Amendment 16A (to Amendment 16)

Part of Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill - Report – in the House of Lords at 10:00 pm on 17th July 2019.

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Photo of Lord Bruce of Bennachie Lord Bruce of Bennachie Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Scotland) 10:00 pm, 17th July 2019

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, in introducing this amendment acknowledged that it is effectively an amendment to the previous amendment that was carried. She also gave some anecdotes about people who were told to have an abortion. I do not believe that anybody in this House believes people should be told to have an abortion or that there are practitioners who would do that. We are talking about the right to choose on the basis of evidence. Indeed, we could have other stories of the consequences for some women denied abortions and the suffering that they have gone through. I do not think trading suffering really adds to the debate. There are fundamental differences of view. I respect that but let us recognise that we will use the arguments to support one side or the other.

What is being asked here is that the Assembly should be consulted. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, said that we are talking about the theory of devolution. The problem is that we are not; we are talking about the practice of devolution, which is not being practised in Northern Ireland. Noble Lords from Northern Ireland need to reflect on the fact that the people of Northern Ireland need an Assembly so that devolution can happen. If devolution is not happening, they will have to suffer the debates that they are complaining about now. That is the consequence and the reality of not having devolution.

As the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said, the previous amendment was about when and how—it was about the timing; it was not about whether it would happen. Amendment 16 is clearly about providing a veto in relation to the previous amendment. Proposed new subsection (3) in the amendment says:

“The second condition is that the relevant regulations under section 9 may only be before Parliament if a majority of the members of the Northern Ireland Assembly support the regulations”.

That is a clear veto. It is possible that a majority of Members would support the regulations, because opinions have shifted. I accept that. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, I worry that there is something uncomfortable about picking Members off one by one, possibly in a secret consultation as opposed to a plenary Assembly where votes, debates and opinions are discussed and recorded and accounted for in public. If the Assembly Members are to be consulted on these issues, then reconvene the Assembly and they can decide.