Government ‘will have duty to legislate’ on same-sex marriage and abortion

The Government has confirmed it will have a “duty” to legislate on same-sex marriage and abortion reform in Northern Ireland if an executive is not formed by next month.

Northern Ireland minister Lord Duncan of Springbank (pictured) told the Lords the restoration of the assembly was a priority for the Tory administration.

Lord Duncan said that without an executive the people of Northern Ireland had seen the quality of public services decline and decisions affecting their lives “kicked into the long grass”.

Insisting they deserved better, he warned: “If we cannot secure the restoration of an executive in good time we will pursue the decision-making powers that are needed at the earliest opportunity.”

Lord Duncan said the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Act 2019 required Parliament to introduce laws on same-sex marriage and opposite-sex civil partnerships, abortion and victims’ payments.

“I recognise these are sensitive devolved issues and this Government’s preference is that they are taken forward by a restored executive and a functioning assembly.

“However, this House has spoken and the duty to legislate will come into effect if the executive is not back up and running in the next six weeks.”

Lord Duncan’s comments came as peers debated a series of motions relating to the Act before the suspension of Parliament.

In July, the Lords backed controversial moves to introduce same-sex marriage and abortion reform in Northern Ireland after MPs added amendments to legislation going through Parliament.

Liberal Democrat Baroness Barker, backing the changes, said it was to ensure that people in Northern Ireland enjoyed the same human rights and access to services as the rest of the UK.

She said decriminalisation did not mean there would be no regulation of abortion in Northern Ireland and condemned “wildly misleading” statements.

Medical professionals would be under the same “ethical constraints” as their counterparts in the UK, Lady Barker insisted.

But independent backbencher Lord Alton of Liverpool opposed the change in the “highly sensitive, contested, devolved question” of abortion.

Lord Alton said that for many in Northern Ireland, Parliament’s decision to act in this area made a mockery of democracy.

He condemned the move as “rushed” and “flawed”, adding: “The only way this can be prevented is for the executive and for the assembly to be restored.

“The decision on how and whether to provide abortion should for the people of Northern Ireland to decide through a proper legislative process, rather than with minimal consideration in an Act stampeded through Parliament without any consultation,” Lord Alton added.

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