I am making no comment whatever. I had a long personal relationship with the noble Lord in the Northern Ireland Assembly—we spent many happy occasions together—and I am not making any personal aspersions on him. I am stating a fact.
Many noble Lords’ authority for much of what they have said is that the Northern Ireland Assembly voted for same-sex marriage and that a petition of concern was used against it, and that is the reason it was stopped. But it is amazing that they are not using that argument now. They are not appealing about what the Northern Ireland Assembly did in its last vote two years ago because it does not suit their argument. The Northern Ireland Assembly took a stance and, by a large majority, voted not to change the legislation. I wait for the Front Benches of both parties to say, “Let us listen to the Members of the Assembly. They made a decision and we have, as it were, a democratic authority to take this forward”.
The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, mentioned my party’s policy and its members being whipped to vote for it. Without apology, let me explain why. It was because we put it in our manifesto. We put it before the people and they voted for us. I know it is strange for a party to actually stand by its manifesto—today it seems you say one thing to get elected and then do the opposite when you get elected—but I will not apologise, nor will my colleagues or my party, to anyone in this House for standing by the promise we made to the electorate and asking them, on the basis of it, to vote for us—and they did. They made us the largest party in the Assembly. I will take no lectures from someone who says, “We dismiss the DUP because they whipped their members to vote for it”.
“consult individually with members of the Northern Ireland Assembly on the proposals of the regulations”— ask them if they have changed their mind? This is being rushed through before they have the opportunity to say, “We have not changed our minds”. The majority of the elected Assembly are still standing by what they believed before. If this House believes they have changed their minds, it should support the amendment which allows them to be asked rather than make the decision before they are asked.
The 59th report of Session 2017-19 of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee on the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill is important. It states:
“Given the very wide-ranging nature of the powers, including the power to amend primary legislation, and the politically sensitive nature of the provisions, we firmly believe that the negative procedure does not offer an appropriate level of Parliamentary scrutiny and that the affirmative procedure should apply instead”.
“Neither clause”— that is on same-sex marriage or abortion—
“requires the Secretary of State to consult bodies and interests in Northern Ireland before making the regulations … However, we accept that imposing such a duty would be incompatible with the timescale for making the regulations”.
It then makes the recommendation:
“We recommend that both clauses should be subject to the affirmative and not the negative procedure”.
It then states:
That was not written by me or any of my noble colleagues but by the distinguished members of that committee. I ask Members of this House: do we dismiss them too?
The issues we have been discussing today have tremendous moral implications for our nation, especially in Northern Ireland. I am sad that, at a time when we need spiritual leadership, there is a Bench that is completely empty and its members are not present to give us that spiritual leadership on issues which have major moral implications for the people of the United Kingdom.
I trust I am not reading too much into it but, when the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, sat down, I noticed that the Minister was immediately able to read off detailed scripts to answer all the points that she raised in the debate. It is interesting that all the answers were immediately given rather than the Minister waiting for help at the end of the debate. It makes one believe that much of what we are going through has been carefully choreographed and all we are being allowed to do is to go through the motions of being able to speak. However, I am happy to have the opportunity to speak for the unborn child and to say that they have a right to live, and not to be told that they should die.