Amendment 12

Part of Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill - Report – in the House of Lords at 8:00 pm on 17th July 2019.

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Photo of Lord Bruce of Bennachie Lord Bruce of Bennachie Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Scotland) 8:00 pm, 17th July 2019

My Lords, this is a conscience issue and a sensitive one and, certainly on these Benches, it is a matter for a free vote. Nevertheless, we are also faced with the fact, as the noble Baroness just said, this is not necessarily the ideal way to legislate on this issue. But we are not in an ideal situation: we have no Assembly, we have growing pressures for change, and we have the view of the House of Commons, which wants change. Therefore, effectively, these amendments are trying at least to move forward to implement the will to address the issue.

When one looks at the statistics of 12 abortions being allowed in Northern Ireland and more than 1,000 women travelling out, it is patently clear that there is an imbalance that needs to be considered, at the very least. It is not just the conscience issue; we are facing the basis of a probable human rights issue. We have had the guidance of our own Supreme Court that we could be in breach of the European convention, and there is a case that we are awaiting a judgment on, which might confirm that fact. As I have said on a number of occasions, if that is the case, the United Kingdom Government and Parliament will be obliged to ensure that we comply with the European Convention on Human Rights. It would of course be much better if it were done in a way that is managed by the elected representatives in Northern Ireland—that would be the preferred way to do it.

Finally, on the idea that those Members should be consulted individually, it seems that the best way to consult the Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly is for them to convene the Assembly and consult themselves. If that was the case, we would not have to continue with these amendments at all.