Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Bill: Further Consideration Stage

Private Members' Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 14th March 2022.

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Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party 3:00 pm, 14th March 2022

I call Ms Clare Bailey to formally move the Further 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 of five amendments, which deal with the publication of zones and offences, and we will debate the amendments in turn.

I remind Members who intend 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 has been 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. If that is clear, we will proceed.

Clause 1 (Premises where abortion treatments are carried out)

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party 3:30 pm, 14th March 2022

We come to the single group of amendments for debate. With amendment No 1, it will be convenient to debate amendment Nos 2 to 5. I call Ms Clare Bailey to move amendment No 1 and to address the other amendments in the group.

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

I beg to move amendment No 1:

In page 1, line 8, after second “premises” insert—

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“and that notice has not been withdrawn by the operator”.

The following amendments stood on the Marshalled List:

No 2: In clause 2, page 2, line 2, after second “premises” insert—



“and that notice has not been withdrawn by the operator”. — [Ms Bailey.]

No 3: In clause 4, page 2, line 27, after “1(3)” insert “or section 2(4)”. — [Ms Bailey.]

No 4: In clause 5, page 2, line 39, after “act” insert “without reasonable excuse”. — [Mr Allister.]

No 5: In clause 7, page 3, line 31, leave out from “maintain” to end of line 35 and insert—



“—


(a) maintain 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 protected premises, an indication of the extent of the safe access zone established for the premises under section 4;


(b) publish that list in such manner as appears to the Department to be appropriate to bring the existence and extent of safe access zones to the attention of members of the public likely to be affected; and


(c) ensure (so far as its powers extend) that appropriate steps are taken by an operator of protected premises for bringing the existence and extent of the safe access zone for those premises to the attention of members of the public.” — [Ms Bailey.]

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

I am very pleased that the Bill has reached this stage of its development. I express my gratitude, again, to the Committee for Health, the Office of the Legislative Counsel (OLC), the Department of Health and all the other stakeholders who have helped to get us this far. The amendments that we worked on and made at Consideration Stage went some way to getting the Bill to the point where, once passed, it would be effective and workable. However, a number of issues came up at Consideration Stage that meant that further work would be required to fully achieve that.

Amendment Nos 1 and 2 amend clauses 1 and 2 respectively so that it is clearer that the safe access zone will apply only to a premises while it meets the definition of "protected premises". The original provision set out that a safe access zone would only apply to a protected premises. It was not explicit that there was a mechanism for a zone to no longer apply. Amendment Nos 1 and 2 outline how that can occur.

Amendment No 3 tidies up clause 4 following the amendments that were made to it during Consideration Stage. The amendments at Consideration Stage set out how a zone would be established and the role of the Department in that process, but there was an omission in relation to premises where information, advice or counselling about abortion services were provided. Amendment No 3 is a minor change to correct that and ensure that they are included in that section of the Bill.

The Member for North Antrim has tabled amendment No 4 to add a reasonable-excuse defence to the offence outlined at clause 5(2). I understand the concerns that were raised at Consideration Stage that the effect of then amendment No 5 was that the offence could be one of strict liability. While I stand over that amendment to remove that defence, as the PSNI was clear about the impact that it could have on the enforceability of the legislation, it is not, nor has it ever been, my intention for the Bill to unnecessarily criminalise anyone.

The offence outlined in the Bill is narrow in scope, despite what some have alleged. The Bill does not ban protests and it does not ban silent prayer: it simply regulates the behaviours of people who are targeting women and are attempting to stop them accessing lawfully available healthcare and information — that is all — and allows staff to go about their jobs, unimpeded and without impingement. As such, I do not envisage many examples where someone might have a reasonable excuse for engaging in behaviour:

"with the intent of, or reckless as to whether it has the effect of" influencing, "preventing or impeding access", or:

"causing harassment, alarm or distress to a protected person ... attending protected premises".

Nevertheless, I do not see any issue with including it to give additional reassurance on the operation of the clause. Therefore I support Mr Allister's amendment to ensure that there is not a strict liability offence. I thank him for his assistance and willingness to work with me to get agreement on how to bring that forward. I have no doubt that he will speak to that in great detail.

