Abortion and equal marriage in Northern Ireland ‘out of scope’ of new bill, says MP

Abortion and equal marriage in Northern Ireland are “out of scope” of new legislation, an MP has said, amid calls for a focus on “rights, not policy”.

Tory MP Fiona Bruce (Congleton) said she hopes amendments to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill on abortion will be withdrawn, saying the topic is outside the scope of the “narrow” debate at hand.

Hopes that equal marriage laws in Northern Ireland could be changed have also been challenged.

The remarks were made in the Commons during consideration of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill.

The legislation again pushes back reintroducing a law that would place a legal duty on Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley to call an Assembly poll.

A group of cross-party MPs have tabled an amendment which would require Westminster to extend same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland unless an executive is formed by October 21.

Labour has also proposed making the Northern Ireland Secretary report on the implications of any relevant judicial decision in relation to abortion.

Speaking in the Commons, Ms Bruce (pictured) said: “This short Bill should not be about deciding on key devolved policy issues which are more properly decided by the people of Northern Ireland and their elected accountable representatives.

“This Bill is very narrow in scope. A narrow scope which should be respected. It is not a Bill which should be used to upset the devolution position.”

She added: “Devolution means we accept that we have differing policies in different jurisdictions, and how money is spent can differ between them, but there are amendments tabled for this Bill that seek to allow Westminster to materially alter some sensitive areas of the law.”

Ms Bruce expressed concern over the amendments and said abortion is a devolved matter before calling for those making the amendments to withdraw them.

Labour MP Conor McGinn (St Helens North) said he has tabled an amendment on extending equal marriage to bring it into line with the rest of the UK and Ireland.

He said people in his constituency “who love each other and who happen to be of the same sex” can get married.

He said this is also possible for people in Cardiff, Edinburgh, London and Dublin, and should be possible for people in Belfast.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) said the amendment would “impinge on the devolution settlement”.

He said: “It interferes with an issue which is the prerogative of the Northern Ireland Assembly, whether it is sitting or not.”

Mr McGinn replied: “This is an issue about rights, not policy.”

Former shadow secretary of state for Northern Ireland Ivan Lewis called for a referendum on equal marriage and abortion.

Mr Lewis, who now sits as an independent MP after resigning the Labour whip, said: “I do not support those in this House who want to use the current political stalemate to impose solutions from Westminster.

“However, courageous leadership from the Government would mean using this period to allow the people of Northern Ireland to have their voices heard on these issues.

“The Government should bring forward legislation to hold one referendum covering abortion and equal marriage and they should be consistent.

“As with Brexit, they should commit to introducing necessary legislation if the people of Northern Ireland chose to vote for change.”

Responding, Mr McGinn said: “His constituents in Bury and mine in St Helens who are gay didn’t have to win a referendum to allow them to get married to the person they love.”

DUP MP Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) said politicians in the Commons were seeking to “cherry pick, virtue signal and pluck out a couple of issues here and there” which they wish to progress “to the exclusion of all others”.

Mr Robinson said Sinn Fein could seek to pass a motion on same-sex marriage if it agreed to restore powersharing at Stormont, but said: “They’re not facilitating, agreeing or permitting a restoration of those institutions.”

For the SNP, Gavin Newlands said his party would observe the “long-held principle” not to vote on matters devolved to other parts of the UK which solely affect that country.

Labour MP Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) said: “We are being told consistently by those international agencies that we have signed up to that we have a problem in Northern Ireland, that we are treating, in particular, women in Northern Ireland as second-class citizens.”

She added: “We have to remember there is no right at all, not even in those instances of rape, of fatal fetal abnormality, we force women in Northern Ireland to carry a baby they know will not live under these current laws, that cannot be a human right. It is why this is torture, and it is why we cannot keep waiting for the Assembly to deal with this.”

DUP MP Ian Paisley (North Antrim) said: “The one point which I did raise with her very directly in an intervention is this point, is the right to terminate an unborn life, is that a European Convention right? And it is not a right to terminate the life of an unborn child according to the European Convention of Human Rights.”

Mr Paisley said there may be unwanted consequences of introducing “bad laws”.

He said: “It could lead to sex selection abortions in Northern Ireland, it could lead to an increase, a massive increase in the amount of abortions of disabled life.”

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