had a message from the Prime Minister to the LGBTQI+ community across the UK, in which she said:

“I will only be your Prime Minister for a few more weeks. But I will be your ally for the rest of my life.”

As other hon. Members have mentioned, an ally is not simply someone who stands up and says, “I’m with you.” An ally is someone who stands up and does something. In successive Prime Minister’s questions, we keep hearing the word “legacy”, and what a legacy this would be for the Prime Minister. When she was Home Secretary, she helped—pushed by my dear friend Baroness Featherstone, the former Member for Hornsey and Wood Green—to put through the equal marriage legislation, and she could be the Prime Minister who allows that legislation to apply across the UK. I sincerely hope that is where we get to today.

I hear the worries about our having to take these decisions, but the fact is that there is no devolved legislature for us to supersede right now; the Northern Ireland Assembly has not sat for two years. I contacted Members of that body this morning to say, “We’re doing this. Is there any particular message that you would like me to send to my fellow Members of Parliament?” Stephen Farry—an MLA for our sister party, Alliance—said that he would obviously much prefer it if MLAs were able to implement such measures themselves, but wanted to convey the following message: “Don’t be frightened”. They are behind what we are trying to do. We forget that the democratically elected Northern Irish MPs who sit here, very rightly expressing the views of their constituents, represent just one of many parties in Northern Ireland, the majority of which support equal marriage, as was shown in the vote in 2015. The Alliance party has been challenging and requesting reform of the petition of concern for a while because of the outcome of the 2015 vote, so it is worth reminding ourselves that we should be—in this case, anyway—pushing at an open door. And we can see it ourselves; 76% of people in Northern Ireland want equal marriage.

I was grateful to be able to visit Belfast and speak to students at Lagan College. It is all a bit of a mess there right now, but the families of some of those students would normally have voted for the DUP. The students said that they were embarrassed that Northern Ireland did not have equal marriage and that they would much rather see it brought in. They did not understand how society had moved so far in one direction, yet Northern Ireland was lagging behind.

Interestingly, Barnardo’s has come out for equal marriage, as has the Children’s Commissioner for Northern Ireland—and so have the businesses I have spoken to; they told me that Northern Ireland not yet having equal marriage sent a message to the workers they were trying to attract: “This is a slightly odd place.” That is not at all a reflection of what Belfast is actually like. Northern Ireland needs to move with the times. It is entirely right that this place does what Northern Ireland had already asked for before the power-sharing arrangements broke down, and it is for that reason that I am proud to be a co-sponsor of new clause 1.

I turn to the thornier issue of abortion. No one here can fail to be moved by what we have heard—not just by Sarah Ewart’s story, but by all the others too. Until I became an MP, I did not realise that there was this extraordinary discrepancy between the law on abortion in Northern Ireland and in the rest of the UK. I simply did not know, because in the UK media, in general, this kind of thing is not really spoken about. So one of the very first things I did when I was elected was to sign the amendment that allows Northern Irish women to access abortion in the UK. We know that that is not enough—that such provision needs to be closer to home.

Some have quoted polls suggesting that 64% of people in Northern Ireland do not want Westminster to legislate on abortion. The advantage of speaking last is that I have been able to look that up. The poll conducted was of 1,013 people. It was indeed the case that 64% of people agreed that this place should not legislate, but no mention was made of the fact that there was not a working Stormont. In a similar poll—Members can read it for themselves online and look at the numbers—the question made the position clear by asking whether, if Stormont was not working, Westminster should legislate on the issue, and 66% said that we should do so.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Conservative, Walsall North 4:30 pm, 9th July 2019

My memory might be vague, but my recollection is that the Northern Ireland Assembly itself voted on this issue in 2016. That feels very recent consideration, regardless of that poll and its validity.

Photo of Layla Moran Layla Moran Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

That is the point—at the moment, the legislation cannot be pushed through. The Assembly voted and was then unable to do anything about it. Given the human rights abuses that have been identified by the Court, and given that this place has the power to uphold our international human rights obligations, it is entirely right that we take this issue on. That vote was in 2016, but the High Court rulings are recent, and we know that one is coming down the line that will probably end up putting this to bed.

