My Lords, I speak in support of Amendments 12, 19, 21 and 24 but if I may address what the Minister has just said, it was helpful that he clarified the position. I suspect it may well have shortened the debate significantly as well. I draw much comfort from the way he said that the consultation will not be about whether to do it but only how to do it. As I understand it, it will be about the details for giving effect to the wish expressed in the amendment, not about going back to first principles on whether one should move ahead. That is very important and I welcome it.
I am slightly puzzled by one point. The Minister explained why he wants a longer period for the consultation process on this amendment than he urged on the same-sex amendment. It seems to me that if one can do it on the same-sex amendment in a certain timeframe, one could also do it on this amendment. I wonder whether the Minister might clarify that. Having said that, I welcome the assurances he gave us and repeat: we are not looking at whether but how to implement. That is crucial.
I want to say one or two things briefly because the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, covered a lot of the points. Over the years, many of us have been lobbied and approached by women from Northern Ireland and, before its referendum, from the Republic who were desperate about the situation in which they found themselves. We heard the most painful stories of women who had to travel alone to Liverpool for an abortion, as they could not do it in the comfort of their own homes. We heard stories of doctors fearful of giving advice because of the criminal law, and the story of a mother who was subject to the law because she had produced abortion pills for her daughter. These are painful stories.
I should say that I am an active member of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly; indeed, I chair one of its committees. We have been looking at abortion and I wish I could give the House the full details of our report. We produced our committee’s report some time ago. It would normally go to the plenary before being adopted and going into the public domain. However, one DUP member of the committee did not like anything in the report, so we said to him, “Okay, produce an alternative version and we’ll publish it”. That took some time and the result is that although I have our report—in fact, I have his as well—I am not really at liberty to go through it in detail because it is not yet public property. It still has to go before the plenary of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. That is proper, otherwise we would have an interesting report. Of course, that report may well be redundant by the time it is approved if all these measures go through.
However, we still discovered some useful things in producing the report. We talked about the human rights of women and the rights of healthcare professionals. We also talked about whether it should be illegal for doctors to give the advice that they can anywhere else in this country, and so on. I am afraid I am not at liberty to say more, except that we took a lot of evidence. We took evidence in Liverpool, London, Belfast and Dublin, so we got a broad range of opinions on both sides of the argument. I am bound to say that the majority of the committee were persuaded by the strength of the arguments, which are centred on this amendment. This is not something that has just come to me; it is based on a lot of the work that we put into the report, which will see the light of day before too long.
I repeat that I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying the position. I have one point to put to him. Ideally, I would like the timetable for this consultation to be the same as it is for the same-sex marriage consultation. If the Minister can clarify why one is longer than the other, I would be grateful. We look forward to a quick resolution of this terrible dilemma, which faces so many women in Northern Ireland.