My Lords, I have amendments in this group. I tabled a manuscript amendment, which I think, in light of the Minister’s comments, is probably not necessary. I did it because the sense from the Committee was that Northern Ireland should come into line with the rest of the UK and we should be dealing with a level playing field.
I did it also because the CEDAW recommendations go a little further than the current Abortion Act 1967, in which abortion is limited to up to 23 weeks and six days. After that, there is a requirement to report if an abortion has been undertaken for severe foetal abnormality, reported on the form HSA4, stating the grounds and the diagnosis, because that falls outside the remit of the current Act. I did it with the consultation listed, because I am aware that the medical workforce in Northern Ireland is already in a pretty critical state and anything that jeopardises doctors going into general practice and risks people not remaining in general practice further imperils the overall healthcare of the population there. I hope that people bear that in mind in terms of the time required for consultation.
I am grateful to the Minister and to the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, for having spent a lot of time discussing this with me. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, who is not in her place. There has been a lot of discussion about this. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, with whom I have also had discussions. It is a credit to all of them that we have been able to have very open discussions about these complex issues.
I had a conversation with the president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, who said that I may quote her today. She has been involved in education programmes to help doctors and midwives understand. She pointed out that they need time, but that attitudes change when people understand how to implement and put the needs of the woman first. She would like the CEDAW changes to come in, because she and her college are in favour of them. However, the House needs to be aware that those changes go further than the current Act, to which the noble Lord, Lord Steel, spoke so elegantly just now and on many occasions over the years.
My request is to allow a longer time period. I looked up the data from 2018 for the number of abortions beyond 24 weeks in England and Wales. There were 289, but none proceeded to any prosecutions, as far as I could ascertain, so those regulations seem to be working well. I am aware, from having looked at the legislation and from conversations with other noble Lords, of the need to consult under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act, which the Minister has laid out so clearly. I hope that that may help to explain the background.
The other amendment that I have in this group is a simple requirement in line with the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill report from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which recommends that both clauses in the Bill should be subject to the affirmative procedure and that the use of the made affirmative procedure would ensure that the procedure did not undermine the requirement for the regulations to be in force by
I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, will accept this amendment to her amendment, which puts in the affirmative procedure. With that, I leave the debate to the rest of the House.