Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 Section 3(2)

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019 (Rule of Law) – in the House of Commons at 10:07 pm on 9th September 2019.

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Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton 10:07 pm, 9th September 2019

Ministers will understand that I am disappointed that we have been unable to discuss the reports on human trafficking and gambling this evening, given that they were reviewed as a result of amendments that I tabled to the original Bill. I would therefore appreciate an assurance from Ministers that these things will be debated in this House at the earliest possible date.

Turning to the abortion law review, I was surprised at its brevity, given that it represents a seismic change to the law in Northern Ireland, one that, as we have heard, led to tens of thousands of people marching on Stormont and in central Belfast in recent days. It is my fervent hope that any change to the law on abortion, a sensitive devolved issue, as the Secretary of State has said, could be taken forward by a restored Northern Ireland Executive. However, if that does not happen, and we have to be realistic about this, and an Executive are not reformed by 21 October, the people of Northern Ireland will find themselves in a situation where the provision of abortion, from conception up until the point of viability, which could be as far as 28 weeks, will take place in a complete legal vacuum from 22 October, with no guarantee that anything will be put in place until 31 March 2020. That is unacceptable. It means five months when there will, in effect, be no law regulating abortion at all in Northern Ireland—as I say, these are abortions taking place from conception until just before a baby is capable of being born alive. I said that we should not rush through this legislation when it was originally debated and now we see the results.

This country has all manner of statutory checks to protect women, including the need for clinics to be vetted and registered, none of which will exist in Northern Ireland. How is that good for the health of women in Northern Ireland? I have heard it suggested that the bodies of the relevant health professions will self-police in the interim, but that is simply unacceptable.

I believe that this House has failed the people of Northern Ireland in this Act. The Bill was rushed through, in dereliction of our duty to review legislation. We spent only 17 minutes debating the actual text of clause 9 when it returned from the Lords, which places on Northern Ireland a more permissive abortion regime than obtains in this country. It is unacceptable that there should be a five-month period during which abortions can take place in a legal vacuum, which is something I suspect most hon. Members were completely unaware of until tonight. I believe it is absurd to remove a law five months before we are required to put a new law in its place.