Progress reports

Part of Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:45 pm on 18th July 2019.

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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 12:45 pm, 18th July 2019

No, I do not have time. I only have five minutes, and everyone who wishes to speak will get a chance to do so.

Sadly, when it comes to Northern Ireland debates, the Chamber fills up and people take an interest only when it serves their purposes. I would like to see as many people take an interest in Northern Ireland affairs when we are debating issues that really affect and have a practical impact on the constituents whom we represent. The time devoted to discussing the substantial issues introduced in Committee and in the other place has been woefully short, given their gravity and impact.

Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 has provisions for consultation. If the Government introduced measures that sidestepped that, there would be outrage on the Opposition Benches and, indeed, on the Government Back Benches and on ours. All that has been cast aside, however, because the end justifies the means. Every parliamentary norm and every norm of consultation, consideration and the principle of devolution has been set aside.

People say that this place has a right to act constitutionally and legally. Of course it does, but the reality is that they are being very selective. We are legislating on some of the most contentious and divisive issues, on which there is no consensus, and leaving aside the hundreds of other issues on which there is consensus about the need for a common-sense approach and to take action. Either we have direct rule and legislate on all those areas, or we respect devolution—we cannot have it both ways—and I think we are running very close to the time when that clear choice will have to be made.

Sadly, the issues have been given very little time for discussion—a couple of hours on Monday, a couple of hours in the House of Lords and a few minutes here today. On the fundamental change to the law on abortion in Northern Ireland, Roman Catholics and Protestants, Unionists and nationalists take a very different view from that of many people in this House, but they have been left to one side. Their views have not been, and are not going to be, listened to as a result of the procedures that have been set out.

This House inserted an abortion provision, which has become clause 9, and it is being imposed on Northern Ireland, even though every Member for Northern Ireland who takes their seat in this House voted against it. The Lords has now rewritten the clause, so the 99 Members who voted against it on Monday are now faced with a much more radical provision. It makes abortion legal for absolutely any reason, including gender and disability, until a legal presumption of 28 weeks.

There is a provision, of course, to account for viability under the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1945—I accept that—but the fact of the matter is that the amendment tabled in the other place would remove the main provision in our law on 22 October without making any provision for a regulatory framework to replace it until the end of March. We will be in limbo between 22 October and 31 March. We may have guidelines, and I hope the Minister will say something about interim regulations to plug that gap.

This is a very serious situation and it is very difficult for most of our constituents—on all sides of the community—to comprehend it. Many people are outraged and very frustrated that this House has acted in this way. Of course it has the right to do so, but given the lack of time, consideration and consultation, to take such drastic steps on a matter of such import and concern, on which there is cross-community consensus on the need to take a more careful and different approach, is completely wrong.