Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Bill: Consideration Stage

Private Members' Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:15 pm on 2nd March 2022.

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Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party 12:15 pm, 2nd March 2022

I call Ms Clare Bailey to move the Consideration Stage of the Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Bill.

Moved. — [Ms Bailey.]

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

Members will have a copy of the Marshalled List of amendments detailing the order for consideration. The amendments have been grouped for debate in the provisional grouping of amendments selected list. There is a single group that contains 12 amendments and opposition to clauses 1 to 13 stand part. The amendments deal with protected premises, the establishment of zones, offences, notices and definitions. Amendment No 2 is mutually exclusive to amendment No 1 and amendment No 9 is mutually exclusive to amendment No 7.

I remind Members intending to speak that, during the debate on the single group of amendments, they should address all the amendments on which they wish to comment. Once the debate is completed, any further amendments in the group will be moved formally as we go through the Bill, and the Question on each will be put without further debate. The Questions on stand part will be taken at the appropriate points in the Bill. If that is clear, we will proceed.

Clause 1 (Overview)

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

We now come to the single group of amendments for debate. With amendment No 1, it will be convenient to debate amendment Nos 2 to 12 and the opposition to clauses 1 to 13 stand part. I call Mr Jim Allister to address his opposition to clause 1, his opposition to the other clauses and the amendments in the group.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The following amendments stood on the Marshalled List:

No 1: In clause 2, page 1, line 8, leave out from second “are” to end of line 10 and insert—

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“satisfy conditions 2 and 3.


(2) Condition 1 is that they are premises where provision is made, or proposed to be made, for treatment for the lawful termination of pregnancy in accordance with the Abortion (Northern Ireland) (No.2) Regulations 2020.


(3) Condition 2 is that the operator of the premises has given notice to the Department that the operator wishes the premises to be protected premises.” — [Ms Bailey.]

No 2: In clause 2, page 1, line 9, leave out from “treatment” to “pregnancy” on line 10 and insert “abortion services”. — [Mr Gildernew (The Chairperson of the Committee for Health).]

No 3: In clause 3, page 2, line 3, leave out subsections (4) and (5) and insert—



“(4) Condition 3 is that the operator of the premises has given notice to the Department that the operator wishes the premises to be protected premises.” — [Ms Bailey.]

No 4: After clause 5 insert—



Establishment of safe access zone


5A.—(1) A safe access zone is established for protected premises in accordance with this section.


(2) Except as provided by subsection (3), the safe access zone for protected premises consists of—


(a) the protected premises; and


(b) the public area outside the protected premises which lies within 100 metres from each entrance to, or exit from, those premises.


(3) If the operator of any protected premises is of the opinion that the public area mentioned in subsection (2)(b) is not adequate to afford safe access to the premises for protected persons, the operator may give notice to the Department that it wishes the public area so mentioned to be extended by a specified distance not exceeding 150 metres.


(4) On receipt of a notice under section 2(3) relating to any premises, the Department must include an entry relating to those premises in the list maintained by it under section 8A; and a safe access zone is established in relation to those premises on publication of that entry under section 8A.


(5) On receipt of a notice under subsection (3) relating to any premises, the Department must amend any entry in the list published by it under section 8A which relates to the premises; and the extended safe access zone is established in relation to those premises on publication of the amended entry under section 8A.


(6) In this section ‘public area’ means a place to which the public has access, without payment, as of right.” — [Ms Bailey.]

No 5: In clause 6, page 3, line 4, leave out subsection (4). — [Ms Bailey.]

No 6: In clause 8, page 3, line 26, leave out “must” and insert “may subject to Clause 9(c)”. — [Mr Allister.]

No 7: In clause 8, page 3, line 40, leave out subsection (6) and insert—



“(6) The Department must by means of notices (including permanent or temporary signage in the vicinity of the protected premises) and other such methods as it considers necessary, draw the attention of the public to the existence and extent of safe access zones.” — [Ms Bradshaw.]

No 8: After clause 8 insert—



Publication of list of protected premises and safe access zones


8A. The Department must maintain and publish, in such manner as it thinks appropriate, a list of all premises which are for the time being protected premises for the purposes of this Act together with, in the case of each premises, an indication of the extent of the safe access zones established for the premises under section 5A.” — [Ms Bailey.]

No 9: After clause 8 insert—



Safe access zones – notices


8B. The Department must by means of notices (including permanent or temporary signage in the vicinity of the protected premises) and other such methods as it considers necessary, draw the attention of the public to the existence and extent of safe access zones.” — [Ms Bradshaw.]

No 10: In clause 11, page 4, leave out line 17. — [Ms Bailey.]

No 11: In clause 11, page 4, line 21, at end insert—



“‘record’ means—


(a) To make a recording of sounds; or


(b) To make a recording of moving images; or


(c) To make a recording of moving images accompanied by a recording of sounds; or


(d) To take a photograph, regardless of the medium on which the recording is made or the method by which the sounds or images are reproduced or produced.” — [Ms Bailey.]

No 12: In clause 11, page 4, line 21, at end insert—



“(1) In this Act a reference to ‘premises’ is to be read—


(a) as including a reference to the land on which the premises are situated; and


(b) in the case of premises which form part only of a building, as a reference to the whole building.


(2) For the purposes of this Act a person is attending protected premises if the person is accessing or leaving, or attempting to access or leave, those premises.” — [Ms Bailey.]

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

I tabled my opposition to every clause, because this is a Bill that carries and contains no merit. When weighed against the current position of our law, it is unnecessary, it is overwhelmingly vindictive in its approach, and it quite consciously and deliberately expunges and oppresses any legitimate protest whatsoever. It is ironic that no choice to protest is permitted in the Bill. It creates these censorship zones, where even the attempt to influence is criminalised.

If I go to clause 6(2) of the Bill, we can see exactly how pervasive it is. Within a zone, it makes it an offence to:

"with the intent of, or reckless as to whether it has the effect of— (a) influencing a protected person, whether directly or indirectly".

The very issue of seeking to influence someone is therefore now to be criminalised. That influencing might be an entirely silent presence. It could be an entirely silent protest. It could be someone simply holding up the words of the sixth commandment — "Thou shalt not kill" — in the context that abortion is killing. Someone who chose to stand quietly with those words, without saying a word or handing out anything, would be criminalised by this legislation. That is how draconian and outrageous it is in its reach.

Based on past performances, my words will, no doubt, fall on deaf ears, but I ask the House to stop and think about what it is doing. You might be wholly persuaded of the merits and desires of promoting abortion; that is not the issue. The issue here is this: are you wholly persuaded that it is right, in 2022, to create a criminal offence out of silent protest seeking to influence someone? There is no point in glossing over that by saying, "Oh, but this is really to deal with harassment", which is not even defined in the Bill, or to deal with abuse or violence, all of which are covered in the current law. If it were really to do with that, clause 6(2)(a) would not be in the Bill, but clause 6(2)(a) makes it a criminal offence to seek to influence and creates these censorship zones at the behest of the operators. It is most incredible that any Bill would so lose sight of fundamentals that it would put that draconian measure upon us.

During the previous debate, we heard about freedom of expression from some of the very people who, I suspect, will vote for this Bill. They were lauding freedom of expression, but freedom of expression provides equally for saying the unpalatable as it does for saying the palatable. There is no sifting in freedom of expression that you must only say that which is palatable. Freedom of expression also entails saying the unpalatable, but, under clause 6, freedom of expression is totally expunged, and therein is something that is quite unpalatable in itself.

Even silent prayer is now a criminal offence. Someone could go to one of the facilities, stand within the zone and silently pray, indicating their position on these matters, and they could be capable of being criminalised. That is how dastardly the extent of the Bill is. Of course, this does not exist anywhere else. Within the United Kingdom, the Home Office decided against it and Scotland decided against it, but here, we want to put those measures upon individuals and society in general.

I said that there is no definition of harassment, and I made this point at the Second Stage. I thought that the Bill sponsor might have at least taken that under her notice, because harassment is already defined in law. It is defined as causing alarm etc. Of course, alarm or distress is the legal definition of harassment, but this Bill, in its tautology, says "causing harassment, alarm or distress". What is the harassment here? It is obviously not alarm or distress. It is obviously not harassment as defined in the law, so one would have expected to see, in the Bill, a definition of whatever harassment it is that the Bill refers to. That is just a side issue.

Where the Bill really oversteps the mark is in its audacious move to create self-certification of zones, at least under the existing clauses. Clauses 3(4) and 3(5) state:

"following a request from the operator of the premises, the Department makes a determination that the premises are to be treated as protected premises", and:

"The Department may only make that determination if satisfied that it is reasonable to do so."

Then, along come amendment Nos 3 and 4. Amendment No 3 removes that role and obligation for the Department to ensure that it is reasonable to do so. It simply leaves a situation where a zone arises when it is self-certified by the operator. So they get to write their own laws — their own rules — and they do not have to go through any filter of any Department. The Department's sole role is to hold a register of these places. Under amendment Nos 3 and 4, we have this absurd position whereby a zone is established on self-certification. That is the import of amendment No 4:

"If the operator of any protected premises is of the opinion that the public area mentioned in subsection(2)(b) is not adequate to afford safe access" etc, they can even extend it up to 150 metres. So it is made in the first place, and then they can extend it on their own whim and self-certify it with no consent from or need for the Department. The only duty of the Department, in the proposed new clause 5A(4), is:

"the Department must include an entry relating to those premises in the list maintained by it under section 8A".

It really is unbelievably audacious that this Bill would bestow upon the operators the self-certification rights to create and to extend these zones, within which to silently protest is a crime and within which to silently stand, as I have said, with a copy of the sixth commandment, "Thou shalt not kill", is a crime.

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance

I am not sure how many of the evidence sessions you listened in on, but when we heard from the chief executives of the trusts, we heard about a woman who had come to Northern Ireland from Eritrea to seek refuge here. She was sexually assaulted en route, and when she arrived here to have her healthcare needs met, she was harassed at the entrance to the facility. While I understand and support the right to protest, I also believe that the needs of women in her circumstances and similar ones should have primacy. Do you agree with that?

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

The Member says that she supports the right to protest, yet I guarantee that, today, she will vote to expunge all right to protest. There is not much point in her coming to the House and saying that she supports the right to protest when she is going to vote to take out clause 9.

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance

People can protest, but outside the safe access zones. That is what I will be supporting today.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

So you are going to create zones that are only allowed to contain one world view, which is the pro-abortion view, and within that, even though it is a public place, it is outside the public right to express a view that is contrary to the pro-abortion view within that zone. That is how audacious this is. If the Member is saying that this is about harassment, you do not need "influencing". You do not need to criminalise influence, because that is already covered in clause 6(2)(c).

The point here is that you have to look at the breadth of a law. The breadth of this law is that it can criminalise mere silent protest if it is thought capable of influencing someone. I gave an example of that in the Second Stage debate. Take the 14-year-old girl who gets pregnant and is determined to have an abortion. Her mother does not wish her to; she wants her to deal with this in other ways. She tries to give motherly advice but the young girl says, "No, I am going to do it". She heads down to the abortion clinic and the mother goes with her, pleading with her not to do it. Once the mother steps within this zone, she is the criminal, because she is trying to influence the minor not to proceed. She becomes the criminal: that is how absurd this is.

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

I thank the Member for giving way. In clause 4(b), the person who is

"accompanying a person described in paragraph (a), at the invitation of that person" is also a protected person: in this case, the mother whom you are speaking of.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

It says:

"at the invitation of that person".

If the child says, "I don't want you. I don't want you to come with me. I'm going to do this on my own. I'm getting an abortion. I don't care what you say", and the mother says, "I'm your mother. I love you. I care for you. I want to persuade you not to do this", and attempts to do so by trying to accompany her daughter, that mother becomes a criminal once she steps over the line into the zone, according to this law. That is how absurd the legislation would be. We are going to criminalise mothers who are showing motherly concern for their daughters, because they are not allowed within that zone to seek to influence the child. Is that what the House wants to do? That is beyond comprehension.

I return now to the tyranny of self-certification. There is no oversight, appeal or proportionality; it is on the whim of the operator: "We want to extend it to 150 metres". New clause 5A would make it a case of, "That's all right then, you do it". There is no oversight or asking the Department; there is nothing whatsoever.

On the notification of zoning, clause 8(2), as the Bill stands, states:

"Within eight weeks of receiving this notification, the Department must designate an area as a safe access zone."

That is gone under these amendments. Amendment No 8 makes the Department the depository for a registry. It would keep a register of where these organisations, which, in some cases, are profit-making, self-certify and decree. It is beyond comprehension that any House would want to hand that control over the public streets to such profit-making organisations, because that is what is happening. This is public property, and they are going to self-certify who can and cannot go. In taking out clause 8, of course, you take out clause 8(3), the power to consult by the Department; clause 8(4), the power to vary the determination; and clause 8(5), the power to revoke. All that is to go under this.

There is also an amendment to take out clause 9. If there was any saving grace in the Bill, it was the indication that, in the exercise of its functions, the Department must have regard to three things:

"the safety and dignity of protected persons, the right to respect for private and family life set out in Article 8 ... the right to manifest religious belief, and the rights to freedom of assembly and expression, set out in Articles 9, 10 and 11".

What does the sponsor do? She comes along with an amendment to expunge clause 9. The very essence of any regard to freedom of expression that was in the Bill is now, by the sponsor, designed to be removed. What you are left with are no-go zones for the Department. They are zones of censorship, self-certified by the organisers, where it is a criminal offence to dare to breathe anything that might be interpreted as being influence, and you abandon the zones to the control of the abortion clinics. That is what the legislation is coming to, through the amendments. Any semblance —

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance 2:15 pm, 2nd March 2022

I thank the Member for letting me in. The Member keeps using the word "influence". Does he not think that, by the time the woman or girl has arrived for her healthcare services, she will have already gone through an agonising process? By that stage, she will have made up her mind, so I do not think that it should be on anybody else to try to influence her at that point.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

The Member might be so in favour of the destruction of the unborn that she thinks that no one should have the right to try to influence someone not to destroy the unborn, but I disagree. To destroy the unborn is one of the most fateful steps that any mother or anyone else can take. Surely we live in a society where legitimate influence should still be recognised and honoured instead of being expunged and criminalised, as the Bill will do. We are heading down a road that is quite shocking.

