Progress reports

Part of Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill – in the House of Commons at 1:00 pm on 18th July 2019.

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Photo of John Penrose John Penrose The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office 1:00 pm, 18th July 2019

I agree with the comments made by a number of colleagues on both sides of the House that this was originally a very simple three-clause Bill to change just two dates, and it is now garlanded with baubles; it is a Christmas tree with tinsel, twinkling lights and a honking great star on top to boot. That said, the Government are willing to accept most of the Lords amendments requiring reports to be laid before Parliament on progress towards a whole host of important issues such as transparency, political donations and loans, gambling, suicide prevention and much else.

I do not propose to go in huge detail through all the various amendments being accepted, other than to respond to the leader of the DUP here, Nigel Dodds, who specifically asked whether we will end up with some sort of gap in the legal coverage around the abortion amendments—a matter that, as we all know, is an issue of conscience. I reassure him that he is right to say a number of other statutes will persist, notably the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1945, which he mentioned. The Government will try to ensure that we bring forward the new regime as quickly as possible to minimise any gaps that might occur, to create a seamless transition, and to issue guidelines and advice to medical professionals and others to minimise any problems. We look forward to working on and discussing that with him and other people in Northern Ireland in depth, as necessary, to ensure that we come up with a safe transition from today to the intended outcome.

On Lords amendment 1, I have two narrow but important constitutional criticisms, and a broader comment. I will start with the narrow criticisms. I appreciate that constitutional niceties and procedures are not everybody’s cup of tea, but it is worth pointing out that parts of this amendment have already been defeated in the Commons and the rest was ruled out of scope before it even got here. And yet, here we are—being asked to include it because the unelected Lords decided that we should. I urge colleagues on both sides of the House to send a respectful but firm message that we appreciate the Lords’ views and will have nothing further to do with it on this occasion.