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 10:23 pm on 9th September 2019.

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Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow 10:23 pm, 9th September 2019

All Members in this Chamber would like to see the Stormont Assembly restored, but we tabled these self-executing clauses because we recognised that the human rights of the people of Northern Ireland should not be abandoned in the face of political indecision. It now falls on us to hold the Secretary of State to account for how he is enacting the provisions. We are 35 days away from the possibility that these clauses will become law, so will he give us some more detail? In particular, he talks about consultation. Can he confirm whether there is going to be public involvement in that consultation? It is really important for this House to be clear that, just as we would not ask non-medical professionals to consult on how to conduct a vasectomy, we should not do so when it comes to an abortion.

We also need to understand the Secretary of State’s timeline. I agree with the concerns raised across the House about the interim period, and about what will happen when we decriminalise sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 on 22 October if the Assembly is not reconstituted. I note that the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929 will remain in place, so the idea that there will not be any regulation at all simply is not true. We must deal with fact, not scaremongering, in this debate. But still, can he confirm that he is talking to the royal colleges—the actual medical experts? He says in the report that there is a cross-departmental Government body. Who is on that body and what is their remit? He talks about talking to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, but it is the Equality and Human Rights Commission that would have any jurisdiction in terms of that consultation, so when has he spoken to it?

With 35 days to go, what is the Secretary of State’s message to women in Northern Ireland who will need an abortion on 22 October, whether because they have a fatal foetal abnormality, are a victim of rape or incest, or simply do not want to be forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy? How will he make these reports CEDAW-compliant? His own report says that there is not a clear path. Will he tell us a bit more about how he is going to set that out and what international models he is looking at? Above all, can he give us the confidence tonight that when he is managing this interim process, the mother of a 15-year-old girl who is facing a prosecution because she got abortion pills for her daughter who was in an abusive relationship will not face prosecution from 22 October? If we do one thing in this House this evening that is constructive, let us take the stress and pressure off that family.

The Government said that they wanted more time. That is why they amended this clause in the House of Lords. Everybody here has talked about the importance of dealing with that interim period. It will not be dealt with by law; it will dealt with by regulation. So will the Secretary of State set out precisely what regulations he is looking at now so that when we get to that 35-day period we can shorten it and give everybody here comfort that the human rights of the women of Northern Ireland will continue to be upheld?