All of this has no regard to the existing law. Article 9 of the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 makes it an offence to use:

"written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting".

What is wrong with that? Patently, it is not enough. Harassment is provided for in the Protection from Harassment (Northern Ireland) Order 1997. You even get a restraining order under that Order. Disorderly behaviour is provided for in the 1987 Order; article 4 allows conditions on public assemblies, so, if you have a situation where there is a routine of regular protest, it can be regulated by that article. Instead, along comes this Bill with a Bill sponsor who says, "I want to amend my Bill to the point where anyone who sets foot within 150 metres of one of those abortion clinics will be criminalised if they dare to try to influence anyone". Some of those places may be public buildings that have other purposes, but the zone applies to the whole building. It is such unbelievable presumption on their part.

The Member referred to taking evidence. I had a look at the report. I was struck by how diffident the Committee was in hearing anything but one side of the story. Of 6,459 written submissions, only 13 supported the Bill. There was a slate of witnesses but a refusal to hear from those who were opposed. The Committee did not cover itself in glory in dealing with the matter; it covered itself in bias, by virtue of the fact that there were people from whom it would not hear. No doubt, that same bias will be here today.

Photo of Colin McGrath Colin McGrath Social Democratic and Labour Party

On that issue, it is important to note, in the Committee's defence, that the decision was taken that the people who were offering their view were offering it on abortion and not on access to the clinics. The decision was taken to listen to the people who had a view on that issue. To have taken all the issues on board, we would have been reopening debates that the Bill did not cover. That approach is quite diligent; it is not biased, as you put it.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

Was there not a group of laymen and ministers who asked to be heard and were politely — if it was politely — told, "Go away. We do not want to hear from you"?

Photo of Colm Gildernew Colm Gildernew Sinn Féin

Those views were taken into account as part of the written submissions.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

You tell us that the views expressed in written submissions were taken into account and that all but 13 of the 6,459 were against the Bill, yet here we are, still with a Bill that the Chairman and others are about to make worse by supporting the amendments. Who does the Chairman think that he is kidding when he says that those views were taken into account? There were over 6,000 objections to the Bill. There is no evidence in the report that they were taken into account other than by being counted. They did not count when it came to the argument. The Committee was consciously and deliberately deaf to views other than those that fitted the Bill. That is exactly how we got here.

In my respectful submission, the Bill is unworthy of any support in the House. It drives a coach and horses through basic, elementary, lawful expectations as to freedom of expression. It outlaws that, elevates to an unbelievable point the rights of abortion clinics to self-certify the zones and removes the very Department from any oversight of that. It is quite appalling and unnecessary legislation, because, as I said to the House, there are multiple limbs of legislation that cover unruly, inappropriate behaviour outside or in any public place. That is not enough for the Bill sponsor and her Bill. The Bill's supporters want exclusivity, to have only their view capable of expression and to expunge the right to even silent protest. I will not and cannot endorse that. I will therefore oppose the Bill today.

Photo of Colm Gildernew Colm Gildernew Sinn Féin

In contributing to the debate on the amendments, I will give a brief overview of the Committee's scrutiny of the Bill and make some further comments on the Committee's view on the Bill sponsor's proposed amendments. The Committee has not considered the amendments in the name of Mr Allister and Ms Bradshaw. Therefore, there is no Committee view on those amendments.

The Bill seeks to allow for the establishment of safe access zones outside premises that provide lawful abortions or related information, advice or counselling. The Bill also creates offences that apply to safe access zones and allows the police to enforce those offences.

On 7 October 2021, the Bill sponsor, Ms Bailey, briefed the Committee on the principles of the Bill. On 12 October, the Bill passed Second Stage and was referred to the Committee for Health for scrutiny at Committee Stage. The Committee issued a call for evidence, and there was a substantial response to that call, with the Committee receiving a total of 6,459 written submissions. A total of 47 written submissions were received from organisations, with the rest coming from individuals. <BR/>At the Committee meeting on 2 December 2021, members agreed to take oral evidence from a number of statutory organisations. Evidence sessions were held with the Department of Health, all five health and social care trusts, the PSNI and the Human Rights Commission. The Committee also took evidence from the Bill sponsor on three occasions.
On 19 January, the Committee received correspondence from Abolish Abortion asking that the Committee reopen its evidence gathering to allow ministers and pastors to give evidence. The Committee considered that request and said that there had been a significant response from organisations, including statutory bodies, staff representative bodies, professional bodies and pro-life and pro-choice organisations. The Committee felt that the views of organisations and individuals were clear from their written submissions and that members had used those written submissions to inform their views on the Bill. Therefore, the Committee did not reopen oral evidence sessions.

The Committee received a wide range of views, with the vast majority of individual responses being not in favour of the Bill. I am certain that Mr Allister will understand that Committees generally do not take evidence from individuals. Maybe Mr Allister could advise us whether he suggests that we should have taken evidence from all 6,000 respondents or just from those respondents whose views he supports.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

We just finished debating the Defamation Bill. I sat on that Committee, and we heard from several individuals. It is not alien to hear from individuals, but you had 6,000 people expressing a view, and you did not want to hear from one of them.

Photo of Colm Gildernew Colm Gildernew Sinn Féin

Their views were clear and were presented to us. I am certain that you are not suggesting that we should have heard from them all. Therefore, how would we pick?

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

Did you hear from even one of them?

Photo of Colm Gildernew Colm Gildernew Sinn Féin

Which one should we have heard from?

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

Excuse me, gentlemen. This should not be a dialogue. I ask you to confine your remarks to the Bill and to make them through the Chair.

Photo of Colm Gildernew Colm Gildernew Sinn Féin

Of the responses from organisations, approximately 27 outlined their general support for the Bill, and 18 outlined their opposition. I thank all those individuals and organisations —

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

Of those 18, how many did you hear from?

Photo of Colm Gildernew Colm Gildernew Sinn Féin

I will outline in my remarks whom we heard from.

I thank all those individuals and organisations for taking the time to submit written evidence and all those who attended Committee meetings and gave oral evidence.

Photo of Deborah Erskine Deborah Erskine DUP

I thank the Member for giving way. The Member will know that Pam Cameron and I asked in the Health Committee that the evidence be reopened. Some members were allowed to give their views on the Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill. Will the Chair clarify how many people were able to give their views during that Bill's Committee Stage?

Photo of Colm Gildernew Colm Gildernew Sinn Féin

That happened as a result of a request from the sponsor of that Bill to facilitate a particular individual who has taken a court case. We felt that that was the appropriate and compassionate thing to do. It does not mean that you can then create the precedent that you will hear from 6,000 individuals whose evidence made very clear what their view is. You are still left with how you would fairly address the individual responses of 6,000 people.

Photo of William Humphrey William Humphrey DUP

I am grateful to the Member for giving way. I accept entirely that you cannot ask all 6,000 people to come to the Committee. However, the clergy and laypeople represent thousands of people in Northern Ireland, so why did the Committee think that it was not a good idea to hear from them?

Photo of Colm Gildernew Colm Gildernew Sinn Féin

The Committee discussed that, and we agreed our approach. Those discussions are in the Hansard reports, which are available. I advise any of you who wish to revisit that issue to look at those reports. I will move on.

I thank all the individuals and organisations who took the time to submit written evidence, and I thank all those who attended Committee meetings and gave oral evidence. The Committee was briefed by the Bill sponsor again yesterday on the amendments that she has tabled. Clare outlined that she worked with the Office of the Legislative Counsel and the Department of Health to draft those amendments. While acknowledging that they were brought late, the Committee welcomes that joined-up approach and cooperative working by the sponsor and the Department. It is a good example of a Department working with the sponsor of a private Member's Bill in order to ensure that the Bill is as robust as it can be. The Committee's clause-by-clause consideration of the Bill was based on previously tabled amendments by the Bill sponsor and, therefore, does not take into account some of the amendments that we have before us today. The Deputy Chair, Pam Cameron, and Deborah Erskine did not take part in the formal clause-by-clause consideration.

The Committee heard evidence about why safe access zones are required. The Belfast Trust advised that, since the beginning of 2021, despite lockdown and COVID-19 restrictions, there have been weekly protests from various anti-abortion groups outside its clinics, including its College Street premises. The Belfast Trust advised the Committee that protests cause considerable distress and anxiety to patients and staff. The Northern Trust advised that it had to move the location of its clinic on two occasions, as there were concerns about the ongoing impact of personal and abusive protests on service users and for patient and staff confidentiality. The PSNI advised in correspondence that, in the 12-month period from January 2021 to January 2022, police were requested to attend 55 incidents related to the issue.

Many of the organisations described the detrimental impact of the actions and behaviour of protesters on those accessing services, and they highlighted the impact on particularly vulnerable groups, such as minors and those attending services as a result of sexual assault. Some of the organisations pointed out that the actions and behaviours of protesters can cause distress to those who have suffered pregnancy loss and those who live with fertility issues. Many of the organisations that oppose the Bill also condemned situations in which women and staff are harassed or subjected to behaviours that would cause stress. They also stated that the behaviours that are described are not the norm and that protests that take place are often peaceful. However, all members of the Committee agreed that there is no place in our society for the harassment, abuse or intimidation of women and girls who are accessing health services and that patients, staff and visitors should be able to access health premises free from harassment, abuse and intimidation. I sincerely hope that everyone in the Chamber agrees with that.

The Committee sought the views of the Human Rights Commission on the balancing of competing human rights, particularly the right to privacy with the rights to expression, association and religion.

The Human Rights Commission advised the Committee that the Bill engages articles 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and that those require consideration. The commission advised that none of those rights are absolute and that they can be interfered with and limited in certain circumstances. The commission advised us that the European Court of Human Rights, in considering restrictions or limitations, has held that the restriction must be prescribed by law, must have a legitimate aim under the relevant article and must be necessary in a democratic society. To demonstrate that a restriction is necessary in a democratic society, it must also be proportionate. In light of that, the commission advises that, in the case of safe access zones, there are legitimate aims, such as the protection of health.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

Did the Human Rights Commission also tell you about the cases that say that blanket bans are extremely dubious legally? That is exactly what the Committee is endorsing here.

Photo of Colm Gildernew Colm Gildernew Sinn Féin

The Committee's advice is contained in the report and in the remarks that I am making, as the Member will know.

The commission advises that, in the case of safe access zones, there are legitimate aims, such as the protection of health. Where protests are preventing access to necessary healthcare, causing distress or possibly leading to the harassment of patients and staff, protecting their right to physical and psychological integrity under article 8 of the ECHR is a very important factor.

The Committee is content to support amendment No 1 in the name of the Bill sponsor. The amendment will ensure consistency with the language used in the Abortion (NI) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 and would ensure that the provisions remain workable in practice. Therefore, the Committee will support amendment No 1 on the understanding that the Committee's amendment to clause 2 will, as you outlined, Mr Deputy Speaker, not be moved.

The Committee is content to support amendment No 3 in the name of the Bill sponsor, which provides greater clarity on how the Department will make a determination.

The Committee also supports amendment No 4, which clarifies the process for when a safe access zone is required to be greater than 100 metres and ensures that it maintains compliance with human rights.

The Committee supports amendment No 5, which would remove subsection (4) of clause 6. That subsection states that it is a defence if a person can show that they

"did not know, and had no reasonable way of knowing, that the protected person was in a safe access zone."

The Committee supports amendment No 8, which seeks to provide clarity on the role of the Department in publishing information on safe access zones.

The Committee supports amendment No 10, which is needed as a consequence of the Bill sponsor's intention to oppose the Question that clause 9 stand part. The amendment removes reference to "the Convention" in clause 11.

The Committee supports amendment No 11, as it provides clarity on the specific offence of recording a protected person in a safe zone, as provided for in clause 6(3).

The Committee supports amendment No 12, which provides clarity on the meaning of "premises" and what attending premises means in the Bill. The vast majority of premises will be trust premises, and so the operators, in many cases, will be trusts.

I thank the Bill sponsor for her engagement with the Committee on the Bill, and I thank Committee members for their work on the Bill over a sustained period. I also thank the Committee team and the Bill Clerk for supporting members through their scrutiny of the Bill. I thank the Department for working with the Bill sponsor and the Office of the Legislative Counsel for providing technical support.

I will now make a few brief remarks as a Sinn Féin MLA and as the party's spokesperson on health. Sinn Féin supports the Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Bill, and we thank the sponsor for bringing it to the Chamber.

Blocking access to a healthcare clinic inhibits a woman's ability to access the healthcare that she might need and to which she is entitled. Displaying graphic images, handing out leaflets and behaving aggressively towards women who are seeking treatment is unacceptable and should be unacceptable in any society. It is a violation of rights, and, indeed, it is indecent and disrespectful. Women who are accessing the services they need and the workers who provide those services have complained of campaigns of harassment and intimidation that have left them distressed at an already anxious and stressful time. It is unthinkable that a woman who is already in distressful and painful circumstances would face such a violation of her humanity.

The Bill will create buffer zones wherein the rights of all will be respected: the right of women and girls and of workers to privacy; the right to access healthcare; and the right of protesters to protest and air their views, whatever they may be. That protest, however, should be respectful and free from the abuse that has repeatedly been reported to the Committee. The rights of one should not impair the rights of another.

Photo of Colm Gildernew Colm Gildernew Sinn Féin

I will not give way again.