Amendment No 5 relates to how the safe access zones, once established, will be published in a list and how the public will be made aware of their existence. That has been subject to extensive discussion throughout the passage of the legislation. At Consideration Stage, I proposed some changes to the process, with the assurance that the detail on how they could be implemented would be best dealt with through a policy paper from the Department of Health.

Ms Bradshaw also sought to do that with amendments that she subsequently did not move.

While the policy paper requirement remains in place, amendment No 5 would elaborate on it more clearly in primary legislation for the avoidance of doubt. The amendment expands the requirement to publish a list of protected premises and the extent of their safe access zones so that it is clear that there is a need to ensure that the existence of zones is adequately publicised more generally so that people can be sure of where they stand — literally — in relation to the law.

The amendments are fairly technical in nature and provide a degree of clarity and certainty. I hope that Members can support them. I will support all five.

Photo of Colm Gildernew Colm Gildernew Sinn Féin

As Chair of the Health Committee, I advise the Assembly that the Committee has not had an opportunity to consider the amendments before us in the Bill sponsor's name or that in the name of Jim Allister. The Committee, therefore, has no position on the amendments.

As Sinn Féin spokesperson, I indicate that we will support the amendments in Clare Bailey's name and will oppose that in Jim Allister's name.

Photo of Pam Cameron Pam Cameron DUP

I do not intend to speak for too long on the amendments. My party's position is clear, and our concerns about the Bill's legal implications remain unaddressed. At the outset, I reiterate that patients, staff and visitors to health service premises should never be subject to acts of abuse or intimidation, nor should anyone else in society, for that matter. The Bill will not have the impact that its supporters believe. It will almost certainly result in protracted legal action.

Amendment Nos 1, 2 and 3 are technical amendments that attempt to clarify aspects relating to the premises and their notification to become registered, protected premises. The premises retain all power to self-notify or reverse a notification. The process for doing that remains vague. The amendments do nothing to alleviate the concerns about the lack of accountability in the process; there are no additional powers or oversight for the Department; and the Department still has no authority to reject a notification.

My party supports amendment No 4, to clause 5, which has been tabled by Mr Allister. The amendment would give reasonable protection from prosecution for the offence of "influencing" to those who act reasonably within a safe access zone. As we have stated before, "influencing" is a broad and undefined term in the Bill, and the Bill does not distinguish influencing behaviour from harassing, abusive or criminal behaviour. I urge Members to think carefully about the implications of supporting such vague legislation. To criminalise those who are deemed to have a different opinion is a dangerous path to go down. In addition, little consideration has been given to the impact on policing resources, which, going by the so-called draft Budget, will face severe front-line cuts.

Amendment No 5 extends the scope of the requirements for the Department to maintain a register of protected premises. Under that amendment, the Department would have to publish a list of premises in order to bring buffer zones to the attention of members of the public who are likely to be affected. The Department would also have to ensure that the premises themselves bring the zones to the attention of the wider public. There is, again, great ambiguity on what that means. Does it mean that the Department would have to force health premises to display signage against their will? Would it end up with trusts having to write to every pregnant woman who has an appointment? We hold serious concerns about awareness-raising relating to those sites. My fear is that it would, surely, increase the potential for the protests that the Bill sponsor aims to prevent in the zones.

It remains my position that a thorough review of existing harassment laws would have been a more suitable and fair way forward. Others have decided that that is not so and want to push ahead with the Bill despite its many grey areas and ambiguity. The DUP will oppose all the amendments moved by the Bill sponsor and will support Mr Allister's amendment.

Photo of Colin McGrath Colin McGrath Social Democratic and Labour Party

I welcome the opportunity to speak at Further Consideration Stage, although I will not speak for too long. The SDLP supports the Bill sponsor's amendment Nos 1, 2, 3 and 5. The amendments from the Bill's sponsor further tidy up the legislation, which is to be welcomed. They are mostly technical in nature, with the exception of amendment No 5, which provides further clarity on the need to publish a list of protected premises.

I am a little concerned that the amendment tabled by Mr Allister offers those who would be subject to the legislation a get-out clause, including the defence of "without reasonable excuse".

Photo of Linda Dillon Linda Dillon Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for taking an intervention. Does he agree that that is not in line with previous legislation that is about protecting women, such as the Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Act 2021? The reasonableness argument is not an argument of defence.

Photo of Colin McGrath Colin McGrath Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for the intervention. I am not 100% across the Act that she mentioned, but I certainly take the point that, if we leave too vague a definition in legislation, it creates confusion and problems.

