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Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019: Section 3(5) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:06 pm on 17th October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Mackay of Clashfern Lord Mackay of Clashfern Conservative 6:06 pm, 17th October 2019

My Lords, I take part in the debate because a gentleman in Northern Ireland asked me to do so. As your Lordships know, I was responsible for the judicial system in Northern Ireland when it was extremely difficult because the danger to life for people accepting office was very real. Personally, I am very concerned so far as Northern Ireland is concerned.

First, if the Assembly assembles on Monday, and if an Executive are in place on Tuesday, all the dangers in this business will disappear. I therefore emphasise as best as I can the responsibility resting on the Members of the Assembly, and on the Members who could constitute an Executive, to take their opportunity to act—otherwise, they pose a dangerous risk to the pregnant women of Northern Ireland. I will deal with this issue in a minute or two but I want to emphasise that point. Surely this should weigh with the people responsible so that, on Tuesday, we have a working Executive. Then, all the difficulty described in considerable detail by the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, will not, in fact, take place.

If all that does not happen, the danger is considerable because the 1861 Act, along with the relevant provisions, will be taken out of the law of Northern Ireland. So far as I know, no other law protects an embryo up to the time when it is sufficiently mature to be delivered in a way that will bring forth life. Therefore, the object of this provision, which was put into Section 9 of the Act, was to help the women of Northern Ireland. I cannot think of a greater danger to the women of Northern Ireland than allowing unrestricted abortion again. It is a very serious matter. It does not affect clinics and so on; as has been pointed out, no real protection is available through the clinics because they escape registration if one employee is employed by the National Health Service.

Apart from that law, there is no protection whatever for embryos up to the point of sufficient maturity for life. Therefore, the backstreet abortions that were the great burden of life before the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel, will again be possible in Northern Ireland. I do not know, and I do not suppose many of your Lordships know, how many of these would happen, but the Government and those responsible for the management of government in Northern Ireland will carry the responsibility if that happens.

Therefore, I will do my utmost to persuade the Members of the Assembly to meet on Monday and constitute an Executive on Tuesday, because then all this difficulty will immediately disappear.