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Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:36 pm on 28th October 2019.

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Photo of Julian Smith Julian Smith The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland 10:36 pm, 28th October 2019

I think I should move on with my speech, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Similarly, the decision on Ulster University’s proposal for a medical school on its Magee campus is a devolved issue, and the merits of the business case will have to be weighed up against all others that aim to address the overriding need for more medical school places. On 17 October, I met a range of stakeholders in Derry/Londonderry, and I am personally committed to seeing what I can do to assist with this ambitious project, which has secured political consensus across the local area. This Government remain open to testing the eligibility of contributing inclusive future funds towards the capital costs of the medical school.

In addition to the matters highlighted in the report, I would like to draw the House’s attention to other matters on which the Government have a duty to legislate—namely, the creation of a scheme for victims’ payments and new laws to introduce same-sex marriage and opposite-sex civil partnerships. As we discussed earlier, on 22 October the UK Government launched a public consultation on the legal framework for a troubles-related incident victims’ payments scheme, the consultation on which will run for five weeks. The UK Government would welcome comments from anyone with an interest or view, to inform the shape of legislation to be introduced by the end of January 2020. We must acknowledge and recognise the unacceptable suffering of those seriously injured in the troubles through no fault of their own, as part of wider efforts to support Northern Ireland in building its future by doing more to address its past.

The scheme is intended to provide acknowledgement to those who are living with serious disablement as a result of injury—both physical and psychological—in a troubles-related incident and to provide a measure of additional financial support. We are consulting on proposals for how such a scheme could be delivered. It is a core element of the Stormont House agreement’s proposals to help address the legacy of the troubles, and it is vital that we make progress across this and related matters. As I said earlier, we are not prejudging any element of the scheme; we are consulting to achieve broad consensus.

Following 21 October, a further duty in relation to providing for same-sex marriage and opposite-sex civil partnerships in Northern Ireland has also come into effect. The Government will ensure that the necessary regulations are in place by 13 January 2020, so that civil marriage between couples of the same sex and civil partnerships for opposite-sex couples can take place in Northern Ireland. From that date, we expect that couples will be able to give notice of their intent to form a civil same-sex marriage or opposite-sex civil partnership to the General Register Office for Northern Ireland. Given the usual 28-day notice period, the first marriages should be able to take place in the week of Valentine’s day.

Following concerns raised by Conor McGinn about the timing of a consultation on conversions from civil partnerships to same-sex marriage and marriage to opposite-sex civil partnerships, we are exploring whether we can consult shortly with a view to delivering the regulations as closely as possible to the previously mentioned regulatory timetable. Regulations to enable religious same-sex marriage ceremonies and to provide appropriate religious protections will also follow shortly, allowing a period of consultation so that the regulations can be tailored appropriately to the particular needs and circumstances of Northern Ireland.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I thank you and the House for your patience with this speech. I hope that I have made clear my undiminished commitment to see Stormont back up and running again. Northern Ireland needs its own locally elected representatives making decisions on local issues and making Northern Ireland’s voice heard across the United Kingdom.