In moving protest away from the immediate vicinity of healthcare services, everyone's rights are protected. The protesters have their right to protest but not to humiliate or verbally assault their targets protected, and the women accessing treatment have their right to privacy and safe, accessible healthcare protected. It is time for the Department of Health to roll out the provision of safe and accessible services that women need, that they are entitled to and that they should be able to avail themselves of.

Photo of Pam Cameron Pam Cameron DUP

I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate. With the exception of amendment No 6, in the name of the Member for North Antrim, I do not support the amendments. I do not support the Bill, and my party does not support it. I voted against the Bill at Second Stage, and I clearly outlined our concerns with it at Committee Stage. We ensured that those concerns were recorded in the Health Committee's report. That is not because I believe that patients, staff and visitors should be subjected to malicious or abusive behaviour. All patients have the right to access healthcare free from abuse and intimidation. All patients should have access to an environment where they feel safe. Activities against anyone entering or exiting health premises that are clearly harassing and criminal need to be dealt with. However, I am deeply concerned that the Bill, including the amendments, will not have the desired impact.

The criminalisation of direct or indirect influence in clause 6 is broad, sweeping and vague. Under the framework proposed, there would be no requirement for influence to be undue or unreasonable. Established legal principles have been set aside out of convenience. That is reckless. It is in breach of articles 9, 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which establish the right to protest and freedom of religion. The implications would set a dangerous precedent for restricting other forms of expression in the public sphere. The provisions of the Bill would almost certainly be subject to protracted legal challenge. That would have serious implications for the taxpayer and do little to improve outcomes for those with legitimate grievances.

We want all those seeking health services to feel safe and to be free from abuse and intimidation. However, the Bill does not distinguish harassing, abusive or criminal behaviour from influencing behaviour. The question that we need to ask ourselves is this: how can the Assembly pass legislation that properly balances competing rights and that is workable, lawful, avoids falsely raising the expectations of women and staff and will not be subject to immediate legal challenge?

I am disappointed that neither the Committee nor the Minister of Health has pushed back against the rushed and dysfunctional drafting of the Bill. The PSNI said that enforcement would require continuous physical police presence. Where is the Minister of Justice's concern for the potential implications for police resources? The consultation was limited and is over five years old. The legitimate concerns of patients and staff should be addressed, but that should be done primarily through a comprehensive review of the law on harassment. Sadly, there has been no willingness among the other parties to even consider that as a viable alternative.

With those overriding concerns on the record, I will address the amendments —

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance

I take your point. An amendment that I tabled would support people who want to protest by giving them clarity.

You talked about reform of the harassment laws, but I see no amendments tabled by your party to address the issues that you are raising today. Why not?

Photo of Pam Cameron Pam Cameron DUP

I will continue after that intervention.

With those overriding concerns on the record, I will address the amendments tabled by the Bill sponsor and representatives of the Alliance Party.

Amendment Nos 1 and 3 amend clauses 2 and 3 and would grant to premises where abortions take place and to those that provide information, advice or counselling an unqualified right to become protected premises. The only requirement appears to be that they notify the Department. The original stipulation in clause 3 that the Department must be satisfied that it is reasonable to make premises protected premises is removed entirely.

We cannot support those changes. Automatic entitlement, seemingly with no recourse for the Department to challenge a notification, does not seem responsible or proportionate. In addition, it fails to provide any ability for consideration on a case-by-case basis of whether the creation of a zone is rights-compliant under articles 9, 10 and 11 of the convention.

Amendment Nos 4 and 12, standing in the Bill's sponsor name, are more significant and deal with the extent of protected premises. Clause 5 would be replaced by a stipulation that the safe access zone consist of the protected premises themselves and the public areas within 100 metres of the entrance to or exit from those premises. That could then be extended by a further 150 metres on the request of the operator of the premises. Under the framework, there seems to be no authority for the Department to ensure that the extent of a zone is commensurate with its location or circumstances. It would impose a blanket approach, regardless of whether the building or facility is situated in a congested high street or city centre or on the Health and Social Care (HSC) estate. The Department's role would be simply to maintain a register of zones: a gatekeeper, if you will. That in itself is deeply problematic. I am open to correction, but I believe that the Bill's sponsor previously opposed a prescriptive approach to the extent of safe access zones, and I am not sure what has changed. The reality is that amendment Nos 4 and 12 are littered with contradictions and confusion.

Proposed new clause 5A under amendment No 4 defines a public area as:

"a place to which the public has access, without payment, as of right."

Does that mean that hospital car parks that charge for entry would be discounted from the calculation of a 100-metre buffer zone? If protesters were to congregate in that area, would they face prosecution? To go one step further, amendment No 12 frames "premises" to mean:

"the land on which the premises are situated".

That leads us to ask whether a safe access zone starts at the entry to the hospital grounds or at the front door of the hospital. How can we expect the public to abide by those provisions when the Bill is unclear and poorly drafted?

Amendment No 5 would remove the defence in clause 6(4) for protesters to show that they:

"did not know, and had no reasonable way of knowing, that the protected person was in a safe access zone."

Although I absolutely understand the intention of amendment Nos 7 and 9, standing in the name of Paula Bradshaw, which require there to be signage marking out safe access zones, I am concerned that that would result not in a safe environment for patients or staff but in a conspicuous signposting to the entrance of such services, essentially placing a spotlight on any individual who enters the zone. I am concerned that such a proposal would single out patients and staff rather than the perpetrators of abuse or harassment. That could have the effect of increasing conflict and unproductive interactions. Have patients, staff or local businesses been consulted on whether they feel signage would be appropriate or helpful?

My party and I cannot support those amendments. We feel that it would be wrong to dilute the already limited protections contained in the Bill for protesters while the indiscriminate criminalisation of influence remains at the heart of clause 6.

I support amendment No 6, standing in the name of Jim Allister. It would ensure that, in the context of the Bill's original provisions, within eight weeks of notification, the Department would designate an area as a safe access zone, only after it had given due regard to:

"the right to manifest religious belief, and the rights to freedom of assembly and expression, set out in Articles 9, 10 and 11 of the Convention, and in particular the right to protest."

That obligation to account for such freedoms is glaringly absent from the proposed amendments.

Amendment No 11 would tighten up the parameters of unlawful recording for the purposes of the offence created in clause 6. The reality is, however, that it misses the elephant in the room, namely the ambiguous and open-ended approach to the offence of direct or indirect influence in the same clause.

On balance, I feel that the amendments would exacerbate concerns over the disproportionate impact of the Bill on freedom of expression and the right to protest. There is a real risk that the effect of the provisions, particularly if amended, would be simply to displace the bulk of protest activity rather than deal specifically with a minority of individuals engaged in malicious and abusive behaviour. As expressed in our submission to the Committee report, that would only serve to present false hope to women who hold legitimate concerns about behaviour directed towards them. I urge Members to reflect on the wide range of concerns expressed about the rushed and careless drafting of the Bill and to consider revisiting these matters in a new mandate.

Photo of Colin McGrath Colin McGrath Social Democratic and Labour Party 2:45 pm, 2nd March 2022

This is not a debate about abortion. Nowhere are we being asked to debate the legislative position on abortion, and nowhere are we being asked to compromise any of the deeply held views and principles that people may have on abortion. Anyone who tries to paint a picture of this being a debate about abortion is playing politics with the emotional and psychological well-being of women who access these services.

We are debating a series of amendments that have been tabled as a result of the progression of the Bill through the Health Committee. The amendments are mostly technical in nature. They tidy up some of the clauses, and I am grateful to the Bill sponsor for working on them to clarify matters. For instance, amendment No 4 seeks to establish a set of parameters for a safe access zone. It creates a 100-metre area that would be protected. That is helpful, as it allows a very defined area of protection for those accessing such services. There is also flexibility to increase that distance to 150 metres, if needed.

Amendment No 7, tabled by Ms Bradshaw, details the need for signage to identify that people are in a protected area. There was much conversation about that amendment, as it relates to a specific area about which we needed to be mindful and sensitive. We are happy to support that amendment. That concern was detailed to us by the PSNI in particular, as it is concerned about its ability to enforce the zones if there are no clearly identifiable signs to indicate that they are zones.

Amendment No 8 necessitates the publication of a list of protected premises and safe access zones, thereby ensuring transparency for the public in relation to the protections that are afforded on those premises.

I draw particular attention to amendment No 11 and say to the Bill sponsor that it is important. Regardless of one's view on abortion, it is not acceptable to record sounds or images of a woman who is trying to access those services and then to share those sounds or images on social media. It is not acceptable to record members of staff who work on the premises, and it is not acceptable to record anybody else who goes into the premises. I am nearly sure that the services that people have concerns about are not the only services that are available in those buildings. People could be going to those buildings for other reasons, but they are subjected to all the behaviour that people raised concerns about. The police, especially, raised concerns, saying that they had been called on a number of occasions, and that there was always the possibility that that could have in relation to people who were going into the building for entirely different reasons.

In conclusion, the Bill does not impede anyone objecting to abortion services. The SDLP can therefore support the Bill and the amendments tabled by the Bill sponsor and Ms Bradshaw and will oppose amendment No 6 from Mr Allister.

Photo of Alan Chambers Alan Chambers UUP

As a member of the Health Committee, I certainly refute any suggestion of a biased approach being taken by me during this process. Scrutinising the Bill was a lengthy, difficult and, at times, upsetting task. My party will support the sponsor's amendments, which, I understand, she has worked through with the Department. We will not support amendment Nos 7 and 9, which put a responsibility on the Department in relation to signage; we have concerns around those particular amendments.

Some months ago, when I made my first contribution on this Bill in the House, I made it clear that it was not to be viewed through the lens of a pro-life or pro-choice debate. That fact remains. The subject of abortion is a matter of conscience for the Ulster Unionist Party Assembly team, but this Bill falls outside the scope of where an individual stands on the subject of abortion. It is misleading, at best, for some people to try to make the debate on the Bill into another debate on the emotive subject of abortion. The way my party votes on the Bill should not, in any shape or form, be viewed as representing my or any of my colleagues' position, either pro-life or pro-choice, on the subject of abortion. It still remains a matter of conscience. That will not change.

The Bill's purpose is to provide a degree of protection for any vulnerable woman who seeks advice or guidance at an abortion clinic. They may be at the lowest point of their life, unable to share their fears or concerns with even their most trusted friend or family member. All the correspondence that I have received on this Bill has been from people on the pro-life side who are opposed to it. That fact tells me that, in the eyes of many people, the topic has been reduced to a pro-life/pro-choice argument, which it clearly is not. Many who have contacted me — I fully respect their motivation — have spoken about those who are following the words of scripture in taking part in a protest that will lead to their being criminalised. Unfortunately, during our evidence hearings in the Health Committee, we heard that some protesters — maybe only a small number — target not only women who are heading into a clinic, but the people who actually work in those clinics and, worse still, other members of the public who enter such a building in pursuit of other business, which may include children. The protesters take photographs and shout loudly. I welcome amendment No 11, which addresses the aspect of protesters taking photographs or videos. I am sure that we all acknowledge that that sort of behaviour is unacceptable.

The Bill allows for a police officer to direct a protester or suspected protester to leave the safe access zone. They then have the power to remove the person from the zone if they do not leave. At that point, no one has been arrested or attracted a potential criminal record. We have heard from Members that there are harassment laws from so many years ago that could deal with that situation. That is fine, but if you breach those harassment laws, you will attract a criminal record. Therefore, it is not the harassment law or the new law that will make you a criminal: it is your actions that will attract a criminal record.

The other issue that has arisen in correspondence is the human right to protest and the right to freedom of speech. Those rights also come with a responsibility to respect the human rights of others. Those who seek to attend a clinic also have human rights with regard to seeking medical advice, and their rights are equally worthy of protection. The Bill has sought to find a balance between all those competing rights. The right to protest directly outside a clinic will simply be displaced to a point that is 100 yards away from the clinic. That will not stop you from protesting. An individual's right to enter a clinic for whatever reason will also be protected by the Bill. It will prevent any individual from being intimidated or subjected to behaviour that could cause them to feel either threatened or fearful. The Bill, as amended, will respect everyone's rights, be that to protest peacefully or to enter a building without fear.

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance

I can confirm that I will not move amendment Nos 7 and 9, as the Health Minister has written to Committee members and the Bill sponsor and, at our special Health Committee meeting yesterday, outlined what those amendments would mean in practice. I welcome the Minister's assurance in his letter that he will develop a policy statement that sets out how these zones will be implemented. I will support all the amendments that have been tabled by the Bill sponsor. I will support her in her clauses not standing part intentions, and I will oppose all other amendments.

Amendment Nos 7 and 9 are essentially the same amendment. It is worth emphasising that we still need to add clarity to the original Bill on that area, as my colleague Colin McGrath has just outlined, which follows on from evidence given to the Committee, particularly around the relative ineffectiveness of the law as it stands.

It bears repeating and emphasising that safe access zones exist elsewhere. In the words of the Queensland Law Reform Commission, they are:

"to protect the safety and well-being, and to respect the privacy and dignity".

I felt that, in an unamended Bill, the description of the zones was clear and was similar to the law already adopted in the Isle of Man in 2019. Usefully, other amendments have further strengthened that description, including reference to the abortion regulations of 2020. What concerned me in our Committee deliberations was that the ability to enforce the law, when distress was being caused that was clearly intentional, may have been limited by the Bill as it initially stood. To be clear here, we are talking not about reasonable protest, which is legitimate, but about behaviour that is likely to traumatise or further traumatise. When people are accessing healthcare —

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

Where in clause 6 does it say that the criminality is limited to circumstances where the behaviour is likely to traumatise? It says no such thing. It is all-embracing of anything likely to have an effect of influencing, no matter how innocuous that might be.

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance

I spoke to people who have been traumatised when accessing services, and we heard from the chief executives of the trusts, who talked about how their staff felt traumatised having to run the gauntlet through the protesters. When people access healthcare, they should not have to run that gauntlet of hate and harm. My intention was and is to ensure that the legislation is clear about where that gauntlet is.

