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The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) referred to her new clause 30, which is before the House today and which would have the effect of extending the Abortion Act 1967 to Northern Ireland. One reason for our support of the programme motion is that we believe that it is not appropriate for the House to debate that new clause today, as there is strong opposition in Northern Ireland to the proposition on which it is based.
I know that hon. Members will have received a letter from the leaders of the four main parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The letter was written by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), who is my party leader, the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams), the leader of Sinn Fein, the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party, and Sir Reg Empey,
the leader of the Ulster Unionist party. Between them, those four parties represent more than 90 per cent. of the electorate in Northern Ireland, and have more than 100 seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly. That makes it clear that this sensitive matter should be dealt with by the Assembly and not by this Parliament.
Northern Ireland has had separate legislation on this and many other issues, going back centuries. Indeed, there are different bodies of law that apply in Scotland and Wales, and there is nothing unique about the issue of abortion. In Northern Ireland, we have laws in respect of other matters of legality that are different from the laws that apply in other parts of the UK.
It is clear that we should consider only the human fertilisation and embryology element of the Bill and not try to tack on something that will cause considerable problems for the political process in Northern Ireland. The implementation of the 1967 Act, if it were to be extended to Northern Ireland, would fall largely to the Northern Ireland Assembly. It would therefore be entirely wrong for this House to legislate against the wishes of the parties in the Assembly, as those parties would be required to implement a law with which they did not agree.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Unless my memory serves me falsewhich it may be doingmy recollection is that the right hon. Gentleman did try to amend the Bill at an earlier stage in order to add abortion issues to it. If so, does he agree that his argument simply will not wash?
Mr. Donaldson: I did not table any amendments to this Bill at any stage, so the hon. Gentleman is entirely incorrect in that respect. As far as the principle is concerned, any Member of this House is of course free to vote on any amendment, but new clause 30 has been tabled by hon. Members who represent constituencies where abortion is already available. We are dealing with these matters in the context of the 1967 Act, and no hon. Member with a constituency in Northern Ireland supports new clause 30. Indeed, the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington has not set foot in Northern Ireland to talk to people about this issue.
The hon. Lady has not consulted about her new clause, even though section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998which was passed by this House and which enacted the Belfast agreementrequires that any major legislation brought forward by Parliament or the Assembly should be subject to proper consultation and equality impact assessments. There is no opportunity for the public to be consulted about new clause 30, so she and the other hon. Members who have proposed the new clause are simply seeking to impose their will in a way that goes against the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland and of their elected representatives.
The leaders of the four main parties in Northern Ireland have written to all hon. Members to say that the matter should be addressed by the Northern Ireland Assembly, and not by this House. That is why I urge the House to support the programme motion, and to leave this matter to the people of Northern Ireland and their elected representatives.
Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab/Co-op):
I begin by thanking the Leader of the House for bringing
this Bill back after July. At that time, I was unfortunately indisposed, and never got the opportunity to vote against it. I shall now be able to listen to the debate, take part in it if necessaryand then vote against it on Third Reading. That will give me some satisfaction.
The Bill is about human fertilisation and embryology issues, but that is not the perception in the public arena. The media coverage that the Bill has received means that the public perception is that it is purely about abortion, and that is why I support the programme motion. Abortion is a very serious issue, and I accept that it comes within the scope of the Bill, but it is not the dominant aspect of the Bill and there are many other important matters that need proper debate.
I believe that there should be a proper review of the Abortion Act 1967. That is the way ahead, because it would allow people on both sides of the argument to have a reasonably intense and detailed debate. If we were being honest with ourselves, we would not play this sort of game. We would treat all of these subjects with great seriousness.
Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham) (Con): I do not often feel sorry for the Government, but in a sense they are the victims of their own actions. We are debating these matters because they have recognised the pent-up demand in the House to examine the abortion issue, and the logical result of that is that any hon. Member can table an amendment on the subject.
We all recognise that the Bill is fundamentally about human fertilisation and embryology, and that is a very big and important subject. I must gently disagree with the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Jim Dobbin) and what he said about the amount of publicity given to the human fertilisation and embryology element of the Bill, but there is huge demand for clarification and modernisation of the law on abortion. That is what all the amendments are about, and I very much agree with those who have pointed out that there is plenty of time in our parliamentary timetable for the necessary debates to take place. That is why I shall go into the No Lobby against the Government, even though in general I approve of what they are trying to do with the Bill.
Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): I am very disappointed to have to state that I will have great difficulty in supporting the programme motion this afternoon. I chair the Houses all-party fertility group, and am well aware that the community of people outside the House who have serious problems conceiving are looking to the Bill for support.
However, the Bill makes no mention of access to NHS facilitiessomething that was discussed in full in the other place. There, the subject was given a very fair run, but we in this House are not allowed to discuss it. The Bill focuses on the regulation of IVF treatment and research, and makes no mention of the many other treatments that infertile people can access.
The founding principle of the NHS was that people could receive treatment at the point of need, but most people with infertility problems have to go to private clinics, where IVF is the only treatment on offer. They
often have to pay for that treatment by remortgaging their homes. I am seriously disappointed that we will have no chance to discuss these issues. I tabled an amendment in the hope that it might be selected for debate, but it has not.
Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is with great regret that I shall not be supporting the timetable motion. I have supported the Government through thick and thin, I think, in their attempt to get on the statute book a moderate and tolerant piece of legislation that is absolutely necessary. I have accepted that it is perfectly in order to debate the question of abortion, so I regret very much that we shall probably not have time this afternoon to discuss even those important issuessuch as parenthood, surrogacy or saviour siblingsthat relate to the original Bill.
That is a very great regret, because I think that the Government are well intentioned with this Bill. I therefore ask that theyand Parliamentconsider changing the habits of a lifetime: they should accept that the very important issue of abortion should not be shuffled off to a private Members Bill but instead tackled in Government time with a Government Bill. We are mature enough in this country now to take those issues as public business; they are public business. I therefore hope that they will be so treated in the future.
Meanwhile, I shall vote against the programme motion, because it ignores the wishes not only of almost everyone in the Chamber today, but of our constituents, who are bemused, indeed amazed, that although we have plenty of time, the Government are rushing the Bill througheven though they are largely right.
These are very important matters, and it is important to focus on the Bill. It is about IVF treatment. Actually, it is about access to the treatment, the improvement of that treatment and broadening the range of people who are entitled to it. It is about research on debilitating and killing diseases and about giving hope. The Bill has had 81 hours of debate thus far. Unusually, it has had two days on the Floor of the Houseunique for this type of Billincluding time for the debate on abortion, without restriction on the subjects on which amendments could be tabled.
I shall answer two specific questions that have been put to me. First, there are no plans to introduce a Bill on abortion. Secondly, in answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) who asked about a special Committee of both Houses, that is not a matter for Ministers; it is a matter for the House authorities, and he can pursue that if he wishes.
Mr. Frank Field: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I understand that she is saying that that is not a matter for her, but if we had a vote on that, would she support new clause 34, which I and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries) have tabled?
Dawn Primarolo: My right hon. Friend will know that that is not for me to say as a Minister. I may have a view personally, but I am speaking from the Dispatch Box as a Minister. There is a free vote, and each Member will be able to decide. Those are the free votes that we will conduct this afternoon.
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