I genuinely think that amendment 9 is a good compromise, with its sunset clause that makes the provision disappear as soon as power-sharing can resume. To those who say that we absolutely should not do this and that no one wants us to do so, I say that that is not true. If they cannot go as far as to support new clause 10, I suggest that they consider amendment 9, which does have that sunset clause and simply gives the Government the right to find a way through. That, surely, we can all support.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Independent, North Down

The hon. Lady is of course absolutely right. We do not have a functioning Assembly. We have not had one since January 2017 and there is no prospect of it any time soon. It is absolutely unacceptable that last year over 1,000 women had to leave Northern Ireland, their homeland, to seek an abortion in England, Wales or Scotland. That cannot be right. It should be done closer to home—that is, it should be made available. It is not compulsory; it is about making it available. It is entirely a woman’s choice.

Photo of Layla Moran Layla Moran Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

I thank the hon. Lady deeply for her intervention, and for her tireless work on this issue.

In the end, this comes down to what is the right thing to do. We have polls that point in two different directions and voices here from different parts of the spectrum, but the question is what would we want for our own constituents—what is the right thing to do? It is surely wrong, particularly in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, rape, incest—things for which I did not realise women could not get abortions for anywhere in the western civilised world—that even in our own United Kingdom there are women who have to travel hundreds of miles to another country altogether, across the water, to access such provision.

We have an immense opportunity to right some really, really awful wrongs. I think that most people in this country would consider this a no-brainer. It should have already happened, but it has not because of process. Please let us not allow process to get in the way of doing what is right.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

This has been a difficult debate because it has laid bare some fundamental differences in approach. It has been, predominantly, a respectful debate between people who have strongly held and highly principled views on opposite sides of some very important and tricky cultural issues, but it has laid bare some fundamental differences of opinion and divisions in our society, in the Chamber and in parts of Northern Ireland at the very least.

There have been some barnstorming speeches, including from my good friend, my right hon. Friend Nick Herbert, whose speech was outstanding, and Ged Killen, who made a passionate argument. I will not embarrass Members by going through them all, but I mentioned others when concluding the Second Reading debate. We also heard some rather quieter but equally respectful and careful comments and arguments from people such as Jim Shannon, who gave a measured and careful exposition of why he and his constituents feel the way they do, and my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce, who spoke in a similar vein. It illustrates the care with which everybody has had to approach these issues. I am grateful for all the contributions that Members have made.

This is an important Bill, and we need to get it right; that was made clear on Second Reading yesterday. I will attempt to take the amendments in this group in a sensible order and will be glad to give way when Members wish to probe the Government’s position further.

In opening my remarks, I want to make clear the Government’s view that many, if not most, of the amendments before the Committee relate to devolved matters. As many Members have said this afternoon, those devolved issues should rightly be the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Our constitutional settlement for Northern Ireland is based on the fact that Parliament has devolved responsibility for these matters to local politicians. While Parliament retains its sovereignty in relation to these areas, we must tread extremely carefully.

However, the Northern Ireland Assembly is not sitting and has not been sitting for more than two years. That is a source of huge frustration not only to those of us here today, but to people in Northern Ireland and the country at large. That frustration is starting to boil over. Patience is wearing thin, and people are increasingly unwilling to wait much longer. The result is the long list of amendments before us, which would expand and lengthen in a whole range of areas a simple, straightforward Bill that only seeks to change two dates—that is all it seeks to do.

First, there are amendments on issues of conscience—same-sex marriage and abortion—on which there are traditionally free votes in Parliament. I would like to take this opportunity to confirm that my party does not intend to break that important principle today. These votes will be up to everyone’s individual consciences, and I think I am right in saying that I have heard that from a number of other parties.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Opposition Chief Whip (Commons)

For the avoidance of any doubt whatsoever, the position is the same on our side.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

That is a rare intervention from an Opposition Whip. I am delighted to hear that, as I am sure Labour Members are too.