I am concerned that the individuals who will be subject to the ramifications of the Bill will, if offered a get-out clause, do their very best to bend those rules and push "reasonable excuse" to its absolute farthest to find some sort of space in the legislation to continue their behaviour. I am afraid that it is just too ambiguous, so we have difficulty with supporting it.

Contrary to some of the emails that we have received over recent weeks, this is not about censorship. In fact, the legislation is not about abortion; it is about the capacity of an individual to enter a building without fear of harassment or intimidation or of someone trying to make them feel ashamed. The SDLP will be —.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

The Member speaks, in respect of amendment No 4, about being fearful of giving some opportunity to people to bend and formulate an excuse: legislation puts that exclusively in the hands of the court. It is for the court to decide whether something is a reasonable excuse. It is not self-certification, as appears in other parts of the Bill, by the accused; it is for the court to decide, so there is the protection of the court having to be persuaded that it is a reasonable excuse. It is not just something that you claim and that is the end of it.

Photo of Colin McGrath Colin McGrath Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for giving me the opportunity to respond to him. That is after the legislation has been passed. We can provide clarity in the legislation. Providing confusion, which then requires people to go to the courts afterwards, seems to be a clunky way to go about legislating. If we put the clarity in the legislation, there is no need to go to the courts afterwards, but, if you put ambiguity into legislation, it simply creates problems. We are trying to remove those problems by providing the clarity as best we can. To that end, as I said, we support amendment Nos 1, 2, 3 and 5 and oppose amendment No 4.

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance

I support amendment Nos 1 to 3 and amendment No 5 and oppose amendment No 4. I will focus my remarks mainly on the most detailed amendment, which is amendment No 5. Amendment Nos 1 and 2 are sensible technical additions for clarification, and amendment No 3 is a minor change that will provide more thorough linkage in the Bill.

Amendment No 4 is too wide in scope. It leaves far too much to be determined by the word "reasonable". This is the third time that I have stated that safe access zones exist elsewhere. The Queensland Law Commission states that they are:

"to protect the safety and well-being, and respect the privacy and dignity of, people accessing ... services".

This is not about censoring public protest, as some misleadingly claim; it is about stopping the specific and targeted harassment of people accessing services to which they are entitled.

In supporting amendment No 5, I have mentioned in plenary debates thus far my concern around the clarity of what constitutes a safe access zone. I have raised that several times in Committee.

Additionally, the Bill sponsor brought evidence to the Committee emphasising that there would be a potential defence under the legislation as it stands that those engaging in abuse did not know that the person whom they were approaching was a protected person. For me, that included that they did not know that they were in a zone. I appreciated the clarity given in the Minister's letter and in the Bill sponsor's evidence to the Committee on that.

It bears re-emphasising that one successful prosecution for harassment outside a clinic was overturned precisely because the judge could not be clear that the unpleasant behaviour constituted criminal harassment. That is exactly why this legislation is necessary and also why it is essential to be as clear as possible about precisely what it entails. That is why I was pushing for an amendment much like amendment No 5. That is not just to do with having a legal defence in the event that an offence has been committed, although we can see from experience that that is an issue, but to do with prevention and knowing when the police should be called. Indeed, it is about providing clarity to prevent offences from occurring in the first place. Initially, my view was that signage may be necessary to accomplish that, but I am happy with proposed new paragraph (c) to be inserted in clause 7. It would allow the operators and, ultimately, the Department to bring the public's attention, as appropriate, to the existence of the safe access zone. That may or may not involve signage.

In conclusion, I hope that the Bill can be strengthened, particularly by amendment No 5, and proceed swiftly to Final Stage. I congratulate all those involved in getting it this far. As an Assembly, we are now making positive steps forward.

Photo of Alan Chambers Alan Chambers UUP 3:45 pm, 14th March 2022

Over the past number of days, I have received a lot of emails, as have my colleagues in the Ulster Unionist Party, from pro-life groups and pro-life individuals. My mailbox probably contains the same huge number of emails that I received when debates in here were focused on abortion. It is disappointing that that is the way in which the debate on this legislation is being viewed by some people. Abortion is a matter of conscience for our MLAs in the Ulster Unionist Party. That has not changed; it remains the same. Our position is not influenced by either pro-life or pro-choice arguments.

