Belfast Telegraph

MPs vote in favour of Queen's Speech

MPs have approved the programme of laws brought forward by Theresa May's minority Government after a late U-turn on abortion funding averted a potential Commons defeat.

The Queen's Speech was approved by 323 votes to 309, majority 14, following six days of debate.

Chancellor Philip Hammond was required to confirm the Government's intention to fund abortions in England for women arriving from Northern Ireland, amid growing pressure from MPs of all parties.

Labour's Stella Creasy had tabled an amendment to the Queen's Speech calling for "adequate funding" to ensure free access to abortions in England.

She withdrew it following the Government's late change in policy.

Mrs May sat in the Commons on the Government frontbench as the final result was read out.

A division list analysis shows 313 Tories were joined by nine of the 10 DUP MPs in supporting the Queen's Speech.

Independent Lady Hermon, who represents the Northern Ireland constituency of North Down, also supported the Queen's Speech.

There were 257 Labour MPs who voted against it, along with 35 SNP, 12 Liberal Democrats, four Plaid Cymru and Green Party MP Caroline Lucas.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also faced a rebellion from some of his MPs after ordering them to abstain on an amendment tabled by Chuka Umunna.

The former shadow business secretary had called on the Government to outline post-Brexit proposals for how Britain will remain in the European single market and customs union.

A total of 49 Labour MPs voted in favour of the amendment, which was defeated by 322 votes to 101 - majority 221.

A separate Labour amendment to the Queen's Speech bemoaning the Government for failing to end austerity, reverse falling living standards and make society more equal was also defeated by 323 votes to 297, majority 26.

But attention throughout the day focused on Ms Creasy's amendment on abortion rights, with a large number of MPs from different parties declaring support for it.

Mrs May's reliance on DUP support to command a majority in the Commons brought the issue of abortion charges in England for women from Northern Ireland to the fore.

The DUP has previously said it wants no extension to Northern Ireland's limitations on terminations, which restrict the procedure to when a woman's life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health.

As it stands, fatal foetal abnormalities, rape and incest are not grounds for an abortion.

When Ms Creasy raised the issue of charging for abortion during the Queen's Speech debate on Wednesday, DUP MP Ian Paisley (North Antrim) told the Commons: "This is not a matter for Belfast, it is a matter for NHS England".

On Thursday, Mr Hammond offered assurances that funding would be provided.

Women and Equalities Minister Justine Greening also sent a letter confirming: "Following discussions with the Department of Health, we will ensure these payments will be funded through the Government Equalities Office with additional funding.

"This will mean no English health service user is disadvantaged as a result of this change."

Ms Creasy, confirming she would withdraw her amendment, told the Commons: "Thank you to all the members of the House who supported the rights of Northern Irish women to have equal access to abortion.

"I am delighted at today's announcement by the Government and I am satisfied by the commitments I have had from the minister responsible about the commitment to working with the sector.

"On that basis, I am happy to withdraw the amendment today.

"Let us send a message to women everywhere that in this Parliament their voice will be heard and their rights upheld."

DUP MP Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) was the only member from the Northern Irish party not to vote on the Queen's Speech.

The DUP whips' office said Mr Campbell had a personal engagement at home and was unable to attend the vote.

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