There will be free votes on issues of conscience on both sides of the House. As I will set out, the Government are willing to accept some of the amendments on reporting commitments where Members do not wish to withdraw their amendments. However, most of those amendments ask the UK Government to report on devolved matters. As I said, those are not technically matters for us, and I hope the Committee will therefore tread carefully and think carefully about the way it uses those powers today.

The other broad category of amendments relates to requirements to debate certain matters, often the reports requested in other amendments. The Government would prefer not to accept those amendments, but we are happy to commit to making an oral statement to accompany and respond to the reports that are required under clause 3 of the Bill and which may be amended to be expanded. That oral statement, I hope, will provide the House with ample and proper set-piece opportunities to debate the issues raised by those reports for as long as the Speaker sees fit. I suspect, given prior performance, that those debates could go on for some time.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Independent, North Down

I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way so early in his speech. In the light of the untimely and shocking death of Sir Anthony Hart this morning, will the Minister give a firm commitment that the Government—the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is present in the Chamber—will implement at the earliest opportunity Sir Anthony’s recommendations, which he made after very thoughtful and careful consideration? We are the losers without him, and it would be a wonderful testament to him and his legacy if the Government gave that firm commitment today.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

If the hon. Lady will possess her soul in patience, I will come to that important point later; I want to take matters in the order in which they arose in the debate, but I will come to that—I am sure that she will pull me up if I do not.

I hope that a proper oral statement is an acceptable alternative to appropriating large swathes of parliamentary time to debate individual issues and reports separately.

On new clause 1, which proposes regulations for introducing same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland, I should start by saying that there are fiercely held and strongly principled views on both sides of the issue, as we have heard during the debate. Whether we are in favour of or against same-sex marriage, and whether we believe that devolution should trump human rights, or that human rights should trump devolution, I hope that we can all agree that this is a significant legislative proposal, in terms of its importance and complexity, and that therefore it must not be delivered without careful consideration and analysis of whether we are getting it right.

Personally, on a free-vote issue, I appreciate and sympathise with what Conor McGinn is trying to achieve, and I appreciate that many people in Northern Ireland are tired of waiting for their rights to be recognised on an equal footing with those of friends, family and neighbours across the rest of the UK. However, I also appreciate that that view is not universally held across Northern Ireland, as outlined by numerous Members, including the hon. Member for Strangford.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

The Minister talks about human rights versus the devolution settlement. Does he agree that what came across in the debate, and hopefully it will be held not just here in Great Britain but in Northern Ireland, is that it is the careful selection and cherry-picking of some human rights issues but not others that causes the frustration?

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

Yes, I absolutely accept that there is great concern that by creating one list of amendments today we will, by omission, leave out some very important things indeed. I am afraid that is inherent in the frustration, which I referred to at the start of my remarks, about the fact that the Northern Ireland Assembly has not sat for well over two years now. I am afraid that frustration will only grow as that period lengthens. That is why the original purpose of the Bill, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State explained yesterday on Second Reading, is very simply to give a little more time for the Stormont talks to bear fruit. While those talks still have breath and life in them, I hope that everybody here will support that opportunity and wish the talks well.

Although I appreciate and sympathise with what the hon. Member for St Helens North is trying to achieve, I must at the same time issue a note of warning to anybody considering voting for it. It is a technical note of warning, rather than one of principle, because the principles have been debated extensively during our discussions this afternoon—because this is a free-vote issue, the Government will not be putting across a principled view, one way or another. The technical point, which needs to be made to ensure that everyone is aware, is that, due to the current drafting of new clause 1, the changes that would need to occur before the first same-sex couple could legally marry in Northern Ireland are probably not achievable, just as a practical matter, by October. There are many policy questions to be worked through that have not yet been properly considered for the Northern Ireland-specific context, which might require a different response from the one in England, Wales and Scotland.

That applies to matters such as pensions, the conversion of civil partnerships, gender recognition—we have heard many of those points made in contributions this afternoon—protecting the rights to freedom of religion and expression, and allowing religious institutions via opt-in, rather than compelling them, to engage in and perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. I would issue a technical warning to colleagues who are considering supporting the new clause in principle. Whether Members agree with it or not, and however they balance the competing claims of devolution and broader human rights, they should bear in mind the fact that it may need substantial further work before it can achieve its intended effect.