The Bill, including the amendments before us today, is designed to create a safe environment for vulnerable women who want to visit those clinics to seek advice. It is designed to protect members of the public who may be entering the same buildings on completely unrelated business and who may even be accompanied by children. It is also designed to give some form of protection to staff who work in the clinics.

The main issue here is that people out there do not seem to be listening. They do not seem to be hearing what the thrust of the legislation is. It is not about abortion but about women's health issues. Women are perfectly entitled to have the right to seek advice on that topic and to get the advice that is available in those clinics. A lot of the letters that I received have been copied and pasted, and they seem to paint a completely different picture of the protests that take place outside the clinics. The evidence that we listened to in the Health Committee from trust officials and the police was harrowing. It is unacceptable in a civilised society that people should behave like that. Against that, people should always have the right to protest. It is not a particularly big ask to ask people to take their protest 150 metres away from the front door of these clinics.

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

Today, I will support amendment Nos 1, 2, 3 and 5. I am looking forward to hearing Mr Allister make the case for amendment No 4. At this stage, I am minded not to support it, but I will listen to the arguments.

Photo of Liz Kimmins Liz Kimmins Sinn Féin

I support amendment Nos 1, 2, 3 and 5. I will speak against amendment No 4, mainly because I do not think that you can have a reasonable excuse for the harassment of women, whether it is intentional or not. We talked about that at length during the debate on the previous stage of the Bill. I fear that, as other Members have said, amendment No 4 could potentially open the floodgates and, in a sense, put the Bill on its head because there could be so many cases before the courts that the legislation would never have any real impact.

I go back to looking at how intention is so important, because a lot of the people involved in protests do not necessarily intend to cause the harm that is caused by those protests, whether they are standing with a sign, chanting or raising comments to women coming and going. The reason that we are at this stage is that it has had such a huge impact on so many people — as Mr Chambers mentioned, not just women who are trying to access healthcare but staff, members of the public and other patients accessing a range of services within the hospital and healthcare sites. We have to have it nailed down, to an extent, so that there is no ambiguity in the legislation, that it is clear and that the needs and rights of women are protected at every stage.

I look forward to seeing —

Photo of Linda Dillon Linda Dillon Sinn Féin

Will the Member take an intervention?

Photo of Linda Dillon Linda Dillon Sinn Féin

Does the Member agree that, as I have already said, all the other pieces of legislation that we have taken through the House around protecting women, particularly the domestic abuse Bill, the stalking Bill and other pieces of legislation to protect women, affect some of the most vulnerable women in our society in some of the most vulnerable and harrowing circumstances of their entire life. We need to protect them, and reasonableness must be removed as an excuse.

Photo of Liz Kimmins Liz Kimmins Sinn Féin

I agree with the Member. As others have said, and as we talked about during the Consideration Stage of the Bill, this is not about censorship. People can still protest on this issue, just not in the vicinity of where the safe access zones will be. The right to protest is not being taken away from them, but, if we were to allow for a reasonable excuse, it might infringe on the rights of the women who are trying to access the vital healthcare that they need at an important time in their lives. I hope that we can pass this today and get it through to the Final Stage.

Photo of Sinead McLaughlin Sinead McLaughlin Social Democratic and Labour Party

As my colleague Colin McGrath indicated, the SDLP will support amendment Nos 1, 2 3 and 5 but will not support amendment No 4.

I am really pleased that the Bill has been refined in the manner that it has. It has been strengthened during its journey through the legislative process. It is a really good example of how, collectively, we work to deliver for our constituents. I again thank the Bill sponsor, Ms Bailey, for introducing this important piece of legislation. As I said the last time I spoke on the Bill, this is about affording people the right to access healthcare free from harassment and abuse. It will not prohibit prayer or ban protest. People will still be able to do all those things. What will they not be able to do? They will not be able to harass or intimidate patients and staff outside a clinic that has a designated safe access zone. Healthcare centres are not appropriate sites for the kind of language, imagery and behaviour that those protesters display on a weekly basis.

I recently had the privilege of listening to Cara from Supporting Women Newry speak at a Derry International Women's Day rally. In the face of intense harassment at Daisy Hill Hospital, Supporting Women Newry offers support and chaperone services to women. It has taken things into its own hands to protect the community, but it should not have to do that. That is why the Bill is needed and why the amendments must be made.

