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I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the Report pursuant to section 3(5) of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019, which was laid before this House on Thursday
I am taking this debate on behalf of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who is currently in Belfast in talks with the Northern Ireland parties and working towards getting Stormont back up and running.
It is this Government’s absolute priority to get Stormont back up and running before the
Turning to the abortion report, the Government are working towards the laying of regulations for a new legal framework for the provision of abortion services in Northern Ireland, as required by the 2019 Act. The new framework will be in force by
The public consultation on the legal framework for the provision of such services closed on
The Government’s response to the consultation will be published in due course. We are happy to continue discussions with interested parties as the regulations are taken forward in line with the requirement under section 9 of the Act that the recommendations of the 2018 UN CEDAW Report are implemented in respect of Northern Ireland by
On the presumption of non-prosecution and troubles prosecution guidance, reforming the legacy system in Northern Ireland remains a top priority for the UK Government. We will always owe a vast debt of gratitude to the heroism and bravery of the soldiers and police officers who upheld the rule of law and were themselves accountable to it. The Government are strongly opposed to our service personnel and veterans being subject to the threat of vexatious litigation in the form of repeated investigations and potential prosecution arising from historical military operations many years after the events in question.
The Government recognise the concerns that have been expressed about how the current system is operating in Northern Ireland and are committed to seeking the prompt implementation of the Stormont House agreement proposals on legacy in order to provide both reconciliation for victims and greater certainty for military veterans. Any legislation that improves the legacy system in Northern Ireland will need to be agreed by the UK Parliament and have the support of a restored Northern Ireland Executive. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is working closely with ministerial colleagues, the Northern Ireland parties and the Irish Government to that end.
We take very seriously the issue of transparency of donations to Northern Ireland parties. Northern Ireland parties are now subject to the same reporting requirements as other parties across the UK. That is a significant step forward, but the question of retrospectively opening up records from 2014 remains genuinely difficult. At a time when threats to elected representatives are all too common, we must be very careful that anything we do should not lead to intimidation against members of the public who donated to parties. We will consult the Northern Ireland parties in due course on any future change to the legislation, but I hope the House will understand that for now our focus must remain on securing agreement to restore devolved government to the people of Northern Ireland.
On higher education and a Derry/Londonderry university, there has been no progress since the last report on the subject, which was laid on
Turning to payments to victims of troubles-related incidents, in October the Government launched a public consultation on a scheme for regular payments to, or in respect of, individuals living with serious disablement caused by troubles-related incidents. The proposed scheme is intended to provide acknowledgment to those injured in troubles-related incidents through no fault of their own. The consultation closed on
The Government are also under a duty to make regulations to provide for same-sex marriage and opposite-sex civil partnerships in Northern Ireland by
There are still two key issues on which we will be seeking the views of the people of Northern Ireland before we legislate further, namely same-sex religious marriage, together with the appropriate protections, and the right to convert from a civil partnership to a marriage, and vice versa. We want to consult on both matters in order to ensure that the legislation takes proper account of the specific circumstances in Northern Ireland and provides adequate religious protections. The consultation will seek views from religious bodies and individuals on how religious same-sex marriage will be provided for in Northern Ireland, and how protections can best be achieved. We also want to get the right approach for conversion entitlements for Northern Ireland, given the different approaches taken across the rest of the UK. The Government hope to be able to launch a short consultation on those two issues from mid-January, and we will bring forward regulations as soon as we are able to do so in 2020.
I am very pleased to have the opportunity not only to discuss these important matters but, more importantly, to hear from Northern Ireland Members, and I recognise the sincere and deeply held views on some of the topics discussed. In conclusion, I reiterate the Government’s 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 UK.