We need to be in no doubt about the right to protest. However, as with any other right, it is not absolute. It comes with a responsibility, and, essentially, that responsibility is to behave reasonably. No one can argue that it is reasonable behaviour to target women in a way designed to make them feel angry, uncomfortable, traumatised, scared, intimidated, upset, inadequate or unsettled by subjecting them to a torrent of public abuse as they exercise their right to access healthcare.

The Bill empowers the police to enforce safe access zones, and my concern was that the legislation initially did not make it sufficiently clear where those applied. During 2021, the police attended over 50 incidents at premises that would be protected by the legislation going forward. Before that, in the best-known case, police were deployed at the Marie Stopes clinic daily and reported 85 crime occurrences that resulted in just one successful prosecution. Even then, the conviction was overturned precisely because the judge could not be clear that the unpleasant behaviour constituted criminal harassment. That is exactly why the legislation is necessary, but it is also why it is essential to be as clear as possible about what precisely that entails. I repeat that I welcome the Minister's commitment to look further at that through a policy framework.

Evidence was brought to the Committee emphasising that there would be a potential defence under the legislation that those engaging in abuse did not know that they had approached a protected person. That was raised under the definition of "protected person", but it also emphasises the need to be clear about where the offence applies. The reason for that is not just about legal defence in the event that someone is charged with an offence; it has to do with knowing when the police should be called and providing clarity to prevent offences occurring in the first place. In other words, I want to ensure that there is no uncertainty and that, where there is space for reasonable protest, that is defined as well. That is to reduce the potential impact on police resources and, most of all, to reduce the likelihood of offences occurring. The distinction between reasonable protest and forcing people to run the gauntlet of hate to access healthcare will need to be carefully defined going forward and established not just in law but on the ground.

I hope that the Bill, strengthened by the amendments, can proceed with the uncertainty reduced. I support the Bill sponsor's amendments and thank her and the Committee staff for their work before Consideration Stage.

Photo of Emma Sheerin Emma Sheerin Sinn Féin

I support the premise of the Bill, as I stated at Second Stage. I confirm that Sinn Féin will support most of the clauses and the amendments tabled by the Bill sponsor and will vote against amendment No 6, tabled by Jim Allister.

The Bill is about righting a wrong. It tackles violence against women and complements a lot of the good work that has been done or is being progressed in this Assembly mandate. In this mandate, we have a high proportion of female Ministers, and you can see the impact of that through much of the work to tackle misogyny. When my constituency colleague Michelle O'Neill was Executive Office Minister, she led on the strategy to tackle violence against women and girls. We want that strategy to progress. There have been Bills from a number of Ministers, including the Justice Minister, about tackling stalking, revenge porn, upskirting, downblousing, coercive control, sex trafficking and issues that have, for decades and centuries, affected women and have been let continue. The Bill works alongside those Bills to tackle and address misogyny and the root causes of what is, effectively, violence against women.

The so-called protests are acts of aggression targeted at women whose circumstances the aggressors neither know nor understand. Children, people living with disability and staff members are caught in the crossfire and exposed to graphic and harmful imagery without any regard for their personal circumstances, and that is evidence of the intent of the protest organisers. Ireland, as a country, has a shameful, tragic history of how it has treated pregnant women and girls. We have had Magdalene laundries, mother-and-baby homes, unmarked mass graves, secrecy and shame, commentary and judgement. I do not understand why other people's pregnancies are so interesting. I do not understand why another woman's womb is a cause for concern to a random stranger who does not know anything about her life.

Even beyond criminalisation, we have kept a lot of the gender norms and social stigmas that have pressured and shamed women down through the centuries. As young people, we are aware of what is expected of us. We have heard the remarks and the commentary: "No babies until you are married. Once you are married, babies right away. If not, why not? Is something wrong? Are you prioritising your career or some other aspect of your life?". That all carries shame along with it. We do not have funding in this place for the three cycles of IVF that we were promised as part of New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) over two years ago. That is a let-down for those struggling with infertility. The absence of safe access zones outside clinics is a similar dereliction of duty towards the women and couples who struggle with infertility.

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance

Does the Member agree that it is not just about the women who are accessing healthcare at that point but can re-traumatise women who have experienced miscarriage and see graphic images at the protests?

Photo of Emma Sheerin Emma Sheerin Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for her intervention. I agree with that point. I was coming to the fact that women who are undergoing fertility treatment, have suffered an ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, the loss of a child or a stillbirth will be traumatised when they are exposed to that imagery. For anyone to defend that is cruel and insensitive. It is equally heartless to impose such pressure on children who may be accessing speech therapy, women who are accessing routine contraception, staff members who are trying to do a day's work and, most importantly, the women who are accessing the abortion services to which they are entitled in this state under the law.

As many across the House have said, the Bill is not about people's views on abortion. We live in a state that is supposed to deliver healthcare free at the point of delivery without discrimination, fear or favour. People should be entitled to access healthcare without being traumatised, pressured or catcalled on their way into that place.

Photo of Deborah Erskine Deborah Erskine DUP

I have thought a lot about the Bill and, indeed, its consequences. I welcome the opportunity to outline my views. The Bill will be of interest to many in the public domain. From the outset, I make it clear, that, in common with my colleague Pam Cameron MLA, with the exception of amendment No 6, in the name of the Member for North Antrim, I will not support any of the amendments. Like the Member for North Antrim, I oppose the Bill, and I will outline my reasons.

My voting on the issue has been consistent and clear. Unfortunately, throughout the course of the Bill, as it passed Committee Stage and at different stages in the House, some in the public domain have spread false and inaccurate information about my voting record. That has been deeply upsetting. It was designed to wreck my character and misrepresent my deeply held views. I hope that those listening to my speech today will realise the consequences of spreading inaccurate information.

I move to the Bill in question. There has been inadequate time to consider the Bill properly. My DUP colleague Pam Cameron MLA and I made that view clear in the Committee. The fact that the Bill sponsor attended a Committee meeting yesterday to discuss her amendments and we are debating the Bill in the Chamber today speaks to that. We have not, for example, properly considered the consequences that implementing a safe access zone might have on surrounding businesses; nor, indeed, have we looked at best practice elsewhere.

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

I thank the Member for giving way. On her point that there has not been enough time, work on the Bill began in this institution in 2016. We had three years with no Assembly, and it was finally introduced in September last year. I note that the Member's party colleague introduced a Bill on 5 July, just before recess: this Bill was introduced just after recess. Although her colleague's Bill has gone through to Further Consideration Stage, the Member says that there was not enough time for this Bill. The reason why I attended the Committee yesterday was not timing; it was due to the availability of the OLC and the departmental officials.

Photo of Deborah Erskine Deborah Erskine DUP

I thank the Member for her intervention, but a lot has changed since 2016. I would like to see an updated consultation and updated information so that now, in 2022, we could properly look at the Bill in the round.

We have heard important evidence that cannot be diminished. It was particularly distressing to hear some of the stories told to the Health Committee. In particular, I recall evidence from a cancer patient who was attending a clinic not for an abortion but, due to the nature of their cancer, for advice and had abuse hurled at them. I question the care and compassion shown in such cases. However, not all cases of protest create distressing situations such as that, and we have to strike a balance with freedom of speech, which is enshrined in law. Articles 9, 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights establish the freedoms that underpin the right to protest.

I point out that it is incorrect to suggest that wrongdoing is mainstream in the pro-life community or, indeed, in protest activity by pro-life advocates. I categorically condemn the actions of a small minority of individuals in the vicinity of these settings. Such actions are malicious and may reasonably be regarded as criminal in nature. As a result of threats made to staff, two members of staff who gave evidence to the Committee could not be identified. My thoughts are with those working in healthcare premises who are fearful and intimidated when simply going to do their job.

My concerns about the implementation of the Bill and its enforcement have not been addressed. The police said that it would be difficult to enforce the legislation as doing so would require a continuous police presence.

When you look at that issue and at the fact that policing cuts and cuts to policing numbers may be on the cards, given the budget to the Justice Department, we must ask this question: how will the legislation be enforced without proper resources on the ground? I said in Health Committee meetings that surely the Justice Minister must have some role to play in the legislation.

Photo of William Humphrey William Humphrey DUP 3:15 pm, 2nd March 2022

I am grateful to the Member for giving way. She makes an important point. Not only has the Chief Constable recently talked about budget pressures and the effects that those will have on his resources but we have not had the number of police that were promised to be delivered under NDNA. When you talk to the police, as I do as a Belfast representative, they will tell you that they are already hugely overstretched in policing the city centre, where there are huge problems with drugs and solvent abuse and so on.

Photo of Deborah Erskine Deborah Erskine DUP

The Member is absolutely correct. The problems that exist in policing have been raised numerous times in the House over the last number of weeks. They will be concentrated mostly in Belfast as well, so I thank the Member for his intervention.

It is likely that the provisions, if ratified, would be subject to legal challenge, with implications for the taxpayer. I know that I have been an MLA for only a short time, but I am not naive, and I believe that private Members' Bills should not be a tool to gain votes at the ballot box or for simply a line in election literature. Legislation must be for the purpose that it is intended for. It must do exactly what it says on the tin. I do not believe that the Bill delivers that. It raises expectations for staff in such facilities, the service users and the visitors who have legitimate concerns over their treatment outside the doors of premises. Persisting with unbalanced and unworkable legislation is a failure of us as lawmakers.

My colleague Pam Cameron set out the stall on each of the clauses. However, I will again draw your attention to some of the points, particularly to amendment Nos 4 and 12. Amendment No 4 is significant and points to a U-turn by the Bill sponsor. At the beginning, Ms Bailey was against the idea of including any prescribed distance on a safe access zone. Now we see distances included, and there is no provision for the Department to consider whether a distance is appropriate to the circumstances.

Let us take, for instance, Belfast city centre. What would businesses have to say about the fact that they may be within a safe access zone? Would they be aware of that? Does influence come into it? Would it turn customers away from an area, as protesters may be displaced?

Amendment Nos 7 and 9 will now not be moved, as Ms Bradshaw indicated, but I want to give my views on them. Does signage further add to the lack of desire for someone to go into a zone, thereby affecting surrounding businesses? Whilst I understand the intention and motivation behind the amendments, as they remove the defence of lack of knowledge about where a zone is situated, they may also draw attention to anyone who is entering that zone. Therefore, they have a counterproductive effect. Has the sponsor consulted the PSNI in order to gauge the extent to which signage would make enforcement easier? Perhaps she could deal with that specific question.

I thank the Member for North Antrim for tabling amendment No 6. That provision would ensure that competing freedoms are balanced in the implementation of the Bill whilst taking a proactive approach to reducing legal liability for the Department and potential cost to the public purse.

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance

I fully agree that none of us in the Chamber wants to see police time, or court time, for that matter, tied up with the offences, but, as political leaders, should we not be encouraging people not to protest and to have their silent prayers elsewhere where they would not come into conflict with the police and those who are trying to access healthcare? Do you not think that the responsible position would be to encourage people not to protest where it could cause those difficulties for the police?

Photo of Deborah Erskine Deborah Erskine DUP

I will ask the Member this: do we not have freedom of speech in this country? Do we not have the right to protest?

Photo of William Humphrey William Humphrey DUP

It is interesting that the Member for South Belfast raised that point, because it is a salient issue that is being discussed in Belfast City Council. Street preachers and evangelists in the city centre, particularly in Cornmarket, are being harassed by people who are opposed to their religious views. Indeed, an old gentleman who had been giving out literature in St George's Market for years was refused the right to do that. I took up his case, and that decision was reversed. Those are the sorts of religious freedoms that this country should want to see in its capital city. That was an appalling remark from the Member for South Belfast.

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance

I thank the Member for giving way. My remarks were in reference to the police having to intervene, which takes up valuable time that could be used to deal with other crimes. That was the point of my intervention.

Photo of Deborah Erskine Deborah Erskine DUP

Again, I point out that freedom of speech is very important. The right to protest is very important. All of us in the Chamber should uphold the right to protest and the right to freedom of speech.

Some Members:

Will the Member give way?

[Laughter.]

Photo of Deborah Erskine Deborah Erskine DUP

I would like to move on.

Overall, I am not convinced that the Bill deals with the matter at hand. It is not about abortion, as some Members have pointed out. It is about some of the malicious practices that sometimes, unfortunately, operate in those areas.

[Interruption.]

However —

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

Excuse me, sorry. Members who wish to have a chat should maybe go outside. Thank you.

Some Members:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Deborah Erskine Deborah Erskine DUP

Freedom of speech.

By the same token, the Bill does not mitigate for those who wish to peacefully protest or, indeed, speak to a loved one before they enter a premises to use an abortion service because they want them to rethink their decision. That is because influence is an offence in the Bill. The term "influence" is open to interpretation, and its inclusion in the Bill is dangerous and will have ramifications for a number of groups and people.

The Bill will displace the problem and move it elsewhere. The issues can be rectified by looking at harassment laws and strengthening them rather than through a rushed-through piece of legislation. Therefore, I strongly encourage Members to consider carefully legislation that may need to be revisited in future mandates.

Photo of Liz Kimmins Liz Kimmins Sinn Féin

Other Members will know that this matter is very relevant in my constituency. Ironically, as we speak, there are protestors at my local hospital, Daisy Hill Hospital, who have been there since early this morning. That has been a weekly ritual for the better part of two years that, as in other areas, has caused huge distress and anxiety to many women as they attempt to access abortion services or, indeed, other healthcare services.

Over the last number of months in particular, the Assembly has stood united in its commitment to tackling violence and abuse against women and girls. Yet, some Members stand opposed to the Bill, which will protect women from what is undoubtedly targeted abuse of them. We cannot pick and choose what types of abuse we think women should be protected from. You either support the protection of women and girls or you do not.

I also disagree with the view that the Bill's provisions are a form of censorship. I fully appreciate the right to freedom of speech and the right to protest. However, when those activities are having such a significant impact on so many people, we need to put appropriate protections in place, because it is about balancing everyone's rights.

