Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Bill: Final Stage

Part of Private Members' Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:45 pm on 24 March 2022.

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Photo of Pam Cameron Pam Cameron DUP 3:45, 24 March 2022

I do not intend to speak for long in this Final Stage debate. As I have said during debates at previous stages, the position of my party is clear, and our concerns about the legal implications of the Bill remain.

Everyone will agree that harassment and abuse in their many forms are not acceptable. No one should be intimidated or harassed entering his or her workplace. No one should be intimidated or harassed as a patient entering a health facility. No individual should ever be intimidated or harassed under any circumstance or at any place. The proper home for this issue is within a review of our harassment laws.

As I have stated before, I sincerely believe that this Bill will not have the impact that its supporters believe it will have, and it will almost certainly result in protracted legal action. The Bill is not good legislation. It is vague and leaves many grey areas, particularly around the definition of "influence" as an offence. The right to protest is incredibly important to all of us, and surely the whole point of protest is to attempt to effect change or, indeed, to influence. How this offence of influence will or can be implemented remains to be seen, and the operational concerns of the PSNI have certainly not been addressed. Potentially criminalising someone on the basis of perceived influence is a very dangerous road for our Government to take. I am in no doubt that it will lead to a direct conflict with several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

I note Ms Bailey's comparison with the electoral law and polling stations. I point out that, as members of political parties, we stand outside those polling stations at every election, where we absolutely seek to influence voters. Perhaps the comparison is not so good when it comes to this particular part of the Bill, which we oppose, on the creation of an offence of influence.

The DUP will be opposing the Bill. It believes that there are better ways to strengthen harassment legislation and to give the police the proper resources to prevent incidents, wherever they may occur.