What else will you no longer be able to do? You will not be able to interfere with women's healthcare choices as they enter a clinic. That is what many of those so-called protesters openly admit to attempting to do. Indeed, I received a letter from one who plainly stated that they see it as their opportunity to force last-minute changes of heart. Yes, everyone has the right to free speech, but no one has the right to obstruct or intervene in a personal healthcare decision. Absolutely no one.

Please, let us trust women with their healthcare choices and afford them the right to access healthcare free from harassment and abuse. It is really not a big ask. I support the Bill at Further Consideration Stage.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

Amendment No 4 is very focused. It focuses on the criminal offence that arises in clause 5 and on introducing a very modest modicum of acceptability and reform to that offence. It is a very wide offence. It ranges from embracing harassment and abuse to the mere issue of influence. As it stands, it is an absolute offence. That is to say, like driving your car with no insurance, there is no answer to it. You cannot ever defend yourself against it. It is an absolute offence.

In the criminal calendar, that is very rare. It is very rare for a very good reason, namely that the basic premise of a criminal offence is that it comprises the actus reus, which relates to doing the act, and the mens rea, which relates to that which is informed by the mind. Within that ambit, it is overwhelmingly the case that our law provides reasonable excuse for someone accused. By putting that into the Bill, we are being entirely compatible with the trend in creating criminal offences. It is not about asking the Assembly to define what a "reasonable excuse" is, because every case is different. It is about saying to the court, "If the defence is raised by the accused, you decide whether what they did or said was reasonable". It is not the House that will decide what is reasonable. Judging by the House, nothing could be reasonable.

Photo of Linda Dillon Linda Dillon Sinn Féin

Will the Member take an intervention?

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

I will take an intervention after I develop this point.

We would be in a situation where we are saying that someone accused of that sweeping offence, which includes silent actions designed to influence, should be afforded the basic tenet that applies in respect of virtually every other criminal offence: having a reasonable excuse. A court would then be required to rule on whether that which was done was reasonable.

The alternative is the totalitarianism offered by Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Alliance, whereby, under our rule of law, you simply decree that, "It is an absolute offence. You cannot protest. It can never be reasonable to do so", as you would in Russia. There is no comprehension of there being a reasonable excuse for doing that. It so offends the very principle that the House is so intent on defending, namely that of death through abortion, that you can never have a reasonable excuse to dare to breathe opposition to it. That is the ultimate in totalitarianism, and that is what the Alliance Party, Sinn Féin and the SDLP are embracing today.

All they are asked to support is the introduction into the Bill of the very lowest common denominator of criminal defences in respect of an offence: namely, to let the court decide whether what was done was reasonable. That is not by your standards or mine; it is by the standards that the court would set in that respect.

Why does that offend anyone who believes in "innocent until proven guilty"? Why does that offend anyone who believes that, when criminal prosecutions are brought, someone should have the right to a defence? That offends only if you are an apostle of totalitarianism. That is what absolute offences are about. I welcome the fact that the sponsor — there is no one more enthusiastic about the Bill than the sponsor — has, at Consideration Stage and since, accepted the basic principle that we should create criminal offences that do not expunge that most fundamental tenet of letting a court decide whether or not something is reasonable conduct. To create an absolute offence is a stretch way beyond where the Assembly should wish to go.

Photo of Linda Dillon Linda Dillon Sinn Féin 4:00 pm, 14th March 2022

I thank the Member for taking my intervention. Does he agree that, as we were advised in the Justice Committee when I was on it, not having the reasonableness excuse does not prevent a judge from looking at the particular circumstances of an individual case?

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

With respect, the Member is absolutely wrong. Clause 5 utterly excludes a court from looking at whether something reasonable caused it, because clause 5 is drafted in absolutist terms. If the person does any of the things in the Bill, because there is no defence of reasonable excuse, they are automatically guilty as charged. It is absolute. Once you prove the actus reus of the offence, it is the endgame: the offence is proven.

That is why the Member, in previous interventions, attempted to articulate a case against the reasonableness defence. She wants to be totalitarian. She wants to be absolutist. She wants to rob any accused person — sometimes, in other circumstances, she is defensive of accused persons and their rights — of that most fundamental right to say, "But what I did was reasonable", and for the court to decide whether it was reasonable.