I read the Health Committee's report and the evidence that was given to it by many stakeholders that corroborates the fact that the protests have had real impacts on patients, staff and members of the public. We have been saying that for months. Sadly, those who are so vehemently opposed to the Bill failed to address that in some of their comments.

Those who wish to protest can still do so. No one is taking that right away from them. What is being proposed is not, as some have alluded to, the creation of a one-world view, nor should it place further pressures on the PSNI, which the previous Member to speak suggested. As the Member for South Belfast Ms Bradshaw said, when people know what the legislation is, they are more likely to say, "Right, well I can't do that". When there is a double yellow line on a road, we know that we cannot park there; we do not need the police to come out every time we think about parking in those places. Putting things in that context supports what she was saying.

Safe access zones are about creating safe and neutral spaces to enable incredibly vulnerable women to access healthcare services free from intimidation, harassment and abuse. Regardless of the intention of those who are protesting, the language, imagery and behaviour that has been used at protests — it is well-documented — has, and will continue to have, a very damaging and distressing effect on women, if protections are not put in place.

Women deserve better: women who have been raped; women who have had the devastating news about a fatal fetal condition of their unborn child; women who, for their own personal reasons, cannot continue with their pregnancy; women who are accessing healthcare or who work on the healthcare sites and who may have suffered pregnancy loss or be experiencing fertility issues. They all deserve better. We have a duty to support and protect women who are going through a very difficult and often life-changing experience. Nobody should be faced with that type of behaviour when accessing healthcare.

In particular, I welcome amendment No 4, which further clarifies the distance allowed for establishing a safe zone. That concern was brought to my attention, particularly in relation to Daisy Hill, as it was not clear initially whether the safe access zones would be relevant to the front doors of the building or, indeed, at the entrance and exit to the site as a whole, as that is currently where protests take place. Without that clarification, the Bill may, consequently, have had no impact on situations like the one at Daisy Hill.

I can say wholeheartedly that, of all the issues that I have dealt with in my time as an elected representative, this is without doubt one of the most important to many people in my constituency. As others have said, regardless of their views on abortion, people have expressed their dismay at the protests at our healthcare sites, particularly at Daisy Hill, which is held in the highest regard by us all. It has been widely recognised that the behaviour of many of those protesters towards women and staff is unacceptable.

I am pleased that the Bill has reached this stage. As someone who is incredibly frustrated by the lack of clear responsibility for dealing with the range of issues emanating from the protests, I hope that Members will support the Bill moving to the next stage and support it to its conclusion. That will finally provide the Department of Health with the ability to protect its service users and staff from this trauma.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

I now call the Bill sponsor, Ms Clare Bailey.

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

Thank you to everyone who has spoken so far. As expected, some Members have taken the opportunity to use this debate to rehash views on abortion rather than to discuss what is happening on our streets outside clinics and charities. What is happening is a deliberate campaign of harassment and intimidation against women who are seeking to access services. That would not be tolerated in access to any other health service, but, because of views on abortion and reproductive healthcare, we turn a blind eye to it.

The Bill seeks to allow safe access to sexual and reproductive services. On that point, I will refer to CEDAW, as I think I have done in the past. CEDAW carried out a full state inquiry on the UK, which it very seldom does. In its 2018 UK state inquiry, CEDAW found that the UK's failure to protect women from harassment while accessing sexual and reproductive health services and information amounted to a breach of article 10 and article 12 rights under CEDAW. Therefore, women are discriminated against in accessing specific educational information, including information and advice on family planning, to help ensure the health and well-being of families. That is the context for the Bill.

Today, we were to debate the amendments to the Bill, not to discuss opposition to abortion. I find it confusing to hear that the DUP will not support the Bill, given that DUP councillors in Belfast City Council supported a motion brought by Green Party councillor Áine Groogan back in June 2021. The DUP councillor Gareth Spratt stated:

"Our support for this motion does not affect our individual pro-life positions on this matter of conscience."

While he acknowledged liberty of speech and the right to protest, he stated:

"we must ensure protection of already vulnerable women and the prevention of trauma."

DUP councillors on Newry, Mourne and Down District Council also supported a motion calling for exclusion zones like those proposed here.

Photo of Deborah Erskine Deborah Erskine DUP 3:30 pm, 2nd March 2022

I thank the Member for giving way. My problem is with how the legislation has been drafted. I outlined my concerns about how enforceable it will be on the ground and how it will work in practice. That is what I stated in the Chamber today. My concerns are centred around how the Bill is drafted and its outworkings on the ground.

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

I thank the Member for providing clarity on that.

The DUP is opposing the Bill at Consideration Stage today, saying that it cannot understand the rationale behind some of the amendments. It is fair to say, however, that no amendments to the Bill would be acceptable to the DUP, because it does not want the Bill to pass, just like Mr Allister, who is upfront about that.

Concerns have been raised about the automatic setting of zones and the publication of such zones. It is unfortunate that the Minister is unable to attend today, but I want to make Members aware that I and the Committee have been given every assurance from him that he will address that. If it is OK, I will let you know that the Minister has stated:

"if the Bill is passed, my Department will develop a policy statement setting out how it intends to implement the requirements around Safe Access Zones, including guidance to operators of HSC premises on the display of clear and appropriate signage at protected sites."

Again, I hope that that will go some way towards reassuring those who shared any of those concerns.

The Health Committee's call for evidence on the Bill closed on 12 November 2021. The call for evidence led to 45 written responses from organisations and 6,412 submissions from individuals. I note the high number of responses to the call for evidence and am pleased with the level of engagement, particularly from the sectoral bodies impacted on. That will undoubtedly help me and us, if possible, improve the quality and robustness of the legislation.

While I note the volume of responses from those opposed to the Bill, they tended to focus solely on the rights of those engaging in activities outside sexual and reproductive healthcare clinics, such as freedom of assembly, freedom of speech etc. Those are not absolute rights, however, and it is not sufficient to say that, because it will restrict those rights in certain circumstances, the Bill is not compliant with human rights. The reality is much more nuanced than a simple, binary understanding, whether that be deliberate or not. A balancing of rights is required. Indeed, as the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission highlighted in its evidence session, the court in the Ealing case found that, had the local authority not taken action to ensure access to the clinic, it would have been breaching the human rights of those patients.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

Excuse me, Members. There is a conversation going on that is audible up here. If Members wish to have a conversation, they should please do so outside. Please continue, Ms Bailey.

Photo of Colin McGrath Colin McGrath Social Democratic and Labour Party

I have listened with interest on a number of occasions to references to, I think, articles 9, 10 and 11. To expand on them, however, I will say that each one of those articles clearly states that if, in the exercise of those freedoms, an individual is breaching public order, impacting on other rights or impacting on public safety, consideration can be given to providing a way of restricting those rights. It is clear that, if people breach those rights, they can be held to account. Do you agree that that means that what is in the Bill is compliant with those articles?

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

I thank the Member for that. He is absolutely right. There are caveats with those rights, but those caveats need to be prescribed by law. They are not, currently, but that is what the Bill would do. Rather than wiping out protest, as some think that it would do, the Bill prescribes in law and under human rights articles the balance of those competing rights.

I return to the Ealing case, in which it was found that, had the local authority not provided safe zones, it would have been in breach of the human rights of patients who needed access to abortion services and information. Given the findings of the CEDAW UK state report that I have referenced, the overwhelming evidence provided by the trusts to the Committee and the testimony of service users and staff included with many of the responses to the call for evidence, it is clear that there is an urgent need for intervention, such as that proposed in the Bill, in Northern Ireland to ensure that safe access to legally available services and information is permitted.

I listened intently to the Health Committee's evidence sessions over the past few months, when it heard oral evidence from the Northern Ireland Human Right Commission, the health and social care trusts, the Department of Health and the Police Service of Northern Ireland. I have been happy to engage with the Committee, the Department, the PSNI, the Human Rights Commission, the Attorney General and the Office of the Legislative Counsel in order to help inform my decisions around what amendments are needed to give effect to my intention with the legislation and ensure that it is workable and effective.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the trusts and the Department of Health made it clear in their oral evidence sessions that there was no alternative legislation or regulation already in place that could deal with the problem. Harassment laws require a course of conduct to occur before action can be taken. There are two issues with that in the context of what happens outside sexual and reproductive healthcare centres. First, a patient who is attending a sexual and reproductive healthcare centre for the purpose of accessing abortion services will, in all likelihood, attend that centre only once. That was debated at Second Stage, but I feel the need to repeat it, since it has been brought up again. The offending behaviour is unlikely to ever be considered to be a course of conduct, as it will happen on only one occasion.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

Harassment, of course, is only one issue. There is the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, which makes it an offence to use:

"written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting".

Under the same Order, disorderly behaviour is a criminal offence, and there are other provisions regarding conditions on public gatherings. It is not just about harassment; there are multiple opportunities to deal with untoward and unsuitable behaviour.

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

I thank the Member for that. They are all deemed to be insufficient and inoperable in these circumstances, which is exactly why the behaviours and the distress happen. The health and social care trusts told the Committee that that is why they have had to, I think, put strengthened windows in some of their premises and move services to other places. Their staff have had to change their journeys to and from work, and women presenting with miscarriages nearly did not come to the centre to seek access to services, even when, if they did not, their life was at risk. The current legislative framework does not work in these circumstances.

Harm must have occurred for enforcement and action to be taken. At Second Stage, we heard Claire Sugden, I think, say that the Bill seeks to be a preventative Bill rather than a Bill that seeks to address harm when harm has been done. That is critical in the circumstances that we are talking about. We must ensure that the rights of someone who is accessing services are protected. As the Human Rights Commission stated in its evidence, it is too late to seek redress once access to healthcare has been impeded. Again, that backs up what was brought up at Second Stage. Therefore, it is important that legislation is capable of preventing harm from occurring in the first instance.

Before I discuss the amendments individually, I reiterate my condemnation of the threats that have been levelled at the officials in the Department for merely doing their job and working on this private Member's Bill. It is completely out of order. I want those officials to know that they have my full support.

I hope that that unfortunate incident will concentrate minds in the Chamber about how serious the issue at hand is.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

Excuse me, Ms Bailey. Members, if you wish to conduct conversations, I re-emphasise that the place to do so is outside, please.

Photo of Trevor Clarke Trevor Clarke DUP

I was responding to somebody.

Photo of Trevor Clarke Trevor Clarke DUP

I was responding to somebody beside me.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

Sorry, but you were not. You were standing having a conversation. Ms Bailey, please continue.

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Those engaging in the behaviour that we are trying to regulate are causing real harm and traumatising women, pregnant people, staff and the wider public. The behaviour is not low-level. Those people are not there to help or support. They are there to bully, harass and intimidate someone away from accessing healthcare safely and in confidence. The fact that someone felt so threatened by this legislation that they deemed it acceptable to make a threat against officials goes a long way to highlight the mindset of some of the people involved.

I will now address the clauses specifically. On the advice of the OLC, I propose that clause 1 no longer stand part of the Bill. The clause provided an overview of the Bill's intention, but it added no substantive legislative content and could be confusing when read with the provisions elsewhere in the Bill. It was deemed unnecessary, and I was happy to take that advice on board.

I propose amendment No 1 to tidy up clause 2. It amends the clause to make it refer directly to the Abortion (Northern Ireland) (No. 2) Regulations 2020. This is important to ensure consistency with the language used in other legislation so that the Bill's provisions will relate directly to the commissioning of abortion services. This amendment also ensures that the Bill's remit will be contained to only those premises where it is required, as a premises will become a protected premises only when notice is given to the Department of Health by an operator that it wishes to become one, rather than implying a blanket zone for all premises capable of becoming protected premises.

Although the will of the Department, the Committee and a number of key stakeholders was that the safe access zone should apply automatically rather than through some sort of process with the Department of Health, amendment No 1 allows a zone to be established by way of the legislation without such a process being necessary but in a way that is workable in practice.

Members will note that, on the Marshalled List, amendment No 1 states:

"satisfy conditions 2 and 3" but then goes on to outline conditions 1 and 2. That is a processing error. Apologies. I have spoken to the Bill Office about it, and it will be corrected in the printing of the Bill following this stage, should the amendment pass.

Amendment No 3, which refers to clause 3, sets out how certain premises that provide information, advice or counselling about abortion can also become protected premises. The amendment takes out the requirement for the Department of Health to make a determination that such a premises can be treated as a protected premises and replaces it with a provision that such premises can become protected premises by virtue of fulfilling the three conditions set out in the clause. The advice that I have received from the OLC is that that is preferable, as the conditions set out in the Bill are sufficient without the need for additional steps where the Department needs to make a determination and any additional issues created by that process. That is also commonplace in Bills where safe access zones are operable in other jurisdictions.

(Mr Speaker in the Chair)

I turn to clause 5 and amendment No 4. A considerable number of submissions expressed a preference that the Bill should detail a minimum distance for the extent of the zone. The Department of Health, in particular, raised concerns with me about the difficulty that the Bill's original provisions would present for it. I recognise that including a minimum distance would somewhat simplify the process of designating a zone. I am also mindful, however, of the evidence provided by the Human Rights Commission, which was that previous jurisprudence on the issue is clear that a court would determine not the general principles but the specifics of a zone. For that reason, I propose that clause 5 not stand part of the Bill. Instead, I propose new clause 5A in amendment No 4.

In order to ensure that any zone that is established under the legislation is effective but only as big as is necessary to meet the aim of the Bill, amendment No 4 sets a distance of 100 metres from each entrance and exit point of a protected premises. However, there is the option to extend that to a maximum of 250 metres at the request of an operator, should it be required due to the specific geographical setting of a particular premises in order to meet the objective of the Bill, which is to ensure safe access for protected persons, as laid out in clause 4.

