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Changes on abortion and same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland 'won't work'



Lord Duncan of Springbank

Lord Duncan of Springbank

Lord Duncan of Springbank

Changes backed by MPs to force the Government to liberalise access to abortion and allow same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland are flawed and will not work, ministers have said.

The amendments made to legislation by the House of Commons "do not function properly and so do not enable the Government to deliver on the instruction of Parliament", peers were told at Westminster.

Talks have been held with the MPs behind the approved reforms to ensure they can be enacted, the House of Lords heard during second reading of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill.

The legislation, which has already been through the Commons, again pushes back reintroducing a law placing a legal duty on Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley to call a fresh assembly election.

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The aim is to give the Stormont parties more time to resolve the long-running deadlock in the province and restore the powersharing executive, two-and-a-half years after it collapsed.

However, during its consideration in the Commons, MPs agreed a series of changes to the legislation, including on the devolved matters of abortion and same-sex marriage.

Gay marriage is illegal in Northern Ireland, while terminations are only allowed in cases where a woman's life is at risk or if there is a danger of permanent and serious damage to her mental or physical health.

MPs backed by a majority of 310 - 383 to 73 - an amendment tabled by Labour's Conor McGinn to legalise same-sex marriage if a new Stormont Executive is not formed by October.

A proposal by Labour MP Stella Creasy, aimed at extending abortion access, was approved by 332 votes to 99.

Opening the second reading debate on the Bill in the upper chamber, Northern Ireland Minister Lord Duncan of Springbank said: "Those votes demonstrated the strength of feeling of the Members of Parliament.

"However, these are sensitive issues and there needs to be careful consideration given to both the policy detail and their implementation.

"Crucially, the amendments as drafted do not function properly and so do not enable the Government to deliver on the instruction of Parliament."

He added: "I have just met with Conor McGinn and Stella Creasy to discuss how best to take this forward and to ensure the changes agreed by the Commons can be delivered.

"I will come back to the changes we need to make to this Bill."

Labour peer Lord Dubs said he was "slightly disconcerted" by the minister's comments.

He said: "Do the Government intend to leave the Bill as it is, to make technical modifications to the amendments but keep the spirit of them, or to try to reverse them?

"It would be helpful to know that, because I was all set to say, 'Well done the Commons' and regard those issues as no longer necessary to talk about."

However, Democratic Unionist Party peer Lord Morrow expressed his anger at the Commons amendments, arguing their imposition on Northern Ireland was "wholly unacceptable".

Pointing to the lack of consultation, he argued they had been "steamed through" paying "no regard to the voice of Northern Ireland."

He said: "I know Northern Ireland may not be some people's favourite place, but even I have completely had my breath taken away by the total contempt with which we have been treated by so many members of another place.

"I would not treat my enemies with such cavalier disregard."

Lord Morrow added: "I do not believe that we in this House can allow this Bill to pass in its current state. It will cause immense problems."

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