Amendment 13 deals with same-sex marriage reporting and would commit the Government to publishing a report on progress made in preparing legislation to make provision for the marriage of same-sex couples in Northern Ireland when publishing the overall progress report under clause 1. As I have mentioned, we are willing to accept it, but it would be afforded a free vote should it be pressed to a Division.

I turn to amendments on abortion, specifically amendments 11 and 9. We have mentioned that there are strongly held views, and this issue has attracted a great deal of debate over the past year. I can confirm that the Government would be content to accept amendments 9 and 11 on the basis that we are happy to report to Parliament on important matters on which everyone has strong views. I hope that Diana Johnson will be appreciative of our willingness and good will in that area.

Given the tightness of time, I shall move on, as I want to make sure that I cover everything. There are other abortion amendments, notably new clause 10, tabled by Stella Creasy, and amendments 11 and 12, which are associated proposals that deal with statements and bits and pieces. What I want to say about new clause 10 is similar to what I said about new clause 1—different topic, same point. Regardless of how Members are minded to vote on the underlying principle, there are real and genuine concerns about the technical effectiveness of new clause 10, so I issue the same technical note of warning to anyone wishing to vote for it if they have made up their mind on the basic points of principle that have been debated extensively.

Photo of Stewart McDonald Stewart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence) 4:45 pm, 9th July 2019

Can I check that, despite the technical warnings, which the Minister is probably quite right to issue, the Government would honour the result if new clauses 1 and 10 were accepted? Would they facilitate those requirements?

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

Absolutely. This is also a free-vote issue, so if this passes a vote it will go into law and become part of primary legislation. Ministers would be bound by it and Government would proceed. People should be aware that many of the same concerns that I expressed about new clause 1 apply to new clause 10, so there may be issues.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I will give way to my hon. Friend Vicky Ford, and then to Emma Little Pengelly, but then I must make progress.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

New clause 10 says that the Government should implement the full CEDAW recommendations. The first recommendation in the CEDAW report is to repeal sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act. Does he agree that repeal would affect all of the UK, including England as well as Northern Ireland?

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I am not sure that I have time, but I could go through other technical concerns. That is only one of the potential issues—there are broader points that would need to be fixed. But the question is whether or not the House is interested in the principle here, I suspect, on a free vote.

Photo of Emma Little Pengelly Emma Little Pengelly Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Equality), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Trade)

Is it not the case that the way in which new clause 10 is drafted is very broad and covers all the recommendations? There are many technical issues in those recommendations and there are many policy questions that need to be asked. It is wholly inappropriate that that should happen by regulation, with no scrutiny or process to decide what the policy should be on each and every recommendation.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

As I mentioned in my response to new clause 1, it is entirely probable that it would not be possible to achieve this by October at all and, when we made those changes more broadly for the rest of the UK in previous years, that was done by primary legislation, not secondary legislation. The hon. Lady makes a valid point. I wanted to make sure, as people reach principled decisions on an issue of conscience, on a free-vote issue on both sides of the House, that they are aware of the technical concerns so they are making an informed principled choice as well.

I will move on to new clauses 4 and 8; I am trying to pick up speed so that I do not run out of time. These new clauses would oblige the Government to schedule a debate on the issue of progress towards meeting international obligations in relation to the reproductive rights of women, and on the issue of progress towards implementing marriage for same-sex couples in Northern Ireland. I have already mentioned that the Government intend to make an oral statement to accompany the report under clause 3. I hope that people will be comfortable with that and that the Opposition Front-Bench team will feel able not to press those amendments.

