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Political Engagement

Volume 646: debated on Wednesday 5 September 2018

I am acutely aware of the deep frustration and difficulties faced by the people of Northern Ireland and the urgent need to re-establish a locally elected, democratically accountable devolved Government. I remain in close contact with the five main political parties and the Irish Government where appropriate.

The roles of the Northern Irish parties and their Assembly should be respected. Will the Minister confirm that the legality of taking Misoprostol, the second pill in medical abortions, at home in Northern Ireland is something for the people of Northern Ireland and their locally elected representatives to determine?

Yes, I can confirm that. Abortion is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, and it is only right that questions of law and policy on abortion, including the legality of any medicines, are decided by a devolved Government in Northern Ireland.

Given that it is now more than 18 months since the Assembly was suspended, will the Prime Minister now become more involved in the process, along with the Taoiseach?

I can assure the hon. Lady that the Prime Minister is very involved in the conversations and discussions that we have with all the main political parties. On her visit to Northern Ireland at the beginning of the summer, she met all five main parties and had discussions with them about that. Again, I continue to hold discussions with the Irish Government, including with the Taoiseach, whom I saw on Sunday.

With very important decisions on matters such as NHS pay and planning now held up by legal uncertainty, is it not time that this House considered legislating to give civil servants the powers that they need to take such decisions?

My right hon. Friend, who has considerable experience of this matter—experience beyond that of many people in this House—is quite right that there are very many decisions. I am looking carefully at the court judgments and determining the best course of action to ensure that we have the best chance of re-establishing devolved government in Stormont, and of making sure that there is good governance for the people of Northern Ireland.

The Secretary of State will know that four out of the five political parties eligible to be in the Executive would join the Executive tomorrow. It is one party—Sinn Féin—that is holding the people of Northern Ireland to ransom. Is it not therefore time for the Secretary of State to start ensuring that decisions affecting my constituents and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends are made so that the people of Northern Ireland have some form of government?

The right hon. Gentleman has made many representations to me on this point, and I know how passionately he stands up for his constituents in Lagan Valley, many of whom I met yesterday at the Hillsborough garden party, when they were very complimentary about their Member of Parliament. I continue to have discussions with all five main parties, because the important point is that we get devolved government up and running as soon as possible, but we ensure that there is good governance in Northern Ireland.

The Secretary of State will know that it is 600 days this weekend since Northern Ireland had a functioning Assembly or Executive. Will she tell the House very clearly what urgent steps she will take to bring the five parties together, to reconvene the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, to cut the pay of MLAs—as has been asked for already—and of course, importantly, to make sure that real urgency is now put into this? We will support legislation where appropriate, but that legislation has to be brought forward urgently now.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s offer of support for legislation, and I am looking at the options available to us. There are court cases that have hampered decision making and are making things more uncertain; we are acutely aware of that, and I want to make sure that we do something that is coherent, that works for the people of Northern Ireland and that does not prevent the politicians in Northern Ireland from going back into devolved government.