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Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:15 pm on 28th October 2019.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 11:15 pm, 28th October 2019

I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention, and for the clarification. In his introduction, the Minister referred to the abortion pills as well.

If encouragement were sufficient, then we may as well do away with legislation and simply replace it with guidance, but we would not do that because it would not be responsible, especially when dealing with matters as important as the safety of women. The truth is that the Northern Ireland Office has failed the women of Northern Ireland. Quite apart from the wider concerns about respecting devolution and the fact that the Assembly voted against any change in the law as recently as February 2016—and that was a decision passed by the Assembly—the Northern Ireland Office did not need to support an amendment in another place removing abortion law regarding pregnancies up until the point just prior to when the baby is capable of being born alive, five months before making provision for a new law to take its place. This, I believe, was grossly irresponsible and completely unnecessary. Clearly, there must be no question of rushing the new legislation. It is right to take five months to consult on it and develop it. I welcome the fact that the Minister has referred to that and to the consultation with the church groups. That is critical, and I appreciate his mentioning it.

In the intervening period, however, rather than pretending that guidance provides the same protection as the law, the Government should now urgently re-introduce sections 58 and 59 until the new law is ready to take over. The opinion of the people of Northern Ireland in relation to the law on abortion is clear. The majority of people from all sections, of all genders and of all ages are against this liberalisation and change in Northern Ireland, and this House does not respect that and does not take that into consideration.

I want to quickly speak about historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland and survivor groups. This morning, I met some of the people from one of those groups—the HIA survival group, which set up a trust, the Survivors (North West). Some of them made representations at the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. I met them today in my office. I wish to comment on one issue alone within the historical institutional abuse case and it is to do with the length of time in an institution. What has been agreed, which would be contrary to the opinion of the Rosetta Trust and Survivors (North West), is that there should not be a fixed payment for each year that an individual spent in an institution. Redress awards are to be assessed on an individual basis, taking account of the incidents, the duration and the severity of abuse.

Some of the people I spoke to this morning were in Rubane House in my constituency, where physical and sexual abuse took place. They were very traumatised by what happened to them. They welcome the fact that there will be a one-off payment of £10,000. That is good news, but they are concerned about the redress award system. They feel that there should be a payment for every one of those years retrospectively, but that does not seem to be included in this process. I ask the Secretary of State to look at that again.

The reason I say that is that those people who came to see me today are greatly traumatised by what has happened. They are severely traumatised, and suffer from memories and nightmares of the abuse that took place against them physically and sexually. When it comes to what they feel is appropriate and should happen, it is not about the money; it is about the recognition of years of abuse. The compensation should be retrospective for every year the victims were abused. If those people had the opportunity for legal redress, the cost for each individual would be between £35,000 and £40,000. The point is that making retrospective compensation payments would probably be a cheaper option, but it would address the victims’ issues.

I will conclude now because others wish to speak. The two issues that I have discussed today are really important: first, the clear impression and opinion of people across Northern Ireland is that the changes liberalising abortion are wrong and should not be imposed on Northern Ireland; and secondly, that compensation for survivors of HIA, including those in the Survivors North West group, should be retrospective with a payment for every year they were abused.