Again, I will try to address an issue that was raised about private operators. I think that Mr Allister raised that. I do not see anywhere in the Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2020 that private operators will be part of the Bill. I hope that that lays those concerns to rest. The premises are stipulated under the Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2020, and those premises will apply in the context of the Bill as well.

I turn to clause 6. There is an important balance to be struck in clause 6(2) so that the identification of what constitutes an offence is flexible and inclusive enough to encompass the full range of behaviours that have the capability of causing harm to a protected person inside a safe access zone, while giving enough certainty and clarity to those trying to enforce the law. As representatives from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission said at their evidence session, I do not think that it is helpful to be too prescriptive in the legislation, as that could lead to a situation where we see attempts to go by the technical letter of the law and not to comply with the spirit of the Bill's provisions.

As I have seen personally and the Health Committee heard at its evidence sessions on the Bill, the type of conduct that can have the effect of impeding access to a sexual and reproductive healthcare centre is incredibly varied and, when taken out of context, may not always seem too problematic. However, when it is targeted at an individual who is trying to access services, it absolutely can cause harm and distress and, ultimately, impact on their right to access healthcare safely and in confidence.

The health trusts were clear about the cynical tactics that were employed by those who engage in that type of activity outside the clinics, where one person would harass a woman on her way into a clinic, and another would harass her on the way out, in order to evade any potential consequences under the existing harassment laws, which have been mentioned. As such, I am content that the wording of clause 6(2), as it stands, is sufficient to cover the full range of offending conduct, as it focuses on the intention and the potential effect of the behaviour rather than detailing specific types of behaviour that could be worked around by those who are intent on intimidating women.

Some concern was raised in the written submissions that the fines for an offence may not be severe enough to act as a sufficient deterrent. The primary aim of the Bill is not to criminalise individuals but to ensure safe access to services. In my view, the creation of an offence, as well as the powers given to the police under clause 7 that require an individual to leave the zone and an associated offence for non-compliance, will be sufficient to ensure the effectiveness of the zone. As such, I believe that clause 6 is appropriate as a whole, and I am firm in my support that it should stand part of the Bill but with a slight amendment.

Amendment No 5 removes clause 6(4). That takes account of concerns that were raised by the PSNI about the difficulty that it would pose for it in trying to enforce the legislation. I understand that, in practice, removing that would have little effect on protections for anyone charged under legislation, as they would still be free to rely on any defence that they wish, should they face any court proceedings, without the explicit reference to that in the Bill.

I propose that clause 8 as originally drafted does not stand part of the Bill. Instead, amendment No 8 will create a new clause 8A. Most of what was detailed in clause 8 is no longer required, given the more limited role of the Department of Health in establishing the zones in clause 5A. New clause 8A sets out more clearly the role of the Department of Health in publishing protected premises and safe access zones. The issue of publication and making sure that people are made properly aware of a safe access zone came up repeatedly during the Committee's evidence sessions and in the debate today. I hope that new clause 8A will go some way to addressing the issues that were raised. It puts a clear obligation on the Department, but, importantly, it is not too prescriptive in the legislation. It gives the Department the flexibility to publish the zones in the manner that it deems appropriate. I am cognisant of the fact that not every zone will be the same, and, as such, how they are publicised may not also need to be the same. The proposed amendment gives the Department the space to come forward with its own policy on how best to meet the obligations in new clause 8A. I believe that that is its preferred option, as I have stated.

A number of written submissions expressed concern about clause 9. They felt that some of the listed rights were in direct conflict with the rights of those accessing the services. Although that may be the case, any safe access zone that is established must be a proportionate and reasonable restriction on human rights. Therefore, it is sensible that all engaged rights are considered when a zone is being established to ensure that that balance is struck. I am concerned that the Department of Health has stated that it would not be appropriate for it to carry out that assessment and that it would not have the competency to do so. As the Human Rights Commission pointed out in its written evidence, section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 requires public authorities not to act in a way that is incompatible with the ECHR. As such, the requirement to ensure that the actions of the Department are compliant with human rights should be well established under current practice at all levels. It should not be a particularly onerous requirement. Although it is not the ultimate arbitrator on human rights issues, that does not preclude it from ensuring or, indeed, lessen its responsibility to ensure that its actions are compatible with human rights under the 1998 Act and as something that would be required, whether or not it is expressly stated in the Bill. Indeed, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, in its response, expressly recommended that the Department should carry out a human rights impact assessment on a case-by-case basis when designating a zone. That said, I propose to remove that clause from the Bill, as the amendments that have been tabled today mean that the role of the Department in establishing a zone has been greatly reduced, and, as such, the clause is no longer required, given that the Department does not have as many functions to exercise as was originally envisaged.

The clear will of the Department, the Committee and a number of stakeholders and key organisations that responded to the call for evidence was that the Bill establishes a zone. This is one of the amendments that is required to tidy up the Bill, given the changes that have been proposed, and to take that into account.

Apologies, Mr Speaker; I had a tooth removed yesterday, I am not feeling myself and I am stuttering a bit. I am nearly done.

On amendment No 10, as a result of the proposal that clause 9 does not stand part of the Bill, a change is required in clause 11 to remove mention of the convention, as it is no longer required. On amendment No 11, there was some confusion in the written responses about the meaning of clause 6(3) and the extent to which the provision covers the recording of a protected person who is in a safe zone. The intention of the provision is that any recording, whether it be video, audio or photographic, that is taken of a protected person while that protected person is in a safe access zone, irrespective of the location of the person doing the recording, will be classified as an offence under the legislation. It came through quite clearly during Committee Stage that the Committee wanted to make sure that the clause was capable of covering the full range of behaviours related to the recording of protected persons. I propose to provide a definition of "recording" in the interpretation clause — clause 11 — to ensure that that is the case.

Finally, following the advice of the OLC, amendment No 12 seeks to define what the Bill means by "premises". That is necessitated by the fact that it is envisaged that the type of premises that could require protection under the Bill are quite varied, and it is important to ensure that the safe access zone is effective, regardless of whether the premises is a large hospital site or a floor of a shared building. So, it is helpful to provide a clear direction in the Bill on what is meant by the term "premises". This amendment also clarifies what is meant by attending a premises, for the avoidance of any confusion in the determination of a protected person.

All that the Bill seeks to do is to provide for safe access to abortion services in Northern Ireland, which women currently do not have. Moving people who are seeking to impede access 100 metres away from the entrances to and exits from premises does nothing to shut down any anti-abortion debate or activism. I hope that all Members can understand the difference and that they can stand by women and staff, rather than, as Ms Erskine implied earlier, eyeing up votes. This is not about votes; this is about protection and safety measures that do not currently exist to ensure access to free, safe, legal services in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice 3:45 pm, 2nd March 2022

In briefly winding up the debate, I want to begin by refuting absolutely the undercurrent of suggestion that to oppose the Bill is to embrace or to endorse abuse or attacks. One Member even used the phrase "violence against women". To oppose the Bill is to say very clearly to the House that existing law is such that violence against women and the abuse of women is provided for in already stipulated legislation and that this Bill is a huge assault upon fundamental rights, namely the right of expression, to the very point that the sponsor of the Bill is removing the least reference to protection of human rights, which was in the original clause 9. In opposing the Bill, I am absolutely not standing here to endorse — I do not tolerate that suggestion for one moment — any of the things that have been described or that have been ascribed to its opponents.

It was notable to me that the very significant step of introducing self-certification of exclusion zones and removing the role of oversight and scrutiny of that from the Department would create a situation where the operators could self-certify these zones and their extension. The sponsor of the Bill attempted to write that off as tidying up. It is nothing like tidying up; it is a fundamental departure to say in legislation that areas within 150 metres of which members of the public can be excluded can be decided on the whim of the operator, rather than, as it was in the original drafting of the Bill, by the Department. That is a mammoth step that has been taken in these amendments, and it is anything but a tidying up.

I also noted that, in the contributions of those who are avid supporters of the Bill, no one tackled the issue of why it is necessary to include in clause 6 the wide ambit of criminalising influence. It is easy to talk about criminalising harassment, abuse and violence, of course. They already are criminalised, but the Bill, in clause 6, criminalises an influencer. Anyone who stands in silent protest, saying absolutely nothing, is nonetheless criminalised as if they are an influencer.

Nobody who supports the Bill has risen to their feet to justify that. That is because it is unjustifiable. It is a step far too far in any legislation to say that, if you try to influence someone in the public sphere, you are a criminal.

Photo of Deborah Erskine Deborah Erskine DUP

The Member makes a very important point. There is an undercurrent that those who are in a pro-life organisation or who hold that view are all antagonistic and are all shouting and hurling abuse outside certain premises. We know that that is not always the case. He makes a very important point on that important aspect of the Bill.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

If people are shouting abuse, being violent and doing all the things that have been suggested, arrest them. Arrest them for disorderly behaviour. Arrest them under the Public Order Order. Arrest them for various offences that already exist, but do not paint as criminals everyone who, out of conscience, has a protest to make and does that legitimately and respectably. That is what the Bill does. That is the primary offence of the Bill to those who take a view about abortion that is contrary to that of its promoters. It is scandalous that the Bill would criminalise someone who legitimately holds a point of view so that they can never express it within a sanitised area, when all that they seek to do is to influence — not to be violent or abusive, just to influence — and to stand for what they stand for. The Bill will criminalise that. That is appalling.

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

I thank the Member for giving way. I have direct experience of what happens outside the doors of the centres. I talked about that when I addressed clause 6 and said that being too prescriptive does not allow what happens on the streets to be taken into account. During my time working with the Marie Stopes clinic, what happened at the doors was not protest, Mr Allister. It was a deliberate campaign of harassment and intimidation to stop me doing my job and to stop women seeking access to that building, regardless of whether they were going to the eighth, ninth or fourth floor.

I have been spat on. I have been physically assaulted. I have been splashed with holy water. I have reported it to the police; I have caught it all on GoPros; and I have caught it on CCTV cameras. The police cannot deal with it under existing legislation because, they say, it is insufficient, or they cannot gather enough evidence to secure a prosecution. Existing legislation is simply not enough. The word "influencing" has been deliberately put in to capture the raft of behaviours and how they twist and turn in order to allow that deliberate campaign of harassment to continue. That is what the Bill would do.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

If the Member was spat on, that was an assault. If the Member was abused, that was a breach of article 9 of the Public Order Order. If she was threatened, likewise. If she was subjected to threatening, insulting and abusive behaviour, those are offences. The people who were doing that would also be guilty of the offence of disorderly behaviour. If it was a course of conduct, it would have been harassment.

There is a multiplicity of things in the criminal calendar that deal with that situation, but the Member wants to push the limits so that the person who does none of those things and who simply stands there, maybe with, as I said, a quotation from the sixth commandment — "Thou shalt not kill" — becomes a criminal because they are an influencer. They have not spat on anyone. They have not shouted at anyone. They have not opened their mouth. They have not been abusive. They have stood there. Under the Bill, that person becomes a criminal, and that is where the Bill goes far too far.

As if that were not bad enough, the Bill makes the offences absolute. One of the amendments would take out clause 6(4), which provided the defence that, if you did not know or had no reasonable way of knowing that the protected person was in a safe zone, you had not committed an offence.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

When I have finished the point. The Member says to the House that she wants to create an absolute offence. Absolute offences are few and far between, and they are there for public policy reasons. For example, it is an absolute offence to drive your car without insurance. Why? To compel people to have their car insured. It does not matter if you say, "I forgot", "My wife forgot" or whatever, because there is no defence. You will put into the category of absolute offence the business of criminalising somebody who is an influencer. If that is not a step beyond what is rational and reasonable, I have no idea what is.

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

The Member is much better versed in the legal and courtroom procedures than I am. However, a reasonable defence can be employed by anybody in any context, for any charges, in any courtroom and at any time: is that right? It does not need to be stipulated in primary legislation that you can use reasonable defence as a defence.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

I do not recognise the phraseology of "reasonable defence". Unless something is specified in the relevant legislation, either the offence was committed or it was not. Some legislation — this may be what the Member is thinking of — mentions "someone without reasonable excuse". Your legislation does not say that. It does not say that someone commits an offence "if without reasonable excuse". If it did, it would be a different matter. However, the Member has created an offence that is an absolute offence. There is no reasonable excuse for being an influencer: you are a criminal, absolute. The Member need not rise to say, "You can always rely on reasonable excuse": you cannot. Unless it is in the legislation, there is no legal defence of reasonable excuse. The Member should know that, and, certainly, if she had considered the issue, she would have known that. We are in a situation where an absolute offence has been created for somebody who is a mere influencer. The question to the House is this: how can that be conscionable?

Photo of Liz Kimmins Liz Kimmins Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for giving way. I go back to the point about someone standing somewhere holding, as you say, a placard with scripture on it. I go back to my original points. I get that it may not be covered under current legislation — that is why we are here; we would not be having the debate if it was — but how can it be deemed acceptable that a person can hold a placard outside a facility that claims that a woman going into that facility is a murderer or that a member of staff going into that facility is killing babies? The issue is the impact of that on all those people. That is why we are here today. We are not taking that right away; we are asking people to move somewhere else. Such activity is harmful, plain and simple, to the people it impacts on.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

The Member says that it is offensive, abusive and harmful to quote Holy Scripture, particularly one of the Ten Commandments, and to simply say, "Thou shalt not kill". It is an appalling position to say that you cannot bear witness to the fact that it is wrong to kill. If you cannot say, "Thou shalt not kill", the corollary of that is that you should not offend anyone by telling them that they should not kill and, indeed, carry on killing. If the placard said, "Thou shalt kill", would that have been offensive? However, once it says, "Thou shalt not kill", suddenly, as an influencer, you are a criminal. That is where the legislation takes us, and that cannot be right.

