Motion A

Part of Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc.) Bill - Commons Amendment – in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 22nd July 2019.

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Photo of Lord Empey Lord Empey UUP 3:30 pm, 22nd July 2019

My Lords, it is hard to believe we are discussing the Bill on our agenda, which is the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill. It seems to have been omitted from people’s minds. I am sure noble Lords have read the debate in the House of Commons last Thursday in Hansard. The House of Commons devoted one hour to all the amendments passed in this House and the other clauses in the Bill. Apart from passing references and signals of annoyance from Northern Ireland Members, the amendments and substantive issues dealt with in the Bill and added to it were not even referred to.

I hope I am wrong, but the indications I have are that the unintended consequences from the initial Commons amendments to the Bill will make the formation of an Executive more difficult. That greatly saddens me. I hope I am wrong and that the parties surprise us and produce something that we all welcome. However, on paper, and from looking at social media and other comments, it seems we have created the most ridiculous position we could possibly have imagined. One of the red lines of Sinn Féin, which has been holding back an Executive, is to ensure abortion and same-sex marriage are applied in Northern Ireland. Leaving aside the nitty-gritty of that argument, we have contrived to ensure with the Bill that, should an Executive be formed, those two propositions will not take effect. That is what we have done: we have put an obstacle in the way of agreement. I do not believe for one minute that the proposers of the original amendments in the House of Commons had that as their intention. They were trying to regularise the legislation which, incidentally, they have signally failed to do, because the proposals in the Bill now are not the same as those that apply to the rest of the United Kingdom.

Leaving that to one side, this is the first time I have seen what should have been straightforward legislation completely distorted, in a way that not only makes the objective of the legislation more difficult, but has added matters that will cause us trouble in the future. I do not want to see us leaving the European Union with no deal. I am long enough in the tooth to know the implications of that but, if we as a country are serious about negotiating an agreement with our EU partners, we have no idea how to go about it.