We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019 Section 3(5)

Part of Deferred Divisions – in the House of Commons at 7:21 pm on 16th October 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland 7:21 pm, 16th October 2019

I think the hon. Lady and I are in agreement. Not enough is being done and the political decision-making capacity is not there. These things are outrageous and tragic in their own right, but of course the reality is that we also have two dates approaching very quickly: 21 October and the things that will move forward on the back of that and, of course, 31 October. I wish to talk about the two events that those dates touch on.

First, of course, is Brexit. As I said to the Minister, there is no part of this United Kingdom of ours that will be more changed than Northern Ireland. Irrespective of whether we have a deal on Brexit or a crash-out Brexit, either will transform Northern Ireland in a way that will be massively different from the effect on any other part of this United Kingdom. We need to dwell on that. I said to the Minister that the Secretary of State had said he would need to bring forward regulation and legislation to equip himself as Secretary of State, and the Government, with the necessary provisions. Even if we sit not just this Saturday but every other weekend day between now and 31 October, we are now some 14 days from that Brexit date. That is worrying and frightening.

We need to have some certainty about issues such as policing. We know that the previous Chief Constable warned that a hard border across the island of Ireland would create targets for would-be terrorists, and we know that the current Chief Constable has asked for more resource in the event of a no-deal Brexit. In any event, we know that, with the possibility of an increase in civil disturbances, almost irrespective of the type of Brexit, there needs to be some concentration on keeping the peace and on the questions relating to stability. We are simply not seeing that. I hope we get clear answers from the Minister as to what the timetable is for when the Secretary of State will come to the House.

The Secretary of State and the Minister know Northern Ireland, so I do not doubt that they will recognise that there can be no hard border across the island of Ireland. The Prime Minister’s red lines are such that they must take that into account. In that context, the need for an Assembly and an Executive to be up and running is paramount. That really has to be a driving force. I accept that the Secretary of State is in Belfast today bringing the parties together—I do not simply accept that; I want him to be there—but I have to say to the politicians that the gap between them is so small. I need to say this through the House. I cannot recognise the principle that keeps them apart, out of the Assembly and out of the Executive when we look at issues such as health, education and the very important issue of Brexit. I hope the Minister can reflect on the questions that we need to address that will help to bring the Executive back into operation between now and 31 October, because we need the Executive there, irrespective of what takes place there—save for the Prime Minister having to write the letter, which so far he has been reluctant to say he will do, to ask for an extension. If he writes that letter, there is of course some leeway in the formation of the Executive, but frankly not an awful lot.

I wish now to turn to the question of abortion, which other Members will want to raise as well. I have two specific questions for the Minister. He talked a little around the issues, and I am not sure that we have had absolute certainty on them. If the Assembly does not meet before 21 October, the provisions of the legislation will come into operation. There has already been an exchange on what that means. My understanding is that, once the clock begins to tick on 22 October, the Assembly will not be able to annul the legislation. Will the Minister guarantee that, from 22 October, there will be a proper campaign to make people aware of how they can access safe and legal abortion for women in Northern Ireland? Such a campaign would guarantee that health professionals, and those who would give advice more generally, know that they have comfort in the law to give proper and adequate advice to women who seek that kind of advice. That is of fundamental importance during the interim period.

The second question may be even more important, and it has been raised, either directly or indirectly, by other hon. Members. Will the Minister guarantee that, if we move into this phase, come 1 April when the new regime moves in, it will be the case that there will be the provision of safe and legal abortion for women in Northern Ireland? That is the intention of the law as this House voted, and it is absolutely necessary that we have a commitment from the Government tonight not simply that the law will allow it, but that the Government will institute it, provide for those services and make sure that they are available. Women in Northern Ireland are entitled now to know that they have certainty about the direction of travel of this Government.

I do not intend to speak for long, because I know that other Members wish to speak, but may I simply say to the Minister that I hope he can answer some of these difficult questions tonight? Those he cannot answer, will he undertake to return to Members, both individually and collectively, so that we have proper answers on the record and we know where we are traveling both in terms of the formation of the Executive and, of course, on this very difficult, but very necessary, issue of providing safe and legal abortion?