Photo of Liz Kimmins Liz Kimmins Sinn Féin

I did not mention scripture as being the offensive part; I said that the offensive part is when people are blatantly called "murderers". That is the language that is used: "Babies are killed in here". I fully respect people's right to freedom of speech when it comes to their religious views, but the reality is that not everybody using those facilities shares those religious views. That is a debate for another day, but it is important that we cannot use the view of one religious sect to influence others. That is the point that I make: we are talking about the impact on people.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

The Member is now making a different point. When she first intervened, she talked about holding up something that says something offensive. The Member is talking about abuse being hurled and someone being called "a murderer". If it is threatening, abusive or insulting, that is already a criminal offence. I am talking about an individual who does none of that but stands outside to demonstrate their opposition to abortion. I ask why you are criminalising that influencer. Why do you think it is necessary to go beyond those who are abusing, threatening and insulting to incorporate those who are influencers? That is what the Bill does. No one in the debate has addressed that point. I was making the point that that is compounded by the fact that it is now an absolute offence.

It is the most draconian of legislation, and, although the House will approve it, I say that it should not.

Question put and negatived. Clause 1 disagreed to.

Clause 2 (Premises where abortion treatments are carried out)

Amendment No 1 proposed:

In page 1, line 8, leave out from second “are” to end of line 10 and insert—

<BR/>

“satisfy conditions 2 and 3.


(2) Condition 1 is that they are premises where provision is made, or proposed to be made, for treatment for the lawful termination of pregnancy in accordance with the Abortion (Northern Ireland) (No.2) Regulations 2020.


(3) Condition 2 is that the operator of the premises has given notice to the Department that the operator wishes the premises to be protected premises.” — [Ms Bailey.]

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

I remind all Members of the requirement for social distancing while the Division takes place.

The Assembly divided:

<SPAN STYLE="font-style:italic;"> Ayes 58; Noes 28

AYES

Dr Aiken, Mr Allen, Dr Archibald, Ms Armstrong, Ms Bailey, Mrs Barton, Mr Beattie, Mr Beggs, Mr Blair, Mr Boylan, Ms S Bradley, Ms Bradshaw, Ms Brogan, Mr Butler, Mr Carroll, Mr Catney, Mr Chambers, Mr Delargy, Mr Dickson, Ms Dillon, Ms Dolan, Mr Durkan, Ms Ennis, Ms Ferguson, Ms Flynn, Mr Gildernew, Ms Hargey, Ms Hunter, Mr Kearney, Mrs D Kelly, Mr G Kelly, Ms Kimmins, Mrs Long, Mr Lunn, Mr Lyttle, Mr McAleer, Mr McCrossan, Mr McGrath, Mr McGuigan, Mr McHugh, Ms McLaughlin, Mr McNulty, Ms Mallon, Mr Muir, Ms Á Murphy, Mr C Murphy, Mr Nesbitt, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr O'Toole, Miss Reilly, Ms Rogan, Mr Sheehan, Ms Sheerin, Mr Stewart, Ms Sugden, Mr Swann

Tellers for the Ayes: Ms Bradshaw, Ms Sugden

NOES

Mr Allister, Mr M Bradley, Ms P Bradley, Mr K Buchanan, Mr T Buchanan, Mr Buckley, Ms Bunting, Mrs Cameron, Mr Clarke, Mrs Dodds, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mrs Erskine, Mr Frew, Mr Givan, Mr Harvey, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mr Lyons, Miss McIlveen, Mr Middleton, Mr Newton, Mr Poots, Mr Robinson, Mr Storey, Mr Weir, Mr Wells

Tellers for the Noes: Mr Allister, Mrs Erskine

Question accordingly agreed to.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

I will not call amendment No 2 as it is mutually exclusive to amendment No1, which has been made.

Question put, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

The Assembly divided:

<SPAN STYLE="font-style:italic;"> Ayes 58; Noes 28

AYES

Dr Aiken, Mr Allen, Dr Archibald, Ms Armstrong, Ms Bailey, Mrs Barton, Mr Beattie, Mr Beggs, Mr Blair, Mr Boylan, Ms S Bradley, Ms Bradshaw, Ms Brogan, Mr Butler, Mr Carroll, Mr Catney, Mr Chambers, Mr Delargy, Mr Dickson, Ms Dillon, Ms Dolan, Mr Durkan, Ms Ennis, Ms Ferguson, Ms Flynn, Mr Gildernew, Ms Hargey, Ms Hunter, Mr Kearney, Mrs D Kelly, Mr G Kelly, Ms Kimmins, Mrs Long, Mr Lunn, Mr Lyttle, Mr McAleer, Mr McCrossan, Mr McGrath, Mr McGuigan, Mr McHugh, Ms McLaughlin, Mr McNulty, Ms Mallon, Mr Muir, Ms Á Murphy, Mr C Murphy, Mr Nesbitt, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr O'Toole, Miss Reilly, Ms Rogan, Mr Sheehan, Ms Sheerin, Mr Stewart, Ms Sugden, Mr Swann

Tellers for the Ayes: Ms Bradshaw, Ms Sugden

NOES

Mr Allister, Mr M Bradley, Ms P Bradley, Mr K Buchanan, Mr T Buchanan, Mr Buckley, Ms Bunting, Mrs Cameron, Mr Clarke, Mrs Dodds, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mrs Erskine, Mr Frew, Mr Givan, Mr Harvey, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mr Lyons, Miss McIlveen, Mr Middleton, Mr Newton, Mr Poots, Mr Robinson, Mr Storey, Mr Weir, Mr Wells

Tellers for the Noes: Mr Allister, Mrs Erskine

Question accordingly agreed to. Clause 2, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3 (Premises where information, advice or counselling about abortion treatments are provided)

Amendment No 3 proposed:

In page 2, line 3, leave out subsections (4) and (5) and insert—

<BR/>

“(4) Condition 3 is that the operator of the premises has given notice to the Department that the operator wishes the premises to be protected premises.” — [Ms Bailey.]

Question put, That the amendment be made. The Assembly divided:

Ayes 58; Noes 28

AYES

Dr Aiken, Mr Allen, Dr Archibald, Ms Armstrong, Ms Bailey, Mrs Barton, Mr Beattie, Mr Beggs, Mr Blair, Mr Boylan, Ms S Bradley, Ms Bradshaw, Ms Brogan, Mr Butler, Mr Carroll, Mr Catney, Mr Chambers, Mr Delargy, Mr Dickson, Ms Dillon, Ms Dolan, Mr Durkan, Ms Ennis, Ms Ferguson, Ms Flynn, Mr Gildernew, Ms Hargey, Ms Hunter, Mr Kearney, Mrs D Kelly, Mr G Kelly, Ms Kimmins, Mrs Long, Mr Lunn, Mr Lyttle, Mr McAleer, Mr McCrossan, Mr McGrath, Mr McGuigan, Mr McHugh, Ms McLaughlin, Mr McNulty, Ms Mallon, Mr Muir, Ms Á Murphy, Mr C Murphy, Mr Nesbitt, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr O'Toole, Miss Reilly, Ms Rogan, Mr Sheehan, Ms Sheerin, Mr Stewart, Ms Sugden, Mr Swann

Tellers for the Ayes: Ms Bradshaw, Ms Sugden

NOES

Mr Allister, Mr M Bradley, Ms P Bradley, Mr K Buchanan, Mr T Buchanan, Mr Buckley, Ms Bunting, Mrs Cameron, Mr Clarke, Mrs Dodds, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mrs Erskine, Mr Frew, Mr Givan, Mr Harvey, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mr Lyons, Miss McIlveen, Mr Middleton, Mr Newton, Mr Poots, Mr Robinson, Mr Storey, Mr Weir, Mr Wells

Tellers for the Noes: Mr Allister, Mrs Cameron

Question accordingly agreed to.

Question put, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill. The Assembly divided:

Ayes 58; Noes 28

AYES

Dr Aiken, Mr Allen, Dr Archibald, Ms Armstrong, Ms Bailey, Mrs Barton, Mr Beattie, Mr Beggs, Mr Blair, Mr Boylan, Ms S Bradley, Ms Bradshaw, Ms Brogan, Mr Butler, Mr Carroll, Mr Catney, Mr Chambers, Mr Delargy, Mr Dickson, Ms Dillon, Ms Dolan, Mr Durkan, Ms Ennis, Ms Ferguson, Ms Flynn, Mr Gildernew, Ms Hargey, Ms Hunter, Mr Kearney, Mrs D Kelly, Mr G Kelly, Ms Kimmins, Mrs Long, Mr Lunn, Mr Lyttle, Mr McAleer, Mr McCrossan, Mr McGrath, Mr McGuigan, Mr McHugh, Ms McLaughlin, Mr McNulty, Ms Mallon, Mr Muir, Ms Á Murphy, Mr C Murphy, Mr Nesbitt, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr O'Toole, Miss Reilly, Ms Rogan, Mr Sheehan, Ms Sheerin, Mr Stewart, Ms Sugden, Mr Swann

Tellers for the Ayes: Ms Bradshaw, Ms Sugden

NOES

Mr Allister, Mr M Bradley, Ms P Bradley, Mr K Buchanan, Mr T Buchanan, Mr Buckley, Ms Bunting, Mrs Cameron, Mr Clarke, Mrs Dodds, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mrs Erskine, Mr Frew, Mr Givan, Mr Harvey, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mr Lyons, Miss McIlveen, Mr Middleton, Mr Newton, Mr Poots, Mr Robinson, Mr Storey, Mr Weir, Mr Wells

Tellers for the Noes: Mr Allister, Mrs Cameron

Question accordingly agreed to. Clause 3, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4 (Protected persons)

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Some Members:

Aye

Some Members:

No.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether those colleagues who are opposing the clauses and amendments would be interested in registering their opposition rather than going through the Lobbies.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

We have had indications from two parties that they are prepared to do that in respect of a number of notified amendments.

The Assembly divided.

<SPAN STYLE="font-style:italic;"> Ayes 58; Noes 28

AYES

Dr Aiken, Mr Allen, Dr Archibald, Ms Armstrong, Ms Bailey, Mrs Barton, Mr Beattie, Mr Beggs, Mr Blair, Mr Boylan, Ms S Bradley, Ms Bradshaw, Ms Brogan, Mr Butler, Mr Carroll, Mr Catney, Mr Chambers, Mr Delargy, Mr Dickson, Ms Dillon, Ms Dolan, Mr Durkan, Ms Ennis, Ms Ferguson, Ms Flynn, Mr Gildernew, Ms Hargey, Ms Hunter, Mr Kearney, Mrs D Kelly, Mr G Kelly, Ms Kimmins, Mrs Long, Mr Lunn, Mr Lyttle, Mr McAleer, Mr McCrossan, Mr McGrath, Mr McGuigan, Mr McHugh, Ms McLaughlin, Mr McNulty, Ms Mallon, Mr Muir, Ms Á Murphy, Mr C Murphy, Mr Nesbitt, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr O'Toole, Miss Reilly, Ms Rogan, Mr Sheehan, Ms Sheerin, Mr Stewart, Ms Sugden, Mr Swann

Tellers for the Ayes: Mr McGrath, Ms Sugden

NOES

Mr Allister, Mr M Bradley, Ms P Bradley, Mr K Buchanan, Mr T Buchanan, Mr Buckley, Ms Bunting, Mrs Cameron, Mr Clarke, Mrs Dodds, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mrs Erskine, Mr Frew, Mr Givan, Mr Harvey, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mr Lyons, Miss McIlveen, Mr Middleton, Mr Newton, Mr Poots, Mr Robinson, Mr Storey, Mr Weir, Mr Wells

Tellers for the Noes: Mr Allister, Mrs Cameron

Question accordingly agreed to. Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5 (Safe access zone)

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Some Members:

Aye.

Some Members:

No.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

Order, Members. We think that there may be a misunderstanding of what the previous vote was. I say that because the Members who spoke earlier talked about their position. I would prefer to take the vote again, if Members are content.

Question put a second time.

A Member:

Aye.

Some Members:

No.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

Do the Ayes have it?

Some Members:

No.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

Sorry — the Noes.

[Laughter.]

Right, what time is it?

[Laughter.]

The Noes have it. The Noes have it, just to be sure to be sure.

Clause 5 disagreed to.

New Clause

Amendment No 4 proposed:

After clause 5 insert—

<BR/>

Establishment of safe access zone


5A.—(1) A safe access zone is established for protected premises in accordance with this section.


(2) Except as provided by subsection (3), the safe access zone for protected premises consists of—


(a) the protected premises; and


(b) the public area outside the protected premises which lies within 100 metres from each entrance to, or exit from, those premises.


(3) If the operator of any protected premises is of the opinion that the public area mentioned in subsection (2)(b) is not adequate to afford safe access to the premises for protected persons, the operator may give notice to the Department that it wishes the public area so mentioned to be extended by a specified distance not exceeding 150 metres.


(4) On receipt of a notice under section 2(3) relating to any premises, the Department must include an entry relating to those premises in the list maintained by it under section 8A; and a safe access zone is established in relation to those premises on publication of that entry under section 8A.


(5) On receipt of a notice under subsection (3) relating to any premises, the Department must amend any entry in the list published by it under section 8A which relates to the premises; and the extended safe access zone is established in relation to those premises on publication of the amended entry under section 8A.


(6) In this section ‘public area’ means a place to which the public has access, without payment, as of right.” — [Ms Bailey.]

