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

Part of Deferred Divisions – in the House of Commons at 7:45 pm on 16th October 2019.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 7:45 pm, 16th October 2019

The hon. Lady has had her chance.

It would have been one thing for this House to vote to impose abortion on Northern Ireland in the face of every Member of Parliament representing Northern Ireland voting against the measure, in the knowledge that the most recent abortion vote of any UK legislature on primary legislation was in the Northern Ireland Assembly in February 2016, when the people who should be making the decision voted not to change our law in any way. A national opinion poll last week showed that the majority of people in Northern Ireland do not want to see the liberalisation of abortion planned by Members of this House.

When I think about what will be imposed on my part of the United Kingdom from Tuesday, I am left utterly speechless. Between 22 October 2019 and 31 March 2020, the only law on this that will be in place in Northern Ireland will be the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1945, which is not engaged until the point at which a child is capable of being born alive. That effectively means that we would have a legal void in terms of protections for the unborn until at least 21 weeks of gestation, and potentially up to 28 weeks’ gestation. It means that from Tuesday some unborn animals subject to research will have more statutory protection in Northern Ireland, thanks to the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, than some unborn human beings. It is absolutely unbelievable that anyone would do this, and the Members responsible need to look at themselves very seriously. It is deeply troubling.

It also means that from Tuesday, quite unlike any other part of the United Kingdom, we will effectively have unregulated abortions, with all the attendant risks for women. The Government say in this report that they intend that the NHS will not significantly change the way it provides abortions until 31 March, but I find the emphasis that they place on this deeply disturbing. The Minister knows that; I spoke to him this afternoon about it.

Abortions need not come from the NHS. From Tuesday, it will be legal for private clinics to provide abortions in Northern Ireland. The Independent Health Care Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2005 place a statutory duty on the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority to register and inspect independent hospitals and clinics that meet the stated requirement for registration, but those regulations are wholly inadequate. We must have legislation in place that protects people.

Currently, there are two conditions that would require an independent clinic to be registered with the RQIA: the first is that an independent clinic intends to carry out a prescribed technique or make use of prescribed technology; and the second that a medical practitioner working in the clinic is not otherwise engaged in providing services to health and social care in Northern Ireland. Abortion provision is not a prescribed technique or technology under the regulations, which means that only independent clinics that do not employ any doctors who also work for the NHS will be subject to this regulation. Again, a minefield of regulation.

Moreover, and this is of huge concern, this regulation will be quite unlike that pertaining to abortion clinics in England, where the activity of providing abortions is subject to abortion-specific regulation and the premises is subject to abortion-specific regulation and a series of abortion-specific required operating standard procedures. It is about the technical parts of the procedure. The Minister knows this; we talked about it this afternoon. None of those abortion-specific regulations will apply in Northern Ireland on Tuesday for at least five months.

Another important safeguard that currently applies in England but will not apply in Northern Ireland on Tuesday is regulation 20 of the Care Quality Commission (Registration) Regulations 2009, which deals with requirements relating to the termination of pregnancies. What is most shocking, however, is that the change in law means that from Tuesday there will be nothing to prevent someone without any medical qualifications at all offering abortion services. With respect I say that Government will thus cross a line that has never been crossed before: Government will potentially make backstreet abortions legal. This should not be about going back to the pre-1967 days, but it will be on Tuesday unless the Assembly returns by Monday. That recall is in process and hopefully can be achieved; if it can, this can be stopped, and the responsibility will lie with the Northern Ireland Assembly’s elected representatives, as it should.

Regardless of what one thinks about abortion, we cannot countenance this outrageous legislative framework for a day, let alone five months. In that context, I have a simple question for the Government and those in the Northern Ireland Office specifically: what were Government thinking when they agreed to the text of section 9 of the 2019 Act in the other place? They could have stood up for the women of Northern Ireland, as I am doing tonight, for the unborn and for babies alive in the womb, and pointed out that the safety implications of what section 9 proposed were just as inappropriate for the women of Northern Ireland as they would be for the women of England. They did not. This has to count as one of the most serious failures of governance that I have ever encountered. I say this honestly and respectfully to the Minister and to Government.