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I thank the Minister for his update. I count it an honour and a privilege to stand in this place today—the mother of all Parliaments—to make my maiden speech as the first ever female MP to represent the good people of the Upper Bann constituency.
I want to begin by thanking all those constituents who voted for me on
I want to pay tribute to my predecessor, Mr David Simpson. David was a strong advocate for Upper Bann and, indeed, Northern Ireland. He served with distinction in this House for over 14 years. I wish David and his family well in his retirement from this place.
I started my political career at the age of 21 as a local councillor representing Lurgan and progressed to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2016. My passion for politics and the Union started when I was much younger. I had the privilege of growing up right in the very heart of Ulster in a working-class family, and I am proud of the roots and the grounding that I have. Growing up near the border with the Republic of Ireland and knowing many families who had loved ones murdered, I was always very aware of the troubles in Northern Ireland and why we had such a love for the Union and our British way of life.
My early influencers were two men who served in this House with honour and integrity over many years: the late Lord Bannside and the right hon. Peter Robinson, the former MP for Belfast East—someone who has been a constant source of encouragement to me. I have a long way to go before I can even get close to the level of impact that they made in this House. Both defended the Union and stood up for Northern Ireland with every fibre of their body, and in that same vein I too will do just that.
It is with regret that I do not sit on these Benches with the former DUP Member for Belfast South and my party’s deputy leader, the former Member for Belfast North, the right hon. Nigel Dodds. He is an extremely capable orator and someone who contributed greatly to this House. It is unfortunate that Belfast North has now no representation on these Benches.
It is no secret that Northern Ireland has had its difficulties in the past, but I am proud of our wee country. It is the best place on earth, with Upper Bann being at its very heart. Lurgan, Portadown, Banbridge, Craigavon and the surrounding villages have their own unique offering, be it tourism, commerce or hospitality. The people are what make it a special place, and if any hon. Members have not visited my constituency they are more than welcome to come and see that it is a great place in which to live, work and do business.
I have always longed to make a difference in society and make it a brighter, better place for future generations. Northern Ireland suffered greatly at the hands of terrorism, and we do not want to return to those days. We want a peaceful, prosperous society and one that is moving forward. We have moved on from those dark days in Northern Ireland. We want to see investment, improved healthcare provision, a better education system and improved infrastructure.
To that end, I will endeavour to use this position to achieve just that. I want to see changes to our special educational needs provision, and I want to tackle the escalating mental health crisis that exists within our society. Our suicide figures are still among the highest within the United Kingdom. This needs to be tackled urgently, and I along with colleagues will work with the Secretary of State.
I now move to the motion at hand, and particularly the report concerning abortion. I feel it is imperative that I speak on this to attempt again to highlight the anger, disappointment and frustration concerning the change in abortion laws that have been foisted upon the people of Northern Ireland. These changes came in the most roughshod way, with complete contempt for the devolved Administration and the views of the people of Northern Ireland. I want today to make the point to this House, on behalf of the many thousands of people across Northern Ireland who take a pro-life stance, that we want to repeal section 9 with immediate effect and allow the Northern Ireland Assembly to debate, discuss and evidence-gather on this emotive issue.
The Secretary of State has not intervened to assist our crumbling healthcare system, to reward our healthcare workers fairly or to avert the mental health crisis we are facing. He has not done that because he has said that these, in his own words, are “devolved issues”. Abortion was and should be a devolved matter, yet this House has imposed on Northern Ireland the most extreme measures of abortion anywhere across Europe.
Northern Ireland has been a country that has always supported life-affirming laws. Back in 1967, our politicians said no to the Abortion Act, and according to research conducted by Both Lives Matter, 100,000 more people are alive today. England and Wales back then did support the Act, and as a result over 8 million babies have been aborted—three every minute, 23 every hour or 561 every day, with only a small percentage of them being aborted on the grounds of sexual crime or fatal foetal abnormality.
Great credence has been given to the CEDAW report, and Fiona Bruce mentioned the three instances. However, we believe that the abortion framework that looks likely to be proposed by the Northern Ireland Office will go far beyond allowing abortion on these grounds. It is my understanding that no consultation will take place on the legislative text of the regulations. With regard to abortion, it is well known that the detail of the text is crucial. The ask on that is that at least we as parliamentarians are consulted before the specific text is laid, and I welcome the Minister’s commitment to meet those Members who are concerned in that regard.
In Northern Ireland, abortion on request for any reason will be legalised to the point at which a baby is
“capable of being born alive”.
This includes on the grounds of disability. I implore my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Minister to accede to the request to have section 9 repealed as part of the ongoing negotiations. The DUP is a pro-life party, but this actually crosses traditional boundaries and there is widespread cross-community support across Northern Ireland. We have an evolving political landscape, and I say let the people of Northern Ireland have their say on this matter.
On this, Mr Speaker, I will bring my remarks to a close. I want a society in Northern Ireland that values life, and I want to see services that will help women choose life. We want to see a perinatal palliative care centre, a maternal mental health unit and better childcare services, and that is my ask of this Government. Help us create a culture of choosing life, as opposed to killing an innocent little baby that does not have the voice to say, “No, mummy!” It is incomprehensible that the Government, knowing that abortion was a devolved matter, have published consultation proposals to introduce changes that go far beyond what has actually been required by Parliament. If the Government want to maintain any commitment to devolution, I would implore them to rethink their coach-and-horses approach to a life-and-death piece of legislation.