I will now move on to victims’ pensions. Amendment 10 and new clause 2 commit the Government to publishing a report on progress towards preparing legislation implementing a pension for those seriously injured in the troubles, and for that report to be debated in Parliament. This is a very important issue and the UK Government take it very seriously. That is why the Secretary of State requested updated and comprehensive advice from the Victims’ Commissioner, which we have recently received. The completion of that advice represents an important step in taking forward a pension for victims of the troubles. The Northern Ireland Office is therefore undertaking detailed work on the next steps, based on that advice, with factual input and support from the Northern Ireland civil service. We will keep the House fully updated on progress and we will therefore be accepting amendment 10 to provide a report on those issues.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

Will the Minister confirm what I understand from his answer to my hon. Friend Vicky Ford: on a very narrow Bill, which is essentially about setting dates for the Northern Ireland Executive, we are going to change the entire abortion law of the entire United Kingdom?

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

No, I think I can probably reassure my right hon. Friend on that, but I would reaffirm to him that there are real technical concerns about the new clause and that those will have to be fixed. He is broadly right on the broader point that a very simple Bill, which is only supposed to change two dates, has ended up with a very large number of other amendments attached, so he has a broader underlying point at least.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I will give way once more, and then I really must make progress because I do want to get through my speech.

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton

For the sake of clarification, the CEDAW report recommends the repeal of sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. Will that repeal affect the entirety of the UK, not just Northern Ireland? That is the question.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

As I understand it, if we repealed that, yes it would. However, I think the point has been made elsewhere that that is not necessarily the route we have to go down because those sections have already been dealt with in different ways for the rest of the UK.

I do not want to revisit the substance of this, particularly as it has been debated extensively already, so with everyone’s permission, I would like to move on—it being incredibly important—to the victims of historical institutional abuse. I express my sincere sadness at the death of Sir Anthony Hart. He was a dedicated public servant and a highly respected High Court Judge. As chair of the historical abuse inquiry in Northern Ireland, he provided a comprehensive set of recommendations for redress to be delivered to victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse. I am sure our thoughts and condolences go to his family and friends after his unexpected and very recent demise.

I understand the frustration of victims and survivors of this terrible abuse. We absolutely must do everything we can to ensure that the victims and survivors get the redress that they deserve. Following recommendations by the Northern Ireland parties, the Executive Office is working with the Office of the Legislative Counsel to redraft the legislation required to establish the redress scheme. The Opposition propose that clause 3 include a requirement to publish by 11 September a report on progress made in implementing the Hart report, including a compensation scheme under a redress board. Given the importance of the matter, the Government are happy to accept the amendment, and will report back to Parliament on that vital matter.

Many people have been concerned about the collection of amendments in the group. They have been concerned about its size, its length, its composition and the set of priorities that it seems to reveal. I would just say, on a broader point, that the concerns that were uncovered in yesterday’s Second Reading debate have become ever clearer and more specific during our debate and discussions in the Chamber today. The concerns are simply that, because people are getting worried about the failure of the Northern Ireland Executive and the Stormont Assembly to sit, there is a danger that the credibility of that Assembly, and with it the credibility of the Northern Ireland democratic settlement, will begin to be undermined —that it will begin to be eroded and, with that, we are starting down, potentially, an extremely dangerous slope, where the credibility of democracy, and of peaceful resolution of disagreements, is eroded in a historically bitterly divided society, and democratic solutions cease to be the obvious answer. That is something which we must avoid at all costs; to prevent that is an essential goal, which we must never lose sight of.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

Many Members have come into the House who have not had a chance to listen to the longer debate. I wonder whether the Minister would clarify again which of the amendments that are related to ongoing reporting requests the Government accept.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

Dame Eleanor, I had probably better not try your patience by going through them all. We have accepted a fairly large number of reporting requirements and we are happy to report back to this House on that basis. With my hon. Friend’s indulgence, I will perhaps go through the individual amendment numbers with her separately afterwards. With that, I draw my remarks to a close.

Photo of Conor McGinn Conor McGinn Labour, St Helens North

I pay tribute to all those colleagues who have taken part in the debate; it was characterised by strongly held, sincere views, articulated in an environment and atmosphere of respect and understanding. Although I know that disagreement remains over the substance of the issues that we spoke about, it is my strong contention that new clause 1, which stands in my name, lends itself to be supported by the Committee of the whole House tonight and I will press it to a Division.