Once you exclude that, you rob the court and the accused of the fundamental right to decide whether what was done was reasonable. That is totalitarianism writ large. That is suppression of protest writ large. That is the fundamental denial of a most basic tenet in respect of any offence that arises in the criminal calendar. It is not, as someone said, a get-out clause. It is not simply about the accused saying, "I had a reasonable excuse". No; they can say, "I think that I had a reasonable excuse, but you, the court, decide whether it was a reasonable excuse". That is what this modest amendment is all about.

The one hesitation I had in tabling the amendment was lest it make the Bill human rights-compliant. At the moment, its absolutism stretches its human rights compliance. If it is the will of the House that such an offence exist, it should at least have that basic component that virtually every other offence in the criminal calendar has. We should not be so dogmatic and totalitarian in our approach of refusing even to contemplate a court maybe being able to find that what was done was reasonable.

I gave the example, at Consideration Stage, of the mother of a 14-year-old girl who accompanies her, against the child's will, to the abortion clinic, pleading with her not to have an abortion and giving her motherly advice. I said that clause 5 makes that mother the criminal. If clause 5 were amended in the way that I suggest, it would give that mother a fighting chance of not being a criminal. She could say that it was a reasonable thing to do as a mother. Members, seemingly the majority in the House, want to criminalise that mother and put it beyond doubt that she could never have a reasonable excuse. That seems to be an ultimate exercise in the oppressive totalitarianism that some are so anxious to embrace. Indeed, they may embrace it because of who proposes the amendment, never mind the logic or sense of it. I find in the House a great dearth of understanding of what the criminal law means and what it should mean, and there is a great assault upon its integrity. This is one of the clauses that attacks it most head-on. Therefore, I say this to the House: pause, think and do as the sponsor will do. Support the very basic tenet of introducing into the Bill a reasonable excuse on which the court — not us, not the accused — will decide. Should that not be what our courts are all about?

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

I call Clare Bailey to make a winding-up speech.

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

I thank Members for their contributions. There has been an interesting debate on clause 4. Despite that, I thank Members who have supported the Bill so far. In particular, I thank Ms McLaughlin, who, when she speaks, shows that she gets exactly what is happening. I also thank other Members, including those in Sinn Féin and Ms Bradshaw, for their continued work with women on this issue.

The legislation is urgently needed. I hope that those who do not yet realise that can begin to understand it and start to support the Bill's passage. It is vital that the legislation finds the correct balance of competing rights. That was always my intention from the start. Of course, that balance has to be proportionate and justified, and I believe that these final changes and amendments will help to achieve it.

Healthcare staff tell us that they have had to relocate services due to the interference and influence of those seeking to disrupt services and people's access to them. The new locations have had to be kept secret to prevent further interference and targeting. Women have been dissuaded from accessing services while miscarrying, putting themselves at serious and immediate risk, and that is due to the influence of those seeking to interfere with people accessing services. A health and social care trust has, in light of its duty of care to staff and service users, had to install safety glass in windows because of the level of threat from the ongoing behaviours at its doors.

I have watched vulnerable women run into oncoming traffic to avoid being deliberately targeted while accessing services. Whether or not we hold deeply held beliefs, we need to pay attention and do what we can to ensure safe access to abortion services. Deeply held beliefs are no licence to influence others, unabated and unchecked.

The Bill seeks to be a proactive Bill to prevent harm, not a reactive Bill to deal with harm once it has happened. We know that the harm is happening. Let us try to stop that harm from being caused.

I fully accept the debate on adding "without reasonable excuse" to get a balance of competing rights. I looked through other legislation, and it occurs. Section 67 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, explicitly states:

"It is an offence for a person without reasonable excuse— (a)to do anything that the person is prohibited from doing by a public spaces protection order, or (b)to fail to comply".

Article 9 — it is not the only article on the matter, but I will use it as an example — protects freedom of thought, belief and religion, but it comes with conditions:

"Public authorities cannot interfere with your right to hold or change your beliefs, but there are some situations in which public authorities can interfere with your right to manifest or show your thoughts, belief and religion. This is only allowed where the authority can show that its action is lawful, necessary and proportionate" — note the word "proportionate" —

"in order to protect: • public safety • public order • health or morals" — and the important one —

"the rights and freedoms of other people."