Question put, That the amendment be made. The Assembly divided:

<SPAN STYLE="font-style:italic;"> Ayes 58; Noes 28

AYES

Dr Aiken, Mr Allen, Dr Archibald, Ms Armstrong, Ms Bailey, Mrs Barton, Mr Beattie, Mr Beggs, Mr Blair, Mr Boylan, Ms S Bradley, Ms Bradshaw, Ms Brogan, Mr Butler, Mr Carroll, Mr Catney, Mr Chambers, Mr Delargy, Mr Dickson, Ms Dillon, Ms Dolan, Mr Durkan, Ms Ennis, Ms Ferguson, Ms Flynn, Mr Gildernew, Ms Hargey, Ms Hunter, Mr Kearney, Mrs D Kelly, Mr G Kelly, Ms Kimmins, Mrs Long, Mr Lunn, Mr Lyttle, Mr McAleer, Mr McCrossan, Mr McGrath, Mr McGuigan, Mr McHugh, Ms McLaughlin, Mr McNulty, Ms Mallon, Mr Muir, Ms Á Murphy, Mr C Murphy, Mr Nesbitt, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr O'Toole, Miss Reilly, Ms Rogan, Mr Sheehan, Ms Sheerin, Mr Stewart, Ms Sugden, Mr Swann

Tellers for the Ayes: Mr McGrath, Ms Sugden

NOES

Mr Allister, Mr M Bradley, Ms P Bradley, Mr K Buchanan, Mr T Buchanan, Mr Buckley, Ms Bunting, Mrs Cameron, Mr Clarke, Mrs Dodds, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mrs Erskine, Mr Frew, Mr Givan, Mr Harvey, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mr Lyons, Miss McIlveen, Mr Middleton, Mr Newton, Mr Poots, Mr Robinson, Mr Storey, Mr Weir, Mr Wells

Tellers for the Noes: Mr Allister, Mrs Dodds

Question accordingly agreed to.

New clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 6 (Offences in respect of a safe access zone)

Amendment No 5 proposed:

In page 3, line 4, leave out subsection (4). — [Ms Bailey.]

Question put, That the amendment be made. The Assembly divided:

Ayes 58; Noes 28

AYES

Dr Aiken, Mr Allen, Dr Archibald, Ms Armstrong, Ms Bailey, Mrs Barton, Mr Beattie, Mr Beggs, Mr Blair, Mr Boylan, Ms S Bradley, Ms Bradshaw, Ms Brogan, Mr Butler, Mr Carroll, Mr Catney, Mr Chambers, Mr Delargy, Mr Dickson, Ms Dillon, Ms Dolan, Mr Durkan, Ms Ennis, Ms Ferguson, Ms Flynn, Mr Gildernew, Ms Hargey, Ms Hunter, Mr Kearney, Mrs D Kelly, Mr G Kelly, Ms Kimmins, Mrs Long, Mr Lunn, Mr Lyttle, Mr McAleer, Mr McCrossan, Mr McGrath, Mr McGuigan, Mr McHugh, Ms McLaughlin, Mr McNulty, Ms Mallon, Mr Muir, Ms Á Murphy, Mr C Murphy, Mr Nesbitt, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr O'Toole, Miss Reilly, Ms Rogan, Mr Sheehan, Ms Sheerin, Mr Stewart, Ms Sugden, Mr Swann

Tellers for the Ayes: Ms Bradshaw, Ms Sugden

NOES

Mr Allister, Mr M Bradley, Ms P Bradley, Mr K Buchanan, Mr T Buchanan, Mr Buckley, Ms Bunting, Mrs Cameron, Mr Clarke, Mrs Dodds, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mrs Erskine, Mr Frew, Mr Givan, Mr Harvey, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mr Lyons, Miss McIlveen, Mr Middleton, Mr Newton, Mr Poots, Mr Robinson, Mr Storey, Mr Weir, Mr Wells

Tellers for the Noes: Mr Allister, Mrs Erskine

Question accordingly agreed to.

Question put, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill. The Assembly divided:

Ayes 58; Noes 28

AYES

Dr Aiken, Mr Allen, Dr Archibald, Ms Armstrong, Ms Bailey, Mrs Barton, Mr Beattie, Mr Beggs, Mr Blair, Mr Boylan, Ms S Bradley, Ms Bradshaw, Ms Brogan, Mr Butler, Mr Carroll, Mr Catney, Mr Chambers, Mr Delargy, Mr Dickson, Ms Dillon, Ms Dolan, Mr Durkan, Ms Ennis, Ms Ferguson, Ms Flynn, Mr Gildernew, Ms Hargey, Ms Hunter, Mr Kearney, Mrs D Kelly, Mr G Kelly, Ms Kimmins, Mrs Long, Mr Lunn, Mr Lyttle, Mr McAleer, Mr McCrossan, Mr McGrath, Mr McGuigan, Mr McHugh, Ms McLaughlin, Mr McNulty, Ms Mallon, Mr Muir, Ms Á Murphy, Mr C Murphy, Mr Nesbitt, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr O'Toole, Miss Reilly, Ms Rogan, Mr Sheehan, Ms Sheerin, Mr Stewart, Ms Sugden, Mr Swann

Tellers for the Ayes: Ms Bradshaw, Ms Sugden

NOES

Mr Allister, Mr M Bradley, Ms P Bradley, Mr K Buchanan, Mr T Buchanan, Mr Buckley, Ms Bunting, Mrs Cameron, Mr Clarke, Mrs Dodds, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mrs Erskine, Mr Frew, Mr Givan, Mr Harvey, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mr Lyons, Miss McIlveen, Mr Middleton, Mr Newton, Mr Poots, Mr Robinson, Mr Storey, Mr Weir, Mr Wells

Tellers for the Noes: Mr Allister, Mrs Erskine

Question accordingly agreed to. Clause 6, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 7 (Enforcement of safe access zone by a constable)

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill. The Assembly divided:

Ayes 58; Noes 28

AYES

Dr Aiken, Mr Allen, Dr Archibald, Ms Armstrong, Ms Bailey, Mrs Barton, Mr Beattie, Mr Beggs, Mr Blair, Mr Boylan, Ms S Bradley, Ms Bradshaw, Ms Brogan, Mr Butler, Mr Carroll, Mr Catney, Mr Chambers, Mr Delargy, Mr Dickson, Ms Dillon, Ms Dolan, Mr Durkan, Ms Ennis, Ms Ferguson, Ms Flynn, Mr Gildernew, Ms Hargey, Ms Hunter, Mr Kearney, Mrs D Kelly, Mr G Kelly, Ms Kimmins, Mrs Long, Mr Lunn, Mr Lyttle, Mr McAleer, Mr McCrossan, Mr McGrath, Mr McGuigan, Mr McHugh, Ms McLaughlin, Mr McNulty, Ms Mallon, Mr Muir, Ms Á Murphy, Mr C Murphy, Mr Nesbitt, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr O'Toole, Miss Reilly, Ms Rogan, Mr Sheehan, Ms Sheerin, Mr Stewart, Ms Sugden, Mr Swann

Tellers for the Ayes: Mr McGrath, Ms Sugden

NOES

Mr Allister, Mr M Bradley, Ms P Bradley, Mr K Buchanan, Mr T Buchanan, Mr Buckley, Ms Bunting, Mrs Cameron, Mr Clarke, Mrs Dodds, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mrs Erskine, Mr Frew, Mr Givan, Mr Harvey, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mr Lyons, Miss McIlveen, Mr Middleton, Mr Newton, Mr Poots, Mr Robinson, Mr Storey, Mr Weir, Mr Wells

Tellers for the Noes: Mr Allister, Mrs Cameron

Question accordingly agreed to. Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 8 (Procedure for designating a safe access zone)

Amendment No 6 proposed:

In page 3, line 26, leave out “must” and insert “may subject to Clause 9(c)”. — [Mr Allister.]

Question put, That amendment No 6 be made. The Assembly divided:

Ayes 28; Noes 58

AYES

Mr Allister, Mr M Bradley, Ms P Bradley, Mr K Buchanan, Mr T Buchanan, Mr Buckley, Ms Bunting, Mrs Cameron, Mr Clarke, Mrs Dodds, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mrs Erskine, Mr Frew, Mr Givan, Mr Harvey, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mr Lyons, Miss McIlveen, Mr Middleton, Mr Newton, Mr Poots, Mr Robinson, Mr Storey, Mr Weir, Mr Wells

Tellers for the Ayes: Mr Allister, Mrs Cameron

NOES

Dr Aiken, Mr Allen, Dr Archibald, Ms Armstrong, Ms Bailey, Mrs Barton, Mr Beattie, Mr Beggs, Mr Blair, Mr Boylan, Ms S Bradley, Ms Bradshaw, Ms Brogan, Mr Butler, Mr Carroll, Mr Catney, Mr Chambers, Mr Delargy, Mr Dickson, Ms Dillon, Ms Dolan, Mr Durkan, Ms Ennis, Ms Ferguson, Ms Flynn, Mr Gildernew, Ms Hargey, Ms Hunter, Mr Kearney, Mrs D Kelly, Mr G Kelly, Ms Kimmins, Mrs Long, Mr Lunn, Mr Lyttle, Mr McAleer, Mr McCrossan, Mr McGrath, Mr McGuigan, Mr McHugh, Ms McLaughlin, Mr McNulty, Ms Mallon, Mr Muir, Ms Á Murphy, Mr C Murphy, Mr Nesbitt, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr O'Toole, Miss Reilly, Ms Rogan, Mr Sheehan, Ms Sheerin, Mr Stewart, Ms Sugden, Mr Swann

Tellers for the Noes: Mr McGrath, Ms Sugden

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment No 7 not moved.

Clause 8 disagreed to.

New Clause

Amendment No 8 proposed:

After clause 8 insert—



Publication of list of protected premises and safe access zones


8A. The Department must maintain and publish, in such manner as it thinks appropriate, a list of all premises which are for the time being protected premises for the purposes of this Act together with, in the case of each premises, an indication of the extent of the safe access zones established for the premises under section 5A.” — [Ms Bailey.]

Question put, That the amendment be made. The Assembly divided:

Ayes 58; Noes 28

AYES

Dr Aiken, Mr Allen, Dr Archibald, Ms Armstrong, Ms Bailey, Mrs Barton, Mr Beattie, Mr Beggs, Mr Blair, Mr Boylan, Ms S Bradley, Ms Bradshaw, Ms Brogan, Mr Butler, Mr Carroll, Mr Catney, Mr Chambers, Mr Delargy, Mr Dickson, Ms Dillon, Ms Dolan, Mr Durkan, Ms Ennis, Ms Ferguson, Ms Flynn, Mr Gildernew, Ms Hargey, Ms Hunter, Mr Kearney, Mrs D Kelly, Mr G Kelly, Ms Kimmins, Mrs Long, Mr Lunn, Mr Lyttle, Mr McAleer, Mr McCrossan, Mr McGrath, Mr McGuigan, Mr McHugh, Ms McLaughlin, Mr McNulty, Ms Mallon, Mr Muir, Ms Á Murphy, Mr C Murphy, Mr Nesbitt, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr O'Toole, Miss Reilly, Ms Rogan, Mr Sheehan, Ms Sheerin, Mr Stewart, Ms Sugden, Mr Swann

Tellers for the Ayes: Ms Bradshaw, Ms Sugden

NOES

Mr Allister, Mr M Bradley, Ms P Bradley, Mr K Buchanan, Mr T Buchanan, Mr Buckley, Ms Bunting, Mrs Cameron, Mr Clarke, Mrs Dodds, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mrs Erskine, Mr Frew, Mr Givan, Mr Harvey, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mr Lyons, Miss McIlveen, Mr Middleton, Mr Newton, Mr Poots, Mr Robinson, Mr Storey, Mr Weir, Mr Wells

Tellers for the Noes: Mr Allister, Mrs Cameron

Question accordingly agreed to.

New clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Amendment No 9 not moved.

Clause 9 disagreed to.

Clause 10 (Monitoring of effectiveness of safe access zones)

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Some Members:

Aye.

Some Members:

No

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

I note that the TUV and the DUP have opposed the Question. Those parties' opposition is on the record. However, the Ayes have it.

Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 11 (Interpretation)

Amendment No 10 proposed:

In page 4, leave out line 17. — [Ms Bailey.]

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Some Members:

Aye.

Some Members:

No.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

I note that the TUV and the DUP have opposed the Question. Those parties' opposition is now on the record. However, I think that the Ayes have it.

Amendment No 10 agreed to.

Amendment No 11 proposed:

In page 4, line 21, at end insert—

<BR/>

“‘record’ means—


(a) To make a recording of sounds; or


(b) To make a recording of moving images; or


(c) To make a recording of moving images accompanied by a recording of sounds; or


(d) To take a photograph, regardless of the medium on which the recording is made or the method by which the sounds or images are reproduced or produced.” — [Ms Bailey.]

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Some Members:

Aye.

Some Members:

No.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

I note that the TUV and the DUP have opposed the Question. Those parties' opposition is now on the record. However, I think that the Ayes have it.

Amendment No 11 agreed to.

Amendment No 12 proposed:

In page 4, line 21, at end insert—

<BR/>

“(1) In this Act a reference to ‘premises’ is to be read—


(a) as including a reference to the land on which the premises are situated; and


(b) in the case of premises which form part only of a building, as a reference to the whole building.


(2) For the purposes of this Act a person is attending protected premises if the person is accessing or leaving, or attempting to access or leave, those premises.” — [Ms Bailey.]

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Some Members:

Aye.

Some Members:

No.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

I note that the TUV and the DUP have opposed the Question. Those parties' opposition is now on the record. However, I think that the Ayes have it.

Amendment No 12 agreed to.

Question put, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Some Members:

Aye.

Some Members:

No.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

I note that the TUV and the DUP have opposed the Question. Those parties' opposition is now on the record. However, I think that the Ayes have it.

Clause 11, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 12 (Commencement)

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Some Members:

Aye

Some Members:

No.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

I note that the TUV and the DUP have opposed the Question. Those parties' opposition is now on the record. However, I think that the Ayes have it.

Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 13 (Short title)

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Some Members:

Aye.

Some Members:

No.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

I note that the TUV and the DUP have opposed the Question. Those parties' opposition is now on the record. However, I think that the Ayes have it.

Clause 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Long title agreed to.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

That concludes the Consideration Stage of the Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Bill. The Bill stands referred to the Speaker. I thank all Members for their contributions and cooperation. I ask Members to take their ease for a moment.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Beggs] in the Chair)