Amendment 12

Part of Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill - Report – in the House of Lords at 7:45 pm on 17th July 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Smith of Newnham Baroness Smith of Newnham Liberal Democrat 7:45 pm, 17th July 2019

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said, some parties have whips on the issue of abortion; some parties take it as a matter of conscience. I support the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, in many of the things that she has said.

The Minister said earlier that there appear to be many experts on Northern Ireland. I am not going to pretend to suddenly have become an expert on Northern Ireland. I want to touch on two things. One is my surprise that a Bill that was supposed to be about Northern Ireland’s Executive formation appears to have become a Bill that goes far wider—as the noble Lord, Lord Empey, said in introducing his amendments earlier—to matters of life and death. Clearly, Amendment 12 comes into that category.

On Monday the Minister told us that there was an instruction from the House of Commons. Like the noble Lord, Lord Elton, I was surprised to hear about this instruction. Given that we have a very clear indication from the Commons that they wish the issue of abortion to be brought into this Bill, and there clearly appears to be a view across the Chamber that any consultation should be on how, not whether, I have a set of concerns that I would like the Minister to address, many of which have been touched on.

The Minister said that the consultation will be completed by 31 October. We have three months. He is shaking his head. I was going to raise my concern that, if the consultation is being done over the summer, who is going to be consulted, how are they going to be consulted and is there adequate time? A related question is: if there were to be a general election and purdah, that would wreck any timing, so could all that be taken into consideration?

The amendment raises many questions. It would appear that it could allow abortion up to 28 weeks. While 22 weeks is perhaps the lower end of viability—the Minister is shaking his head again but if he can give an indication of what will be proposed it would be helpful. Is it expected that the laws will replicate in their entirety those in Great Britain? Will there be provisions on freedom of conscience? What scrutiny will there be? In line with what the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said, will there be an affirmative vote?