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

So there is no absolute right to force the beliefs that you hold on anyone. They have the right and the freedom to not have those beliefs forced upon them. I will give way.

Photo of Colin McGrath Colin McGrath Social Democratic and Labour Party

I am interested in developing that point. If you include the "reasonable excuse" message and a court decided that there was a reasonable excuse for the behaviour and it continued, would that not make you unhappy and more or less nullify the purpose of the legislation?

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

I thank the Member for that intervention and for allowing me to reiterate this point: under the articles that have caveats, what would be a reasonable excuse? Under this legislation, it is explicit. The offences that are outlined in the Bill are narrow in scope, despite all the debate.

I will go back over this. Pay close attention. The Bill does not ban protest. It does not ban silent prayer. I have given a list of examples of what I have experienced of the impact and outworkings and of what, health trusts say, happens at their doors. I am yet to meet anyone in the situation that Mr Allister keeps talking about of a mother hanging on to a 14-year-old child who is trying to go through the door. I have not met that one yet, but it might happen.

Photo of Colm Gildernew Colm Gildernew Sinn Féin

The Bill is designed to prevent protests crossing the line into harassment. What possible reasonable excuse could there be for harassing women in those circumstances?

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

I thank the Member for that. That is exactly the point.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

I am surprised that the Chairman has not read clause 5. It begins by indicating that the offence is sufficiently committed if there is merely influence. It does not need to come near to being harassment or abuse: influence is enough.

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

I think that the intervention was for me, Mr Allister, but thanks for your answer.

I will go back. I can accept it because I cannot envisage any situation where someone might have a reasonable excuse for engaging — this is explicitly set out in the Bill — with the behaviours:

"with the intent of, or reckless as to whether" they are:

"(a) influencing ... (b) preventing or impeding access ... or (c) causing harassment, alarm or distress to a protected person ... attending protected premises."

Of course, under enforcement in clause 6(1)(a), the first option for a constable dealing with any incidents is to simply:

"direct the person to leave the safe access zone".

The Bill is not designed to be heavy-handed; it is designed to create a safe space where the protest, if that is what it is, or people holding other views can continue, should they choose to do so, to influence, lobby and behave elsewhere, away from the doors and without impeding access, causing harassment and alarm, making staff fearful or causing health trusts to put on security staff, have safety glass in their windows or move services. It is designed so that women do not run into oncoming traffic, are not splashed with holy water and are not told that they are murderers and that they have blood on their hands when they enter healthcare facilities.

It is so that they can access services unimpeded and without harassment.

If someone believes that they have a reasonable excuse to do that in a safe access zone, it would take a fair stretch of the imagination to allow a judge to agree with that. For that reason, I wi56tr5ll allow for a reasonable excuse as is provided for in other criminal legislation. In Mattock Lane in the Ealing Council area, a case was taken for such behaviour at a Marie Stopes clinic. In that case, Ealing Council used its powers under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to establish a public space protection order (PSPO) around the Marie Stopes clinic. That Act makes it an offence for an individual to not comply with the requirements of a PSPO without reasonable excuse. What is a reasonable excuse? Under article 9, there are caveats whereby the state can intervene to ensure the balance of those rights and that people are not unduly interfered with according to someone else's belief system. It is for that reason that I will support the reasonable excuse.

Photo of Alan Chambers Alan Chambers UUP

Having said that, will the Member encourage the other parties in the Chamber that have already nailed their colours to the mast in opposition to amendment No 4 to reflect on their positions?

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

I thank the Member for that. I will say this to those parties, which, I have no doubt, have paid a great deal of attention to the issue: action is proportionate when it is appropriate and no more than is necessary to address the problem concerned. The provisions in the Bill are proportionate and no more than what is necessary to address the problem that we all acknowledge is happening to women and healthcare staff. I see no other healthcare service or facility where such behaviour would continue to be tolerated with the level of ignorance — I do not know whether that is deliberate — of harassment legislation and how it fails to apply or be sufficient in such circumstances. The safe access zone is a preventative measure to stop harm rather than it being done and then addressed. If anyone feels that they have a reasonable excuse to continue with that behaviour, I, for one, would like to hear it.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Some Members:

Aye.

Some Members:

No.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Clear the Lobbies. The Question will be put again in three minutes.

Before I put the Question again, I remind Members that it would be preferable if we could avoid a Division.

Question, That the amendment be made, put a second time.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Before the Assembly divides, I remind you that, as per Standing Order 112, the Assembly currently has proxy voting arrangements in place. Members who have authorised another Member to vote on their behalf are not entitled to vote in person and should not enter the Lobbies. I remind Members to maintain social distancing and to leave a 2-metre gap where possible.

The Assembly divided:

<SPAN STYLE="font-style:italic;"> Ayes 57; Noes 28

AYES

Dr Aiken, Mr Allen, Dr Archibald, Ms Armstrong, Ms Bailey, Mrs Barton, Mr Beattie, 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 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, Miss Woods

Tellers for the Ayes: Ms Bradshaw, Ms McLaughlin

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 Irwin, Mr Storey

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 2 (Premises where information, advice or counselling about abortion treatments are provided)

Amendment No 2 proposed:

In page 2, line 2, after second “premises” insert—

<BR/>

“and that notice has not been withdrawn by the operator”. — [Ms Bailey.]

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Some Members:

Aye.

Some Members:

No.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

I think the Ayes have it.

Some Members:

Aye.

Some Members:

No.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

I am hearing Noes from the DUP Benches and Mr Allister. I think the Ayes have it. I think the Ayes have it.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 4 (Establishment of safe access zone)

Amendment No 3 proposed:

In page 2, line 27, after “1(3)” insert “or section 2(4)”. — [Ms Bailey.]

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Some Members:

Aye.

Some Members:

No.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

I think the Ayes have it. I am hearing Noes from the DUP Benches and Mr Allister. I think the Ayes have it.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 5 (Offences in respect of a safe access zone)

Amendment No 4 proposed:

In page 2, line 39, after “act” insert “without reasonable excuse”. — [Mr Allister.]

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Some Members:

Aye.

Some Members:

No.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

I have been advised by the party Whips that, in accordance with Standing Order 113(5)(b), there is agreement that we can dispense with the three-minute rule and move straight to the Division.

I remind Members of the requirement to maintain social distancing whilst the Division takes place. Please maintain a 2-metre gap between yourself and others while moving around the Chamber, and especially in the Lobbies.

The Assembly divided:

<SPAN STYLE="font-style:italic;"> Ayes 40; Noes 44

AYES

Dr Aiken, Mr Allen, Mr Allister, Ms Bailey, Mrs Barton, Mr Beattie, Mr M Bradley, Mr K Buchanan, Mr T Buchanan, Mr Buckley, Ms Bunting, Mr Butler, Mrs Cameron, Mr Carroll, Mr Chambers, 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 Nesbitt, Mr Newton, Mr Poots, Mr Robinson, Mr Stewart, Mr Storey, Ms Sugden, Mr Swann, Mr Weir, Mr Wells, Miss Woods

Tellers for the Ayes: Mr Allister, Mr Irwin

NOES

Dr Archibald, Ms Armstrong, Mr Blair, Mr Boylan, Ms S Bradley, Ms Bradshaw, Ms Brogan, Mr Catney, 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 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, Ms Ní Chuilín, Mr O'Dowd, Mrs O'Neill, Mr O'Toole, Miss Reilly, Ms Rogan, Mr Sheehan, Ms Sheerin

Tellers for the Noes: Ms Dillon, Ms Ennis

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 7 (Publication of list of protected premises and safe access zones)

Amendment No 5 proposed:

In page 3, line 31, leave out from “maintain” to end of line 35 and insert—

<BR/>

“—


(a) maintain 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 protected premises, an indication of the extent of the safe access zone established for the premises under section 4;


(b) publish that list in such manner as appears to the Department to be appropriate to bring the existence and extent of safe access zones to the attention of members of the public likely to be affected; and


(c) ensure (so far as its powers extend) that appropriate steps are taken by an operator of protected premises for bringing the existence and extent of the safe access zone for those premises to the attention of members of the public.” — [Ms Bailey.]

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Some Members:

Aye.

Some Members:

No.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

I think that the Ayes have it. I hear Noes from the DUP Benches and, I think, Mr Allister, but I think that the Ayes have it.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

That concludes the Further Consideration Stage of the Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Bill. The Bill stands referred to the Speaker.

I ask Members to take their ease for a few moments.